Reading and wandering

Reading a book is a physical act, writes Andrew Piper on Slate, arguing that an e-reader just isn’t the same. Every night, he reads his children a bedtime story.

As I begin to read, the kids begin to lean into me. Our bodies assume positions of rest, the book our shared column of support. No matter what advertisers say, this could never be true of the acrobatic screen. As we gradually sink into the floor, and each other, our minds are freed to follow their own pathways, unlike the prescribed pathways of the Web. We read and we drift. ‘The words of my book nothing,’ writes Walt Whitman, ‘the drift of it everything.’

Reading sets minds wandering, the best way to discover new ideas, writes Piper. “New connections, new pathways, and sharp turns are being made as we meander our way through the book, but also away from it.”

. . .  We may be holding the book together, but our minds are no doubt far apart by now. The fairy tale is the first story of childhood because it tells of such leaving behind (parents and home), of entering the dreamscape of the woods—and the mind. It tells of the crooked path of change. How can one know where reading books ends and dreaming in books begins?”

Via Annie Murphy Paul.

Do readers’ minds wander less with an e-reader? I prefer to read a real book, if I’m not traveling, but reading a screen is still reading.

E-book nation

E-book Nation
Brought to you by:

E-textbooks for K-12 schools aren’t ready for prime time, reports Ed Week’s Digital Education.

Duncan pushes e-textbooks

The Obama administration wants an e-textbook in every student’s hand by 2017, writes USA Today.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants states to use textbook funding for digital learning materials and tablet computers. They’ll jawbone companies to lower prices to schools.

Administration officials say Web-connected instructional materials help students learn more efficiently and give teachers real-time information on how well kids understand material. “We spend $7 billion a year on textbooks, and for many students around the country, they’re out of date,” Genachowski says. In five years, he predicts, “we could be spending less as a society on textbooks and getting more for it.”

While up-front costs for tablet computers are high — new iPads start at $499 — he says moving from paper to digital “saves a ton of money” in the long run. “We absolutely want to push the process.”

Core Knowledge blogger Robert Pondiscio said the enthusiasm around educational technology is “magical thinking.”

“I wish there was even 10% as much thought as to what is going to come through these devices as in getting them into kids’ hands,” he says. “It’s not a magic bullet. We need to worry about what is on these tablets while they’re sitting in kids’ laps.”

Karen Cator, the U.S. Department of Education’s technology director, says tablet computers will extend the school day and engage students.

In my school days, I’d go home, finish my homework and read for three hours or so. OK, I was not normal, even among my studious friends. But I don’t think that gee-whiz devices will engage kids who don’t read well. Not for long, anyhow.

On a visit to my mother this week, I picked up a 1945 book on teaching remedial reading that must be left over from her master’s program in education back in the ’50s. (It advocates delaying phonics till second grade, after students have memorized a bunch of sight words.) Among the strategies for motivating struggling readers, the author suggested letting them use a typewriter to write the new words they’ve learned. Kids will be excited by the technology, the professor wrote.

I’m sure that e-books are the wave of the future, but schools should be careful not to spend before they’ve figured out how new learning materials will improve learning.  Do students need an iPad? A Kindle or Nook equivalent? Some new, cheaper device not yet available? Yes, publishers will lower prices to compete for market share, but schools need to make sure they’re not locked into one company’s products or blocked from using free open-source materials.

Give up sex to not lug college texts?

To avoid toting heavy textbooks, one in four college students would give up sex for a year — or so they said on a survey by Kno, an education software company.  One third would take 8 a.m. classes every day; 28 percent would rather have parents visit every other weekend for a year than carry textbooks daily

That said, it’s no surprise that 71 percent said they would use digital textbooks through apps on tablets, laptops and netbooks. If students could access textbooks from anywhere without having to carry them around, about 62 percent said they would study more often and 54 percent insisted they would study more efficiently.

Or so they said. Nearly half predict physical textbooks will be obsolete in the next five years. That’s probably correct.

Amazon now rents textbooks on Kindle e-readers. Students can download free Kindle reading apps for various laptops, netbooks and smart phones.

Kindle Textbook Rental gives users up to 80 percent off the list price of a print textbook. For example, accounting textbook Intermediate Accounting is available through Amazon for $183.53 in hard cover and buying it through Kindle for $109.20. However, it’s listed for rental on Amazon for only $38.29.

As a relatively new Kindle user, I don’t think it’s as easy to read as a book — especially a textbook. But the convenience and cost savings of rentals are bound to attract students.

A Kindle for every kid in Ghana

A non-profit called Worldreader is giving Kindles to students in Ghana to encourage reading, reports the Wall Street Journal.

(Worldreader co-founder David) Risher says he thinks e-books will let the developing world skip the paper stage, in much the same way cell phones have helped countries skip the landline stage. E-readers, he says, are more akin to cellphones than laptops — and are well designed for the developing world because they don’t consume much power and they use the universal GSM network.

Worldreader will study whether junior and senior high school students read more and improve their reading skills if they have a Kindle preloaded with “public-domain books, as well as contemporary international and local books (which the organization is helping to get published in digital form for the first time).”

E-readers unfair to blind?

Accused of discrimination against the disabled, three universities have agreed to stop testing Kindle e-readers until they’re fully functional for blind students, under a deal with the Justice Department.

Pace University, Case Western Reserve and Reed College are participating in a Kindle pilot. While the Kindle has a text-to-speech function, the menu does not, “so it is impossible for blind students to navigate through different electronic books or within an electronic book,” reports AP.

This is not as silly as it may seem: Blind people can use scanners to “read” printed books.

Amazon is working on an audible menu, and predicts electronic readers will be a “break-through technology” for the blind.

Via Political Correctness Watch.

In a pilot project, 12 Indianapolis schools are replacing textbooks with digital content from Discovery Education.

E-texts get mixed reviews

College students aren’t wild about e-book readers, reports the Wall Street Journal. Pilot projects have returned “mixed reviews.”

Since e-books aren’t printed and don’t need to be sold through physical distributors, they should theoretically be less expensive than regular books and can save students and schools money. What’s more, e-textbooks are environmentally friendly, can lighten backpacks and keep learning materials current.

But . . . digital reading comes with drawbacks, including an expensive starting price for e-book readers and surprisingly high prices for digital textbooks. Also, publishers make e-texts difficult to share and print, and it is unclear how well students will adapt to reading textbooks on a screen, some say. The earliest versions of these devices lack highlighting, note-taking and sharing capabilities, and one leading provider’s e-books expire after several months, meaning they can’t be kept for future reference.

E-readers start at $280; Amazon’s Kindle DX, designed for textbooks, is a pricey  $489. Publishers, trying to protect their print book sales, are charging nearly as much for e-books.

For example, Human Reproductive Biology, a textbook from Elsevier BV’s Academic Press, costs $65 for the Kindle edition, $66 from Sony’s e-book store, and $49 for a 180-day subscription on e-textbook seller A printed edition costs about $72 from various retailers.

Prices may come down in time, both for the readers and the books, but right now the e-option isn’t a great deal.

A survey by Student Public Interest Research Group panned e-books: 75% of college students said they prefer print books.

Project Tomorrow surveyed younger students on “what elements they found most important in digital textbooks.”

Many said they wanted interactive features like videos and quizzes. No dedicated e-readers have these attributes.

The proposal to put “a Kindle in every backpack” seems premature.

A Kindle in Every Backpack

Every student would get an e-book device, proposes the Democratic Leadership Council in “A Kindle in Every Backpack.” From the New York Times:

Its authors argue that government should furnish each student in the country with a digital reading device, which would allow textbooks to be cheaply distributed and updated, and allow teachers to tailor an interactive curriculum that effectively competes for the attention of their students in the digital age.

The proposal would cost $9 billion more than the current print textbook budget, the authors estimate, but might save $700 million a year over traditional textbook purchases by the fifth year. Or not.

Developing the content of textbooks costs money — and it will cost even more to make the new e-books interactive and whizz-bangy.  (My husband authored college engineering textbooks; it takes time and skill to do it right.)

I don’t doubt that the paper textbook is going to be obsolete soon, if only to save kids’ backs, but the drive to hand out Kindles to all reminds me of the drive to hand out laptops.  That was supposed to revolutionize learning too.

Kindle for textbooks

Amazon will debut a larger-screen Kindle designed for textbooks and magazines, reports the Wall Street Journal. The new Kindle will include an updated web browser.

Beginning this fall, some students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland will be given large-screen Kindles with textbooks for chemistry, computer science and a freshman seminar already installed, said Lev Gonick, the school’s chief information officer. The university plans to compare the experiences of students who get the Kindles and those who use traditional textbooks, he said.

Pace, Princeton, Reed, Darden School at the University of Virginia, and Arizona State also will try out the new Kindles.