Pitching the Kindle

A couple of us at my institution have been trying to pilot the use of the Amazon Kindle in a couple of classes. We’ve had a couple false starts along the way, but now we’ve put together a somewhat more formal (albeit short) proposal. Last time I tweeted about the issue, a couple of people showed interest in what I was doing. So I thought I’d post the guts of the proposal up here for others to see.

A couple of preliminary notes: First, the goal is to get money from the college’s Technology Fee, and this proposal is based on the format and requirements that the college has developed for this purpose. Second, what we’ve said here doesn’t really go into the details of how the project will be implemented – there is much more to say about faculty and student training, documentation, assessment, and so on – but it at least highlights what we envision to be the main aspects of the program.

Description of the project

The Center for Teaching and Learning, the Educational Technology Lab, and the Writing Across the Curriculum program propose to pilot the use of the Kindle 2.0 in 2 – 4 courses during the academic year 2009-10. E-books are quickly become competitors to traditional, printed material, and the Kindle is emerging as the leading e-book reader. Key elements include nearly instantaneous wireless download capabilities, improved readability (as compared to PDA/cell phone options), access to newspapers, blogs, books, and other documents and formats. If the pilot is funded, CTL, the Ed Tech Lab, and WAC will work with interested professors to select a roster of participating courses, representing a variety of departments and working with a variety of kinds of texts. Each participating faculty member will receive a Kindle, along with a $50 gift certificate redeemable at Amazon.com, to work with during the summer of 2009. In the fall, the students enrolled in a course taught by each of these faculty will receive Kindles on loan for the semester. Depending on the nature and availability of the readings prescribed by the class syllabus, the students in a given class may also be provided with a $50 gift certificate to cover the cost of the assigned Kindle texts. Faculty will participate in 2 – 3 workshops designed to help them share pedagogical possibilities and challenges of e-books. Instructors will use the pilot as an opportunity to address concerns about critical reading strategies, among other issues, with students. Faculty and students will be asked to complete surveys about their reading practices before and after the semester and to write periodic reflections on their experience using the Kindle for course work. The long-term plan will be to purchase and maintain enough Kindles that they may be loaned out for courses a semester at a time.


  • E-books are quickly become competitors to traditional, printed books, and the Kindle is emerging as the leading e-book reader. One objective will be to explore, articulate, and communicate with the faculty and student population about the pedagogical implications of this technological and cultural shift.
  • The technology offers an opportunity to explore and emphasize critical reading practices, as well as the organization and management of information (for both faculty and students).
  • Depending on the outcomes, participating faculty may put together a conference panel and/or journal article about the insights they glean from the project.
  • With the College’s push to cut down on paper, the Kindle seems like a good technology to explore, partly because it can read PDFs and other documents in addition to e-books. Students can download and annotate course readings posted on Blackboard or articles from the Library’s extensive databases of electronic journals. It would appear to provide an ideal opportunity for publicizing the College’s green initiatives.

Additional commentary

This proposal calls for the purchase of 75 Kindles, along with 75 protective cases, enough for the instructors and students in approximately 4 upper-level courses. It also calls for the purchase of 80 $50 gift certificates to Amazon.com. One of these gift certificates will be given to each of the 5-10 faculty members who evaluate the device before the semester begins, so that they have time to learn and evaluate the book purchasing process before they demonstrate the process to their students. The remaining gift certificates will be distributed to students in those classes where the syllabus requires the purchase of texts that cannot be freely acquired, i.e. through a public domain repository or the library’s electronic resources. This provision is necessary because students will not keep the Kindles after the semester’s end and thus will not be able to keep the purchased texts in the same way that they would with a traditional paper book. CTL, WAC, and the Ed Tech Lab will work with instructors to determine whether the readings in a given class are such that the students in that class will require the gift certificates. Any gift certificates that are not used during the initial pilot semester will be used for similar purposes in the following semester.

Both during the pilot and throughout the life of the Kindles, the Educational Technology Lab will provide technical and pedagogical support to instructors and students using the devices.

After the initial pilot, the Educational Technology Lab will house and maintain the pilot devices. Working with the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Writing Across the Curriculum program, the Ed Tech Lab will be responsible for finding faculty members each semester who would like to use Kindles in their classes. In this way, the college will get long-term benefits from the purchase of the devices, above and beyond the findings of the original pilot.

3 thoughts on “Pitching the Kindle

  1. Luke

    Boone: this in an interesting proposal. You might want to include something short and punchy that suggests explicit pedagogical uses for specific Kindle functions (clipping, searching, synonym finding)… might these functions lend themselves to Kindle-implementation in a particular kind of course?

    And, though I’m all for innovative pedagogy and experimentation (and think you’d really learn some great things running this project), I do have some reservations about using a large chunk of the student tech fee in this way… the Kindle is ridiculously expensive (John Stewart really pissed on it for this reason and others last night in an interview with Bezos), and unless you get a sharp discount, you’re looking at over $30k for this project. If this is a prototype, can it scale in any sort of way at a public institution? And if it’s for research and pedagogical experimentation rather, then should the money really come out of the student tech fee? I don’t know the answers (though I know there are answers both ways); just wanted to raise the questions.

    Keep us posted on this project!

  2. Boone Post author

    Luke: Your comments about the cost reflect a lot of the concerns that I’ve had about the whole idea. Here are a couple of thoughts. First, I should say that it’s not really settled how (or whether) this project is going to be funded in the end. We’re too late by quite a bit to qualify for tech fee funding for next year, and so there’s a chance that we might be getting money from some other special project fund. Second, it’s true that the project is largely a pedagogical experiment (though the research/publication bit in the proposal is really just a minor point), but it’s not only an experiment; after all, once we have the devices, we have them for good, and we can continue to use them for years to come. Third, while you’re absolutely right that the Kindle is extremely expensive, it’s offset by the reduced cost of books (sometimes reduced to zero, when e.g. a Project Gutenberg text replaces a trade paperback). Thus, in terms of scalability, I can envision a situation where the school’s bookstore partners with Amazon or another book-reader producer to provide students with the option of buying a device in exchange for cheaper books through their school careers. I think this counts as a kind of scalability – even if the model we’re piloting here can’t be scaled up, it would at least prove the pedagogical viability of the machines, as a precursor to a larger project.

    In any case, because the students in the pilot won’t have to buy the Kindle texts they’ll be using, the money will clearly be doing some immediate good for at least the participating students, in that their book costs for the semester will be reduced. And while that might not seem entirely fair – to subsidize a small group of lucky students with campus-wide funds – it’s not that much different from the tech fee buying computers that only students from a given department can use.

    Thanks for voicing these issues, Luke.


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