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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Buggy whips, railroads, and paper textbooks



Image representing Amazon Kindle as depicted i...Image via CrunchBase
We're really seeing the rise of the niche bloggers in education.  Those people who know how to do a specific task and do it very well.  Such is the blog, Edukindle - my "go to" place for anything about using the Amazon Kindle in Schools.

The EduKindle Blog
I point this out, because the three most recent posts are well worth reading:

After reading these posts, it is very obvious how extremely messy it is to get Kindles (or any ereader) in the hands of our students.  You might say,

"But who will go to all that trouble?"

The answer is:   

Leaders, that's who.
This is the messy side of innovation -- the front end where everything isn't worked out quite yet.  Where we have to communicate, innovate, and try to tame order of a process meant for consumers that is being adapted for education.  Listen in on this conversation trying to keep the Kindles in sequential order between Kathy Parker at Seneca Middle School (their whole 8th grade is getting kindles) and a helper:

"Kathy: I’m ready for more Kindles!
Helper: What number are you on?
Kathy: 54.
Helper: You have Kindle 54 or you need Kindle 54?
Kathy: I need Kindle 54.
Helper: Ok, who has Kindle 54?
Helper 2: I think its on the table by the door.
Helper: No, this says Kindle 78.
Helper 2: Maybe it’s in the server room.
Helper: I’ll look.
You get the picture. Registering the Kindle that has the number 55 on its back in the 54th position, a misstep with grave consequences if not noticed immediately, is to be avoided at all costs. So an orderly exchange of Kindles is essential at the moment of registration."

This is messy, annoying,and tiresome. But it is also leadership at its messy, lonely, problem solving best.  Her eighth grade class is now touting that they are the "first Kindle eighth graders."

eBook Evolution: The Beginning of a Revolution?
Publishers haven't caught up. In truth ebook companies haven't caught up with what is about to happen. But the ebook revolution is going to happen in education and happen very quickly.  In fact, Amazon recently announced that for the second quarter of 2010, they sold 143 ebooks for every 100 hardcover books sold. This is just the beginning with ebooks still less than 1% of books sold.

I talked to an IT director of a major school district in Florida at ISTE this year who told me that they are going to ebooks.  He said something like this,

"I cannot get the book publishers to understand what we want, however, we will find what we want, and when we do, it will impact all of our textbook purchases."

In this case, the medium is going to drive schools in massive numbers to different companies if their company doesn't have an option. Textbook companies and some that may be very small are going to see a major shake up over ebooks unless they determine how they are going to price and deliver textbooks.

What Will Pricing Look Like?
Many schools seem to want a subscription based model where the book is delivered and updated each year as it is passed down. Also, they'd really like to let the year's previous textbook -- now just a reference stay on the student's e reader as a resource.

Today's pricing model for textbooks is entirely unsuitable for ebook pricing.


Buggy whips, railroads, and paper textbooks.
Textbook companies are going to be faced with cutting their own throats or having someone else do it.  Schools preach being environmentally conscious and throw away textbooks frequently. It is a total waste and the epitome of hypocrisy! (See the science book talking about protecting the environment on the top of a trash heap flipping over to a page about cutting down on the use of paper -- sounds like an opening scene for a Flat Classroom Project movie! ;-) ) Paper in most cases seems to be a waste!

Not just content deliver...network delivery
Messy or not, educators are ready to use ebooks. I don't know who is going to win the battle in ebook readers.  Probably the bigger question is who is going to win the battle on content delivery.  For, we not only want content delivered but we also want to join networks. Publishing companies should be clearinghouses of connections between students and schools as well as clearinghouses of best practices and content.

To me, Kathy Parker, slaving away at Seneca Middle School is a sign of things to come and things that will come very quickly.

And there are some major players: Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos as well as the folks at Barnes and Nobles as well as every textbook publisher out there -- people that need to note the flicker of opportunity that presents it self. Such opportunities are often brief and often are the hinges upon which corporate destinies turn.

Ready to Move
As for us educators, we're looking, we're ready to move.  A decision that has already been made for a product delivery system that hasn't been worked out.

And for those who don't realize that their Information Technology department is about to be at the helm of most of the content delivery mechanisms of your school, I'd take a second look at the relationships that you're building with your IT department. They are definitely partners in the future of every school.



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