But that control by publishers could cause problems down the line, said E. William Horne, who manages the security solutions group of William Warren Consulting, a company that specializes in providing secure, cost-effective solutions to businesses and professionals who want more effective and flexible solutions to data-processing challenges. He argues that censorship could become routine.

“Even if the Kindle device is ‘owned’ by the government, the problem remains [that] publishers will be able…to censor controversial works to make sales. With paper books, it’s not economically viable to print separate version[s]. With eBooks, it’s easy,” he said. “This means that any book a local school department–any local school department–doesn’t like will be offered in several version[s], each tailored to the tastes of the local bureaucrats in question.”

On the other hand, lightening a student’s load — both physically and financially — could be a plus: Miami Dade Community College adjunct faculty member and advisor Isabel L. Fernandez said after purchasing a Kindle for personal use, the first thing she thought was how the eReader could be used by students to carry their textbooks.

“Aside from the obvious advantages of an eReader versus textbooks from a physical burden perspective, the cost of printed textbooks is impacted,” she said. “Many students don’t buy textbooks because they simply can’t afford them. I’m all for finding ways to put textbooks into students’ hands.”

Freedman argues that providing eReaders to students nationwide will combat disparities in learning experiences.

“It’s a sad reality that economically deprived schools and districts generally lag in educational success,” he said. “We’re only going to be the best educated country in the world when we provide an adequate education to every child, and that means a plan that puts eTextbooks in everyone’s hands. If there is no coherent plan to share this new technology, wealthier school districts will, once again, reap most of the immediate benefits.”

However, Jing Lei, assistant professor of instructional design, development, and evaluation with Syracuse University’s school of education, said she doesn’t think a nationwide push to put eReaders in students’ hands is the best approach. To effect the greatest amount of improvement, she said, the initiative should focus on low-income and disadvantaged school districts.

“. . . For students from wealthy families, they have technology resources in the school.They have textbooks. And when they go home, even when they cannot bring textbooks home, they have a lot of books to read; they have other resources. They can play, they can learn,” Lei said.

“But for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, they have textbooks in the school, but when they go home, they do not have as many learning opportunities as students from wealthy backgrounds. I think that’s where a program like this can make the most difference. For a lot of schools, especially schools that have many technology resources already, adding one more Kindle to every student’s backpack is not going to make much difference,” she said.

Freedman argues that putting an eReader tool in every backpack will improve education while lowering its cost.

“We fail our students when we ask them to learn advanced skills with dated, inflexible textbooks. Instead of sending our children to school every day with the textbook equivalent of an abacus, we need to provide them with up-to-date tools already available to American consumers,” he said.

Freedman acknowledges that eReaders won’t solve all the challenges facing education.

“Kindle-like devices alone can’t solve the problem, but they can be an integral part of the overall solution. If our schools are going to be better, then we need to provide cost-effective instructional materials that reduce pressure on budgets and improve the tools our children use to learn,” he said.

Links:

A Kindle in Every Backpack: A Proposal for eTextbooks in American Schools

Kindle pilot is discriminatory, advocates charge

Cheaper eBook reader challenges Kindle

New Kindle is textbook friendly