Monday, September 20, 2010

Will the iPad succeed to conquer the campus?

I heard an interesting report last Friday on NPR's excellent program 'All Things Considered' disucssing a question that I'm sure is occupying many people in the e-readers industry:

Is the iPad a game changer in the market of electronic textbooks?

As the report explained and as we all know, e-readers makes a lot of sense when it comes to students: traditional textbooks are expensive and heavy. Textbooks are also very wasteful from an environmental point of view, as not only they consume a lot of paper, but they also become irrelevant pretty quickly when new editions are published.

The Kindle was the first e-reader that tried to conquer the campuses, but without much success.Last year
Treehugger reported on a failure of a pilot test at Princeton University in which 50 students were given a Kindle DX for three of their courses. The Daily Princeteonian explained why:

But though they acknowledged some benefits of the new technology, many students and faculty in the three courses said they found the Kindles disappointing and difficult to use. “I hate to sound like a Luddite, but this technology is a poor excuse of an academic tool,” said Aaron Horvath ’10, a student in Civil Society and Public Policy. “It’s clunky, slow and a real pain to operate.”

Horvath said that using the Kindle has required completely changing the way he completes his coursework. “Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs,” he explained. “All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.”

The NPR report also mentioned the fact that Reed College in Portland, which ran this year a trial with the iPad, did the same thing last year with the Kindle. The feedback on the Kindle was very similar to the one from Princeton:

..Montgomery-Amo says they're hoping to have better luck with the iPad than they had with the Kindle.

"That went … I think horribly would be a good way of putting it," he says. "The problem is that the Kindle is less interactive than a piece of paper in that the paper, you can quickly write notes in the margin or star something or highlight something, and the Kindle was so slow at highlighting and making notes that the students stopped reading them as scholarly texts and started reading them like novels."

The result, according to Montgomery-Amo, is that his students didn't understand the material as well as they did when using a traditional textbook. To make matters worse, he says the Kindle proved unable to keep up with the class discussion — it would take half a minute to load a page and by then, the discussion would have lost its momentum.

This is bad news for Amazon, but might be good news for Apple. But is it? What did the students think about the iPad? Well, according to NPR's report, they were much happier with it:

Senior Michael Crane and junior Rebecca Traber say that even though they've only had their iPads for a few weeks, they've already been pleasantly surprised.

"I thought it would just kind of be a fun toy," Crane says. "It still is a fun toy, but it also … makes it really easy to read articles for class. In fact, I read pretty much all my articles for all my classes on this now. The instant boot time I think is really nice because if I have half an hour somewhere, I don't have to set up my laptop to get my articles out."

"I actually found it startlingly easy to annotate," Traber says. "You just swipe your finger and you highlight."

The question remains whether these positive experiences will be eventually transformed into actually buying the iPad. Well, not so fast. The students interviewed for the report bring up several issues that will get them to think twice before buying one: the price of the iPad, it's easier to do many functions on laptop (even just writing) and the keyboard (as one student said - "I don't like the keyboard at all.").

There's no doubt that we're heading towards a digital age of e-textbooks. It's just a matter of time. The bottom line is that it's a win-win especially for students. The only question is which e-reader will learn to adjust itself to meet students' special needs - it looks like the iPad is much better positioned for that right now, but I'm sure Amazon haven't said the last word.

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!