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August 16, 2011 > E-readers: An educator's perspective

E-readers: An educator's perspective

Submitted By Sean McCartney

With the closing of Borders, e-readers are poised to overtake books as the most dominant reading format. Bookstores are going the way of record stores, and it is safe to say that most people will be using some form of reading application to read their newspapers, magazines... and especially books.

Where can this new format help the most? Well, in classrooms across the country. As a teacher and author I believe the ability to read - and read well - will translate to increased success in every discipline of education.

Thus far, most e-book sales have been focused on the adult market. But I believe the next big boom in e-books will be in the Young Adult market.

Having worked in the elementary and middle school setting for the last thirteen years, I believe the e-book and the devices to use them can help schools get kids excited about reading again and bring a whole new enjoyment to one of the most important skills anyone can attain. I also believe that by using e-books, not only will student test scores improve over time; it will also make them lifelong readers for knowledge and enjoyment.

Many of the top reading devices have advantages that would help any classroom:

Week-long battery-life: very easy to recharge
Sharp display of images and photos
Adjustable text size - important for kids with vision problems
Built-in PDF reader- Students can store their work and eliminate folders, making it difficult to lose papers. Teachers can also send worksheets to the students.
Ability to bookmark and make annotations
Built-in dictionary with instant look-up - we've all heard "just look it up", and now that is taken care of in a touch; invaluable to struggling and poor readers.
Access to Wikipedia and other online encyclopedias
Ability to search the web
Variety of different reading devices - Use a Kindle, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android phone or Blackberry. This gets the material in the hands of the students in a way they can relate to.
Read-to-me feature: excellent for students who struggle with reading, as it allows them to follow along and analyze what is being read.
Most e-books are cheap and are easy to access. Some titles of classic works, like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, are free.

Of course even with all of those features, there are disadvantages to incorporating this technology in a school setting. These include:

Cost: e-readers are coming down in price almost monthly, but are still priced rather high for school districts strapped for cash.
Care: The need for someone on site to deal with any maintenance issues would be important.
Eyes: Reading on an LED screen makes your eyes tired.
Social Networking: because the e-readers can interface with Facebook and Wikipedia, this will pose a problem because most schools have denied access to social sites. Quite possibly the school could have a block on those sites or find a way to make them useful in your classroom.
Fear of the Unknown: This idea is "out of the box" and it will put pressure on school districts to think more broadly. California, in an effort to help decrease the 24 billion dollar deficit the state faces, are converting high school textbooks to e-books because they are cheaper.

Drawbacks aside, I have little doubt that e-books are the future. With school districts in our country having to work more with less money, e-books and e-readers, in the long run, will save money.

For schools to really jump into the 21st century, it is hugely important to embrace e-reader technology. We do a disservice to our students if we do not have these readily available.

Sean McCartney earned his Master's in Education, embarked on a career as a teacher, and is now with Plain Local Schools in Canton, Ohio. He is the author of a series of Young Adult books. For more information, visit

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