A new trend has begun showing up in sixth grade. Many of my students have been showing up with eReaders. It’s not surprising. The price of entry-level readers has gone well below $100, even for name brand readers such as the Kindle or the Nook. With prices this low, most parents seem happy to give a reader as a birthday or Christmas present.
I, for one, am excited about this development. A student can carry dozens of books with him or her and read them at leisure. But there is also another benefit. In a recent study by Pew Research, it has been shown that the average person owning an eReader reads 24 books per year compared to 15 by the rest of us. This is good news for the publishing industry, since eBooks are cheaper to produce and distribute than paper books. To me, it is all irrelevant when compared to what I see in my classroom: kids reading who did not read before.
Maybe it is the novelty of the medium; maybe a time will come when eReaders are considered boring and turn into the 8-track of literature. I think it has something to do with the convenience factor, that from that simple device they can pull up what they want to read when they want to read it. For those of you who live near a well-stocked library or a giant book store, that might not seem important. But for my students, living in a rural setting, acquiring things to read is harder and the ability to read something at the push of a button makes that first step a lot smaller.
As a teacher, I hope to see more of these devices, not just for reading, but also a wider move to a ‘bring your own device’ policy, where we welcome more electronics into the classroom just as we would books, notebooks, and pencils, treating them not as novelties (though they may be filled with novels) but as vital and useful tools for learning.
Wisconsin is a potluck culture. You don’t go anywhere without bringing something to share. Partly because we are a generous people by nature and partly because you can be sure there will be something you like to eat. I grew up near the bratwurst capital of the United States and I married a person who does not eat red meat. I know this to be true.
Which is why I think the new trend in students bringing their own devices (BYOD) is a fantastic idea. This Christmas, nearly every one of my students came back saying that Santa got them a new iPod Touch/Kindle/Kindle Fire/iPad/laptop (where was Santa when I needed him this year? All I got was a waffle iron! It’s great and I love waffles, but still …)
I think BYOD is a great idea for a several reasons.
- Students are less likely to damage their own property than the schools. I have seen too many of my students mishandling laptops and cameras and thinking nothing of it. If it was their precious iPod at risk, the one that they begged and pleaded for weeks to get, I doubt they would be juggling it down the hallway.
- It puts the pressure off the school to provide everything. I am all for giving students the tools they need, but wouldn’t it be nice if students were pumped about getting the latest Office suite? A group of my kids were pumped because they downloaded the Edmodo app on their iPods and were able to do their homework at home.
- It frees up resources for where they are needed. Rather than spending time creating an eReader policy, learning how to lock down and administrate the eReaders, and creating accounts for the eReaders—the kids can do that! Then, with setup out of the way, teachers and administrators can focus on teaching students how to use their devices better rather than getting them working and keeping them working.
However, there are issues that could easily pop up.
- Whatever machines are brought in need to have some level of conformity, such as everyone being able to use Google Apps. Most schools seem to use a policy that contains a list of acceptable devices and rules for how they can be used. Which brings me to the next issue …
- Acceptable use is an issue. If students are bringing their iPads to school, who is to say they are doing schoolwork and not just playing games or texting their friends? First, there are filters that can block most distracting and inappropriate communication. But no filter that I know of can beat a teacher being aware of what is going on in their classroom and being given the freedom to make judgment calls.
- Access for students needs to be universal. Sure, it is a parent’s job to provide what a child needs, but I have yet to visit one school that does not have a closet full of hats, gloves, notebooks, backpacks, pencil, and even Halloween costumes for kids who need them. Because, at the end of the day, it is the school’s job to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity to learn. Will schools have to buy some Kindles to act as loaners? Sure. But I think many schools would be surprised to see just how far parents will go when they are asked to step up. I would wager that schools would be loaning out fewer than they think, and that come the holidays, their kids won’t be asking for a Gameboy.
For more information on BYOD check out a great article The 7 Myths About BYOD Debunked by Lisa Nielsen.
Our wonderful library has received a set of brand new Nook Color eReaders, and being more than happy to be a guinea pig (or, at least, to let my students play that role), I decided to give them a try this month for my literature circles.
I gave six Nooks to one of my reading groups and loaded them up with a few popular Project Gutenburg titles: Tom Sawyer, Doctor Doolittle, The Jungle Book, and Treasure Island, all available for download free along with thousands of other classics. (My students found Treasure Island boring—the first few chapters anyway.)
How well do the eReaders work? Here are some of the good things that I found from my initial trials:
- The page numbers of eReaders are different, so getting on the same page is a little hard. I could see having kids getting lost easily without a common point of reference. Setting up bookmarks will have to be a must.
- That said, being able to change spacing, text size, and other features in what you are reading could be a boon for students who have trouble reading fine text.
- Research, research, research: You can touch any word and get an instant definition. This is so easy and effortless that my students were looking up all kinds of terms. Another link takes them to Wikipedia or a Google search for searching for names or places. So much of reading is making connections, and using an eReader allows you to make those connections easily.
- Internet access makes these eReaders a watered down iPad in many respects. My students can look stuff up, post to my blog, or work on their Edmodo page. However, most don’t have the kind of control over content and oversight that a school would like. Until we figure out how to properly manage WiFi on the readers, we shut it off.
- Organization/management rights. Most of the e-book market is made for consumers; you buy the rights to a single copy of a book and can install that single copy. How does a school keep track of all those rights? How can it manage 10 copies of each text? How do we lend a copy to another school? Ten years from now, when we want to know what copies we have rights to, where will they be?
- Asset tracking. How do we keep students from walking off with the Nooks? Having them sign a waiver seems a little much, but unlike the iPad, most eReaders don’t have the ability to track their location.