Researchers at the University of Washington conducted a study looking at how college students can utilize a Kindle DX to supplement their education.
While some of the study’s findings were expected – students want improved support for taking notes, checking references and viewing figures – the authors also found that allowing people to switch between reading styles, and providing the reader with physical cues, are two challenges that e-readers will need to address in cracking the college market.
The study ultimately found the Kindle lacking, in that it was designed for “leisure reading” as opposed to “academic style reading.”
“There is no e-reader that supports what we found these students doing,” said first author Alex Thayer, a UW doctoral student in Human Centered Design and Engineering. “It remains to be seen how to design one. It’s a great space to get into, there’s a lot of opportunity.”
“Most e-readers were designed for leisure reading – think romance novels on the beach,” said co-authorCharlotte Lee, a UW assistant professor of Human Centered Design and Engineering. “We found that reading is just a small part of what students are doing. And when we realize how dynamic and complicated a process this is, it kind of redefines what it means to design an e-reader.”
Here are some of the key findings:
- Students did most of the reading in fixed locations: 47 percent of reading was at home, 25 percent at school, 17 percent on a bus and 11 percent in a coffee shop or office.
- The Kindle DX was more likely to replace students’ paper-based reading than their computer-based reading.
- Of the students who continued to use the device, some read near a computer so they could look up references or do other tasks that were easier to do on a computer. Others tucked a sheet of paper into the case so they could write notes.
- With paper, three quarters of students marked up texts as they read. This included highlighting key passages, underlining, drawing pictures and writing notes in margins.
- A drawback of the Kindle DX was the difficulty of switching between reading techniques, such as skimming an article’s illustrations or references just before reading the complete text. Students frequently made such switches as they read course material.
- The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.
The last two are, in my mind, some of the key drawbacks of reading on paper v. reading on an electronic device. I actually remember, 4 years later, notes I took in the margins of some of my textbooks. I can turn to a case, and see the exact note I took in the corner. Scary, yes.
But, there is still hope for e-readers, which are truly in their infancy.