Are digital textbooks worth it?

Early digital textbook adopters share their pros and cons

discovery-textbookIt has been nearly three years since the FCC and Education Secretary Arne Duncan rolled out the Digital Textbook Playbook and challenged schools to go digital within five years. It’s safe to say schools are not there yet. While going digital looks certain, arrival in two years looks doubtful.

The potential benefits for schools transitioning to digital curriculum—specifically, replacing their print textbooks with digital ones—remain compelling. As schools move to the Common Core, and Pluto shifts in and out of planetary status, information can be updated on the fly. Interactive quizzes, comments, and discussions live within the text itself. The addition of video, audio and interactivity allows for multi-modal, personalized, accessible and interactive learning; it’s lightweight for backpacks; and there are cost savings down the road from not printing.

Of course, widespread adoption relies on a robust infrastructure. Wireless bandwidth must be able to handle the load, and filtering must let advanced material through. Students need reliable devices at school and home, and the content needs to be designed for whatever platform they might have. Importantly, teachers need time to learn a new way of running a classroom.…Read More

In price war, new Kindle sells for $139 will introduce two new versions of its Kindle eReader on July 29, and one will sell for $139, reports the New York Times—the lowest price yet for the device. By firing another shot in an eReader price war leading up to the year-end holiday shopping season, the e-commerce giant turned consumer electronics manufacturer is signaling it intends to do battle with Apple and its iPad, as well as the other makers of eReaders like Sony and Barnes & Noble. Unlike previous Kindles, the $139 “Kindle Wi-Fi” will connect to the internet using only Wi-Fi instead of a cell-phone network as other Kindles do. Amazon is also introducing a model to replace the Kindle 2, which it will sell for the same price as that model, $189. Both new Kindles are smaller and lighter, with higher contrast screens and crisper text. Amazon hopes that at $10 less than the least expensive reading devices from Barnes & Noble and Sony, the new $139 Kindle has broken the psychological price barrier for even occasional readers. The new Kindles, which will ship Aug. 27, have the same six-inch reading area as earlier Kindles but weigh about 15 percent less and are 21 percent smaller. The Kindles have twice the storage, up to 3,500 books…

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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

Amazon cuts Kindle price to $189 after Nook move

A price war is heating up in the electronic reader market, as Amazon cut the price of its Kindle eReader below $200 on June 21, just after Barnes & Noble did the same with its competing Nook device, reports the Associated Press. The rapid-fire moves are fanning flames in the still small but rapidly growing market that the book industry sees as a major part of its future. On June 21, online retailer Inc. slashed the price of the Kindle by $70, to $189, just a few hours after bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. reduced the price of the Nook by $60, to $199, and said it would also start selling a new Nook with Wi-Fi access for $149. Both the Kindle and the original Nook can wirelessly download books over high-speed data networks; the Nook also has Wi-Fi access. Seattle-based Amazon has lowered the Kindle’s price several times since the eReader with a grayscale screen debuted in 2007 at $399. The cuts also mean the price gap between these products and Apple Inc.’s touch-screen iPad, which starts at $499, is getting ever wider. The popularity of the iPad, along with a number of other tablet computers soon to be available that offer many functions, have pressured eReader makers to lower prices…

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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

Publishers win a bout in eBook Price Fight

With the impending arrival of digital books on the Apple iPad and feverish negotiations with over e-book prices, publishers have managed to take some control–at least temporarily–of how much consumers pay for their content, reports the New York Times. Now, as publishers enter discussions with the Web giant Google about its plan to sell digital versions of new books direct to consumers, they have a little more leverage than just a few weeks ago–at least when it comes to determining how Google will pay publishers for those e-books and how much consumers will pay for them.

Google has been talking about entering the direct eBook market, through a program it calls Google Editions, for nearly a year. But in early discussions with publishers, Google had proposed giving them a 63 percent cut of the suggested retail price, and allowing consumers to print copies of the digital books and cut and paste segments. After Apple unveiled the iPad last month, publishers indicated that Apple would give them 70 percent of the consumer price, which publishers would set.

According to several publishers who have been talking to Google, the book companies had balked at what they saw as Google’s less generous terms, and basically viewed printing and cut-and-paste as deal breakers……Read More

Kindles, iPads could be textbooks in new Georgia state bill

Could Kindles, iPads, and other reading devices soon be as common in Georgia schools as textbooks? Maybe, if a bill passed by the state Senate is approved in the House, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. On Feb. 2, the Georgia Senate voted 45-5 to expand the definition of “textbook” to include computer hardware and technical equipment to support the use of digital content. Sponsored by Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, the bill would give local school districts the flexibility to expand their spending options and seek modern, alternative methods of receiving information. Reading devices, where textbooks could be downloaded into the unit, are one option, he said. Staton said he met with several local education officials who urged him to look at ways that could give them more flexibility in how they spend their already tight dollars. “They said spending is being cut, so give us more flexibility. So this is removing certain state regulations,” said Staton, who chairs the state Senate’s Science and Technology Committee. “And technology is advancing rapidly. The definition of a textbook that is traditional is not going to cut it. My 14-year-old will learn better and faster if information is delivered by electronic means, other than ‘go read this.’”

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Future of eReading might not be iPad, but Blio

Blio will allow students to interact with textbooks in full color.
Blio's makers say it will allow students to interact with textbooks in full color.

Despite all the buzz about Apple’s iPad tablet and how it could be useful for reading electronic textbooks, a new software program on the way might hold even more promise for education.

Blio, a free eReader program that is expected to be available in February, reportedly will allow users to read more than a million electronic books on nearly any computer or portable device, with the ability to highlight and annotate text, hear the text read aloud, and more.

Blio was announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and is the brainchild of education technology pioneer Ray Kurzweil, creator of Kurzweil Educational Systems and a range of assistive technology products.…Read More

Blindness groups, ASU settle lawsuit over Kindle

ASU will not pay any damages for using Amazon's Kindle DX in a pilot project.
ASU will not pay any damages for using Amazon's Kindle DX in a pilot project.

Two organizations representing the blind have settled a discrimination lawsuit against Arizona State University over its use of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader device.

Arizona State is among several universities testing the $489 Kindle DX, a large-screen model aimed at textbook and newspaper readers.

Last June, the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind joined a blind ASU student in suing Arizona State, alleging that the Kindle’s inaccessibility to blind students constituted a violation of federal law.…Read More

e-Reader boom kindles variety of new options

eReader use is growing daily, especially in education.
eReader use is growing daily, including in education.

When most people think of electronic book readers, Amazon’s thin, white Kindle probably springs to mind. But that could be about to change: A cascade of new eBook readers will hit the market this year, taking the devices far beyond gray-scale screens with features such as touch navigation and video chatting–and probably lowering prices, too.

It’s happening as other gadgets, such as mobile phones and tablet computers, give people even more choices for diving into their favorite books electronically.

This week, nearly two dozen companies that make the devices or deliver reading material to them are showing products at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the first time it has devoted a section to eBooks.…Read More