B&N Nook Takes Aim At Students

Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) has announced an August release for their new NOOKstudy software package.  Following in their recent tradition of following up Amazon’s original moves with some further refinement, it appears we’re looking at a few old favorites with a couple new twists.  The Kindle DX has proven to be slightly less than ready for big-time school exposure so far, which leaves the field open to the nook and its related software for the time being.

As anybody might expect, looking at software for students, there will be highlighting, annotation, and in-text note-taking for follow-ups.  In addition, annotations and notes in general will be tagged for easy searching and full-text searching will be, obviously, much faster than the existing search feature native to the nook device. There also appears to be some browser integration to allow for fast look-up of formulas and definitions as you read.  Users will be able to open two texts at once for simultaneous reading/reference on the same screen, a tabbed browser will allow multiple documents to be open for use at any given time, and students will likely find the ability to organize documents based on class and topic quite helpful.

This all comes at the same time as an announcement of integration of the Barnes & Noble eBook Store with the ever-popular Blackboard educational software, which will allow students to download any available texts directly from a list of what is required for their classes.  Basically, B&N is hoping to take the college scene by storm and they seem to have a good idea of how to go about it.

High School Goes Digital

While they are still in the market for a vendor and making efforts to arrange matters of budgeting and potential purchase bundling discounts, Clearwater High(Clearwater, FL) has made known its intent to move the student body over to the use of the Kindle as a replacement for the traditional textbook collection that students have always known and “loved”.

The intention is to supply all 2100 students with a Kindle that comes preloaded with every book they will require for the academic year.  Students will not be given the ability to purchase further books on the school property, but it seems likely, given the fact that students will have internet access, that there will be the ability to transfer privately acquired eBooks as desired.  In order to reduce parental concerns and school liability somewhat, all students will be required to sign a form agreeing to avoid accessing inappropriate material on their eReaders via the internet browser.

There is no guarantee that this move will save the school money.  It is intended more as a way of connection with a student body far more at home in front of one electronic device or another than behind a book. With luck, giving these students just what they’re used to in non-academic settings as a component of their learning will increase interest and focus on what they need to do.  The recent addition of Facebook integration probably won’t hurt much either, sadly.

Princeton Students Give Kindle a Lukewarm Reaction

I’ve covered before the possible applications that the Kindle and other eReaders could have in education.  With Amazon’s pilot program for Kindle usage at universities, this semester is a testing of the waters for the future of eTextbooks.  The students involved have begun to voice their impressions, and they’re not entirely satisfied.

Does this mean that eReader adoption in the academic world will slow down?  Probably not.  The whole point of the Kindle trial is to see what works, and what doesn’t, when eReaders are put in the classroom.  So far students like the convenience of textbooks in the Kindle platform, but aren’t happy about studying with it.  Complaints are mainly about the inconvenience of note taking and flipping between passages when compared to traditional books.

But these complaints aren’t surprising.  The Kindle isn’t designed as an academic tool.  The whole reason for its success is that it is an entertainment device, created for the purpose of reading books for entertainment.  The opposite would be something like the Plastic Logic, which was created explicitly for the business world with entertainment as a secondary goal.  Chances are, Amazon is planning something similar to the touchscreen enabled Plastic Logic, some sort of Kindle academic edition.  Touch screen would be the most obvious addition, but a school oriented Kindle will probably find other ways to innovate as well.  The pilot program means that Amazon now has tons of data explaining exactly what students need from an academic eReader.  I don’t see why Amazon wouldn’t use it.

Digital Textbooks Continue to be Implemented at More Colleges

fwkFlat World Knowledge, a provider of cheap digital textbooks, has grown dramatically over the summer.  This fall semester, over 40,000 college students will use Flat World’s textbooks.  This is 40 times as many people as in the last spring semester.

This is cool for a number of reasons.  First of all, Flat World’s text books are super cheap.  To read the book in a web browser is free.  Most students, however, are willing to pay the $20 upgrade to receive DRM free PDF files.  And if a student really hates digital media, there is still the option to pay even more for a physical copy.  There isn’t any real downside for the students who have Flat World textbooks assigned in their classes.

The second reason why I like this story is that it means more professors are choosing digital formats for their classes.  This is a conscious decision on the part of the teachers to provide students with a more convenient and much cheaper alternative to traditional textbooks.

Students who own the Kindle DX, or other eReaders, are going to especially benefit from this.  Since the files come in PDF format, there is no reason why they couldn’t be put on a DX.  Even better, Flat World plans to add the Amazon format to their library this year.  It shouldn’t be long before students can download their books cheaply, over Whispernet, and (since the books are available in multiple formats) no worries about accessibility.

Idea From Democrat Think Tank: Give Every Student a Kindle

Photo by Bill Ward

Photo by Bill Ward

Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a think tank made up of Democratic Party members, thinks that education’s future lies in the Kindle.  Their proposal, entitled A Kindle In Every Backpack, makes the argument for moving towards an eTextbook environment for K-12 education.

Their argument is a compelling one.  Hardly anyone would disagree that the dominance of eReaders is inevitable, and the DLC is simply arguing that there is no point to wait.  Although overhead costs at the start of the project would be high, eReaders would save the government a lot more money in the long run.  Also, giving every student an eReader would help address the discrepancy between well-funded schools and those in disadvantaged neighborhoods by making textbook access universal.

Here’s exceprt from the paper by Thomas Z. Freedman explaining long term cost benefits of textbooks going digital:

Over time, this could provide enormous savings. Over the first four or so years of an eTextbook system, we would spend about $9 billion more—in total—than the traditional textbook scheme. Yet by the last year of that initial period, we could have already supplied Kindles, or the digital equivalent, to 100 percent of our students. At that point, the savings would kick in, beginning at over $700 million in the fifth year before holding steady at around $500 million annually in the years immediately following.

I don’t think the plan will be launched within the next couple of days, however.  With the current recession, any multi-billion initiative is going to have trouble getting off the ground.  Also, the price estimates offered by the DLC are based on assumed drops in manufacturing costs and not really indicative of the cost to roll out the plan today.  The accessibility issue would also need to be taken care of before any national plan could be enacted.

But once these issues are resolved, it won’t be long before every child does have some sort of eReader.  Hopefully, one that’s is somewhat child-resistant too.