I had the pleasure of spending a day with Kathy Parker last week to learn how she sets up all the Kindles the district purchased for Seneca Grade School’s entire eighth class for the coming school year. It is quite a process! I have noted in many previous posts that the Amazon Kindle is first and foremost a device designed for individual consumers, and the ways in which Amazon’s focus on the individual consumer limits the use of the device for academic purposes. For example, those of you who have commented on the post Page Number versus Position on the Kindle know that creating footnotes that reference specific places in the text of an ebook on the Kindle presents a hurdle. In addition, students who used the Kindle DX in university trials this past year generally gave the device low marks for academic use, mainly because it is difficult to flip pages to find a passage quickly and accurately, and because the device has limited note-taking functionality. What the college students liked about the Kindle were the same things that consumers like: the portability, the congenial e-ink screen, and the ability to access books wirelessly in an instant.
Well, Amazon’s consumer bias also makes setting up multiple devices a chore for folks like Kathy. The system is designed to work with a single device, or a few that a family might have on a single Amazon account. So, setting up 80 Kindles at a time involves repeating a process that a consumer might do once eighty times in a row. And that’s before you even start downloading books to the devices, another serial process that must be repeated 80 times for each book you want to put on all the Kindles.
But all of this didn’t seem to disturb good-natured Kathy, pictured above with the author, near the table where a dozen of the new Kindles were receiving their first charge. Kathy immediately starts the charging process once she gets the Kindle boxes open so that she can tell right away if there is a defective Kindle among the bunch. So far, on this shipment, she has only found one, which Amazon will quickly replace.
As she sets the Kindles up for charging, Kathy also numbers the Kindles with a sticky note. This step accomplishes a few things. First, it creates the first identifier that Kathy will use to record the Kindle in her district inventory. Second, it tells Kathy where each Kindle stands in the queue to be registered in her Kindle account at Amazon. Linking the physical number of the Kindle to the name that the Kindle will ultimately hold in the Amazon system (e.g. “Kathy’s 52nd Kindle,” visible at the top of each device’s Home screen) is key to managing content on the individual Kindles once they are in the hands of students.
But I have gotten a step ahead of myself. You can’t get to this stage until you have opened up each Kindle’s packaging by pulling the little tab across the end of the tight little box the Kindles come in. (Anyone remember the big, white book-like enclosures for the first generation of Kindles?) Kathy’s assistant in the process, husband Steve (himself principal of a nearby school that is using Kindles), showed me what a chore that is, since the tabs don’t really sit up where you can pull on them. For this batch of Kindles, at least, a fingernail couldn’t quite do the job (and I tried it myself!). Steve discovered that some kind of implement is required–a letter opener or pocket knife–to lift the tab so the sealing strip can be pulled off and the Kindle liberated for use. This seems like a small thing but, repeated eighty or a hundred times, it adds a significant step to the batch processing of Kindles for student use.
Once the Kindles are opened, labeled, and charged, they are ready to be registered with Amazon. The details of that procedure will follow in Part 2 of this post.