Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Using Electronic Readers in the Classroom

I feel that using electronic readers in our classrooms and libraries can both benefit students and possibly lower the cost of their education. School districts spend millions of dollars purchasing textbooks, supplemental materials, books for individualized instruction, large print books, books at various reading levels, and replacement books for those that are lost or stolen.

Will these new devices actually help our student's reading comprehension, scores, and ultimately improve their outlook on reading as enjoyable? Will this new technology just be another bit of snake oil that is marketed to fix the broken American educational system?

As with any technology that has been implemented in the history of education, the success of e-readers as an educational tool depends solely on the classroom teacher or librarian. If the e-readers are not used effectively, then it is illogical to say that the technology is detrimental to the learning environment. Teachers must be trained on how to use the technology, shown how it will make their job easier, and persuaded that the technology is a better approach to teaching skills than the latest gimmicky reading program that they have been ordered to implement.

The Kindle Goes to Ghana
The difference between e-readers and reading programs is the same difference between static books and reading programs. The e-reader and the book are the medium in which the reading program is implemented.

Comparing e-readers to static books is the equivalent of comparing books to cuneiform written on clay tablets.

A static book only tells what has been written within its pages, but e-readers allow the reader to carry a limitless library of static books with ease and portability.

Schools could bundle all of the core textbooks into one device for each student, and fit an entire library onto student's e-readers. This would drastically decrease the amount of weight that students have to lug around on a daily basis. Currently, the average sixth-graders back pack weighs more than twenty pounds.

Using e-readers may eventually mean that the school library is no longer necessary. Why would stacks of books be necessary if it can all be contained in a small portable device? What would happen to the card catalog? What will the role of the librarian become? Will there still be a need for librarians, when the device can automatically search and organize information? When will teachers get their planning period, if there is no more library time?

These questions may need to be addressed in the near future, but we are not quite at that point yet.

Before e-readers are integrated into the classroom we need to iron out some things:

1. How will they be used?
2. Who will use them?
3. Will the students be allowed to bring them home?
4. Will the students be charged a "lab fee" or insurance against damage or theft?
5. What type of professional developments can be developed for proper integration?
6. Will the device cause network strains for the district?
7. Which device is more appropriate for each grade level?
8. What of visually impaired students; will the use of these devices put them at a disadvantage?
9. What pilot programs are being studied?
10. How do we start a pilot program at our school, and properly collect usable data?

I plan on posting a review of each of the prominent e-readers, and developing integration methods.

Please let me know what you think about the future of e-readers in education.