Ebook Readers vs. Ipad for Education?

Tom PreskettBy Tom Preskett

I’m doing a project on ebook readers at the moment, and it’s led me to follow closely the advent of the iPad. My interest is the potential impact on education. At the moment, the contest is in the commercial/entertainment market. Once things settle down, education will be looked at.

From what I’ve been learning, you can’t just give students and educators an ebook reader as is right now and expect it to transfer to education successfully. Looking at it just from a book replication point of view, I feel it has to, at least, perform certain tasks well and efficiently.

Principle amongst these is taking notes and flicking back and forth through the pages. It seems that, at the moment, Kindle and company don’t do the annotation and navigation well enough for the devices to sell themselves in an educational context. This is crucial because, for learning, you have to be able to personalise the resource in some way, and for the classic textbook, this is done by scribbling in the margin, underlining, highlighting. A recent pilot programme using ebook readers showing these issues is discussed by Steve Kolowich in Highlighting E-Readers.

Alongside this issue, you have the easy sell of storage and the longterm cost saving together with the environmental plus point. This last issue is a complicated one, but I come down on the plus side largely because of Martin LaMonica’s Ebook Readers Greener Than Books, Study Says. However, I’ve heard some awful things about the black market that exists around the disposal of old hardware.

When the time comes for educational use, the selling point is with the textbook. The classic ebook reader will not challenge the didactic pedagogy and therefore has a chance of success – as long as it can be seen to do what is already done better. The biggest obstacle will be publishers jockeying for position to control this market. It’s annoying but inevitable.

Now to the iPad. One impact will be making Kindle look horribly out of date. Even though they are not doing exactly the same things, they look and seem comparable and the ebook reader pales by comparison. I suggest that Kindle sort out its web browsing features and lack of colour pretty damn quickly! Looking out of date shouldn’t matter, but this is always a valid bullet point when you approach the whole issue of e-learning and “connecting with the kids.” Still, this is the important point – the impact it will have on mobile learning in general. Yes, e-reading can occur, but being a suitable, valid, legitimate device for house-to-house mobile learning could be its biggest legacy. It’s far too early to say, but my instinct tells me so.

When it comes to pedagogy, whereas the ebook reader will reinforce the didactic, the iPad would challenge it by offering such a vast array of features and media options that any educator who teaches with one would be foolish not to explore what’s available.

Now I know none of this will happen any time soon. But the potential is there. Still, potential isn’t the same as actual, but you know that, right.

Harry Keller on 9 April 2010 said:

I have heard that the e-ink options (Kindle, et al.) are easy to read in daylight. Not so for the iPad. Not sure how that fact will affect usability in education environments.

While eBooks are strictly for reading, well, books, the iPad is really more for browsing, listening, etc. Unless Steve Jobs has a huge epiphany soon, the iPad will not run all of those Flash apps for education. It won’t run the Java apps either. In fact, Jobs just released the new iPhone OS with strict limits on third-party apps: no Flash — period!

Without color, the e-books will languish as far as education is concerned, at least in K-12. Despite all of the commotion in education circles, the iPad just is not targeted to that market — yet.

The bottom line on all of this, as Tom suggests, is wait and see.

7 Responses

  1. I have heard that the e-ink options (Kindle, et al.) are easy to read in daylight. Not so for the iPad. Not sure how that fact will affect usability in education environments.

    While eBooks are strictly for reading, well, books, the iPad is really more for browsing, listening, etc. Unless Steve Jobs has a huge epiphany soon, the iPad will not run all of those Flash apps for education. It won’t run the Java apps either. In fact, Jobs just released the new iPhone OS with strict limits on third-party apps: no Flash — period!

    Without color, the e-books will languish as far as education is concerned, at least in K-12. Despite all of the commotion in education circles, the iPad just is not targeted to that market — yet.

    The bottom line on all of this, as Tom suggests, is wait and see.

  2. Hi Harry,

    Having not used an ebook extensively, I can’t state from experience that e-ink is easier on the eyes but this is what I hear. For me, this is a fundamental issue when considering devices for reading in education. We still print things out when large documents need reading. I do this because I get headaches. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t.

    I guess what I’m suggesting is that an ebook readers at the moment don’t do enough to facilitate the needs of learners. The impact of the iPad might cause this to change. You are right that the lack of flash is a big inhibiter when considering the iPad itself for education.

  3. […] EBook Readers versus iPad for Education […]

  4. Hi Tom,
    I’ve been using an iPad since the first day they shipped and my appreciation of it just keeps growing.

    The iPad is so much more than an eBook.

    My favorite example of an elegant custom application is NPR. It is a delightful experience to browse illustrated headline+summary for news, arts&life and music. Share any story via Twitter, Facebook, or email. The audio for any individual story can be added to your playlist (one almost forgets NPR is radio, they have so much text and images). You can also browse the content of individual programs (All things considered, Morning Edition, Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, and more), selecting individual stories for your playlist. Then listen to your own customized NPR news for the day.

    I am actually not writing this to promote NPR so much as to say that if I were to develop a custom iPad application for education, it too could be amazing and elegant, pulling in much of what we know about interactivity (social and individual). Functionality for education can improve even more when multitasking comes to the OS (as has been announced for iPhone 4).

    Another example iPad ap with cool implications for education is Soundpaper. You can record audio of a seminar (or class) while taking notes. The audio syncs with the notes. Click on a word in your notes, and the audio playback jumps to that spot.

    Kindle is just one ap in my iPad. eBook functionality needs to expand to incorporate myriad functions far beyond reading a book and taking notes. And then it will be integral to education.

    As always, I wish all of my students had an iPad (well, iPad 2.0). If they did, I could justify designing my courses for iPad. Sadly, this is not at all the case, and instructors need to teach to the technologies of their students.

    However, I don’t mean to diss your work on eBooks. I think when note taking gets better (a lot better) including getting those notes outside of the book and even social note taking, there will be an ever growing reliance on eBooks for education. As an instructor, I would like to be able to annotate the textbook so that my students read the book AND my comments, and then add their own.

  5. From Inaccessible E-Readers May Run Afoul of the Law, Feds Warn Colleges by Marc Parry (The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2010-06-29):

    Feds to colleges: If you require students to use electronic-book readers that blind people can’t access, you may be running afoul of the law.
    That was the message of a letter released to college presidents Tuesday by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.
    “It is unacceptable for universities to use emerging technology without insisting that this technology be accessible to all students,” the letter warns. (…)

    (The letter itself is in ada.gov/kindle_ltr_eddoj.htm).

    Marc Parry also quotes Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, as saying: “Of the e-readers produced by four companies—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple—only Apple’s iPad can be used by blind people”, and as hoping that:

    …the government’s letter will prompt universities to tell the e-reader vendors that approach them that they can’t legally use the devices unless they’re equally accessible to blind students.

    This should simplify the choice for US universities, or incite them to postpone it in case other vendors finally decide to make their products usable by all.

    Not very likely, though: Amazon e.g. has been welshing on its promise to make the Kindle accessible for over a year. And as many other countries do not enforce accessibility in education with the same conviction and efficiency as the US, these vendors might just turn to universities in these countries.

  6. iPads seem to be a bit overpriced for schools right now. Even though there will probably be a big discount when bought in bulk.

    You can find other reader versions for around $100, but I do have to say I wish I had an iPad through college-that would have been nice.

  7. […] Ebook vs. iPad para educación […]

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