Friday, January 6, 2012

Will textbook-laden backpacks be a memory?

The era of children bearing backpacks stuffed with heavy textbooks may soon be over. Instead, they will open their leather binders and flick their fingers across the screens of their e-book readers.

Those of you who already read using a Kindle, Nook or other electronic book reader understand the convenience, the interactivity and the easy portability of these devices. Now you can carry an entire home library with you wherever you go. In fact, one New England boarding school eliminated the physical books and shelves of its 20,000-book library and created a digital version from which students can “borrow” using their Kindles.

Once the investment in the e-reader is made, e-books are often cheaper than physical books and, in many cases, free to download. Publishers can easily keep e-books up to date and eliminate traditional complaints about outdated facts or maps.

Readers/students can highlight pertinent content, jot down study notes, take advantage of a built-in dictionary by just holding a finger down on a word, read PDF notes from teachers and even listen to audio versions of the books on their e-readers. Some models with WiFi access will connect the reader to the Internet, too.

School districts across the nation have begun to experiment with the logistics of using the technology. One e-book experiment in an Illinois middle school was so successful that the school district purchased Kindles for every 8th-grader in the school. Clearwater HS in Florida is another early adopter of the e-reader technology. This September, the 2,000-plus students at the school received their own Kindles, each loaded with books tailored to the student’s class schedule.

Since Amazon and Barnes & Noble designed the devices for the book-reading consumer, they are not fully compatible yet with the needs of teachers and students. For instance, early models lacked page numbers, which made it difficult to track progress and add assigned readings to the lessons. The early devices didn’t take into account the needs of the visually impaired, either.

However, manufacturers, listening to educators, made some changes to digital book formats and added audio for the visually impaired. The new generation of e-book readers will allow users to share notes and highlighted text with their classmates.

But the tug of war between the reading needs of the general public and students remains, as Amazon and Barnes & Noble reconsider how they approach providing content to the K-12 school market. Recently Barnes & Noble adjusted their group purchase plans to acknowledge the needs of school libraries and government funding streams. Amazon is still working on the licensing problem.

Pioneering teacher librarians have already produced lesson guides for using e-readers. “From the Creative Minds of 21st Century Librarians” for instance, contains a series of lessons and units that help integrate Kindle and Nook devices in classroom learning.

If your school is considering experimenting with e-reader technology, join the e-book educators’ discussion group at where teachers and librarians share their experiences with Kindles, Nooks and other e-readers.

Budget constraints in the New York City public school system will preclude a wide embrace of e-book technology. Nevertheless, several city public schools gingerly dipped their toes into the e-book environment recently.

It’s too early to know what impact the technology will have on teachers and students. One thing is for certain: If schools adopt e-reader technology, it will be a weight off students’ backs.


Amanda said...

I know I'm a converter! Instead of lugging a huge textbook or printing out parts of my e-book for class...I simply bring my kindle. All that's lost is back pain and wasted paper.

All You Can Books said...

I don't think it's a great idea about e-readers for children (in schools). It's ok to have a device like this, but at home. I must admit that they carry with them some really heavy books... we were in the same situation and we are here, reading both ways :D It's great that we can find for free some nice eBooks, from different online websites.