Topics: Teachers College, Emerging Media

September 23, 2009

From classics on their nightstand to textbooks in the classroom, the Amazon Kindle has become an integral teaching tool this semester for a group of Ball State University education majors.

Twelve students in Jon Clausen's Studies in Educational Technology are using the Kindle DX as part of a course focused on learning and teaching with emerging technologies. An assistant professor of secondary education/educational technology, Clausen said the course is one of the first of its kind to incorporate this type of emerging media into a curriculum for education majors.

"We're having discussions about the future and whether technology that's so new today, like the Kindle, will be a fixture in classrooms to come," Clausen said. "You already see people using these technologies on their own, to support their own learning, but we want to discover how best to incorporate them into a more formal setting."

Funding for the Kindles was provided by a grant from Ball State's Emerging Media Initiative, a planned $17.7 million investment to accelerate benefits to the state of Indiana with media savvy human capital.

Easier on the back

Clausen said the idea to write the grant proposal stemmed not only from a personal interest in the Kindle DX (the latest version of the Kindle that is available), but from watching his son, a third-grader, tote home a backpack full of heavy books. "It got me to thinking about how a student with a Kindle might use a textbook in an entirely different way from a traditional, hard-cover textbook," he said.

Like Clausen's son, his students would have carried to class their four required textbooks, which would have weighed several pounds in print. But on their Kindles, the textbooks weigh the same as the device itself – about 10 ounces, or slightly more than a can of soda.

And with the Kindle, students can annotate as they read. "Think of it like highlighting in a traditional print book," Clausen explained. Those annotations get saved on their Kindle as a text file, which can be downloaded via USB cord from the device to a computer.

"It's great because then they can have their notes open while they work on a paper, all without having to flip back and forth from sections they've marked in a regular textbook with say, Post It notes or stickies or highlighters," Clausen said.

It's this kind of functionality on a Kindle – along with its ability to access free Internet wherever a cell phone signal is available that makes the use of the device unique and an appealing attraction for educators. "It's fascinating to think that one of my students could literally stand in a cornfield and download one of my textbooks," Clausen said.

Embraced by students

Students in the class are approving use of the Kindle in the classroom as well.

"This is a great class for education majors because it is about using technology as a teaching tool," said junior Katelyn Helms. "We learn how technology can help students engage in the classroom and how we can use technology to change the learning structure."

Another focus of the course is Clausen's environmental desire to make it paperless. With the Kindle and its Internet access, the students can help the environment by keep electronic copies of all documents they need, turning in papers electronically and using electronic textbooks.

Clausen said students will return the Kindles used in the class at the end of the semester. By then, he hopes, the class will leave his course with a desire to share their knowledge about emerging media with fellow classmates, people in their communities and future students in their classroom.

"We want the students to feel more comfortable using these emerging tools, which in turn someday may be a great benefit to them in the classroom," Clausen said.

By Chanel Richards