U. releases Kindle pilot data
The University’s e-reader pilot program, which experimented with the use of the Kindle DX in three courses last semester, reduced the amount of paper students printed for their respective classes by nearly 50 percent, the University plans to announce today.
But in spite of the cost savings, some students and professors said they found the technology limiting.
The Kindle, a handheld, electronic device manufactured by amazon.com, allows users to store, read, highlight and annotate books and other documents using its display screen.
Students in WWS 325: Civil Society and Public Policy, who were given Kindles, printed an average of 762 pages, compared to the roughly 1,373 pages printed in past years, a 55 percent difference in paper use.
Kindle owners in WWS 555A: U.S. Policy and Diplomacy in the Middle East printed an average of 962 pages, while those without the e-readers printed an average of 1,826 pages, a 53 percent difference.
In addition to trying to reduce the amount of on-campus printing, the program’s other primary goals included testing how e-readers affect the quality of education and providing recommendations for future makers of the devices, explained Serge Goldstein, associate chief information officer and OIT director of academic services.
Despite the Kindle’s environmental friendliness, users said they often found its design ill-suited for class readings. Students and faculty participating in the program said it was difficult to highlight and annotate PDF files and to use the folder structure intended to organize documents, according to University surveys. The inability to quickly navigate between documents and view two or more documents at the same time also frustrated users.
Eddie Skolnick ’12, who initially was excited at the prospect of the Kindle improving his class experience, said that he later thought the e-reader was detrimental to his studies.
“I expected it to be a really useful tool that would enhance my experience, but it has hindered my studies in a lot of different ways,” Skolnick said. “I wasn’t able to absorb the material as well as if I had hard copies of the readings, and I had to deal with a lot of technical inconveniences just from the design of the Kindle.”
“It’s not very well designed for academic use, it’s not very helpful in page-turning or note taking, and the annotation software is very poor,” he added.
Brian No ’10 said in an e-mail that difficulties in annotating the text were the largest drawback. “Because there are no page numbers, I also had no conception of how much reading I had to do,” he added, noting that the lack of page numbers also “made class discussions harder."
"It would take everyone longer to find the exact location number," he explained.
No is also a former news writer for The Daily Princetonian.
Wilson School professor Stan Katz, who taught WWS 325 this fall, said he also found the device ill-suited for his course.
“I found it disappointing for use in class because I emphasize close work with the text, and that ideally requires students to mark up the text quite a bit,” Katz said. “Though it doesn’t prevent highlighting, the annotation function is difficult to use, and the keyboard is very small,” he added.
But Wilson School professor Daniel Kurtzer, who taught WWS 555A, said he found the Kindle conducive to the format of his class because it consisted of “very traditional reading.”
He noted, however, that the device posed problems during class discussions.
“There’s not a lot of opportunity to refer to the readings specifically in class, and I think that might’ve been a challenge,” he explained.
Despite some of the Kindle’s disadvantages, students and faculty in the project said they benefited from other aspects of the device. Survey participants cited the Kindle’s battery life, wireless connection, portability, search feature and ability to consolidate all course documents in one place as convenient features.
Classics professor Harriet Flower, who taught the graduate seminar CLA 546: Religion and Magic in Ancient Rome, said in an e-mail that it was “a great advantage to always have all the texts available without carrying too much around.”
For No, “The biggest positive was being able to download my notes and highlighted text onto my computer with a USB cable,” he said. “I was able to copy and paste certain selections from the text when I was writing my final paper, which saved a lot of time.”
Janet Temos, director of the Educational Technologies Center at OIT, said she is optimistic about the future of e-readers in an academic setting.
“[I] think students will begin buying these devices because they’re compelling, and our job is to make sure that the e-reserves program and other programs have material in a format that can easily be used and absorbed by these devices,” Temos said. The 53 students who participated in the pilot program were allowed to keep their Kindles after the courses ended.
Temos noted that at the start of the program in September 2009, only four e-readers were in the market, including the Kindle. Now 24 e-reader devices exist, she added.
Kurtzer said that he would understand if his students choose “more conventional” ways to complete their class readings, since “they are the ones taking the notes.”
“It was great to have the experience of using a Kindle, but I think I’ll stick with books until they work out the kinks,” said Cally Robertson ’10, who took WWS 325.
Roughly 65 percent of participants said they would not purchase a replacement e-reader if theirs broke, but nearly all reported that they would follow the technology’s progress.
Though e-readers have only recently been introduced to the academic world, Goldstein said devices like Kindle may be successful in the future.
“E-reading technology definitely has a lot of potential, and eventually, as we have more and more text that is digitized, it is going to be more important to academics on campus,” Goldstein explained.
But No said he thinks the Kindle may be more suited for leisure reading. “I think it’s one of those pieces of technology that will seem ridiculously anachronistic five years from now,” he said. “I think the only way the Kindle can become suitable for academics is if Amazon makes a specially designed device for use in the classroom that would allow easy and seamless annotation and notetaking.”
Professors of all three classes said that, with improvements in the device’s design, they would be willing to teach courses using Kindles again.
“If they improved it, I would be happy to try it [again],” Katz said. “In principle, I very much like the idea.”
The pilot program was sponsored by OIT, the University Library and the High Meadows Foundation, which has helped to fund sustainability initiatives at the University. In addition to Princeton, five other colleges — Arizona State University, Case Western Reserve University, Reed College and Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia — participated in the program.