A friend of mine sent me a link to a study of eReaders at Reed College. In his E-mail message he stated that "Looks like real paper and ink wins...."
I didn't get the same impression from reading this article. In fact, the only real educational issue raised in the study was related to comprehension. It turns out that not being able to highlight the text made students more passive in their reading of the material and, therefore, were less able to comprehend and retain the information. However, the authors noted that new technology (already in the iPhone and iPad) will allow for electronic highlighting which they suggest will, in the long run, improve comprehension over traditional paper and ink methods.
"Both faculty and students agreed that this problem, though critical to the academic use of eReaders, could be easily addressed by technology that would allow quick and easy text highlighting and annotation. Indeed, they pointed out that effective digital highlighting and annotation would have the benefit of being easily searchable, shareable, and usable for doing research and writing papers. While the Kindle DX had a negative impact on content comprehension, there was considerable optimism that future eReaders would be able to overcome this problem and might actually help to increase comprehension."
The days of the Kindle may be over, but not electronic readers. I can't remember where I heard this but I believe that most of the traditional texts students read in English course are already available via the Gutenberg Project and other eReader options.
In the end the authors of this study conclude:
"In closing, we may note that while students and faculty in Reed's Kindle study were unanimous in reporting that the Kindle DX –– in its current incarnation –– was unable to meet their academic needs, many felt that once technical and other issues have been addressed, eReaders will play a significant, possibly a transformative, role in higher education."
I usually don't like to predict the future. In this case I can see this technology reduce paper use, decrease the weight of backpacks as well as the cost of class materials, and quite possibly improve the educational outcomes of our course work.