Researchers at the University of Washington have found that, while useful, Kindles (specifically that larger Kindles DX) aren’t all that popular with students – yet. Their issues, arguably, are UI problems including the need for a “skimmable” abstract of content and better note-taking systems. However, to be fair, Amazon and B&N could fix those problems in a heartbeat.
“Most e-readers were designed for leisure reading – think romance novels on the beach,” said co-author Charlotte Lee, a UW assistant professor of Human Centered Design and Engineering. “We found that reading is just a small part of what students are doing. And when we realize how dynamic and complicated a process this is, it kind of redefines what it means to design an e-reader.”
The study backs up what I, personally, found while doing a massive research project recently. The issue is this: leisure reading is a lean back activity while research reading is a lean forward activity. An ereader with touch interface and note-taking capabilities that interface seamlessly with the screen would be ideal – think an iPad app for note-taking – and heuristic abstraction programs could help with the skimming problem. However, there are still a number of cognitive cuing issues to deal with in reading on an ereader vs. reading on the page.
They also found the following interesting problems with reading on e-readers:
Students did most of the reading in fixed locations: 47 percent of reading was at home, 25 percent at school, 17 percent on a bus and 11 percent in a coffee shop or office.
The Kindle DX was more likely to replace students’ paper-based reading than their computer-based reading.
Of the students who continued to use the device, some read near a computer so they could look up references or do other tasks that were easier to do on a computer. Others tucked a sheet of paper into the case so they could write notes.
With paper, three quarters of students marked up texts as they read. This included highlighting key passages, underlining, drawing pictures and writing notes in margins.
A drawback of the Kindle DX was the difficulty of switching between reading techniques, such as skimming an article’s illustrations or references just before reading the complete text. Students frequently made such switches as they read course material.
The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.