Jun 022010

Kindles in the classroom

At Clearwater High School (near Tampa, FL), students will receive a shiny new Kindle 2 instead of stacks of textbooks next school year. While other schools have dabbled with e-readers for specific classes or even started digitizing their libraries, Clearwater High will be the first to transition completely to electronic textbooks, providing one for each of its 100 teachers and 2,100 students.

The benefits of such a switch are obvious: a student can carry a single, 10-ounce Kindle instead of seven textbooks that each weigh a couple of pounds (or more) each. The Kindle could end up saving schools lots of money, considering that the K2 costs them $177.60 (the school apparently got a small bulk discount from Amazon) and typical textbooks cost about $80 each (7 books x $80 = $560). E-textbooks typically cost much less than the printed versions. Heck, students might not even need lockers any more (which could save money, time, and space for additional or larger classrooms).

Students can also use the convenient dictionary lookup feature (even more useful in a classroom setting than for fiction), which is like carrying seven textbooks plus a dictionary. The K2 also allows for highlighting, bookmarking, and note-taking … instead of having students mark up textbooks that will be re-used next year. Students can also use their Kindles to download free and lower-cost versions of all those books they need to read in English class: all of the classics (anything written before 1923) are free in e-book form. And they’ll probably be much more likely to do pleasure reading if their novels are already with them all day at school — why not read a few chapters of Harry Potter on the bus or at lunch?

Some things to consider, though, are the inevitable thefts and damage to the Kindles that the school hands out. The article linked above mentions that parents will be able to purchase insurance for damage that happens off school property. I guess parents/students can already be charged if they lose or damage textbooks, so maybe it’s not all that different. But still, students horsing around and breaking a $177 K2 wouldn’t be pleasant for the kid, parents, or school. On the plus side, all the e-textbooks can simply be re-loaded onto a new device.

Maybe the cost savings will even be enough to give each incoming student their own K2 (to last them all four years), and, if they keep it in good shape, it’s theirs to keep when they graduate (and only if they graduate!). If they lose it, they have to pay $177 (or put down a deposit) for a replacement, which they can either keep or turn back in when they leave school and have their money refunded.

There are certainly some issues to iron out, but I think the advantages and cost savings outweigh the concerns, and I hope the program is successful. I think schools will continue to follow suit in the future, as more and more reading is done on electronic devices.

UPDATE: This article says the Kindle experiment is going pretty well, with most students and teachers finding them to increase productivity. There have been a few glitches, but students have been using them to read textbooks, take notes, and look up information on the Internet.