The top 10 ed-tech stories of 2010: No. 1

iPod
The iPad has had a huge impact on educational technology in just its first year of existence.

With a large touch screen that can display electronic texts in color, Apple’s iPad was greeted with huge enthusiasm by many ed-tech advocates when it debuted earlier this year. The device also inspired a host of competitors and sparked an eReader price war as it threatened to shake up the eBook market.

“I think this changes the picture for eBooks considerably,” said Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium, after Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in January. “This has a lot of potential for … education. [Apple] has really seemed to think through the book experience.”

Johnson’s remarks were prophetic, as the iPad has had a huge impact on educational technology in just its first year of existence. Seton Hill University was among the many schools to give iPads to incoming students this fall, and Abilene Christian University made its students newspaper available for iPads. The device has even changed medical school, where first-year med students at Stanford University are finding several ways to use the iPad to help them learn.…Read More

Kno announces single-screen tablet textbook

Kno has announced that it plans to make a single-screen version of its tablet textbook, ReadWriteWeb reports. The company received a $46 million round of funding in August for its then dual-screen tablet textbook, which came with a strong endorsement from investor Marc Andreessen (creator of the Netscape web browser), who said the device was “the most powerful tablet anyone has ever made.” Kno, short for knowledge, is a touch-screen tablet that focuses on providing digital textbooks, course materials, note taking, web access, and educational applications. The device boasts a stylus so that students can take notes directly onto the screen. Despite the current dominance of the iPad, more companies are poised to enter the tablet market soon. But what differentiates Kno, according to CEO and co-founder Osman Rashid, is that the product is specifically designed for the education market. He contends that the iPad is primarily an entertainment device, whereas Kno will be an “integrated experience for learning.” Students will be able to port their textbooks and course materials to the device and collaborate—share notes, chat via Skype—as they study. It remains to be seen if the Kno will win over the student market; the price for the dual-screen tablet, while not confirmed by the company, is supposed to be just under $1,000. Rashid says the single-screen version will be cheaper and will be competitive with other tablet options. The price of the Kno will be revealed “soon,” he says…

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$46M in funding for digital textbook reader aimed at students

Kno Inc., a company developing a digital textbook reader for students, on Sept. 8 said it has received $46 million in the latest round of funding from venture capitalists, AFP reports. Kno said Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm launched by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, was the lead investor, along with Silicon Valley Bank and TriplePoint Capital. Founded in May 2009 and short for “knowledge,” Kno is developing a two-panel, touch-screen tablet computer that will allow users to read digital textbooks, take notes, access the web, and run educational applications. “Kno is gearing up to launch the first digital device that we believe will fundamentally improve the way students learn,” said Osman Rashid, Kno’s chief executive and co-founder. Kno chief technology officer and co-founder Babur Habib said the company hopes to “get the Kno into the hands of students for beta testing this fall and ultimately for the first customer ship later this year.”

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E-reading: Revolution in the making or fading fad?

Four years ago Cambridge, Mass.-based E Ink Corporation and Taiwan’s Prime View International Co. hooked up to create an e-paper display that now supplies 90 percent of the fast growing eReader market, the Associated Press reports. But questions still hang over the Taiwanese-American venture, including the readiness of the marketplace to dispense with paper-based reading, in favor of relatively unfamiliar eReaders. “It’s cockamamie to think a product like that is going to revolutionize the way most people read,” analyst Michael Norris of Rockville, Maryland research firm Simba Information Co. said in an eMail. Americans use eBooks at a rate “much, much slower than it looks.” Another challenge for the venture is the ability of key customers like Amazon and Sony to withstand the onslaught of multifunctional computing devices which have eReader capability, particularly Apple’s iPad, whose five-month sales history has left their one-dimensional models struggling to keep up…

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eTextbooks: Never mind iPad and eReaders, PCs still dominant

There are many benefits to students accessing their textbooks electronically, such as shared highlights and search capabilities. Surprisingly, though, it’s not the iPad and other eReaders that are driving the eTextbook market, but PCs and netbooks, ReadWriteWeb reports. The iPhone and Android are making some inroads in the digital textbook market, however. Isabella Hinds is director of digital content at Follett Higher Education Group, which runs more than 800 college bookstores in the U.S. It also owns a digital textbook program called CafeScribe, used by more than 400 education institutions. Hinds said CafeScribe is mostly used on PCs, Macs, and netbooks. She cited pricing issues for the iPad (students can’t afford them) and the relative lack of functionality in current eReaders. Specifically, she cited color, pagination, and illustration as features that the current crop of eReaders don’t do well enough for the eTextbook market. A study in May by OnCampus Research showed that 74 percent of students still prefer to use a printed textbook when taking a class…

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Amazon: Kindle titles outpacing hardcovers

The Amazon.com Kindle eReader and bookstore have reached a “tipping point,” the company said July 19, with Kindle titles outselling hardcover books on the massive online marketplace for the first time, CNET reports. “We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle–the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189,” Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in an announcement release, referring to last month’s price drop for the device. “In addition, even while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books–astonishing, when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years and Kindle books for 33 months.” And Kindle titles continue to outpace hardcovers, statistics from Amazon showed. In the past three months, 143 Kindle books were sold for every 100 hardcovers, but when that time frame is narrowed to a month, it’s 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcovers. Total e-book sales tripled from the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2010…

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Feds: Make eReaders accessible to all students

Some colleges have agreed to abandon Kindle pilot programs because of accessibility issues.
Some colleges have agreed to abandon Kindle pilot programs because of accessibility issues.

The federal government will help schools and colleges using eReaders such as the Amazon Kindle to comply with laws giving students with disabilities equal access to emerging education technologies, officials announced.

The Departments of Education and Justice stressed the responsibility of colleges and universities to use accessible eReaders in a letter published June 29, after more than a year of complaints from low-sighted and blind students attending colleges that have piloted eReader programs.

Many eReaders have a text-to-speech function that reads words aloud, but the devices lack menus that people who are blind or have low vision can navigate.…Read More

Educators, students can benefit from technology training

Knowing how to use technology tools is essential as technology is more integrated into education.
Knowing how to use technology tools is essential as technology is more integrated into education.

Technology is changing the face of education. Typing on a keyboard can make learning proper handwriting unimportant.  Using a calculator can make simple math functions technology-assisted processes.  And having a computer read aloud might someday allow non-readers to access the printed word.

I am not convinced that it is all bad.  I do see eReaders as a possible instructional technology, not assistive technology.  The term is no longer about a technology that takes the place of a particular academic skill, but instead makes independent learning easier.

For example, Amazon’s Kindle lets a person read a digital text, highlight difficult vocabulary, and look up the words on the same screen.  It is like having a teacher right there to ask, “What does quixotic mean?”–but the student can use this feature on their own time.…Read More

New smart phones pave the way for mobile video chats

Apple's latest iPhone has many implications for education.
Apple's latest iPhone has many implications for education.

Apple’s iPhone 4, unveiled June 7 and set for release June 24, features a mobile video conferencing application that could increase collaboration among students at different locations and make cross-district and on-the-go meetings easier for school officials.

Video conferencing is possible with the addition of a second camera on the front of the new iPhone, in addition to a five-megapixel camera and a flash on the back. For now, the video conferencing function, FaceTime, works only if both parties to the call have an iPhone 4 and are connected over a Wi-Fi network rather than a cell phone network.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs indicated that FaceTime eventually will work over cellular networks, saying Apple needs to “work a little bit” with wireless providers to make it “ready for the future.”…Read More

Florida high school trading textbooks for eReader devices

Clearwater High School next year will replace traditional textbooks with eReader devices, reports the St. Petersburg Times. The gadgets will be fully loaded with all the textbooks students need, minus all the paper. For rising junior Bennie Niles, 17, it could mean accessing English, math, and physics texts via a handheld device more on par with the technology he and his peers use every day. Though the school hasn’t settled on a vendor, school officials are negotiating with Amazon to equip all 2,100 students with the 10-ounce Kindle devices this fall. Already, the school has issued eReaders to all 100 of its teachers. Clearwater could be the first public high school attempting such a sweeping shift with the Kindle. Schools elsewhere have used eReaders, but mostly on a per-class basis. A Massachusetts boarding school recently made waves by completely digitizing its library. Principal Keith Mastorides said he was inspired to make the switch earlier this school year after campus surveys revealed a desire to integrate more technology with classroom instruction. “When you think about students today, three-quarters of their day is spent on some kind of electronic device,” Mastorides said. “We’re just looking at textbooks a little differently.”

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eBook restrictions vex users

"DRM will be no more effective at preventing unauthorized copying of books than it was for music..." said the EFF.
Publishers suggest that eBook restrictions are the result of device makers’ policies.

As more and more eReading devices flood the market, users are beginning to feel the restrictions imposed by copyright and digital rights management (DRM)—restrictions that some fear could hold back the use of eBooks in education.

Imagine this: You’re in the market for an eReader device and decide to buy a Kindle. Books for your Kindle must be purchased through Amazon’s eBook store. You can download the books you buy to your computer and/or your Kindle device.

Now, imagine that you’d like a Barnes & Noble Nook instead: Can you upload your Amazon eBooks to your Nook? Can you lend the books you’ve downloaded on your computer to friends? The answer to these questions is no, leading some to question whether purchasing an eBook for an eReader device is really buying the book at all.…Read More

Online textbooks let students share notes across the globe

One-third of students surveyed said they were "comfortable" with eBooks.
One-third of students surveyed said they were "comfortable" with eBooks.

Florida State College at Jacksonville faculty have created 20 electronic textbooks that are accessible on a free online platform that lets students take notes in the margins, search for key terms, and share notes with peers and professors through an interactive social-networking feature.

Students don’t need to buy any additional hardware to use the college’s eBook program, officials said. Instead, they simply download an eReader application called CafeScribe, which also brings students together through social networking to form online study groups.

And students who use the CafeScribe eBooks aren’t limited to contact with their professors and fellow students. Any student from any campus in the world can share content and study notes with any other student if they’re using the same web-based textbook, according to an April 21 announcement from Follett Higher Education Group, the Illinois-based used book supplier that makes CafeScribe.…Read More