Not so Fast, Guv! Wisconsin Students Not Ready to Terminate Paper Books

We’ve written about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s initiative to convert California’s school system to e-textbooks (See Hasta La Vista, Textbooks). Before terminating paper books, though, he might want to check out what University of Wisconsin at Madison has learned about student responses to e-books as educational devices.

Students in an upper level history course were given tablet-sized Kindle DXs, Amazon’s bid to capture the educational market. They used them for one semester, then next semester passed them along to kids in a another history course. According to an article by Kenneth Frazier in UW history newsletter, “Most were initially enthusiastic about participating in the experiment though somewhat skeptical about the quality of the reading experience the readers would provide.”

The upshot? While the students appreciated the advantages of e-books,Many said in response to questions of the baseline survey that they preferred printed books for sustained and serious reading…Within a few weeks after the start of the [first] class several students had opted to buy paper copies of the books for some of the readings…They immediately perceived the cumbersome note-taking features and the lack of reliable pagination. Perhaps most disturbing, the Kindle DX cannot be used by blind and low-vision readers, even though modest changes in the design would have made this technology accessible for the blind and other text-disabled users. The experimental project has uncovered faults so fundamental that this particular device will never be deployed for mass use by UW–Madison students.”

Okay, so Kindle is out. But new tablets are on the way, Wisconsin, such as Apple’s rumored entry later this year. A year or two from now you will begin to see students trudging up Bascom Hill with tablets slung over their shoulders. A year or two later, tablets will become standard issue.

Richard Curtis


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