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The new Kindle on campus: CWRU and Amazon partner to test the Kindle DX

Tiffany Oliver

Issue date: 9/25/09 Section: News
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A brand new back-to-school accessory has made its way onto the Case Western Reserve University campus this year: the Kindle DX. The Kindle is a device sold by Amazon that serves as an electronic book. Users can underline and bookmark notable text and download entire books onto a small, handheld tablet. Each Kindle can hold up to 3500 electronic books, and they are directly connected to a dictionary and Wikipedia, which can be accessed by clicking on a highlighted word.

The Kindle DX project originated last November, when Professor Michael Kenney inquired about using e-readers for his chemistry class. After he spoke with Lev Gonick, vice president of information technology services and chief information officer, dialogue was initiated with representatives with Amazon "about the possibility of equipping the incoming freshmen class with Kindles," said Wendy Shapiro, senior academic technology officer. Excitement soon circulated among faculty members who then compiled possible research assignments centered on the Kindle's capabilities. CWRU sent representatives to the annual EDUCAUSE conference (a top IT conference for higher education IT professionals), as did 35 other colleges. Although optimism spread about the prospect of implementing Kindles in the academic community, progress stalled until the weeks leading up to the school year. Roughly two weeks before classes started, president Barbara Snyder went to New York to discuss Case's involvement in the Kindle DX project. CWRU is one of only seven universities participating in the program. "Case's reputation as an engineering school helped Case become involved in the program," said Mace Mentch, Information Technology Services' education assessment specialist.

Amazon provided Case with 40 new Kindles, and Case distributed it to 40 randomly selected CHEM 111 students. Selected students were notified and were asked if they wished to have a Kindle. Mentch said that they also "looked for overlapping classes" among the Kindle students. However, few students had multiple classes together, so ITS partnered with SAGES to upload the common reading book, Three Cups of Tea, as well as They Say, I Say. After the students were chosen, Amazon and Case worked to have the students' textbooks uploaded to the Kindle. Amazon needed to form agreements with textbook companies in order to outfit students' Kindles with the proper books. Due to time constraints, students did not receive all of their books on Kindles, and "participating students have electronic textbooks and traditional textbooks," explained Mentch. Such a split allows students to provide valuable information on the differences between the two, and to report how study habits fluctuate based on the type of book they are reading.

The university is attempting to use the Kindle experiment as a means to investigate the role of technology in the classroom. It serves as "an assessment to determine how students will use [Kindles] as a study tool," Mentch said. One of the goals of the Kindle DX program is to compare how study habits differ between traditional textbooks and Kindles, and "to conduct unbiased analysis to see if it is a legitimate academic device." Case is establishing focus groups involving participants to conduct surveys and questionnaires to determine the effectiveness and usefulness of Kindles. The use of Kindles raises questions about the future relationship between students and textbooks, and whether bookstores will soon be selling only Kindles to incoming freshmen.
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