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May 4, 2011

Amazon Kindle not about to muscle out college text books

by Darren Allan

The Kindle won’t be replacing text books for university students just yet, according to research recently published by the University of Washington (UW).

The study into how students used an Amazon Kindle DX in their courses encompassed seven major universities in the US, including Washington itself.

Researchers interviewed 39 first-year students in UW’s computer science department. Seven months into the study, less than 40% were regularly doing their course book reading on Amazon’s e-reader.

Why? The main reasons cited were lack of support for adding notes to texts and the trickiness of looking up references.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the study began around a year and a half ago. Amazon has since tweaked the Kindle so it can now do notes (albeit in a slightly clunky fashion from what we’ve seen).

Over the next nine months the usage of the Kindle by students continued to be monitored, with a number of other findings. Of those who did use Amazon’s e-reader, they were likely to do so near a computer to look up references and so forth.

47% of students used their Kindle at home, 25% at school, 17% on a bus and 11% in an office or coffee shop (if Friends was made today, Ross would quite possibly have had one).

Other issues uncovered were simply due to the lack of physical presence of a Kindle text. It’s impossible to skim read an e-book for illustrations or references as students can with a real book.

A digital text was also believed to disrupt what the researchers call cognitive mapping, the process where a reader uses physical cues such as the location of text on the page to help recall information for exams.

Co-author Charlotte Lee reckons that in time, e-reading technology will address more of these issues. Although they will never be quite the same as a physical book, which remains a sticking point in adoption for many readers outside of education, too.

Lee finished on the conclusion that: “E-readers are not where they need to be in order to support academic reading.” However, when asked how long it will be before they reach that point, she commented: “It’s going to be sooner than we think.”

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  1. I skim my ebooks and study the charts and graphs using Kindle for PC on my PC with a 23 inch vertical monitor. It is extremely fast to change pages and I can get two to two and half pages on the screen at a time. I find that I rarely skim the same book twice or when studying chapter by chapter - the same chapter twice. However, doing that in class would not work without your laptop. But searching works Wonderfully. Try finding ALL of the occurrences of a word in an index.

    The Kindle highlights words and phrases and allows notes; which can be printed. Finally, you can book mark a page and later go back to that page using the bookmark and if you are using the same font size the page will look the same every time you go to that page. (addressing the cognitive mapping issue)

    Comment by Dean Bender — May 4, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

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