E-readers are fast becoming a part of our mainstream society. Schools have begun to look at these technological devices and are deciding whether they have a place in the academic learning environment.
In the fall of 2009, an assistant professor of elementary education at Kansas State University, Lotta Larson, began using an Amazon Kindle e-reader with some second grade students. She is also using e-readers with special needs students. With the Kindle, students can access features that allow them to interact with text differently than they can with printed books. These include listening to text as they read, making notes, highlighting text, looking up words, bookmarking pages, and adjusting font sizes.
Schools may adopt the use of e-readers for financial reasons. Using e-textbooks could possibly reduce the amount of money needed for textbooks. Another reason may be to reduce the weight in students’ backpacks. An e-reader can contain many books and only weigh a few ounces versus carrying a number of textbooks each weighing several pounds. Also, e-textbooks, through the use of technology, can be updated quicker and more easily than printed texts.
In the 2010-2011 school year Clearwater High School in Florida plans to use e-readers instead of traditional textbooks for their 2,100 students. They are hoping to make a deal with Kindle that will include the device and bundled electronic textbooks at a reasonable price. As a backup, each class will also have some traditional hard copies of textbooks for those who are uncomfortable with the e-book technology.
One thing that educational institutions need to keep in mind as they start to integrate e-readers into their curriculum, is the June 29, 2010 letter from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice regarding electronic books in the classroom. The letter speaks to the Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If institutions are using technology they need to make sure it is accessible to all students, including those with disabilities. The Kindle was specifically cited in the letter, stating that although it has a read-aloud feature, it does not have controls that the visually impaired are able to navigate.
Electronic readers are still new to the academic world. There is not yet enough data to determine if they have a place in our educational institutions. It will be interesting to watch schools as they do pilot projects with these devices to see if the e-readers become the way of the future.