Thursday, June 19, 2008


The school year is over and my daughter no longer needs to schlep 40 pounds of books back and forth between home and school. Thank heaven for that, but the ordeal got me thinking about alternatives. It struck me (and others, I suppose) that one solution might be a variation on Amazon's Kindle reading device, as soon as the technology becomes available. I call it the Edu-Kindle, for want of a better name.

As I envision it, the Edu-Kindle would substantially resemble the existing Kindle, with a few major differences. First, because textbooks present a lot of information on a page, the display format would be bigger, say 8" x 10" (12 " diagonal), or at least 6" x 9" (10.8" diagonal). This larger size would be particularly useful for presenting diagrams and graphs in math and science classes. Second, the display would be in color, which would enable much more interesting and attention-grabbing displays, not to mention the additional clarity that color adds to a presentation. Finally, the Edu-Kindle would be assigned a special account that would allow the student to download texts and other materials from a website controlled by the educational institution/school district, and only from that site, to prevent the students from downloading, um, inappropriate materials. Could it be hacked? Probably, but I don't think most people would bother.

I can see many advantages to such a device and system over the present paper textbooks. First, the Edu-Kindle could be issued (or sold, on very easy terms) to a kid at some early grade and could be used right through college. (Perhaps upon graduation from high school the device could be unlocked so the student could use it like a regular Kindle.) The school district would never have to buy and stockpile tons of textbooks for distribution each year, and then collect them at the end of the year. University students would always have the latest version of their texts and other materials. Updates to the texts would automatically occur as the publisher issued them, or each year when the students downloaded the materials, or both, depending on the nature of the updates. The educational materials themselves should be less expensive to buy, because of the cost savings resulting from not having to print, bind and ship the paper texts.

The students should love the Edu-Kindle, because they would only have to carry one device, weighing only a pound or two, and it would have all the course materials for all their subjects. Moreover, since the Kindle has email capability, the teachers could email their homework assignments to the students, and the kids would always have the assignments at their fingertips. If the kids needed to read a specific piece of literature, say Jane Eyre or Julius Caesar, those materials could be made available at lower cost than a paperback, and there'd never be a problem with it being checked out of the local library or out of stock at the bookstore.

Theft shouldn't be a problem because every student would have one, and in any event either the student's family or the school district could purchase insurance against loss of the Edu-Kindle.

I realize that the textbook publishers will have to stretch to get their heads around this idea, but if the market is there, they'll jump on it just to make sure some other publisher doesn't ace them out. The schools will have difficulty with it at first, also, but with costs always being an issue, it seems to me that there would be tons of savings in the long run.

I'm sure that I have missed a lot of details that would have to be addressed to make this idea a reality, but I can't think of any that would be insurmountable. I have no idea whether a color e-paper display is presently available in the proper size at a reasonable cost but I do know that such displays have been invented, and I'd be willing to bet the unit cost would come down as production ramped up.

So how 'bout it, Jeff, could Amazon pull this idea off? Go ahead, I dare ya!

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?