January 24, 2021

Clearwater High program putting Kindles in students' hands attracts national attention — and Shirl offers some commentary

Clearwater High program putting Kindles in students’ hands attracts national attention

As experiments go, Clearwater High School’s pilot program to put a Kindle e-reader in the hands of every student, with the hope of replacing textbooks entirely, was a bold one.

At stake: Can kids learn as well as they play on digital devices? Will education technology help cash-strapped schools? Are textbooks dead or is this just a blip on a screen?

The jury is still out on whether digital books improve student performance — a semester and a half of grades is not a large enough sample for that.

But six months into an effort that has attracted national attention, students and teachers say the “Kindlezation” of their school has yielded clear benefits — and limitations.

Source: St. Petersburg Times

Shirl here. This story is of personal interest to me because my younger son went to Clearwater High School — although he graduated a year too early to get a Kindle. The main issue with the Kindles, according to this story, is “the relatively small number of traditional textbooks available in a Kindle format.” This is logical; Clearwater High is the first school in the world (according to Amazon.com) which handed out Kindles to all of its students. The market is just not there yet — although Florida education officials earlier this month released the details of an ambitious program calling for all K-12 students to be using only “electronic materials” by 2015. California already has a Digital Textbook Initiative underway, although the focus, initially, was on open source materials as a money-saving measure.

Alas, the cringe-worthy phrase “digital natives” is used a couple of times in this story. As readers of my columns in Information Today probably know, I am very wary of language — especially lame, conjured cliches when used by marketers and policymakers — that segregates any group of people by some demographic characteristic. This is where stereotyping starts — never a good thing.

Not convinced? Consider the recent survey by OCLC — Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community — which, among other things, found that “the library brand is still books.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with books, of course. It’s just that the actual format continues to decrease in importance as time goes by. My Clearwater High graduate son, now in his freshman year of college, is wary of digital textbooks and much prefers dead.tree versions, despite the weight and even when cost is not a consideration. His older brother, an lifelong avid reader who inherited my Kindle when I acquired an iPad, has gone digital and never looked back. He tells me he is doing far more reading now that he has a portable device he can easily carry around with him all day as he goes about his business.

Me? I’m platform agnostic. I do a lot of reading on the iPad, but my last book purchase was the dead.tree version of Swamplandia. And I recently hauled an armful of teach-yourself-to-crochet books home from the public library. I’m a magazine junkie, but I’m wary of taking the iPad into the bathtub, so I still have many dead.tree subscriptions. Also, I must have a dead.tree newspaper with my morning coffee — and not just because I work for one of the best.

I live in an area with many retired people — some of whom are among the “oldest old.” I am beginning to notice a lot more Kindles, Nooks, etc., in elderly hands. Any why not? E-readers are easy to hold and manipulate, and you can bump up the text size to accommodate aging eyes. Plus, if you have an internet connection, you can instantly acquire a new book without leaving your home, which is not nothing when you’ve reached the point where you can no longer drive and your area lacks decent public transportation, or on those days when you’re just not feeling well or the weather is lousy.

Libraries, rightly, are beginning to lend e-books, although the process can still be frustrating and clunky, mainly because of digital rights management (DRM) issues that have resulted in format incompatibility nightmares. Look at all the reading devices that will not work with the OverDrive Media Console, currently the primarily vehicle for library e-book lending.

And some publishers are acting straight-up stupid. (I’m talkin’ to YOU, Harper-Collins.)

Despite all of these problems and more, e-books continue to rise in popularity. Let’s face it; they are convenient — and can be an ecological and practical choice especially for schools, particularly if there are monetary savings to be had in these times of tight budgets. As more K-12 learning materials become available digitally, we’ll see more schools — and school districts — like Clearwater High.

Where, according to the St. Pete Times story, there have also been technical glitches with the Kindles. One student said her Kindle stopped working when a teacher unplugged it too quickly. This happened to me once — apparently, it’s a known issue — so I called Amazon.com and spoke to a living, breathing customer service representative who promptly shipped me a new power cord, which fixed the problem, and all was well again.

When you combine technology with people, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Which is why we will always need librarians and teachers.

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