Thursday, May 5, 2011

In survey of user satisfaction, computer science students pan Kindle

If I was a betting man, a couple of years ago I would have bet the farm that e-reading devices like Amazon's Kindle would have taken over the textbook market by now. I mean, who wants to lug to class big, heavy textbooks? More importantly, who wants to pay for those big, heavy textbooks? 

But the traditional textbook has proved to be surprisingly resilient, even among digital natives. Most, if not all, the surveys of college students I've seen show that, at best, students have mixed feelings about e-readers.  Although the devices now let students highlight and annotate the text, the e-reader experience isn't yet comparable to highlighting and annotating in a traditional textbook.  Maybe that will change. 

In the meantime, check out this soon-to-be-published survey from U. Washington that asked computer science students to rate the Kindle for academic work.  Here's a summary courtesy of the Seattle Times:

"There is no e-reader that supports what we found these students doing," first author Alex Thayer, a UW doctoral student in design and engineering, said in a release. "It remains to be seen how to design one. It's a great space to get in to, there's a lot of opportunity."

Seven months into the study, more than 60 percent of the students had stopped using their Kindle regularly for academic reading -- and these were computer science students, who are presumably more sympathetic to an electronic book.

Although the device has note-taking capabilities, some students still tucked paper into the Kindle case to write notes and others would read near a computer that they could use for reference and other tasks that weren't easy on the device.

The study used the DX, which is the largest Kindle, a $379 model with a 9.7-inch diagonal screen. It involved 39 first-year graduate students in computer science and engineering, with ages ranging from 21 to 53.

Some conclusions, as listed in the release:

-- Students did most of the reading in fixed locations: 47 percent of reading was at home, 25 percent at school, 17 percent on a bus and 11 percent in a coffee shop or office.

-- The Kindle DX was more likely to replace students' paper-based reading than their computer-based reading.

-- Of the students who continued to use the device, some read near a computer so they could look up references or do other tasks that were easier to do on a computer. Others tucked a sheet of paper into the case so they could write notes.

-- With paper, three quarters of students marked up texts as they read. This included highlighting key passages, underlining, drawing pictures and writing notes in margins.

-- A drawback of the Kindle DX was the difficulty of switching between reading techniques, such as skimming an article's illustrations or references just before reading the complete text. Students frequently made such switches as they read course material.

-- The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues, such as the location on the page and the position in the book to find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.

The study will be presented at next week's Association for Computing Machinery conference on human factors in computing systems, taking place in Vancouver, B.C.

You can read more here.

Hat tip to Inside Higher Education.


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