We’ve been seeing a great deal of interest in the potential savings provided by the Kindle in educational settings lately. Now that some of the initial antagonism is out of the way, people are coming to see eReaders as valuable tools. It needs to be kept in mind, however, that as much as the Kindle can serve as a book analogue in the majority of situations it is still not a book and not suitable for every single situation where books are used. How we decide which situations to use them in is something that still remains vague.
Perhaps the most interesting case is the early education classroom. I’m thinking Primary School here (1st – 5th/6th grade). On the surface it makes perfect sense. Using a Kindle rather than buying books means that schools can potentially avoid everything from lost reading material to profanity scribbled in the margins of textbooks. Students wouldn’t even need to worry about forgetting their books on the way to or from school. For every positive, though, there is a negative.
The most obvious is probably also the most trivial to fix. Kids break things. Whether through overwhelming exuberance or deliberate malice, from time to time they just tend to do damage as a group even if the same isn’t necessarily true of any specific individual. The Kindle, whatever else you might say about it, is not the most durable piece of electronics in the world. Amazon has an amazing return policy and does great work in making sure that damaged E Ink screens are replaced when the occasion calls for it, sometimes even for customers long out of the warranty period, but we have to assume they would balk at 5-10 free service orders per classroom every six months. Given the investment already being made in texts on a regular basis, it still might make sense to go with the Kindle. At the very least, a good case can prevent all but the most destructive acts from doing damage in my experience.
More important would be the issue of efficacy. While the Kindle is great for sequential reading, its limited navigational options and slow refresh rate can be a pain for referring to scattered parts of a book. On top of that, until color screens come into fashion in the eReading world there will always be some question of whether enough is being done to hold student attention. There is a reason that most textbooks for children are thoroughly illustrated and brightly colored.
Rather than just assuming a stance on this, I have to say that it feels like an issue best decided through trials. There are surely ways to use the Kindle properly in these classrooms, just as there are obviously ways for it to be used poorly. The only way to really figure out how to make it work is to throw the new technology into the mix and see how the kids take to it. I do believe that exposing children to this sort of technology early in their lives can have positive effects on both their technical proficiency and their love of reading, but one person’s anecdotal evidence about a kid who loves their Kindle is hardly enough for me to argue for an educational policy even when the anecdote is mine.
I’m curious what you all think on this. Do Kindles and kids make a productive combination?