New Amazon Kindle DX: For Education, Not So Much…

May 6, 2009

to-scale-nell-sm_v244132763_jpgAmazon announced this morning a new model of their eBook reader, the Kindle DX.  It’s main differentiating features from the currently shipping model include a larger size screen (9.7 in) and resolution (1200 x 824), as well as a built-in PDF reader, more memory, and an auto-rotating screen.  Amazon also announced agreements with several textbook companies to port books to the device–a clear aim at an education market hungry for innovative ways to deliver learning.  But while this is an intriguing device as an (expensive) eBook, newspaper, and magazine reader, it’s still off-the-mark as a solution for students.

First, let me extol its virtues.  The  interface, large screen, and awesome battery life (4 days) make it a very “user-friendly” device.  Amazon has also done a nice job developing WhisperSync, the service that conveniently and reliably delivers content wirelessly to the Kindle, as long as you have Sprint data coverage. It’s thin profile and slight weight let it slide easily into a purse or backpack.

Okay, I was nice for four sentences.  Let the carnage ensue:

The Kindle is designed to read books, newspapers, and magazines, and do that well at a per unit cost of nearly $500. That’s all fine by me until Amazon and textbook publishers begin to position it as a tool for education. Then, my gloves come off.  It is a closed, proprietary device.  This means you better look at the list of technical specifications and features and be satisfied, because that’s all it will do.  Software developers won’t be allowed to come up with so much as a rudimentary word processor or messaging application.  It has a basic web browser that is less functional than Opera on my Nintendo Wii, so forget any meaningful use of the Internet.  A PDF reader will let you look at your own documents, but getting them on the device is so much more difficult than it needs to be, and predictably, there is no way to edit them.  A gray-scale screen is optimized for reading text, but poorly-suited for any level of graphics or animation.

The education market desperately needs a usable, affordable solution in this vein, but such a device needs to be so much more.  The fundamental problem with the Kindle is that it’s a 2009 model tool designed for an 18th century model of education.  It delivers content  one-way, with almost no ability to create, collaborate, or access information and media beyond what is specifically adapted for the device. For $500, a nice  netbook delivers the capability to do EVERYTHING the Kindle DX does, as well as:

  • Create, edit, and share all manner of content including text, audio, video and graphic art
  • Collaborate and communicate via messaging applications, voice and video chat, e-mail, and shared online workspaces
  • Use modern Internet browsers and tools to effectively research, annotate, and validate information
  • Print
  • Present something in color

We need digital tools that allow for a constructivist approach to learning, not another format for delivery of static information.  So, Amazon, I lend best wishes for the Kindle DX as an eBook reader for affluent consumers of books and news.  Just don’t go touting it as a solution for the classroom.

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