Adopting Amazon’s Kindle in Education: Some Issues to Consider
Amazon’s Kindle, which is an e-book reader, has been gaining acceptance among educators. In high schools, such as Clearwater High School in Clearwater, Florida, the Kindle is being seen as a welcome replacement for all the heavy textbooks by the students. The fact that the subject matter is presented in an electronic, rather than hardcopy, form seems to add to the allure of the device, and to the subject matter itself1. The Kindle is being piloted at a few college and universities, as well. At the college and university level, a large proportion of the students who participated in one such pilot program (at Seton Hall2 ) were satisfied overall with the device as a means for providing content. The ability to highlight text, create notes and look-up words were cited as strong points of the device, while the lack of a “true” web browser was considered to be a weakness.
The key aspect of the Kindle that is leading to its adoption in education is the electronic content-the books, research articles that are the reading materials used in courses. [wikipop search=”Amazon.com”]Amazon[/wikipop], in collaboration with various textbook-publishing companies, delivers copyright-protected content to the owners of the Kindle device, and to readily-installable Kindle software on Windows and Mac OS computers. Through a combination of [wikipop]digital rights management[/wikipop] (DMR) technologies and terms of service conditions, Amazon allows the textbook publishers to determine the specific ways in which their textbooks may be used by students and educators. Of note is the fact that textbooks are “leased”, not “bought” by readers3. As described in the terms of service with which all the readers must agree, the readers who purchase a “lease” on a textbook, research article or any other DRM-protected content, may not resell it or share it with others, or even transfer the content to another device. Additionally, Amazon can track the specific details of how a particular piece of content “leased” by a reader is being used – the notes, the number of hours spent reading, the specific locations where they are read, can all be recorded by Amazon. In fact, Amazon disables some of the functionality of the device if the device is not connected (and therefore the user’s usage cannot be tracked4 ). Furthermore, Amazon, at the behest of the publisher, or on its own accord, may delete the content, remotely, at any time. In an incident that smacks of irony, one of the earliest of such remote deletions involved the work of [wikipop]George Orwell[/wikipop]5.
As educators and students, we have always been comfortable, buying our books in used or new form, lending them, reselling them, and generally doing whatever we wanted with our books because we “owned” them, unless we “leased” them through some contractual agreement with a bookseller. We were also not tracked by our bookseller and the publisher of our books with regards where and when we read our books, how long we spent on a page, what notes we made on the page, which lines we underlined or if we tore some pages up, just because we felt like it. The world of DRM and Kindle are different. Before signing up for a program to replace textbooks with the Kindle, students and educators must be aware of what exactly is described in the terms of service and what the implications are going to be, if they were prevented from sharing, reselling, and even “owning” the content for which they pay. Readers of this post should spend a moment or two to consider whether this new way of dealing with educational material, which comes at a certain cost in terms of privacy and ownership, is worth the purported benefits offered by the Kindle and its ilk. The phrase, caveat emptor, must be borne in mind while making a decision to follow the path paved by Amazon through its Kindle.
- http://www.theledger.com/article/20100917/NEWS/9175057/1374?p=2&tc=pg&tc=ar [↩]
- http://www.educause.edu/Resources/IntegratingAmazonKindleASetonH/163808 [↩]
- http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200506200&#wireless [↩]
- http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/technology/companies/18amazon.html?_r=1 [↩]
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