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Researchers found that the Kindle DX is not ready to replace the use of paper or computers in a college environment

There's no doubt that the Amazon Kindle has revolutionized the way many people read books, magazines, and their morning newspaper. E-readers like the Kindle have brought all types of reading material to the user’s fingertips, and now, a college study has confirmed exactly how the Kindle DX in particular has played a role in graduate classes. 

The Kindle DX is a larger version of the standard Kindle. It was announced in May 2009, and features a bigger screen with simple PDF support. It is the thinnest Kindle to date, and has an accelerometer which allows the rotation of pages between landscape and portrait orientations.

Graduate students at the University of Washington participated in a pilot study of the Kindle DX last year where students utilized the e-reader for academic reading instead of textbooks. This is the first long-term study to research the use of e-readers in an educational environment. 

Alex Thayer, study leader and a doctoral student in Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington, and Charlotte Lee, co-author and an assistant professor of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington, interviewed 39 first-year graduate students in the University of Washington's Department of Computer Science & Engineering. Thirty-two of the subjects were men and seven were women, all ages 21 to 53 years old. 

"We were not trying to evaluate the device, per se, but wanted to think long term, really looking to the future of e-readers, what are students trying to do, how can we support that," said Lee. "Most e-readers were designed for leisure reading - think romance novels on the beach. We found that reading is just a small part of what students are doing. And when we realize how dynamic and complicated a process this is, it kind of redefines what it means to design an e-reader." 

Over a nine-month period beginning in the fall, Thayer and Lee found that students did most of their reading in fixed locations such as their homes (47 percent), school (25 percent), and coffee shops or offices (11 percent). They also found that the Kindle DX was more likely to replace paper-based reading rather than reading that was done on the internet.  

By the spring semester in 2010, less than 40 percent of the students had quit using the Kindle DX for reading due to issues like its lack of support for note-taking and problems with looking up references, which was easier to do on the computer. In addition, the Kindle DX had negatively affected a study technique called cognitive mapping, which helps readers use physical cues they have seen on the pages to remember where to find a specific section of text. Also, 75 percent of students used paper to take notes as they read. 

Thayer and Lee found that computers are still probably an easier option for students to use while studying, but believe software updates for the Kindle may change that in the future. 

"E-readers are not where they need to be in order to support academic reading," said Lee. But added that updates to address these issues are on the way. "It's going to be sooner than we think." 

Lee even mentioned the possibility of Kindle's that are made for specific disciplines. 

"You can imagine that a historian going through illuminated texts is going to have very different navigation needs than someone who is comparing algorithms," said Lee. 

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Not the first -
By SoCalBoomer on 5/3/2011 6:59:47 PM , Rating: 4
Princeton did a pilot study with the Kindle a couple of years ago and found it "not conducive to academic purposes".

The conclusions of the UW study seem to be pretty much the same as the Princeton pilot, although not as pointed.

RE: Not the first -
By arhythmt on 5/3/2011 7:23:20 PM , Rating: 5
Our study was one of several as part of the same pilot program, but our approach and findings are actually quite different. We talk more about it at our research lab Web site:

RE: Not the first -
By GulWestfale on 5/3/2011 7:53:53 PM , Rating: 2
i think the main problem is that with books, you can open several of them side by side, and compare texts where necessary; but with only one kindle you have to switch between books to do the same. that is annoying and time-consuming. plus, thumbing through a book, discovering its information, is easier and faster with a real book than with a kindle. i have no idea why on earth one would need a study to find that out.

the kindle is meant to be an entertainment device. and in that spirit, here's my usual self-promoting link :)

RE: Not the first -
By MrBlastman on 5/4/2011 11:37:03 AM , Rating: 2
Also, what about highlighting text? What about buying used books that are pre-highlighted? What about taking notes on the sides of the page next to the text?

About the only benefit I can see is using ctrl+f... but with an e-reader, you can't even do that.

I think for now, at least in Academia, books will continue to be par (along with their absurd pricing and revisions), computers second. I'm sure software will come around to make computers and even better replacement. It might already be there, I don't know--haven't been in college in years.

RE: Not the first -
By sviola on 5/4/2011 1:11:38 PM , Rating: 2
I thought the kindle allowed you to highlight and take notes on books.

RE: Not the first -
By SilthDraeth on 5/4/2011 2:43:22 PM , Rating: 2
I thought so too... Pretty sure I read that the kindle allows you to take notes, and then if you open the book on your pc, with your kindle app, the notes are there, and if you open it on your android phone with the kindle app, the notes are there as well.

Take notes once, open anywhere... Also, the kindle is meant to replace paper books, not internet reading, so at least the got that part right.

RE: Not the first -
By SoCalBoomer on 5/4/2011 5:19:48 PM , Rating: 2
It does, but it's awkward and nowhere near as easy and straightforward as it is with a print book, or even with Acrobat on a computer (which itself is somewhat awkward).

RE: Not the first -
By quiksilvr on 5/3/2011 8:09:42 PM , Rating: 2
This is the wrong type of test. They are basing this study on the device itself and not the screen technology. I would love to see students using the screen as a monitor for their laptop (maybe a flip screen, one side back lit, the other side eInk)

RE: Not the first -
By arhythmt on 5/4/2011 2:04:51 AM , Rating: 3
Actually, our study wasn't about the technology or the specific type of device: Most of our interview questions focused on students' academic reading practices (regardless of the reading technologies they used). All the media coverage talks up the fact that the Kindle DX was involved, but believe me when I say our paper on the study is quite different...:)

RE: Not the first -
By jah1subs on 5/4/2011 10:06:02 PM , Rating: 2
I borrowed a Kindle 2 from my local public library over a year ago (IIRC) and tried reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers on it. I had not heard of cognitive mapping when I tried this test, but I certainly acutely felt the loss of those cues.

For my taste, Outliers might as well be a romance model; it is not very difficult reading. I found that I had much less retention of what I read on the Kindle than when I read on paper. The screen flipping was too frequent. As a result, I abandoned Outliers in one chapter or less.

I will stick with paper books, thank you.

What to Change
By homebredcorgi on 5/3/2011 8:22:39 PM , Rating: 3
Having used a Kindle DX for some time mainly for reading novels, but occasionally for pdf's of research papers and textbooks here are it's major shortcomings:

1. Lack of file organization. The home screen can be sorted by last read or author (and item's marked as "read" can be sent to the "cloud" if purchased through Amazon) and that's it. It's absurd when you get more than ~50 titles. If they would allow for folder structures, it would greatly streamline and organize large collections

2. Skimming large documents. It is a huge pain to skim large pdf files. You have to click several buttons and then manually enter a page number (which usually doesn't align with the pdf page numbers). Then you wait a good 4-5 seconds for the page to show up. There should be a shortcut to skip ahead 10, 50, 100 pages at a time by holding down the page forward button or clicking it in a specific sequence. Better yet, have a scroll wheel on the next model and have it move a cursor along the bottom bar of the text to indicate position. I have seen small portions of the screen update somewhat fast, so I think this is possible.

3. Page numbering. Non-pdf documents do not preserve page numbering, making it impossible to easily compare positions in a text to that of a physical book. I still haven't even figured out what numbering scheme the kindle is using. It looks like word count, but it's not...It can't be that hard to map locations in the text to page numbers in the physical book.

4. Color. Try reading a graph in a textbook that compares the "red line" and the "green line." It doesn't have to be photo quality, even having a screen that could display 16 colors would be very helpful.

5. Bookmark or Hot Key buttons. Have an array of buttons on a new model that can be specifically mapped to specific locations in a text based on what document is currently open. For instance, some could be used as standard bookmarks in the current document, but another could allow you to jump to a specific location on a completely different document.

Other than that last two, all of these could be addressed (at least partially) in software!

As for those that feel the need to highlight or take notes...try to adapt. I have never seen benefit from highlighters and 90% of kids that do don't know how to use them. If you've ever had a used textbook with an entire page highlighted, you know what I mean (keywords dammit!). As for notes, how much can you cram in the margin anyway? Grab a notebook and note the page number...

RE: What to Change
By sprockkets on 5/3/2011 9:23:06 PM , Rating: 2
Some points

1. You can put stuff into collections which is basically folders.
2. Valid, but it seems to have issues with pdf's. Normal books load up quick.
3. They've added this in with the latest kindle update, if the file supports it though.
4. Might happen with the new e-ink screen

RE: What to Change
By Some1ne on 5/4/2011 9:25:44 AM , Rating: 2
1. Mostly true, though honestly I've found the alphabetical setting to be entirely sufficient. And I think they have added the ability to create basic folders now.

2. Absolutely true.

3. There is no such thing as a "page" in an e-book, and this makes perfect sense (because if grandma reads on the largest font setting and you read the same book on the smallest, then your "page 6" will be completely different from her "page 6"). But your 1000th word will always be the same as her 1000th word. Deal with it.

4. I could take it or leave it. I use my Kindle DX to read novels, and most novels do not need color at all. I've also used it to read a number of comics, and found them all to be entirely enjoyable, even with the grayscale display.

5. I can see how it might be useful to some, but probably I wouldn't use such a feature.

RE: What to Change
By homebredcorgi on 5/4/2011 12:39:11 PM , Rating: 2
Do you guys have Kindle DX's or regular Kindles? I believe the firmware update that added page numbers and collections was only for the regular Kindle and not the DX.

I agree about the word count thing, it just seems like they could have an option to see page numbers mapped to a book, specifically for use with textbooks.

RE: What to Change
By acer905 on 5/4/2011 12:50:15 PM , Rating: 2
It should be possible I would think to lock a page number to the first word on that page in the physical book, and then use that to display the page number you are on. If you can bookmark a specific word, then it should work and ignore font size

By lecanard on 5/3/2011 7:37:44 PM , Rating: 3
I love the Kindle for novels, and would get a DX for academic papers once the software addresses things like notetaking, but for textbooks, flipping between pages rapidly is too important. You don't just read through most textbooks straight through, you jump around to look up information, such as between the questions at the end of the chapter and places in the chapter where you are looking for the answer. Page turning speeds make this painful on the Kindle, and even an LCD tablet or computer doesn't handle this as well as the good old finger stuck in a useful place in the book. You still only turn pages one at a time. They need to make rapid flipping and bookmarking much faster and intuitive before any e-reader can take on textbooks. Kindles are great for sequential reading, and e-ink can refresh faster than you can turn a book's page. I highly recommend them for novels. But just jumping around in a book is harder without physical pages. Even the faster refresh of a tablet only slightly mitigates this fundamental problem.

RE: Unsurprising
By sprockkets on 5/3/2011 7:53:27 PM , Rating: 2
yeah, same here. A tablet would work great, say, an Asus transformer.

What? An ipad? F that walled garden sh.

RE: Unsurprising
By someguy123 on 5/3/2011 8:00:18 PM , Rating: 2

The kindle (and devices like it) are very, very useful in terms of portability. I think the kindle would be a perfect portable supplement for students if textbook publishers included a kindle/e-book file with every text book purchase (if they don't already). This way you can easily have a pile of information with you at all times, which would just be impractical, if not impossible to do with textbooks, depending on your workload.

RE: Unsurprising
By Some1ne on 5/4/2011 8:04:45 AM , Rating: 2
Yep, the Kindle is nothing like an academic textbook. Hell, I barely touched my textbooks in college, yet I read novels on my Kindle DX all the time. The two are not at all comparable.

Interesting point about the jumping around, as well. The thing is, when you poke around with your finger to find some specific section that you are interested in you are performing an approximation of a binary search, which is a very efficient way of finding things. You are using what you know about the order and structure of the book to take an approximate guess about where the desired section is, examining the guess, and using that to quickly make new guesses and zero in on the correct section.

The problem is that no comparable interface exists on an e-reader (or even on the PC). You can either scroll through linearly or jump around by manually entering page numbers, which is tedious. But the interesting thing is that implementing a comparable binary-search-like algorithm on an e-reader should be trivial, so it's conceivable that we could see truly useful "flip to the desired section" functionality as soon as someone works out a quick and intuitive interface for the feature. Even something like dedicated "flip forward/back 50%" buttons could work, if people could be made to understand the basic algorithm for using them to quickly jump to any desired position in the text.

Weird Sentence
By adiposity on 5/3/2011 7:12:50 PM , Rating: 2
By the spring semester in 2010, less than 40 percent of the students had quit using the Kindle DX for reading due to issues like its lack of support for note-taking and problems with looking up references, which was easier to do on the computer.

I understand this sentence, but something about it just feels wrong.

RE: Weird Sentence
By RGrizzzz on 5/3/2011 7:44:09 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed. I had to read it a couple of times.

Also, this statement "E-readers are not where they need to be in order to support academic reading" doesn't really make sense, compared to the whole argument the author makes. Even if I have a traditional text book, I'm still going to use other things, like paper/notebooks, to supplement my learning. I agree that it's not a textbook replacement, but could be a valid supplement to the traditional textbook.

(I don't have an e-Reader, and don't want one)

They picked computer science and engineering?
By tayb on 5/3/2011 11:57:25 PM , Rating: 2
Could they have picked a worse subject to test the e-reader? Computer Science and Engineering? I am a senior about two weeks away from my degree in Computer Engineering. I can think of no reason why I would want any of my Engineering related textbooks on my Kindle. It doesn't make any sense. Engineering and Computer Science is a DOING degree. You can learn by reading if you are Einstein but for most people you read and supplement that by DOING what you are reading. Read something about computer science you test it out on your IDE of choice.

My general undergrad? Totally different story. I would have loved it if I could have my heavy history books on my Kindle. It's not a slight on History or History majors so much as it is a fundamental difference between the two degree paths.

If you consider the ratio of History-ish majors to Engineering-ish majors the fact that they chose the Engineering majors to conduct this study is highly suspicious. Are textbook sales sagging? Engineering majors are the minority at most universities and any intelligent person could have predicted this outcome during the planning stages. The fact that they chose a minority group that was bound to struggle adapting to Kindle-only textbooks is highly suspicious.

By daveG on 5/4/2011 9:41:49 AM , Rating: 2
I remember schlepping around a physics book, calculus book and others making my book bag during freshman year being as heavy as the girl I was seeing.

Man I would've killed to have them all in a kindle and saved my back.

Its all about how you use it
By 3minence on 5/4/2011 10:05:40 AM , Rating: 2
My wife uses her iPad for reading journal articles in PDF format. It contains the ability to highlight, etc. She can read it in bed, in line at the store, in the car, etc. It is extremely useful for reading. When she has to write, it is useless. She sits in front of our dual monitor PC and pulls up the document she writing on one screen, her reference material on the other, and types.

I've used the iPad as well for research and it works well while lying in the bed. I really like it. A tablet device is not perfect, and it is not for everything, but it does have a place.

By namechamps on 5/4/2011 12:35:13 PM , Rating: 2
Not the first but the first to be mass produced and adopted in large numbers. Still it is the C64. Fiction reading is a relatively trivial task to implement. Reading is generally linear, most people don't take notes (the dictionary lookup on Kindle is great though). People tend not to read more than one book at a time.

eReaders will only get better. Thinner, faster, better UI, more responsive. In time digital books will replace textbooks but likely it will take a couple generations of innovation to get there. Eventually they will even surpass static books. Imagine crowdsourcing for ebooks. You can compare your notes to other students notes and collaborate. Intelligent filters could weed out poor notes based on crowd consensus and allow only the best to rise to the top. Eventually best notes, explanations, etc could be integrated into future revisions.

It took 20 years to go from the C64 to modern internet connected PC. I have high hopes for potential of ebooks in 20 years.

Wishlist of features
By tygrus on 5/5/2011 10:03:43 AM , Rating: 2
highlight; annotate; cross reference multiple documents; split screen; Record audio; record handwriten and/or typed notes; summarise; add bookmarks of favourites with document.

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