Okla. tech center eyes Kindles, iPhones for e-learning

By , Computerworld |  Tech & society, ebook, education

High school and college students could be big beneficiaries of mobile technology by using e-readers and smartphones to access electronic textbooks and other course materials.

At Francis Tuttle Technology Center in Oklahoma City, pilot projects using iPhones and Kindle e-readers are in their early stages, as administrators weigh technical and financial considerations, said Chief Technology Officer Russ Hester.

"Computer mobility is key and critical to our future," Hester said in an interview. "We spend time here looking at ways to get people [access] to learning content, no matter where they are...."

For example, iPhones and iPod Touches are being evaluated for use by nursing students to carry medical reference books electronically "instead of requiring them to lug 10-pound books about the clinics," he said. Currently, nursing students use HP Ipaq handhelds, but those older devices are being retired.

The Kindles could be used by a broad range of students, and might be available at the school bookstore pre-loaded with all the textbooks needed for a specific curriculum, Hester said.

He estimated that students might even save up to 50% on the cost of textbooks by buying them electronically. As an example, he said a complete set of textbooks for several courses in a single curriculum and a Kindle device, sold at perhaps half its retail price, might cost $1,600. That's compared to $2,000 for the traditional textbooks alone. Students might even be able to use financial aid to make the purchases, since many are returning adults, some who have been laid off.

One major issue will be getting textbook publishers to use the Kindle's proprietary publishing format, he said. Hester also said he wants the Kindle's browser to be improved so that students could use it to access the center's learning application from Blackboard Inc.

Access to the Blackboard application server could allow access to online videos and other materials, he said.

Allen Weiner, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said the Tuttle Center's Kindle evaluation is one of several under way in the U.S. where IT shops are considering a "myriad" of concerns, including how to sell e-textbooks and not cut revenues for school bookstores accustomed to offering traditional paper texts. Amazon.com is already conducting Kindle DX pilots at seven major universities, including Princeton University, a spokeswoman said.

In addition to the iPhone and Kindle pilot programs, Hester said the center is may buy a group of sub-$500 mini-laptops that would be lent to students who agree to pay for the machine if they lose it.

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