E-book Wish List

I’ve been whining about ebooks for years. We’ve moved well beyond the place where information was a scarce resource. With its abundance, though, its value has diminished.  If I want to learn about hydrolysis, I don’t need to buy a book. I don’t even need to go to the library and look in a book that they’ve bought. I don’t need to subscribe to some online database. I can simply Google it. Chances are, I’ll find a wiki article somewhere in the first few hits, and I’ll find the information I need. If I dig a little deeper, I’ll find some outstanding resources on the subject from extremely reputable sources. Information is cheap.

Photo Credit: Gaspi 'yg on FlickrThat’s why it makes me ill when I consider how much money schools spend on textbooks. In extremely rough numbers, we spend about $100 per high school student per year on textbooks. That varies from year to year, and from student to student. We also spend less in the lower grades than the upper ones (AP Calculus and Physics books are expensive).  But the point is, we spend a lot of money for information.

Over the last couple years, we’ve seen the proliferation of new devices to read electronic books. We could read ebooks on a netbook, or on a Kindle, or the Sony e-reader, or the Nook. Lots of people are talking about the iPad as an e-reader. And the Android devices should be along any day now.

But none of these devices really make sense for K-12 education, because they’re not designed for K-12 education. Want to make a fortune exploiting this need? Here’s what I want:

A device that has

  • a price tag of $200 or less and lasts 3 years or more.
  • decent performance in both bright light and low light conditions.
  • a prayer of lasting all day without needing to be recharged.

A management tool that will

  • allow the school to push content to the device. I want to send out a document to all of Mrs. Jones’ students. Or I want to send a book out to all of the Freshmen. And I want to be able to pull those resources back when they’re no longer needed.
  • let the school push its own content to the devices, without paying fees to do it. Maybe I want to send out a student handbook. Or maybe we’ve developed a K-12 Flexbook. I shouldn’t have to pay or go through a hassle to get that on my own devices.
  • allow students to “check out” materials from a virtual library that is based on simultaneous use licenses. Maybe we have 50 copies of Catcher in the Rye. That means that 50 people can sign it out and read it on their readers. When someone’s done with it (or when their time is up), that copy is made available to someone else.
  • allow the school to license content without going through the device itself. Buying iTunes gift cards to put content on student devices is stupid. Amazon, you don’t make it much easier.

Content that

  • isn’t more expensive than the books we’re buying now. I don’t care that it has audio and video. I don’t care that it’s updated once a week. We have to spend less money on this, not more. And remember, we have to pay for the device itself. So you get about $30-40 per year for all of the content a high school student needs.
  • isn’t licensed on a per-student-per-year basis. Give us a number of licenses and let us pass them out, re-collect them, and use them again. Think along the model of the textbook. Students don’t go out an buy their own. And the school doesn’t buy new ones every year. We re-use things. And, with textbooks, it’s legal for us to do that.
  • allows me to put it on any device. If I buy a Kindle today, and buy content for it, I should be able to move that content to an iPad in the future. Or a Nook. Or whatever. I shouldn’t have to buy it again to read it on another device.
  • can be purchased from anywhere and loaded onto the device. This model of “you have to buy the content from us” is a bad deal for consumers. If a single device ever does emerge as the de facto standard, that content company is going to make a killing.
  • doesn’t make me buy the printed book to get the digital copy. Some publishers do that. It’s bad policy.

It would also be nice to have

  • this device replace our graphing calculators. Honestly, I don’t know why we’re still buying those 15-20 year old devices and paying the same amount we paid for them 15-20 years ago.
  • web browsing capabilities. Wifi good (maybe good enough). G3/G4 better. And despite what Apple is trying to tell you, everyone does use Flash. Or they would, if they were allowed.
  • a media player. Show videos. Play audio. Maybe record audio and video, too.

So who’s making this? Can you let me know when it’s going to be available?

Photo credit: Gaspi ‘yg on Flickr

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Author: John Schinker

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One thought on “E-book Wish List”

  1. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get a lot of those things for any content that has to be purchased. We’ve talked before, and the best solution is to take the funds that were going to be spent on textbooks and pay teachers to collect the information and create your own textbooks that you’re free to use.

    But anyway, for a couple of your points, using iPod Touches or iPads:
    – Use the free ebook reader Stanza
    – To distribute books, just email them to the students. You can have a listserv set up for Mrs. Jones’ students, or the freshman, or however else you want to distribute them. Stanza reads PDF and EPUB (I’d recommed EPUB if students will be reading on an iPhone or iPod Touch).
    – Buy the books for Kindle, and you can read it on your computer, your Kindle, your Android phone, and your iOS device. Your location and bookmarks/highlights are kept in sync among all of your devices. I wish you could lend books like you can with some books on the Nook for Barnes and Noble.
    – Catcher in the Rye isn’t available as an ebook (at least not for the Kindle, and that’s the only place I’d buy an ebook right now).
    – I’m pretty sure school owned Kindles would be in violation of CIPA
    – Battery life for any handheld device is no longer an issue. My 3 year old iPod Touch still easily makes it through a day without needing charged.
    – You mentioned the K-12 Flexbook but didn’t put the URL (http://www.ck12.org) 🙂
    – At least now Apple allows you to gift apps, but that would still be a pain

    iPhone 3G’s are going for less than $150 on Ebay, isn’t it time we could require our students to own a handheld device? (and iPhones work fine without a cell plan using wifi).

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