Kindle draws fire at Arizona State

Kindle draws fire at Arizona State

Summary: According to a brief article in USA Today, students in the honors history of human culture and thought course at Arizona State University will be receiving Kindle ebook readers with the 30 required books for the course pre-loaded.The 30 required books for Humphrey's year-long course usually cost students about $475, but the Kindle (a wireless reading device that downloads e-books and displays them on an electronic screen) is expected to cut this expense in half.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility
56

According to a brief article in USA Today, students in the honors history of human culture and thought course at Arizona State University will be receiving Kindle ebook readers with the 30 required books for the course pre-loaded.

The 30 required books for Humphrey's year-long course usually cost students about $475, but the Kindle (a wireless reading device that downloads e-books and displays them on an electronic screen) is expected to cut this expense in half.

If the students finish the course and participate in an evaluation, they get to keep the Kindle, the newspaper reports.

30 books is a lot for a single class; it actually makes it fairly easy to justify a Kindle (or Kindle-like device), especially since most of the books would not be expected to be textbooks. In fact, as much as I'm not a big fan of any iteration of Kindle (or Amazon, for that matter), this actually seems like a pretty good idea, instead of just throwing another device at college students.

Unfortunately for most of the students in the class, The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind don't agree with me:

Those groups say the experiment discriminates against blind students because the Kindle is not fully accessible. The two groups are seeking a preliminary injunction in federal court to stop ASU's plan to use the Kindle, the Republic reports.

The injunction could affect other schools as well:

The national pilot program could help determine whether students are willing to give up traditional textbooks for the e-versions. Along with ASU, five other universities are taking part: Princeton, Pace University in New York City, Case Western Reserve, Reed College in Portland, Ore., and the University of Virginia.

Feel free to call me out if you think I'm being insensitive here, but I have to say that the ebook movement needs to gain traction somewhere. I have no doubt that accessibility will follow (and, in fact, be enhanced by technology as text-to-speech becomes integrated with e-textbooks), but for now, the technology just needs to get used. Without usage, there will be no incentive for publishers to produce electronic content. Without electronic content, accessibility will be confined to expensive special editions of texts. This is one I'm afraid I just don't get. Am I wrong?

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

56 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Ridiculous liberalism

    Has any blind student even indicated an interest in the course? Has the school offered to provide braille copies or text-to-speech technology? This sounds like a non-problem that people are trying to turn into a problem to advocate a misguided political agenda.

    When I was in high school a guy who was a year older and TOTALLY blind since birth wanted to take Biology. The teacher agreed to make clay models of all the relevant diagrams and the guy did quite well. In fact, he decided to major in METEOROLOGY in college! He found a college that gave him a disability scholarship and agreed to make all the models and he actually graduated with a meteorology degree.

    GUESS WHAT!? Then he found out about the REAL world. More than a decade later he was STILL trying to find ANYONE who would offer him a job in meteorology. A friend of mine (a fellow law student) said that every 2-3 years this guy would go to the local EEOC office where my friend worked, complaining about employment discrimination. They would just tell him there was nothing they could do, since he would not be able to do the job.
    Rick_R
    • ... really?

      I can see a lot of arguments against this complaint - for instance, that blind and visually-impaired students are still able to take the course, in the same method they've always taken the course, regardless of whether the Kindles are used. I don't quite see why this is the fault of we liberals, though... we're the ones who usually want to give students something free (like a Kindle). I think your problem is with blind people, rather than liberals.

      I know it's en vogue now to blame everything you don't like on the liberals, but I think you've missed the mark here. Your "blind meteorologist" story isn't even applicable - this is a course on human culture and thought, not a field that requires standing in front of a green screen on the local weather report. Aside from the fact both stories include blind people and colleges, they don't seem interrelated.
      dogen83
      • So, since the blind cannot use the Kindle

        no one should? But then again, they cannot read textbooks, so no one should us them either.

        Whay not just offer the blind students a discount on brail copies to offset the costs

        If the Kindle does save the money they hope it to, there should be money available to offset the cost of brail books. Maybe even enough to work with Amazon to develope a text to speach softawre that will read the Kindle file books on a computer?

        But at the same time, do not penalize the vast majority of students that can see; they are not responsible for the loss of site of the blind students.


        GuidingLight
        • Another in a long line of uninformed rants

          But at least this time you admit it.

          "So, since the blind cannot use the Kindle no one should?"

          No one is a saying that, they are saying that it shouldn't be subsidized
          in the way it is currently planned."

          "Whay [sic] not just offer the blind students a discount on brail [sic]
          copies to offset the costs"

          Why not indeed. Did it occur to you that they are NOT, and that this is
          part of what the blind association is ASKING for?!? Besides which,
          seeing as the vast majority of blind people can NOT READ Braille, what
          good are you proposing that your suggestion will do"

          "If the Kindle does save the money they hope it to, there should be
          money available to offset the cost of brail books. Maybe even enough
          to work with Amazon to develope a text to speach softawre that will
          read the Kindle file books on a computer?"

          And what are the blind students to do in the meantime?

          "But at the same time, do not penalize the vast majority of students
          that can see; they are not responsible for the loss of site of the blind
          students."

          Ah, ya gotta love those irrelevant, straw man arguments.
          SpiritusInMachina
      • Liberals

        The problem with liberals (an I generally am
        one) is that they dont want anyones feelings to
        be hurt.. people get offended at stupid jokes
        and name calling. They need to grow
        up...welcome to the real world. Everyone doesnt
        need to suffer because some advocacy group has
        their panties in a bunch again because someone
        that doesn't care is being "discriminated"
        against but another group that isn't doing it
        on purpose and is just trying to help a
        different group. The only people the get all
        bent on this are the private interest groups.
        The blind didn't read the textbooks that are
        being replaced anyway so what is the big deal.
        And as pointed out in another post the kindle
        does text to speech conversion.
        Shrike2012
        • Liberals (purposely offensive)

          Who the F@#$ are you to make generalized statements about liberals
          you Nazi Jacka$$?!? I am a proud card-carrying (really, I made a
          liberal membership card, just so I could say that) liberal. In fact, I
          consider myself a socialist libertarian, and I have NO problem hurting
          your feelings, especially when you say moronic things, like you did
          above.
          Also, your VAST oversimplification of the issue, " Everyone doesnt [sic]
          need to suffer" argument is so devoid of factual foundation as makes
          it ludicrous.
          For instance, the fact the the blind don't read the texts is immaterial.
          At issue is the fact that the subsidy to PAY for the program, and
          comes partly I am sure from their tuition, does absolutely nothing for
          them, and gives a benefit to sighted students that is not extended in
          any way to the blind students. This is especially so if some of the
          content is Kindle only.

          Did you find this offensive. Oh yeah, I forgot, you claim to be a liberal.

          For the record, no one said anything about anyone being "offended" in
          the original story.

          (Heat purposely increased to make a point.)
          SpiritusInMachina
        • It's not Liberal Vs Conservative

          How many conservative groups are offended by television shows and make sure everyone knows about it? Tell a joke directed at religion, and conservative religious groups are offended.

          I don't see much reason for the protests about the kindle. The blind, if any are in the course, can still buy braille books.

          We may need better ereaders, but you have to start somewhere, and this protest seems like much ado about nothing.

          A FWIW, on social issues, i tend to be well to the left of center (well at least I was a couple of years ago).
          notsofast
    • Ridiculous (and typical) uninformed "conservatism"

      "Has any blind student even indicated an interest in the course? Has the
      school offered to provide braille copies or text-to-speech technology?
      This sounds like a non-problem that people are trying to turn into a
      problem to advocate a misguided political agenda."

      By asking these two questions, you are admitting you are uninformed.
      Why are you then venturing your opinion, which you have just admitted is
      without any value or merit?
      SpiritusInMachina
  • RE: Kindle draws fire at Arizona State

    So far, Amazon and various content providers have gone out of their way to ensure that the Kindle is *not* accessible to the blind, out of fear that sighted people will listen to a Speak'n'Spell rendition of a given book rather than pay again for an audio book. Google for kindle blind guild and look at any of the first four or five hits. I realize that it's shiny and you think it'll solve a lot of problems (assuming you have Sprint service up there), but the Kindle has actually become less accessible since its release, not moreso.

    Apart from the fact that a state-run school moving a class exclusively to Kindles looks like a pretty clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (if that is, in fact, what's happening), this demonstrates that market forces are insufficient to bring about accessibility in e-readers. If schools -- and specifically state-funded schools -- don't force the issue with their disproportionate market power, what other motivation would manufacturers have to implement accessibility?

    The whole point of the ADA is that a majority's convenience or cost-efficiency may not be had at the expense of a minority. That is a philosophy that sticks in a lot of people's craws, like the poster above. But even Bush the First, who signed the ADA, wasn't going to risk being the target of ads featuring sad-eyed kids in wheelchairs at his next election.

    Rather than complaining about the blind students, maybe you should be directing your ire at Amazon and at copyright extremists such as the Authors' Guild who created this situation in the first place.
    raindog469
    • Rights of authors include specification of the medium

      However, there are indications that, in law, the strict maintenance of this is being loosened to appreciate that having purchased a 'license', the medium by which that 'license' is used should be more flexible to cater for the variety of ways in which a person may want to do so, especially in this digital age where the technologies to do the transformations is plentiful.

      In Australia, like other places, the Copyright laws were changed to allow the licensee to decide the medium upon which to listen to sound recordings (but not films as yet). Also, as an acknowledgement of practicalities, ALL members of a household are allowed to have a digital copy of ANY sound recording ANY member has, though permanent departure from a household terminates that arrangement. See, legislators can come up with pragmatic solutions.

      Some tend to oppose this more common sense approach because they want 'multiple bites at the cherry'. Basically, such added charging should be accompanied by some value-added, such as good actors, or even the author, doing the reading. Really, it is a logical extension of the 'you buy the medium, but only license the content' argument.

      Patanjali
    • copyright extremists

      Pay me FULL royalty per copy sold, i don't care what medium it goes out on.

      Just don't make an electronic copy that Zippy the Pinhead can "share" with 100,000 of his new best friends. The data may want to be free, but not at the expense of picking an author's pocket.
      Too Old For IT
      • Yes, copyright extremists

        So a single device, the Kindle, is capable of either displaying or reading the same work. It's still a single, legitimately purchased copy of that work. How would the Kindle being able to read your book aloud in its cheesy robot voice deprive you of your "FULL royalty per copy sold"? How about if someone reads a book to his daughter at bedtime? Is that depriving you of a "FULL royalty per copy sold" as well?

        It's the inability to distinguish between piracy and multiple uses for a single copy of a work on a single device that earns the Authors' Guild, and other industry groups like it, the term "copyright extremists".
        raindog469
  • RE: Kindle draws fire at Arizona State

    Yes, you are very wrong. DRM should not be supported.
    DRM is bad. Kindle DRM is Orwelian.

    Welcome to the corporate state and its brave new world where text can
    be changed by the state (or the controlling corporation) at it's will.
    Amazon even reaches into Kindles to REMOVE books already paid for.

    STOP draconian DRM.

    With this Kinlde system all students must purchase NEW books, and can
    not purchase cheaper used books, what a a scam.
    gertruded
  • RE: Kindle draws fire at Arizona State

    Geez - thi is a great idea. Wish we had this when I was in college lugging books around. I agree it's not ready for the disabled so don't make this mandatory, which I don't think they are. It's just a tool. The visually disabled can still get their braile version of the books and when Kindle gets the technology figured out, then they can take advantage of it too. I don't hear visually disabled people suing automakers because they can;t drive a car. Give me a break - let the students who can use it, use it!
    mike.farnham
  • Interesting,

    its a good tool that should be employed because of the cost and transport benefits, as well as environmental benefits as it reduces the need to cut down trees for paper. It shouldn't be the only tool available to students, but as these devices are new to most schools, they'll quickly become better and more accessible, and shouldn't be barred from use, but a useful dialog needs to occur with groups who have conflicts, unless they've already tried and failed to get an audience. Hopefully, this can be worked out without creating hurt for either side, because at this stage, Kindle could stay niche and stand ground or another competitor claim the space. Nothing stops any developer from making said accessible device, just not with the same patented technologies.
    Boot_Agnostic
  • Books are far less toxic

    than all the plastic, lead, rare metals, batteries needed to make one of these gadgets
    books can be recycled or at least burnt it big heaping piles
    I'm surprised these liberals are so in favor of them
    zmud
    • There really are no repairs available

      outside of warranty
      students can very easily end up with an expensive brick
      zmud
  • RE: Kindle draws fire at Arizona State

    The Kindle does text-to-speech. http://www.computersncs.com/rd_p?p=186122&t=9544&a=27619-zdnet&gift=27619

    They could probably provide a gift certificate/copies of Braille editions of the books for blind students instead of the Kindle. The cost probably won't be much greater, since it's probably a small percentage of students.
    diva109
  • RE: Kindle draws fire at Arizona State

    um, are there ACTUALLY any blind people who would be affected? or is this just another attention-getting opportunity for the ACLU?

    anyway, somebody please answer a simple question for me. how do you use a highlighter on a Kindle?
    paulaaaaaa9
    • Highligher and Notes on Kindle

      On the Kindle 1, you select the line in question, then choose Add Highlight (or Add Note); I assume the Kindle 2 or DX allow word selection.
      lincoln2