Tag Archives: faculty development

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.

Nudging faculty toward paperlessness

I was included on an email sent recently by the VP of our school’s student association regarding the newly implemented pay-to-print policy. The student association is not happy with the policy, and their reasons were good: it’s not so much that students want to print, but instead that their professors require them to print. The email was a reminder to me that, at least in this particular area, it’s not students who are resisting change.

On this note, I’m planning some faculty development for the spring semester related to the idea of paperless teaching. I need to do some brainstorming as to what this means. So here goes:

  • Readings that have, in the past, been photocopied and distributed, should be distributed electronically. There are some procedural challenges here, though. Digitization itself is increasingly easy. More and more, I think faculty members are getting things from online databases, so that no digitization is needed. When the original is on paper and needs to be photocopied, more and more of our copy machines have scan-to-PDF functionality. So faculty need some guidance on using this functionality.

    Where to upload things for distribution? This is one area where Blackboard has some real advantages. For one, Bb courses are set up automatically, and so there’s no real setup on my part. Access is limited to those enrolled in the class, which is (lamentably, perhaps) required by copyright considerations.

    In cases where faculty members use Blackboard to distribute readings to students, it should be made explicit that printing is not required. A brief discussion early in the semester regarding the readings and how best to approach them is a good idea in any class, and considerations of paper vs. non-paper reading could be part of that.

  • Assignments comprise another class of tree-killers. Faculty who adopt wholly online assignments like blogs and wikis for the pedagogical benefits get paperlessness as a bonus. More traditional assignments – essays, journals, and the like – can be collected electronically in a variety of ways: with a Blackboard Assignment, Turnitin (or SafeAssign or whatever it is in Blackboard 8), as attachments to email, as postings to a blog or discussion board (where privacy is not an issue). Faculty members might need a little bit of help dealing with the different kinds of file formats coming in, but many will already be used to downloading and viewing various kinds of documents.

    Grading these electronic assignments can be a little bit trickier. I personally like grading papers with the Track Changes feature in Word or Record Changes in OpenOffice.org or whatever. The big downside of this is that, in order for your students to be able to read your comments, they’re going to need this particular software, or at least a compatible reader – which is a dangerous supposition when you use commercial software like MS Office at a demographically diverse public university like ours. Tablet computers offer an alternative, especially for those faculty members who like to mark papers full of circles and arrows. The problem with tablets is the overhead, though – they aren’t cheap.

How are you trying to move away from paper in your teaching, or in your faculty’s teaching? How do you convince individuals who have been trained to use paper over their entire careers that there are practical benefits to going electronic? Is it even possible to move our current kinds of curriculum, which are so deeply rooted in paper, to the digital realm? Or will the change only happen when the course materials and assignments move away from the old paper metaphors?