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E-Text Reader Faculty Pilot Study

Printable version (MS Word)

Product: Sony Reader
Reviewer: Dr. Rose Stremlau (History)

I’ve concluded that there is promise but precious little delivery in this technology at the moment.

I like a few things about this product.  Overall, I found the Sony reader to be easy to use.  Without reading the manual, I picked it up and figured it out in a few minutes.  The interface was logical and unintimidating.  Downloading the software to order books was confusing, however, because the reader seemed to freeze up.  This process could be more obvious and user-friendly, but I assume downloading the catalog would also be a one-shot deal so this is a minor complaint.

Concerning available texts in my fields of study (American History, Native American Studies, Women’s Studies), the selection of books was quite limited, and, likewise, I was unable to obtain a compatible version of the text book that I use.  Norton gave me an access code to download a free copy of their electronic version, but without the additional component or software for the audio/visual impaired reader, I couldn’t open it or use it on the Sony reader.  That was a dead end and suggested to me that perhaps text book companies are not yet fully ready to take advantage of this technology.  Norton certainly is one of the largest publishers in the humanities.  Because of what I teach, I frequently assign books from independent presses, and a quick survey of their web pages confirmed that none of them offer e-text versions yet.  In other words, I wouldn’t be able to use this technology in any of my upper-level classes until their were more books available from a wide range of presses.

I found the ability to take notes useful, but I’m not sure that students would use this feature.  Also, about the time I was getting into what I was reading, I found my eyes tiring.  The screen has a strange glare to it such that I could enjoy reading from this on a plane or on the beach when I was not trying to learn material quickly, but I found it hard to read for significant lengths of time without have to rest my eyes.  It is not, then, like a computer screen but significantly less eye-friendly.  This seems to me like a recreationally product rather than designed for professional users.

For this reason, the quality of the images is less than desirable.  Some text was hazy, and I had to scroll up and down to bring it into focus.  More importantly to me, the picture quality was low in lacking detail and color.  For me, this would be a deal-breaker as far as classroom use in my surveys.  My hope for this technology would be not just to help students to do their reading more easily, but I would like to give them another way to analyze primary sources besides staring at a small reproduction on a text book page or at a PowerPoint presentation on a screen in front of them.  The fact that the reader doesn’t have the capability to provide high-resolution, full-color images or allow students to access the textbook’s website, where those images are reproduced, is disappointing.

So, I remain hopeful about the possibilities for this technology in the classroom.  For the moment, however, I think the laptops that students already own provide serve as better learning tools.  I wouldn’t ask students to buy these…yet.  I still am considering buying one for my own recreational reading, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have test-driven the Sony. I think I’ll look into the Kindle 2!


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Updated: Tuesday, August 18, 2009


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