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Saturday
Nov242007

Why wireless

Rob, a Canadian teacher-librarian, recently e-mailed asking if and why our schools are putting in wireless access points. He is looking at the educational benefits, especially. Below is my reply. I'm hoping other readers can provide additional ideas..

We are providing managed wireless connectivity in all our schools K-12. There is both “open access” which is only port 80 traffic for any visitor or student, and “closed access” which requires log-in by staff or students to get to other resources on our networks. The wireless access is filtered, seems to be working reliably, and is used extensively.

We embarked on the wireless project about four years ago for a number of reasons:

  • We wanted to provide more computer/Internet access to our students but did not have the physical space for additional labs or the funds for lots of classroom computers. Mobile carts of laptops made sense for us, and these really require wireless Internet/network storage access so they can be used throughout buildings.wireless.jpg
  • We wanted to provide a safe and convenient means for students, staff and visitors to use personal devices to access the Internet. Wireless connectivity does this for us. It decreases the incentive for people to bring Ethernet cables to school, getting unauthorized access to the networks.
  • More teachers want the convenience of using portable devices (PDAs, laptops) to do assessments and grades in real time, near students, and be able to use their laptops in a variety of locations in their classrooms and in the school.
  • All staff wanted wireless connectivity so that they could check their e-mail during really boring meetings ;-)
Blue Skunk readers, reasons you have or haven't put wireless in your schools?
Saturday
Nov242007

Can the Kindle pay for itself?

plasticbooks.jpgHere are the last three books I've purchased and their relative costs in paper and as Kindle-readable e-books:

  • Stephen Hunter's The 47th Samurai. Hardcover $17.16; Kindle edition: $9.99 Cost savings: $7.17
  • Laurence Bergreen's Marco Polo. Hardcover $19.11; Kindle edition: $9.99  Cost savings: $9.12
  • Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Paperback $9.60; Kindle edition: $6.39 Cost savings $3.21.

So, let's add this up...  Carry the two, add the five... $19.50 less for the Kindle book versions. Let's tack on another conservative $4.50 for postage for these three purchases. I'll have saved $24 on my three purchases or an average of $8 per book. That means my Kindle should pay for itself after purchasing about 50 books.

A few observations:

  • I could not find 2 of the last five books I bought in Kindle format (Don Norman's The Design of Future Things and The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.) This limits the economic viability of the device. Will availability increase?
  • If I am willing to wait for the book to appear in paperback, the costs of the two products are more similar.
  • I can't re-gift, donate, or display my erudition and fine taste via my physical bookcases.
  • (On the other hand, I could read trash on the Kindle, free from worry that others may think less of me because of my reading tastes.)

It would probably take me at least two years before I broke even economically on the Kindle. A pretty long pay-back time even for a regular book buyer like me. There are "value-added" benefits that should be factored in: lower carbon footprint for the e-book format than the paper book format; convenience of ready access to both my collection and new materials; the search/annotation feature of the e-book.

What if one did the math, however, with textbooks? Say we could buy (or lease for five years) a textbook for a fourth of its $80 cost? The typical five $80 textbooks at a $60 savings would be $300. Hand that 7th grader an e-book reader with all texts, novels, supplementary materials that have been updated, leveled for reading ability, customized for the curriculum, supported by a built-in dictionary/encylopedia/atlas. Cut out the printing costs of worksheets, lessen clerical costs of tracking, inventory physical texts, eliminate school lockers, etc. Do I smell a sea-change?

Maybe a blend of the OLPC or ASUS eee and the Kindle - readability, interactivity, portability, productivity and affordability. Can't we have it all? Tomorrow wouldn't be too soon. 


Friday
Nov232007

Emotional reactions to the Kindle

I was somewhat surprised by the rather negative and emotional reactions many in the blogger community had to Amazon's e-book reader. You'da thunk somebody was suggesting that lovable old grandmothers were being replaced by Satan, or something.

The Valleywag blog does this little comparison

kindlechart.jpg

I suspect that had the the author of the chart above been writing in 1907 instead of 2007, it may have looked something like this:

horsevsauto.jpg

Other folks have been fussing that the device is a single-function machine; that it uses a proprietary format (and one would have to actually pay for creative content); and that it can't re-gifted at Christmas to the brother-in-law, etc.

I suspect many people will be unable (or unwilling) to make the switch from cellulose to silicon readers. I suspect both better technology and better content distribution/remuneration schemes are just around the corner.

But what many of us fogies are forgetting is that IT IS NOT ABOUT US. I find it ironic that the Kindle release and the knee-jerk reactions to it were made the same week as the latest report by the National Endowment for the Arts that decries the decline in reading by teens:

1. Young adults are reading fewer books in general.

• Nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure.
•The percentage of 18- to 44-year-olds who read a book fell 7 points from 1992 to 2002.

Could it be that kids read, they just don't like reading on paper? Be a shame if our own preferences, predjudices and quibbles related to book format discourage reading by the next generation.