Princeton Kindle Trial Gets Mixed Reviews

“Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs,” he explained. “All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.” …

Katz also added that the absence of page numbers in the Kindle makes it more difficult for students to cite sources consistently.

“The Kindle doesn’t give you page numbers; it gives you location numbers. They have to do that because the material is reformatted,” Katz said. He noted that while the location numbers are “convenient for reading,” they are “meaningless for anyone working from analog books.”

via Kindles yet to woo University users – The Daily Princetonian.

Not much of a surprise here. I find the Kindle great for leisure reading, but not so useful for work related stuff. I’ve read a number of novels and even law review articles and court opinions on it and it is fine for straight forward reading (probably why they call them e-READERS). It is not very useful for my tech oriented work material though because I either need to flip around a lot, easy in the physical artifact or copy and paste, straight forward in anything on my desktop.

As mentioned in the quotes above, the lack of annotation and highlighting features (yes it does have basic annotation features, but they are not all that great.) coupled with the inability to make meaningful citations are real show stoppers in legal academia. And, FWIW, it isn’t just the Kindle that is a problem here, it is the entire class of dedicated e-readers. As a class they are designed for reading, books mostly, but increasingly news sources as well.

Learning is a different activity than reading, though reading can be a component of learning. In a learning environment, reading becomes more than the passive recognition of words. It should be an active experience that makes use of the reading material as a raw material that is transformed into knowledge. What we need is a class of device that doesn’t really exist yet, the e-learner.

The e-Learner device would be an excellent e-reader with full unfettered net access that provides the student with the ability to use the reading material to build knowledge. It would have annotation, highlighting, and note taking capabilities, and provide some sort of universal citation format for citing the materials. A touch interface would allow for flipping through materials and real, deep hyperlinking would allow for meaningful search and discovery. Net access would provide a gateway to wider bodies of information and knowledge.

Of course no such device really exists today. You could sort of fake it with a laptop or netbook, but the underlying tools and resources are not really there. Merely converting a casebook or course materials into PDF or HTML only starts the process, but it is a start. Once materials are in an electronic format then the other tools will come along. And perhaps one day not long from now we will see the e-learner.

links for 2009-09-28

FastPencil Brings Self-publishing To The Web

FastPencil is self-publishing with a twist. The traditional publishing process is a daunting one that can take many months of effort and more money than most writers anticipate. It’s no wonder authors get discouraged.

You shouldn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to write and publish your own book! We have removed the hurdles inherent in traditional publishing by combining amazing advances in print on demand technology with a sophisticated online workflow system.


This site provides a one stop resource for writing and publishing a ‘book’. On the authoring side it provides a light weight web interface for creating an outline and entering text so you can write in the browser. It provides tools for importing blog posts, adding collaborators, assigning editors and more.

Once you’ve committed your work to ‘paper’ the publishing features allow you to categorize the work, set copyright, including Creative Commons licensing, add cover art, and select formats. You may publish your work as an EPUB e-book or as a printed book. If you opt for a physical artifact, you can select typeface, paper size, set a price, and more.

FastPencil is free to use up to the point where you want to order physical books. Packages are available that provide services such as professional review and editing, cover art design, retail distribution and more.

So, it looks like FastPencil may be a good choice for authors interested in retaining complete control over their work or those interested in publishing their work but not inclined to clear all of the hurdles imposed by traditional publishers.

links for 2009-09-26

  • The annotated bibliography provides a means of associating a bibliographic entry (provided by the Bibliography module) and storing an excerpt from the work cited or an annotation for that reference. For example, a writer could reference a bibliographic entry to a story and include an excerpt from the content of the work being referenced or a brief explanation of why the work was cited.

links for 2009-09-14

  • UserVoice is a Customer Feedback system that makes it easy for your users to report bugs and vote on new features.
    The User Voice module allows you to easy customise the Feedback tab inserted by UserVoice via a settings form. It also uses Drupal's built in Block system to allow admin users to easily configure who can see the UserVoice feedback button.
    (tags: drupal module)