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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Can the Kindle Replace Textbooks?

I've been a strong advocate of eliminating text books for years. Why do people always frame the discussion at the college level? Do you have any idea how much money is spent in our local school districts just buying and replacing textbooks?

The Kindle is a good idea, but it's not much more than an overpriced piece of crap. For $389 you could buy a laptop or tablet that would do all that and more. The Kindle can't highlight relevant text and it also has no means of making notations. It's just not practical for educational purposes. There are better approaches available today, but like the Kindle, they are hampered by outside forces.

One of the problems here is the entrnchment of the publishing and printing industries. Much like the music and movie industry, publishers are very set in their ways. They can see the world changing around them, but for some unknown reason, they are loathe to do anything about it. All one needs to do is examine the decline of the newspaper business and it's easy to see where publishing is headed. The educational publishing segment is perhaps the part of the industry that has buried their collective heads in the sand the deepest. Having a captive audience to dictate terms to, they have become so accustomed to their way they can't envision things working any differently.

I would rather see my tax dollars go to paying for IT employees to run the network at the school than pouring money down the drain on textbooks or useless things like the Kindle. In addition to the obvious benefits of replacing textbooks, every student would be learning valuable computer skills as well. Each school would aslo be perfectly set up to teach IT classes and computer repair classes. Adults displaced from their printing or paper mill jobs could be retrained at the schools to transition to tech jobs.

I'm very suprised that we haven't seen any of the computer manufacturers or software giants (ahem! Microsoft, Google, Apple, Dell etc...) step up to the plate and make school districts around the country an "offer they can't refuse" to put their products in the hands of every student in the country. Wouldn't this be the Holy Grail of marketing coups? Imagine the customer base you could build if you started grooming potential customers when they start school? One could easily envision a business model much like the cell phone industry. They subsidise the initial cost of the equipment to get you under their umbrella and the money is made by offering additional services and upgrades. A shrewd lobbyist could probably get the Federal government to kick in toward the cost of the equipment so the school district and the company aren't stuck absorbing the initial costs. We may have to trim the dfense budget or stop paying midwest farmers to not grow crops, but it would be a good use of Federal tax dollars.

If you want to look at the issue from another angle, consider the environmental angle. Think about the environmental impact of manufacturing and shipping millions of textbooks every year. If you look at the entire process from the lumberjack who cuts the tree to the bookstore clerk that delivers to the customer, there is an enourmous carbon footprint involved to distubute that book. Now consider the environmental impact of digital delivery and susequent updates. There's no comparison.

We can land spacecraft on Mars and bomb the crap out of anyone we see fit, but we're no closer to the promise of an interactive classroom than we were 15 years ago. I'm sure we'll continue on this un-eco-friendly path until we're out of trees and then some genius will come up with an idea to put a laptop in the hands of every student.

Report: A Kindle for college kids? Crave, the gadget blog - CNET
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