Monday, January 29, 2007

Digital paper tested in a school

Pupils of the Bonnefanten College in Maastricht, in the South of The Netherlands, will start testing digital paper next month. The eReader will be used to store the books; the pupils can also make their homework on the tablet with digital paper. The tablet is the iLiad of iRex Technologies and the project has been initiated by the company and the school.

The school thinks that the tablet will replace the heavy book load. Edupaper has negotiated copyright arrangements with educational publishers. The pupils will also hand in their homework wirelessly. focuses on M-learning or Mobile learning and considers digital papers as one of the tools in the application. The company also delivers services for government, health care and trainings; for the present they deliver these services in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). The company indicates that it knows about the Sony Librie, but that it did not select this device as Sony obliges users to buy content via the Sony servers. Besides the company considers the iLiad as more technologically advanced. The screen is beautiful and offers a fine contrast. The device offers more freedom. The device is robust and eyes professional. The weight is interesting with its 390 grams; there is a touch screen and other actions can be started by using the navigation knobs and icons. Starting the reader is easier than starting up a laptop. The battery holds for 20 hours. As disadvantages the company notes the presence of a virtual keyboard and the ambiguity of the icons.

The company believes that with the development of the Open Educational Resources more free e-books will hit the market. However the company also signals that the present iLiad is not fit to surf on internet. The Web pages need to be adapted as not everything can be shown; but the web browser Opera will solve this, the company believes. Movies can not be played on the reader, as the screen is too slow to play out 18 images per second; but animations are possible.

The reader is seen as a real device in the electronic educational environment. All documents will be loaded in the reader. Dokeos Nederland, an open source company for the Dutch market will execute the pilot. The Open University has been asked to evaluate this pilot.

So far for the jubilant press release and site information from It is interesting to see a commercial company and a school picking up on such an experiment with such expensive machines. It needs a lot of courage to do so. But I am wondering how much background study the company performed. Did they check the Austrian e-book experiment in schools, of which we never heard again? Why did not we hear the results and why has this Edupaper experiment a better chance?

I personally think that the company is too optimistic about the experiment. The company has taken the technical specifications such as battery hours for granted and I am wondering whether the team has tested the machine themselves thoroughly. Yes the experiment will undoubtedly show that kids do not have to lug their books back and forth to school. Yet how many books will they be able to store? And I do not mean the quantity, for I know that the reader will be able to store some 20 books, depending on size and illustrations. But the reader will only be able to store black and white books; this means that some colour printed books will have to be converted to black/white or be dropped. And, of course the copyright will have to be negotiated. For the experiment it looks like that has been done and of course all the publishers were willing to partake in this experiment as long as they would hear about the results first hand. The publishers will only start thinking about their copyright policies after the experiment.
As the company itself indicated, there are problems in surfing internet. This is of course a blessing as the pupils will be unable to surf during classes. On the other hand the kids will have to go to computers in school or at home in order to pick up information and to transfer it to the reader.

And last but not least, I am eager to hear what educationalists think of it: the use in classes, the versioning of the software (Madam, my machine works differently), and the reliability of the batteries (Sir, I can not deliver my paper as my batteries have gone flat!). For in the end the question is: did the pupils get better grades using an electronic reader with digital paper than with books?

Blog Posting Number: 648

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