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As with everything, the answer to this question comes from the answer to another question, which is "What is your goal for the use of the devices?" The best Kindle for each school is the one that best helps it accomplish its educational mission.
So, Kindle or Kindle Fire? When the Kindle e-ink reader came out, many people, including yours truly, saw a tremendous impact for teaching and learning. Suddenly, many of the barriers to text access were torn down, and anyone with a Kindle and an internet connection could download and read the complete works of Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or any other of the greatest writers of our culture. That's a sea change.
Moreover, the arrival of digital text in a mobile reader like the Kindle meant that these works of literature could be delivered to students almost anywhere, not just when they got their turn on the classroom computer or were in the once-a-week class in the computer lab. In the early days of the Kindle, schools purchased classroom sets of Kindles or, in some cases, Kindles to be distributed to the whole student body.
Even better, rudimentary statistics about how the Kindles were used, what texts were read, how much progress a student had made in his/her reading began to provide even more actionable information for teachers than they had ever had before. And for students, the ability to manipulate the text's font size meant that students with a wide variety of learning and perceptual difficulties could now scan and digest the text itself more easily.
For librarians, the ability to manage their growing digital collections in the browser was a big if scary step forward. Librarians, though, are a hardy band and they conquered and expanded on leverage provided by digital text and mobile reading platforms, developing Kindle check out programs for the library, and managing the distribution of the texts more easily.
Today, the advantages of the Kindle e-ink versions, including the glorious new Paperwhite, are many. If reading, text distribution, and data generation are the highest goals for your device roll out, then the Kindle is the best option for schools. Even though all Kindles have a browser, the experience of using the browser on a Paperwhite or other e-ink Kindle is not likely to satisfy most self-respecting kids. But it is, perhaps, the best device for reading that was ever created. We have commented in this blog about the special abilities that the device has for logging student reading fluencies, and these are not insignificant, given that a time consuming "running record" has been the go-to method for obtaining data on student reading for decades.
Add to these substantive features the very low power requirements of the Paperwhite and other e-ink Kindles and you have a marriage made in heaven for most reading and language arts teachers.
But the choice between Kindle and Kindle Fire HD involves other factors as well. Schools wishing to provide students with many of the "reading-centric" features I've mentioned but that also want to enrich those features with a full multi-media experience, then the Kindle Fire HD is the device to choose. The entire Amazon reading ecosystem is available in the Kindle HD, but it is combined with the multimedia and "entertainment" features that form the basis of the Amazon business model for these devices.
Now that is not all bad. It means that students can read a chapter of Huck Finn and watch a video of Mark Twain at his house, taken by, of all people, Thomas Edison! With the advances in online course building, including courses published as MOOCs, the Kindle HD makes sense if teachers want to "flip the classroom" and have students intake lectures outside of class and use class time to discuss them and build critical thinking skills.
Any educational resource you can imagine providing students that involves video or audio, or that has an advanced interactive interface requiring a touch screen can be distributed on the Kindle Fire HD. The device also has an onboard camera that can be used for all kinds of good things in science and social studies classes, not to mention the art projects that can be taught using the full color touch screen and the many apps available for the device.
As with any device that is primed for more than reading, the Kindle Fire HD will give teachers more to be concerned about than the e-ink Kindle. Social media accounts are readily accessible on the Fire, as are any other websites that can be accessed via a web browser. And although the battery life of these later devices is much better than it used to be, the Fire HD will still need a recharge more often than the Paperwhite, for example.
So, what's your objective in adding a mobile device at your school? Are you most committed to providing a reading experience, loaded with instructional opportunities, at lower cost, easier maintenance, and greater institutional control? Then your choice may very well be Kindle.
Or are you looking for a fully featured touch screen device that is still competitively priced and loaded with educational features that can cover the reading part of your curriculum but also have relevance in your other classrooms? If so, maybe Kindle Fire HD is the choice.
Many schools don't even see this question as an "either/or" dilemma, purchasing devices to be used differently to access different parts of the curriculum. Now that Amazon has created a content management system, Whispercast, for organizations to use in deploying a fleet of devices, schools can reasonably gauge the amount of time and effort it will take to set up devices and maintain them.
Which way do your inclinations and teaching philosophy lean in this debate. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.