Oct 6, 2009

Problems with Kindle in Education: Looks as if Amazon forgot to do usability and accessibility homework!

When e-readers first were released to the world, I thought I'd be the first on the block to run out and get one.  But I wasn't, and I didn't.  Why not?   

  • They are too expensive.
  • They don't provide me with the text/content/concept/nonlinear/multimedia interaction I want (not useful for my purposes.)
  • Issues regarding usability, accessibility, and universal design have yet to be resolved.
Problem: Not quite useful or usable for students.

Hyung Lee, The Daily Princetonian 9/28/09
“I hate to sound like a Luddite, but this technology is a poor excuse of an academic tool...It’s clunky, slow and a real pain to operate...Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs,” he explained. “All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.” - Aaron Horvath, student, Princeton
Winthrop professor uses Kindle to spark new age of learning- but response to e-reader lukewarm (Shawn Cetrone, Herald Online, 10/5/09)
"About a month into the semester at Winthrop, the device has yet to garner many fans...
 “I don't really like it,” senior Cindy Satta said after class. “We used to highlight things we read, especially with complicated texts. We can't do that now.”    And Satta prefers leafing through paper pages over fumbling with the Kindle key pad. But, she added, it was nice not having to buy a book."
EDUKINDLE:  Kindle for Educators

Problem:  Usable and useful for reading fiction, but not much else.
I'm delighted to share Jakob Nielsen's reviews of the Kindle- he is an "older" guy, and given his background in the usability field, he's well-aware of factors related to reading text on screens.  I don't need reading glasses yet, but given my age, reading small print will become an important issue when and if I purchase an e-Reader!

Kindle 2 Usability Review (Jakob Nielsen, Alertbox, 3/9/09)
"Amazon's new e-book reader offers print-level readability and shines for reading fiction, but it has awkward interaction design and poor support for non-linear content."
Kindle Content Design (Jakob Nielson, Alertbox, 3/16/09)
" Adapting content for the Kindle e-book reader requires that you follow an unholy mix of usability guidelines for other environments........ Given these constraints, navigating non-linear content on Kindle feels much like navigating websites on a mobile phone. Kindle content designers should therefore follow mobile usability guidelines for many user interface issues, including the presentation of article pages."
Kindle DX - Disappointing (Jakob Nielsen, Alertbox, 5/2009)
"Reduced crispness means fuzzier fonts, which again means reduced legibility and slower reading speed. Thus, Kindle DX is not likely to replicate the pleasant reading experience of Kindle 2. This is particularly catastrophic since it's intended for reading textbooks which are dense in word count...Seeing only one page at a time will reduce students' ability to learn, relative to reading books that display two-page spreads as the designer and author intended."

Problem: Lacking key features required for accessibility and conforming to UDL (Universal Design for Learning) principles.

NOTE: Somehow I missed the controversy about accessibility and e-Books! Since I don't have an e-reader and I don't know anyone who owns one, it was off my radar.

Apparently e-Books don't come with audio rights, and this issue is much more complicated than one would think. I am sure there are many sides to the story. In my humble opinion, much of this controversy could have been prevented if all parties involved in the eBook revolution had done their homework before the first e-Book came to market!   

National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the BlindFile Discrimination Suit Against Arizona State University: University’s Amazon Kindle DX Pilot Program Discriminates Against the Blind
"The Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud to blind students.  The menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, however, making it impossible for a blind user to purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature, and use the advanced reading functions available on the Kindle DX"

"Darrell Shandrow, a blind student pursuing a degree in journalism at ASU, said: “Not having access to the advanced reading features of the Kindle DX—including the ability to download books and course materials, add my own bookmarks and notes, and look up supplemental information instantly on the Internet when I encounter it in my reading—will lock me out of this new technology and put me and other blind students at a competitive disadvantage relative to our sighted peers.  While my peers will have instant access to their course materials in electronic form, I will still have to wait weeks or months for accessible texts to be prepared for me, and these texts will not provide the access and features available to other students.  That is why I am standing up for myself and with other blind Americans to end this blatant discrimination.""
Advocates for the Blind Sue Arizona State U over Kindle Use  (Marc Beja, Wired Campus, Chronicles of Higher Education, 7/2/09)
Blind Access Journal (Darrell Shandrow's Blog)

Broad Coalition Demands Access to Amazon Kindle/Electronic Books: Reading Rights Coalition Urges Authors to Allow Everyone Access to E-books
Author's Guild Statement Making the Kindle Accessible to the Print Disabled(4/7/09)

Reading Rights Coalition

(Direct links to the member groups of the Reading Rights Coalition can be found on the home page.) 
The Kindle TTS Issue
"Shortly after the Kindle 2’s release, the Authors Guild, as an organization that represents some writers, protested Amazon’s deployment of text-to-speech on the Kindle 2. The Authors Guild argued that reading a book out loud, as occurs with the Kindle, requires the specific permission of the copyright holder. It also expressed a concern that text-to-speech could inhibit the development of the market for audio books. On February 24, 2009, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Roy Blount, Jr., president of the Authors Guild, which escalated media attention on the issue."
Protest Signs: Potential E-Book Reader Below

CNN iReport Author's Guild Protest

How Tech for the Disabled is Going Mainstream: Designs conceived for the handicapped, such as voice commands for PCs, often lead to products for the masses 
(Reena Jana, Business Week 9/24/09)
""Companies could look at designing for accessibility as a sales opportunity. Most features that are accessible for the disabled have great value to everybody," says Donald A. Norman, a former Apple vice-president for advanced technology who heads a joint business and engineering program at Northwestern University."

"While VoiceOver helped broaden Apple's reach to the blind, it also became a mini-engine for innovation within the company. "When we created the VoiceOver idea and concept for the Mac, we also realized we could take advantage of it by mainstreaming it," says Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice-president for iPod and iPhone marketing."

"At Google (GOOG), a deaf software engineer, Ken Harrenstein, spearheaded the creation of a captioning tool for videos posted on Google's YouTube site. His original intention was to help deaf users. But the company soon figured out the software could also help translate languages. That idea led in late 2008 to an auto-translation tool that allows people to add captions in 50 languages instantly to YouTube videos they upload, increasing the number of people who can watch and understand the clips" 

Rebooting the Book (One Apple iPad Tablet at a Time) 
(Mark Sigal, O'Reilly Radar, 9/22/09)
In the above article,  Sigal digs into the history of Apple's past visions for the future, visions worth contemplating in 2009.  Sigal that believes the "iPad" could function as an interactive learning device, a chemistry and physics lab, a story-telling narrative vehicle, and an information and reference guide.  

Sigal provides some interesting scenarios that anyone interested in this area should seriously consider!

(Also read Sigal's "Apple, the Boomer Tablet, and the Matrix")

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