Thursday, November 29, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

I gave a presentation to our entire faculty yesterday about how I am using Kindles in my classroom this year.  The response was great!  A math teacher in our upper school, Tad Wert, did a nice write up on his blog!

I wanted to take a minute to address some common educator questions regarding using and allowing e-readers in the classroom.

What about the cost?  Isn't it expensive to ask students to buy Kindles?

At our school, every student has a laptop and the Kindle app is free!  So, they don't have to buy an e-reader.  They can purchase the e-book and read it on their laptops.  The Kindle app is also free for smartphones.  I have a students reading her outside reading novel on her iPhone!  Also, the number of students who own or have access to an e-reader at home is higher than you think.  iPads can also be used for e-reading.

Books in the public domain can be purchased for free.  So in a British literature class, if you download Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Great Expectations for free (websites like Feedbooks have a huge selection of free public domain books for easy downloading), you have almost paid for the Kindle. 

Can't you get on the web on an e-reader?  Won't they be distracted?  

Yes, it is possible for you to access the web on an e-reader, but in the case of the e-ink Kindles, it is very slow and in black and white.  If a student wants to procrastinate, they will take the path of least resistance and use their phones or laptops. 

What if they are using the reading app on their laptops?  How can I keep them off of Tumblr?

The same way you keep them off of Tumblr any other time they are using their laptops.  Vigilance and swift consequences.  But, in addition, you could ask a student to put their laptop in tablet mode (for those of us using the Lenovo tablets).

What about active reading?  I ask students to actively read and then I check that in class for credit.

Actively reading on the Kindle isn't just possible, it's awesome.  They can highlight and type comments easily.  These show up as a list on the Reading app.  When I check this with Ellie, my star Kindle student, she just pulls up her Kindle app and scrolls through her list of notes and marks.  

Do students have to buy two copies of the e-text?  One for the Kindle and one for the app?

No!  The accounts are all linked and amazon uses something called Whispersync to sync all of your devices.  So it detects the page you ended on when you last read the book on your Kindle, and automatically syncs to that spot on your app.  If you then take out your phone later and do some quick reading in line at the bank, it will sync to your last spot.

As long as all of your devices are connected to the same Amazon account, all the syncing happens automatically.

But what about good old library borrowing.  Don't I lose that free service with the Kindle?

No!  Many libraries (Nashville Public Libraries has a great system) have e-book lending systems.  You log on, choose a book and have it sent to your Kindle via wi-fi.  You can "check it out" for 14 or 21 days with the option to renew.  When it "expires" it just disappears from your Kindle.  Some popular books have waiting lists, but you usually get an email when it is your turn.  Simple, easy and free!

Okay, I'm sold!  What Kindle should I buy for myself, and what should I recommend to students?

For the casual reader, one who doesn't need or want to make a lot of marks or notes:  The standard Kindle.  It is small, light, has built in wi-fi, and has no physical keyboard or touch screen.  It has page turning buttons and a 5-way controller for selecting, purchasing, etc.  $69 with ads.  The ads are only on the sleep screen and are not invasive at all.

For the student who needs to highlight and make comments who prefers a touch screen: The Kindle Paperwhite.  At $119, This is the reincarnation of the KindleTouch.  It has wi fi and is capacitive, which means that only fingers will work on the touch screen (my sleeve makes my Touch's pages turn, argh!).  It also has a built in LED light that allows for easy reading in low light.  It also has some software improvements for reading texts with comics or illustrations!  As an English teacher who loves graphic novels, this makes me very happy.  (There is a 3G version that means you don't need wi fi for internet access.  The 3G carries no extra cost, except that the Kindle is more expensive--$179).

For the student who needs to highlight and make comments but prefers physical buttons: The Kindle Keyboard.  At $139, it offers the ease and convenience of physical buttons.  Some users really prefer to turn the pages with a button rather than a touch or swipe for the Paperwhite.  It also comes standard with 3G in addition to wi fi.  If you are going to be desperate to download books and have no wi fi options, this is the Kindle for you.

Is the physical keyboard faster or more effective than the touch keyboard?

In my experience the touch keyboard is excellent.  It is fast and I accurate.  It is really a matter of taste, and I would encourage you to try them both out to see which fits you best. 

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