5 burning questions about e-readers in schools

If you've got boys who are reluctant readers, e-readers are likely to be of some help to you. That's the only thing in this blog which I present with near total confidence. Teachers have consistently told me that when boys have access to e-readers, their attitudes to reading often change. The lure of technology is cited as a reason for this.

When boys have access to e-readers, their attitudes to reading often change

Also, those who are put off by the physical size of a print book are less daunted by an e-reader. The privacy of a device appeals too: since your peers can't see what you're reading, it makes image less of an obstruction to reading.

Now we’ve covered something widely agreed upon, here are a few questions hanging over the use of e-readers in schools:

Can they help those with additional support needs?

You can enlarge the size of text, for starters. For pupils with motor difficulties, the devices don't seem to require a lot of dexterity. You can also have the text read out loud to you, although there are two potential areas of difficulty with this. First, many readers have complained about the quality of the voice on some devices, calling it robotic. Also, Amazon have controversially discontinued this feature on most Kindles. The folks at @AmazonHelp seem to be genuinely keen to take suggestions - maybe that's something to tweet them about!

Are there benefits for reading comprehension?

A recent study found that when we read on a device, we sometimes struggle to remember which plot points came in which order. When we read print, because of the growing number of pages in our left hand and the decreasing number of pages in our right hand, we have a sensory indication of how far we are through a book when something happens in the plot. That said, I'm reading a book on a device at the moment and I'm pretty sure I could tell you what happens and in what order. Although maybe the participants in this study thought the same thing!

Are they a practical vehicle for textbook learning?

In many textbooks there are tables, graphs and other formatting features which are designed for larger pages. On the e-reader's smaller screen, tables often won't fit on one page. If you shrink the font size then eventually you'll see the whole table, but of course that negates the benefits of being able to enlarge the text for learners with additional support needs.

How will they work in a school setting?

None of the major manufacturers of e-readers have specific offers available to UK schools for buying and managing devices, as far as my research has shown anyway. In the US, Amazon offers an excellent service called Whispercast, which allows schools to buy Kindles in bulk and manage accounts easily. This isn't available in the UK, so for the moment you can only register 6 Kindles to one account - if you want more Kindles, you need to have multiple accounts, which undoubtedly makes management of your devices a bit laborious. 

Will they save you money in the long run?

Well, if you buy one license to read an ebook, you can store that ebook on six devices (in most cases). So you're effectively getting six books for the price of one. I guess this is a bonus rather than a saving - would you have bought six copies of a book for your library? It might be more likely to save individual departments money on buying class sets of books, if that's what you're choosing to use the e-readers for. 

It would be grossly unfair not to represent the many positives. Many schools, including this Hertfordshire primary, have reported an increased interest in reading after bringing in e-reading devices, and there are benefits for dyslexic readers too. For those at risk of being left behind, e-readers have something valuable to offer. For me, that suggests that the best way to think of a purchase of Kindles or Kobos or Nooks is as a resource for limited use with targeted pupils. This saves the hassle of managing a larger amount of devices, and means you get the most return for your money in terms of impact.

So what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments box below!

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