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Is the Kindle or Kindle Fire the Best Device for Schools?

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.

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Comment by Brenda on June 30, 2014 at 12:02pm
Wow Will, that is a lot to think about. My school began it's Kindle journey last year. We were given a class set of Kindles. Over the summer I had to figure out how to set them up with a school email and a gift card. So many questions...how to pay for the books, how to monitor the devices, loading books, what is the librarians part, who can use them??? And on and on and on! After finding the answers to many of those questions, or just forging ahead, I loaded several books on the. Kindles. The students were able to read the books or go to Raz-kids to read good fit books. When the fifth grade started using them, they weren't monitored well and the students loaded all kinds of apps on the devices. This opens a new conversation of parental control and classroom monitoring. I look forward to moving into year two with more of the obstacles out of the way! A great thing happened though, my fourth graders were able to buddy read with first graders. Using the Kindles upped the excitement! I look forward to following this ning again. Thanks for all your info!
Comment by Robin Sowder on June 30, 2014 at 11:57am

I would love to say everyone is reading their Kindle or Nook, or even reading ebooks, but at the high school level that doesn't seem to be the case.  As a high school library media specialist, I have purchased ebooks and audio books for our students, but they are not getting the traffic I had hoped for.  Our school is a BYOD school, so the kids have their own devices (mostly Iphones or similar), but it isn't books they are reading or listening to.  I'm at one of those points as to determine what I should be investing in that will get the most bang for its buck.  Should I invest in the ebooks at all?  I continue to read and actually prefer my ereader (nook) to print form (lashings sure to be rendered by the print lovers)  Ebooks are a great investment from the return/damage perspective and as long as we have unlimited check outs (some limit) then it is well worth the increased costs that have been seen.  Just for shock value, I currently have about $6000 out in lost, stolen, and damaged books for my school library.  In a high poverty district, those costs are not recouped ($200 if lucky).   Those are my thoughts for the moment.  Love ebooks, but not getting used.

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