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Tom Liversidge .net, technology and life

This is my first blog post on GeeksWithBlogs, and although I intend the majority of my posts to be about the .net world, I’m actually going to start with something else!

My current job is as a Learning Technologist at The University of Manchester. Although the majority of my work is in web development, I have recently been involved in a study looking at the suitability of e-readers in an educational context. This arose due to the academics reports on the uncomfortable nature of reading student assignments on a computer screen; on-screen reading for prolonged periods resulted in eyestrain, headaches and fatigue.

E-readers have gained popularity over the past few years thanks to a new screen technology called electronic ink. This technology claims to offer reading parity with paper.

We successfully bid for six electronic reading devices through the JISC TechDis HEAT scheme and obtained two more devices direct from Irex. The devices we looked at were the Sony Reader, the Irex Iliad and DR1000, the Bookeen Cybook Gen3 and the Hanlin V3.

So which were the best devices? Well, as usual, there isn’t a simple answer! It really depends what you want the e-reader for. If your motivation for buying one is for reading normal (i.e. non-technical) books, all perform this task admirably and I would suggest choosing the device with the most content available. My personal choice for this purpose would be either the Sony Reader or the Bookeen.

For the purposes we were using them in the study (marking student assignments), the three best performing devices were the DR1000, the Sony Reader and the Bookeen. The DR1000 preserved the original document better than any other device. Images and tables were correctly displayed, and the larger screen made full-page viewing possible, keeping the page numbering equivalent to the original document. This was important as markers needed to provide feedback to a student, and would refer to passages of text by page number.

Both the Sony Reader and the Bookeen were praised for ease of use and small form factor and can be considered alternatives especially given their cheaper price. However, neither device preserved the page numbering from the original document. The Sony Reader also had problems displaying images.

As the majority of readers are likely to be developers, you are probably wondering which one would be the best device for reading technical articles, downloading tutorials and reading developer ebooks etc. My advice for this purpose would be to buy the device with the biggest screen – this makes a world of difference when it comes to reading images, code or diagrams and reduces the need to re-format pages. The Irex DR1000 would be my choice for this purpose, although it’s higher cost needs to be considered. The recently announced Amazon Kindle DX is also an option if you are in the USA, although I haven’t had the chance to use this (and probably wont for a while, being UK based and therefore it not being available!). I did try reading Pro C# 2008 and the .NET 3.5 Platform on the Sony Reader, but the small form factor did not lend itself to a coding book - i found myself often flicking between pages where code had been split and other times wondering where the diagrams and images had gone.... not good if you are struggling with a concept!! It was a much improved reading experience on the DR1000.

This study was completed in May 2009 and the final report sent to JISC TechDis. The Senior Advisor for JISC TechDis reported the findings as “extremely interesting” and said we produced “excellent results” at a time when e-book readers are very much in the minds of the education sector. To our knowledge this is the first study of this kind in the UK looking at e-ink based displays and it has placed us at the forefront of research into this new area. In recognition of this, JISC TechDis have offered an extension to the original funding to continue the study and asked me to present at the Higher Education Academy Annual Conference in July 2009.

With the additional funding I intend to continue the study in the next academic year and write up our findings for submission to a suitable journal.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 9:29 PM E-readers , Education | Back to top


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