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April 19, 2010, 02:00 PM ET

Kindle Failed Tests at Several Colleges. Will iPads Do Better?

Reed College plans to do a formal experiment with iPads by loading the devices with class readings and giving them to students  to see how they compare with traditional textbooks.

Reed was one of seven campuses to run a similar experiment with Kindles in partnership with Amazon—and students largely gave that device a failing grade. Now some of the same campuses plan to try the test with Apple's iPad, and the tough question is whether this device passes.

"We are going to—to the extent that we can—make the iPad study as parallel to the Kindle DX study as possible," said Martin D. Ringle, chief technology officer at Reed College, in an interview. "If I were to predict, I would say that the results are going to be dramatically different and much better—and they're going to point the way to what role this technology is going to play in higher education."

But what if print beats even Apple's tablet for ease of use in note taking and highlighting? The Kindle project was expected to be a huge success, but the devices proved to be an unexpected flop. Students, it turns out, are tough customers when it comes to e-books, so many professors, administrators, and industry leaders will be eagerly awaiting reports from the iPad studies.

In other iPad news:

• The University of Maryland at College Park's Digital Cultures and Creativity program announced today that it will give iPads to incoming students in the program in the fall, as part of the university's Mobility Initiative.

• North Carolina State University's library purchased 30 iPads that officials are lending to students for four-hour periods. The goal is to let students give them a "test drive," said Mick Kulikowski, a university spokesman.


1. ahirshon - April 19, 2010 at 05:32 pm

One of the key issues with the Kindle was ADA compliance. Is there reason to believe that Apple has solved this issue in a way that Amazon had not?

2. 11180655 - April 19, 2010 at 05:33 pm

The point that should have been mentioned is the iPad is a computer and student acceptance will depend on the application(s). There is great incentive to develop applications that students and colleges will find more useful than a traditional textbook, which will happen. Most will discover this is the first platform that will allow software development to improve on the printed textbook.

The real key will be authors working with their publishers to recreate their textbooks to take advantage of new software on this platform, and someday we will no longer call them textbooks. Imagine an application for each course that presents a whole set of learning content. Can't wait!

3. ejpusa - April 19, 2010 at 05:36 pm

Ok, isn't Reed where Steve Jobs actually went to college?

For a semester or so?

4. jedshivers - April 19, 2010 at 05:49 pm

Why not utilize a much less expensive netbook computer which has 8-9 hour battery life, sleeps, etc. It has a real keyboard has wifi, cellular modems, etc.

5. eliangonzales - April 19, 2010 at 05:57 pm

"Is there reason to believe that Apple has solved this issue in a way that Amazon had not?"

There very may well be, considering Apple includes its VoiceOver software with the iPad, as well as its Macs. The software is specifically geared for the visually impaired, and is not the same thing as the "experimental" text-to-speech setting on the Kindle.

6. funkyfeet - April 19, 2010 at 07:12 pm

I've been told that many netbooks can be configured to run MAC OS 10 operating system and have garnered the street name as Hackentosh... :-)

7. albertov05 - April 20, 2010 at 12:45 am

The medium is the message. Are we teaching content or technology? Methinks technology teaches itself and today's youth are already overexposed- to an extent that significantly interferes with learning. We don't have readers or critical thinkers and I am not convinced that all the bells and whistles are necessarily going to change that. I am vaguely reminded of all the hype before the last technology bubble burst. I am sorry, but while these are certainly powerful tools they do not supplant reading and writing and many other skills that are provided by traditional forms of delivery. Where is the healthy skepticism in all this enthusiasm?

8. emmadw - April 20, 2010 at 05:52 am

I agree with albertovog5 that many students lack the critical reading/writing skills that we'd like them to have; however, my view is that if an individual finds reading/ note taking easier with a gadget (whatever that gadget should be) then they should be encourage to do so.

Geek that I am (and I'd love to get my hands on an iPad when they get to the UK!) I'd be very anti any requirement that all students use any particular technology. Individuals have to find what suits them best. And having a go with a loan model's a lot cheaper than buying one yourself.

9. psameca - April 20, 2010 at 08:21 am

Isn't the iPad to Kindle comparison a bit like apples and oranges? What about the Sony Reader, Nook and other reading-specific devices? I don't advocate one device (or indeed any device other than paper and ink), but it needs to be a fair comparison.

10. cwinton - April 20, 2010 at 09:23 am

"... Apple includes its VoiceOver software with the iPad, as well as its Macs." I don't know why this won't pose the same problem as for Kindle. Any book with a potential audio book market will likely have this kind of feature blocked.

11. garay - April 20, 2010 at 09:49 am

I think, the iPad is an outstanding device for reading and consuming content :: Web browsing, reading email, PDFs and other office documents, eBooks, and Apple-supported multimedia.

Also, unlike today's Kindle, the iPad has a full-feature Web browser, built-in Wi-Fi, (3G soon) and a growing library of native iPad apps that gives the iPad all kinds of additional functionality that makes it even more useful and fun.

In the short 2+ weeks I have had an iPad, I see myself increasingly reaching for it, instead of my laptop, TabletPC or iPhone to read email, browse, and some light computing. I also like using slick native apps like Blackboard Mobile Learn, NPR, Google Maps and a number of other apps that provide an even easier and less cluttered mobile experience customized to fit the device's screen size.

On the other hand, the iPad also frustrates me, every time I try to use it for note taking, and whenever I run into some desirable Flash content. There is a lot of valuable educational content today that uses Flash, including Flash movies, screencasts, tutorials, slideshare presentations, Flash learning objects, animations, Flash Websites, etc. that the iPads and iPhones cannot play. Apple needs to change that.

I doubt students will replace their notebook computers with iPads, but I can see students finding increasing value in having iPads to surf the Web, read class materials, accessing their LMS sites, blogs, wikis, lecture captures, and so forth. Apple still needs to beef up its iBooks Store with college textbooks, etc. but when it does, we'll be pressed to find students not having enough justification to purchase an excellent reading device that can also do a myriad of things for school work and fun.

Fun sells...

12. catlkelley - April 20, 2010 at 11:11 am

I've been lucky enough to have both a Kindle DX and an iPad to try out. My university also did a very small-scale Kindle pilot, not one of the ones that you've read about here or elsewhere.

The students are VERY clear that they want the ability to highlight naturally with a pen, and take notes naturally with a pen. They will reject any device that doesn't do that, and the iPad doesn't do that. Also, I have found that I get eyestrain very quickly when reading from the iPad - not so with the Kindle. I can't imagine a long study session on the iPad.

The iPad is a nifty little toy and I love it for a few very specific things. For getting online quickly to check something, e.g. the weather report or a quick glance at e-mail, it's great. For watching movies / TV shows, it's phenomenal. For extended web surfing or reading, it's OK but very, very hard on my eyes. I can easily "grow" the text by "pinching out" but then every time I navigate to a new page I have to do that again and I am getting more & more annoyed by that. And the eyestrain isn't all about text size, it's also about the glare.

And for doing anything productive, it absolutely stinks. I hate, despise, & loathe typing on the virtual keyboard with a bitter passion. I intend to get the keyboard dock but it doesn't seem that it would work like a laptop so that I could type e-mails while watching TV on the couch at home.

13. webwatcher - April 20, 2010 at 03:20 pm

The iPad (like the iPhone) is accessible to the blind. The Kindle's accessibility problem isn't so much content, as the navigation and interface.

It will be interesting to see how the iPad compares to other eReaders -- there are several apps for the iPad (including the Kindle app) with different features for bookmarking and notetaking.

The full touch screen with full color opens up a lot of potential other eReaders and even notebook computers won't be able to emulate, but a good old-fashioned book is still my choice.

14. beagle - April 21, 2010 at 05:10 am

Here is something interesting the results of Princeton on the usage of Kindle.

15. tfaigle - April 21, 2010 at 12:34 pm

catlkelley, as someone who has both a Kindle and iPad does allow highliting with a pen. The "problem" is that Apple hasn't really made many people aware that an optional stylus is available.

I use mine and love it. The only area that the Kindle seems to be better that then iPad is for reading outdoors and/or direct bright light.

16. catlkelley - April 21, 2010 at 07:53 pm

tfaigle, I have a stylus (Pogo). Apple doesn't sell any kind of stylus or reocmmend its use (though I don't think they recommend against it). they consider this a touch device, not a stylus device.

Sure, I can highlight with the stylus if I want to, but iBooks wasn't designed to work that way. And there absolutely is no note-taking available with the stylus, which our students consider a deal-killer.

Kindle is better for my eyes under all light conditions. Many people cannot read for long periods of time from LCD screens, and I am one of them. This is the entire rationale for developing e-ink in the first place, and I truly believe it is better for extended periods of in-depth reading. Unfortunately it is slow, so point & click interfaces are impossible.

My personal conclusion is that display technologies are not ready for textbook readers yet. More suitable technologies are in development however.

17. marymorris - April 22, 2010 at 10:06 am

Too bad about this - I love my Kindle.

I just got stranded in an airport for a day and a half due to the volcanic dust situation, so I caught up via Kindle and Project Gutenberg on primary texts I've wanted to read for awhile. (Obviously, this may be useful only to arts/humanities scholars.)

No, Kindle doesn't let you highlight, but those of us who as students used textbooks from the library and/or resold our books got used to not highlighting nor writing marginalia.

18. arrive2__net - April 28, 2010 at 02:20 am

Books can allow you to hold on to one page, and turn back to another page, or pages, to compare what the author said before to what the author is saying now. You can also examine tables or figures on other pages and compare them with what you are reading now. And there are other advantages to a book, like with many books you can stick them in your pocket and run, and you don't have to worry as much if they fall in a puddle, etc. (Ok they get wet but then dry.) On the other hand an electronic device can search for text, cut and paste, read to you, and it can hold much more text for its size. It seems like over time, electronic devices will become increasingly competitive with books. The natural evolution of the iPad will be to increasingly expand to the full capabilities of a laptop pc, so the competition is ultimately between a laptop-interface and a iPad-type interface ... then the two interfaces will drift together. Kindle is cool, but as computing and display power becomes cheaper over time it will have to evolve into a pc-like device ultimately, to stay competitive, in my opinion.

Bernard Schuster

19. marka - April 29, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Thx all for thoughtful comments! Sounds like we all will stay tuned ...

20. esfanning - May 16, 2010 at 01:26 pm

Some good studies have already provided useful information on how best to go forward. We are trying to get additional information through the following survey, for those of you who used Kindle or an e-reader in a classroom, either as a teacher or a student. Thanks in advance for your participation!

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