Posted on November 29, 2013 in Archive

‘An unmitigated disaster’ might be an overstatement


Lots of schools are switching to laptops and ereaders for students to replace notepads and textbooks in the technological age. Judging by textbook prices in the current market, in the long run it probably saves money for parents and the school alike. One school in County Laois, Ireland has an entirely different view on the subject, however.

According to digital content distributor OverDrive, schools are getting into it faster than than ever before. Using data compiled from 6,500 public school library partners, they announced that there has been a 252% increase in visits to lending websites from students using smartphones, tablets and ereaders in the month of October alone.

In line with this trend,  Mountrath Community College, the only secondary school in the town of Mountrath, recently decided to make the switch for students to carry ereaders instead of carrying around multiple heavy textbooks in backpacks every day. Parents of students forked over 550 euros for ereaders, specifically the HP Elite Pads model, at the commencement of the Irish school year, and it seemed all would be well – no more back problems or sore shoulders for those students.

However, MCC principal Martin Gleeson recently caused a stir when he sent a letter to parents describing the whole experiment as ‘an unmitigated disaster’. He subsequently replaced all the student ereaders with traditional paper textbooks. Why did he take such a drastic step? According to Good eReader, issues for students included erratic Wi-fi functionality, system board failures, devices not turning on or spontaneously going to sleep during classtime. Eventually Gleeson switched back when it became evident that these issues were interrupting student learning experiences.

Though HP are currently working on a solution for the massive problems experienced by Mountrath students, this means they are still stuck with apparently massive, back-breaking textbooks. Don’t worry, though! For every problem there seems to be two solutions in the town of Mountrath.

The second solution comes in the form of a business that I’d never even considered existed. Deemed an ‘old-fashioned, economical solution’ by Irish newspaper The Independent, Book Splits is a company that will halve your book for you and rebind it for use. The owner, Margo Fleming claims the book-splitting option is a popular one amongst parents. “I was at a school in Dublin on Monday night and every parent, bar one, in the room bought a pack to split their child’s books… Parents are thinking about their child, their child’s back and their child’s health. The reaction has been very positive.”

I’ve got to say, this is a hugely clever and entrepreneurial move by Fleming – who knew that chopping up books could be profitable? It’s also amazing that such a business is needed. How big are these textbooks that paying someone to cut up and rebind the books is a more viable option than having your child carry them around a few hours a day? It would be interesting to see how profitable a company like Book Splits would be outside of the first few months of the school year.

Although I don’t think it’s fair to prematurely or generally call ereaders in schools a failure, Mountrath isn’t the only school with bad ereader/classroom experiences. Back in 2010 the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business conducted an experiment, asking randomly selected students to use a Kindle ereader instead of textbooks, articles and business cases usually presented on paper. At the conclusion of the study, nearly 80% of students said they wouldn’t recommend the Kindle to an incoming student as it isn’t flexible enough in a fast-paced classroom environment. They would, however, recommend it as a personal reading device.

So maybe the lesson here is that ereader developers need to find a way to make devices more fluid and long-lasting for when students need to flip between pages or chapters quickly. More reactive devices can only be a good thing, right?