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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.

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