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E-Text Reader Faculty Pilot Study

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Product: Kindle Reader
Reviewer: Dr. Mark Canada (English and Theatre)

I was very impressed by the Kindle, which seems to serve its purpose almost perfectly.  I would be inclined to conduct some of my literary research on Kindle books and would consider assigning reading on Kindles if the UNCP bookstore had a system in place for them.  Here are some specific observations:

Slim and just large enough to make for easy reading, as well as input by typing, the Kindle is just the right size.  As an English professor and active researcher, I read a lot and like to take more than one book with me when I travel; the Kindle would allow me to take several books on a train, plane, or car trip without having to add much bulk to my luggage or take up a lot of room in the car.  It would fit easily in a computer bag or a backpack.

The text on the Kindle is easy to read, and the buttons make it easy to turn pages.  Because the design is intuitive, I rarely needed to consult the instructions.  I thought there would be a way to illuminate the text so that I could read in low light, but I could not find any light or any information about a light in the instructions.  Such a feature would seem such a natural addition that I am afraid that I overlooked it.  If indeed the Kindle lacks this feature, I would strongly recommend adding it.

The Kindle has some useful features, especially for careful readers.  The built-in dictionary provides easy access to full dictionary entries for unfamiliar words—something that might increase my students’ reading comprehension and expand their vocabularies.  The search feature is also useful and easy to use.  As a researcher, I could use this feature to locate every reference that a novelist made to key words, or I could easily return to a passage if I remembered only a word or phrase, but not the page number.  I especially appreciate the ability to mark the text, a great tool for researchers, teachers, and students.  If I were using the Kindle to store novels I had assigned to students, I could easily mark and annotate key passages and then refer to key passages and my own annotations during class discussions.  With the aid of a projector, I could even guide students through the text as it appears on my Kindle.  Finally, the “Text-to-Speech” feature is fantastic; I can imagine using it to listen to a book on my Kindle while I am driving.

After I logged into Amazon on the Kindle, I easily downloaded a Kindle version of Henry James’s novel The Reverberator; in fact, I was able to download it for free.  Later, I went to Amazon’s Web site on a laptop instead of a Kindle, and I found other works of literature, as well as some biographies.  Of course, some works that would interest a scholar are not available as Kindle books, but the selection of literature seems to be good, and the books are very affordable.  Most of the prices I saw are under $2, and some are free.  Newer books, such as Jeffrey Sachs’s The End of Poverty, are substantially more expensive.  I might be inclined to purchase hard copies of books or simply borrow them from a library if the price of a Kindle version were more than five dollars.

Final Impression
I think the Kindle has potential as a text in the kinds of literature classes I teach--the American Novel, for instance.  Of course, I would want to be certain that the texts I hoped to teach would be available as Kindle books before I went that direction.  Judging from my experience searching at the Kindle store, I sense that the Kindle books generally would be quite a bit cheaper than traditional textbooks; however, if students have to pay $359 for a Kindle, they would want to use it in more than just a few classes, and I don't know whether Amazon offers enough of the right kinds of Kindle books that students would need in their other classes.

If someone had to choose between requiring laptops and requiring Kindles, I think I would require the laptops, which would give students access to countless literary texts, as well as many other texts, while also serving them in other ways.

In short, I would endorse a limited use of Kindles.  For example, if the university purchased a number of Kindles and allowed students to check them out from the library, then we might assign Kindle texts in courses such as the American Novel.  I'm not ready to call for requiring them for all students, however, unless we could be certain that the availability of numerous texts--not only in literature, but in biology, psychology, history, and so on--would make the move economical for students.  Even then, the matter would merit more careful consideration, especially by professors teaching in those disciplines.


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Updated: Tuesday, August 18, 2009


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