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There is a lot of talk on the Internet today about Amazon's new electronic book called the Kindle. The talk among bloggers is largely about subscribing to blogs. Others are talking about books for, mostly, pleasure reading. I am wondering though if this technological innovation might be the thing that revolutionizes the textbook market.
Now I know that there have been electronic books for a while. But something just feels different about this one. Is it the wireless downloads and super simple means of getting the books on the device? Perhaps. There are 88,000 books available for it already. IS that enough to make it a tipping point? Maybe. Is it that it has been designed by a company, Amazon, that seems to understand books as well as they understand technology? Perhaps that is part of it as well. Or perhaps something in the air says this is an idea whose time has come.
I could be wrong but here is the opportunity I see. Textbooks direct to Kindle. I can see a direct connection between authors and schools without the middleman. Or perhaps a reduced role for the middleman and a larger slice of the income for the author. I should interject with a disclaimer here - I've written several textbooks that have been published in hard copy by traditional publishers. I don't see a big percentage of the revenue from those books though. Would I like a larger net from a smaller selling price for my work? You bet!
This is what I see as a possible scenario. At the college level students get their Kindle their freshmen year. Perhaps bundled into tuition or perhaps as a "textbook fee." All their textbooks are ordered though a school branded portal at Amazon. At $10-15 a book the Kindle pays for itself the first semester. Easily! If the price of the book is spread among Amazon, publisher (maybe they supply editing and design expertise as well as some marketing) and the author everyone makes money. The author may even make more money than a conventional book. Very likely more students will buy the full slate of books for a course because they don't have to choose between buying books and eating so even the professor benefits because more students will have the books.
There are additional benefits for the students as well. They can take all their books with them all the time. Run into a classmate from Bio 203 and want to ask them about the diagram on page 234 just whip out the Kindle and open up. Need to look up a word use the built-in dictionary or perhaps look something up on Wikipedia. Ok some faculty might not appreciate wikipedia as a reference in a paper but for looking up something quickly it often does the job. How about deciding which textbooks to take home over a school break? Take them all - decision made.
I can see this working in K-12 as well. The initial cost of getting a Kindle in every student's hands is a little daunting but if a school or district can make that happen it becomes much less expensive to get a copy of every text book into every student's hands. Perhaps school agreements can be worked out the minimize the costs of both textbooks and assigned reading books. It would be worth a reduced purchase price to know that you could get schools to buy updated editions more often. Bye bye seven year replacement cycle. Now wouldn't that be cool! Publishers and authors who are willing to make a lower cost up on higher volume should do well in this model.
The Kindle has the ability to take notes in the book as well. So there you have a real study tool but I suspect that students are less likely to completely mess up their book and make it unreadable with doodles. Have you ever seen a grade school book after a student who didn't like the teacher/course/book has gotten finished "taking notes" in it?
The other thing I see as interesting is the potential for teachers to create their own books for use. They can create them in Word or Publisher or some other tool and at 10 cents a copy each student can get their own. You can't copy anything worth having onto paper for that cost to say nothing of binding costs. That might open some real creative doors for teachers.
Is Kindle the book that changes the world of textbooks in a dramatic way? I really don't know but it sure is interesting to think about the possibilities. BTW if you are going to order one use this link. Maybe I'll make a few bucks and get my wife to let me buy one of my own.
Is the shortage of women in computer science caused by a failure to attract women or are women being chased away? That seems to be at the heart of some recent discussions I've been following on the subject.
Recently one educator talked about using games as a carrot to attract women into the field. While some debated the effectiveness of this method another educator objected to the use of the term "carrot" and the idea that women needed to be attracted to the field. That educator teaches at an all female school which gives a different perspective of course. No one disputes that the number of women in the field is at a low that is not healthy but the cause is clearly up for discussion.
On the "we're chasing them away" side I submit a list of "10 Programmers you'll encounter in the field" that I came across recently. While I don't think the list is intended to be all inclusive I find it telling that there are no types on the list that I can picture many people, let alone women, aspiring to be. Those are common stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media and I fear by some people in the field and they describe a very uncomfortable atmosphere. The popular media is not particularly helpful here either.
To overcome some of that uncomfortable atmosphere, especially in education, there are resources available for teachers. Recently in the CSTA blog, Leigh Add Sudol posted a link to a practice guide from the National Center for Education Research. This guide lists five recommended strategies for encouraging girls in Math and Science. Leigh Ann has a great summary of the guide which I recommend reading if you make time for anything at all.
Several years ago I attended a training event at Carnegie Mellon (where Leigh Ann is teaching these days) that included a lot of great information about how not to to scare girls away from CS classes once there were in them. I learned quite a lot and found that these techniques helped me with a lot of the boys in my class as well.
One of the things we forget is that in the range of attitudes, confidence levels, and learning styles there is real overlap between boys and girls. Things that make some girls uncomfortable can make boys uncomfortable as well. Likewise some girls will like the same things that some other boys like. We have to make sure we don't lose site of the fact that stereotypes are not a sound basis for categorizing all students.
Short attention span? No problem. Hilary Pike has created a short quick moving demo/screen cast on modifying an existing 2-dimensional XNA based video game. In just 10 minutes she walks the viewer through some key gaming concepts and then adds Collision Detection and Score Keeping to the game.
Also at her blog post you will find links to other XNA resources and of course the sample code for the game used in the demo. This demo will give a good overview of what one can do with existing game code for XNA projects. And of course collision detection and score keeping are important things for just about any good computer game. Share it with your friends.
BTW I'd also like to use this opportunity to welcome a new member of the Academic Relations team - Cy Khormaee - the the blogosphere. Cy's new blog is at blogs.msdn.com/cykho/ Stop by and see what Cy has to say.