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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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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

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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