Amazon Inc.’s Kindle DX electronic reading device will be piloted on five U.S. campuses this fall, when students will substitute their textbooks for the Kindle’s new, larger screen that will allow users to highlight, take notes, and scour school libraries.

The Kindle DX, unveiled during a May 6 press conference at Pace University in New York, sports a 9.7-inch screen, compared to the 6-inch screen on the original Kindle. It also features a built-in QWERTY keyboard for note taking.

The handheld reader will let customers read magazines, newspapers, and textbooks complete with images and graphics. Users also can read PDF files on the Kindle DX–a selling point for faculty members whose courses regularly assign class readings on PDF files.

Officials at colleges and universities that will use the new Kindle device said they would carefully track how the Kindle DX affects learning for students accustomed to lugging heavy textbooks from building to building throughout their academic careers.

"Is this the watershed device of electronic text readers we’ve been waiting for?" asked Marty Ringle, chief technology officer at Reed College in Portland, Ore., which will give Kindles to students in three courses next fall. "Or is it a just another evolutionary step on the way to that revolutionary device? We’ll see if it’s a viable alternative to print media."

"The Kindle DX holds enormous potential to influence the way students learn," said Barbara R. Snyder, president of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, another Kindle DX pilot school. "We look forward to seeing how the device affects the participation of both students and faculty in the educational experience."

Case Western and Reed College will join Pace University, Arizona State University, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business as the first campuses to distribute Kindle DX to students in August when they return for the fall semester.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s announcement comes just three months after the Seattle-based company unveiled a slimmer version of the original Kindle, which sold for about $360 and wirelessly downloads books. The Kindle DX–which retails at $489–can store 3,500 books, 2,000 more than its predecessor. There are more than 275,000 electronic books available in Amazon’s Kindle library. Readers also will be able to access international newspapers and magazines and more than 1,500 blogs.

Textbook industry experts said Kindle’s book library would have to grow before educators recommended it over traditional options.

Frank Lyman, executive vice president of electronic textbook company CourseSmart, said Kindle will prove useful to college students someday, but a less expensive version would be more appealing in coming years as tuitions continue to rise on campuses of every size.

"I think there’s going to be a role for devices for kindles on campus," Lyman said. "Cost is always a driver for student decision making when it comes to course material. More of them are under cost pressure than ever before … but there will be more people looking for an alternative some day."

eTextbooks are more likely to catch on in universities, Lyman said, because more than 80 percent of students already have laptop computers, whereas only a tiny percentage of college students own a Kindle.
"I think the market [for Kindle] will develop, but it’ll develop slower than etextbooks," he said. 

Ringle at Reed College said the 1,500-student campus was chosen because Amazon wanted to test its Kindle DX in a variety of educational settings, including small liberal arts colleges. Ringle wasn’t sure how many students would receive Kindles, adding that students and faculty members would not have to use the device next fall.

Students will be able to read graphs, charts, tables, and images on the larger screen, and three leading textbooks companies–Pearson, Wiley, and Cengage Learning, which together make up about 60 percent of the higher-education textbook market–will make books available for downloading this summer.

Users can buy books in the Kindle library for as little as $10 apiece, and newspaper subscriptions on Kindle are significantly cheaper. Widespread use of the Kindle DX as a replacement for traditional textbooks could save the average student hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars every year. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report showed that the average student at a four-year college spent $900 per year on textbooks.

Bruce Hildebrand, executive director for higher education at the Association of American Publishers, which represents several big textbook companies, said the publishers are "absolutely agnostic" about how their content is delivered, so if costs like printing and shipping were removed, the companies could charge less.

As a result, he said, there is the potential for students to save money by using an eBook reader device like the Kindle, even after factoring in the up-front cost of the product.

Jim Stenerson, executive director for the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Pace University, said he offered an internet-based textbook in a class he taught this spring. About 30 percent of his students chose the electronic version, and Stenerson believes higher education is searching for a product that eventually could change the role of textbooks on campus.

"If it’s economical enough, I think you’ll see students go to it right away," he said, adding that three cohorts of about 15 Pace University students will receive the Kindle DX this fall. "The bound textbook is going to be going away eventually. … It’ll be a slow process, but I think it’ll happen."

The expanded Kindle DX screen was not the only appeal for educators, Ringle said. With college professors increasingly using PDF files as assignments and class readings, the device’s PDF compatibility caught Reed officials’ attention, he said. 

"Without the ability to easily load PDF files, it would have been much less interesting," he said.

The Kindle DX pilot will not cost Reed students next school year, although the campus will absorb "insularly" costs consistent with any pilot agreement, said Ringle, who could not discuss dollar figures.

Ringle said Reed College turns down 90 percent of the pilot program offers that technology companies make every year. But the potential for testing an electronic text reader that could transform the use of textbooks on college campuses persuaded Reed decision makers to sign on.

"The technology has to look like it’s going to be relevant to students and faculty at Reed," he said. "Our first impression of it was that this is something that students and faculty might find very useful. … We wouldn’t have gotten into this otherwise."

Material from the Associate Press was used in this article.

Links:

Amazon’s Kindle DX

Reed College