Why Kindle Won't Work in College

image credit: suddenlyfrugal.com
I came across a story in the USA Today (August 14, 2012) about universities forcing students to buy and use e-textbooks.

Amazon tried really hard a few years ago to get students to switch from the typical physical textbooks to the more techno-saavy digital textbooks. Of course, they wanted students to use those books on the Kindle. But the problem isn't limited to Kindle; it's a problem with e-textbooks in general.

The only selling point that I have seen for switching to the digital books is based on price. Physical books cost a lot of money - even if you find used copies. Digital books, then, save students money. That's true, even if the cost difference is surprisingly not as much as one would think.

But cost isn't the reason why the Kindle (or other e-textbooks) won't work in college.
The reason why the Kindle (or other e-textbooks) won't work in college is that they don't allow students to use them in the ways they use textbooks. It's really that simple.

Kindles are great for reading fiction. You just press the button on the next page appears.
I own a Kindle; I like it...for reading fiction. But you don't read textbooks the way you read fiction books.

The most obvious example of why e-textbooks fail has to do with studying...which students are expected to do. Let's say you're studying for a test that covers 3 chapters of material. Where you do you start? You start with the Chapter Review Questions that come at the end of a chapter. You have no problem with question #1, but then you stumble on question #2. You forgot, was it "ions" or "isotopes?" Hmmm. You don't remember exactly.

What do you do?
You flip back through a whole bunch of pages trying to find the place in the chapter where that was covered.
You can't do that with an e-textbook.

I don't use textbooks anymore because I'm done with school (unless I come up with enough money, time, and will power to pursue another degree). But I use commentaries on biblical passages that I'm researching. One of my favorite commentary sets is from Smyth & Helwys. They are one of the few publishers that I know of that includes a fully searchable pdf file of the whole commentary in a sleeve attached to the inside of the back cover. Most companies, if they give you a digital file at all, include it as part of a bundle that requires additional software installations and other hassles.

But here's the thing: Even though I could read and mark up the pdf on my computer screen, I still opt to print it out on real paper so I can mark it up with a real pen. That's important to me because I believe that C. S. Lewis (I think it was him!) was right when he commented that "pens have eyes." You can see things, make connections, and process the information better when you're holding it in your hands.

As long as students have to study in college, the Kindle (or other e-textbooks) just won't work.


Notes:
The story mentioned at the beginning of the post is "Universities push e-textbook sales" by Yasmeen Abutaleb. It was published in the Money section (Section B) of the USA Today on Tuesday, August 14, 2012.


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