Why the Darden School is Right About the Kindle

Anyone interested in the Kindle is surely aware of Len Edgerly’s excellent weekly podcast at The Kindle Chronicles. This past week, Len interviewed Michael Koenig, director of MBA operations at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, one of six universities across the country doing a Kindle DX pilot this year in some of their classes.

Darden has taken a very specific direction with the Kindle. It is being used in several MBA-level classes to support the school’s distinctive “case study method.” The school describes the method in this way:

Students are exposed to over 500 cases in a variety of industries and functions during their time at Darden. In each class, students contribute their own viewpoints to the business situation at hand, while building a strong frame of reference and broadened perspective from the classroom discussions. If you are able to visit a Darden class, you will see that Darden students do most of the talking.

At Darden, Koenig tells Edgerly that the Kindles are used exclusively for students to read the cases assigned for class. This pilot does not involve textbooks, a use that observers have anticipated ever since Amazon introduced the DX with its native handling of PDF files and larger screen. Rather, the Darden use seems to fall into the “sustainability” category that other university pilots are focusing on. Millions of sheets of paper are used to print supplemental reading materials like case studies for classes across the world, and one of the most promising uses of ereaders in education will address this expensive problem.

I found a couple of interesting points in the interview. First, Koenig describes the use of the Kindle’s wireless capability to  “push” the case studies onto the students’ Kindles. He notes that the lack of a folder system to organize materials on the Kindle makes navigation through the hundreds of cases students read in a year more difficult. Listing cases by date should help, but it is clear that ereader devices used for academic purposes will require some form of onboard folder system.

Koenig also makes it clear that the Kindles are relatively invisible during class time. He implies that the emphasis on lively discussion in class means that fumbling around with the five-way controller (or flipping pages for that matter) just doesn’t work. To me, this also reflects a thoughtful acceptance of the Kindle for what it can do really well–make it easy to carry and read a bunch of documents or books anywhere. In some ways, the Kindle and other ereaders suffer from a set of expectations created by other devices meant to do other things, like laptops. Where’s the color? Where’s the video? Where’s the animation?

But that’s not what the Kindle is about. As James Fallows writes in The Atlantic:

Amazon should work on making the Kindle the preferred long-form reading device for all the stuff that’s long enough that it gets tedious on computer screens and is awkward on small iPhone-type displays — texts you otherwise want in physical print (either book or printed-out document) but that aren’t so dependent on a visual experience (loaded with graphics, photos etc) that only physical print or a large, high-quality computer display will do.

This is the point that I made in an earlier post on why the Kindle may just be the “perfect learning appliance.” It won’t be doing the same things as a laptop or an iPhone anytime soon, nor should it.

Darden has it pretty much right, in my opinion. Their model comes closer to foretelling the near future of the ereader in education than anything else out there.

  1 comment for “Why the Darden School is Right About the Kindle

  1. October 31, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    With all the research on Kindle in classrooms, Kindle is a class tool of the future. Kindle is a book revolution, with the green campaign and Kindle savings so many trees, if extended to classrooms where alot of papers are used then the environment will be saved. Thanks on this post.

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