Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sony eReaders: Reading Fried?

Like many other school districts, we have been searching for a way to address the eBook issue. Do we go Nook? Sony? Kindle? iPad? What factors do we use to make the decision? What are the long-term implications of the hardware purchase? Are we cutting ourselves out of this market or that by choosing one piece of hardware over another? Then, how do we even make the purchases of books considering our accounting practices which make it either difficult or impossible to follow the rules for some vendors who won't let us purchase books using purchase orders (Nook, Barnes & Noble). Early this year, Mr. Rios-Silva volunteered to take on a pilot of the Reader by Sony and provide us feedback from his 6th grade bilingual classroom, and that he did. I hope his report is as educational for you as it was for me. Thank you, Mr. Rios-Silva, for allowing me to publish your work.

Report on the implementation of the Sony E-readers as a teaching device used in the classroom


Raul A. Rios-Silva

LA/SS Bilingual Teacher (6th Grade)

Grangerland Intermediate School

April 30, 2011


The purpose of this document is to provide a detailed account of my experience using Sony e-readers (electronic books) during the past school year.
Background
I received eight Sony e-reader devices from Conroe ISD, via a grant, for use in my classroom based on a document I presented at the beginning of the school year. In it I expressed my plans to use the equipment as yet another way to motivate my students to read more. Current generations are very technologically oriented, and this, together with several of the advantages of the devices, seemed like an excellent opportunity to test the effectiveness of this new media format. I received the devices on November of 2010, however I did not incorporate its use in my classroom until January 2011, since I first had to test them, learn how to use them myself, charge them, and load books in each of them.
Pros and Cons
Based on my observations, I have created the following list of pros and cons of the devices in the classroom.
Pros
  • Students were very interested since the beginning, and to this day continue to be very interested in being selected for this test. They are always looking forward to using them.
  • There are thousands of e-books available on line.
  • The devices have batteries that last about two weeks if used on a daily basis. I used them up to two times daily for 20-30 minutes each time, and the batteries seemed to last perfectly for two weeks.
  • I have noticed that since the text is presented in relatively small “pages”, students tend to read more, I suspect because they do not feel overwhelmed by very long pages.
  • The font can be presented in 3 sizes, and students customize it to their preference. I have noticed that most of my students prefer the medium or large font sizes.
  • The text can be presented vertically or horizontally.
  • Students feel special when using the devices.
  • It is possible to scan or print documents to a PDF to be loaded to the devices, however if you scan letter size documents, the font appears very small and is very hard to read. I have tested loading tweentribune.com articles, but again, the font appears so small that it has been hard to read, plus it appears with webpage advertisements. Perhaps there is a better way to do it than the one I have used, and I will research this further. However, I do not know if scanning these or other documents to use in the devices would violate copyright laws.
Cons
  • Charging the devices requires connecting them to a PC. In this case I need to use several Pcs or use additional USB hubs (powered) to connect several at a time. This is complicated to do at school, since I do not like leaving the devices unattended while I exit my classroom. It takes about four to five hours to fully charge the devices, and they are not usable while they are charging. In addition, only one of the devices is recognized by the Sony software at a time, therefore transfer of e-books can be done only one at a time. In other words, the more devices one has, the more labor intensive the process becomes.
  • The books available for free are classics and generally very old titles which have been scanned from original books published many years ago. I have noticed that there are some scanning mistakes, as the OCR software probably did not recognized some of the characters, however these are few, and therefore not significant. More significant is the fact that the students have expressed their desire to read more current books, however these cost approximately $10 per volume.
  • There is apparently a way to check out e-books from certain public libraries, but I have not yet explored this option.
  • Students have been a little disappointed by the fact that the devices do not have touch sensitive screens. The devices have 10 buttons to control menu functions and to skip to specific pages, and other buttons to go to home menu, and page forward, and backward.
  • Students have expressed that they are a bit disappointed by the fact that the screens are only black and white and not full color, however they like to use them.
  • Due to the size of the screens and the fact that the books that I have obtained are very old editions that were scanned, the images are very hard to see, as you can only see a segment at a time. This is not the case with newer issues that were specifically designed for the device.
  • Since I use the devices in small group, it would be ideal to have leveled stories to use with my groups. Since this is not the case, I have used them with my 60 DRA students only to read books that correspond to the stories in our Literature textbook.
Conclusion
In spite of the fact that it was difficult to get started using the devices and of the cons mentioned above, I believe the test has been a success because of the fact that the objective of having a new medium to encourage students to read more has been achieved in my classroom.

Before acquiring more of the devices, I would advice that some of the issues mentioned above be addressed, in particular the acquisition of books that can be used in small group (like book sets), more current titles that can be of more interest to the students, and the simplification of some of the technical issues (charging, loading books, etc. of multiple devices at a time).

I am committed to continue finding ways to improve the implementation of this new medium in my classroom, and I plan to research further during the break to make a better use of them during the next school year. I will be happy to answer any question and I will be very appreciative of receiving any comment regarding this report.
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