Lamentable as it may be, there is one driving force behind children’s education in North American: economics. Simply put, the reason technological adoption in schools has happened at a glacial pace is because it’s expensive, better to spend a school’s meagre resources on tried and true textbooks that will hopefully last for generations then to put expensive eReader devices in the hands of students.
For companies like Amazon, the godfather of the eReader, the issue has always been how to make technology attractive for educational institutions on a tight budget, given the extant questions of durability, content cost, and upkeep. But this week the eCommerce giant took one big step towards making the eReader ubiquitous in the classroom, releasing Whispercast, a free open source solution for management and distribution of Kindle content.
But with device and content management now part of the educational process, this continued influx of technology into schools raises serious questions about modern pedagogy, particularly the role and method of a teacher; a role that is quickly changing from an integral educator of our children to an IT device manager.
“Hundreds of thousands of students around the world are already reading on Kindle,” said Amazon Kindle Vice President Dave Limp. “Today, we are announcing Whispercast, a free, scalable solution for school and business administrators to centrally manage thousands of Kindles and wirelessly distribute Kindle books as well as their own documents to their users. Organizations can also design Bring Your Own Device programs at school or work using personally owned Kindles, Kindle Fires, and other tablets using the free Kindle reading applications for receiving content.”
Saying nothing about the durability of an eReader as compared to a textbook (raising serious questions about the long term cost of maintenance and replacement), there’s no question that Amazon is looking to appeal to the economics of education by offering a free management platform like Whispercast.
By accessing Amazon’s Kindle library, not only will it make replacing textbooks easier and cheaper, it could give educators access to millions of titles available on Kindle, including hundreds of Amazon’s free classics. This would, it seems, allow teachers to get books into students’ hands for little or no cost.
Simply put, focus on the economics of textbooks, and you’ll always get schools (and parents) interested.
For its part, Whispercast provides management solutions for the plethora of Kindles that will soon be wandering the hallowed halls of academia, providing teachers and administrators a solution for controlling and connecting thousands of mobile eReaders. But the question becomes, what sort of IT experience does one need to do all this?
Next to economics, it’s clear that Amazon’s secondary focus is simplicity, stating that very little IT knowledge will be necessary to use the Whispercast tool. “Whispercast is an easy online tool,” Amazon spokesperson Leslie Letts told TechNewsWorld. “There should be little to no tech experience required. Organizations can set various security settings on the Kindles they manage.”
The benefit of Amazon’s content delivery strategy, compared to Apple for instance, is that it takes the rather bland content-only approach, as opposed to Apple’s media and communication approach; relief for most teachers who recognize the mischief potential in advanced multimedia devices in the classroom.
In the end, as one who loves flipping the pages of a good book I have to say I fear the changes to the educational model wrought by the invasion of eReaders, but if it provides schools low cost textbook solutions and gets kids reading, who am I to argue?