In May, Amazon introduced the electronic book reader Kindle DX, touted as a new way to read textbooks, newspapers and other large documents. This fall, six colleges and universities will test the technology in a pilot, which includes making the textbooks for certain courses available online.
The Kindle DX (for “deluxe”) is searchable and portable, a plus for students accustomed to toting heavy backpacks. But there is another reason that some institutions jumped at the chance to try it out: the technology could substantially reduce their use of paper.
July 30, 2009, Universities Turn to Kindle — Sometimes to Save Paper, Sara Peters
Here’s another chance for me to get all crabby and complain about the way technology tends to get adapted– at least at first– mostly to help those who don’t need much help. That is, we give the best tools to the students with the sorts of privileged backgrounds that make education seem an inevitable rite of passage rather than a transformative economic and social necessity.
That’s also true of other green initiatives. Organic foods are still probably too expensive to be widely adopted; the alternative energy tax credits are not yet generous enough to really push the technology into the mainstream. (That doesn’t have to be true, of course.) We do things upside down, starting with those who need help the least, hoping that it will trickle down.
Still, I think that if the universities are willing to resist the inevitable pressure they will feel from the textbook industry, the electronic book could be a boon to affordable education. The problem, of course, will be digital rights management and property. The textbook industry will try to milk students (as always ) for as much money as possible, in effect, encouraging pirating of textbooks.
That debate is likely to create a smokescreen that obscures the real issues, which ought to center around educational affordability and access to information. The real hope is that we can use these devices to link to open courseware and to the emerging ecosystem of free textbooks. Somewhere out these someone is working on a hack for the Kindle…