Sunday, May 24, 2009

How a college prof. is using his Kindle 2

I'm not a gadgeteer, but the Kindle 2 has been practical for me.

One of the things professors do is read--a lot of stuff, and regularly. So anytime somebody presumes to offer a new means of reading, it seems reasonable to make a quick assessment of whether that new means would be helpful. When the Kindle 1 first came out, I was fortunate enough to have a friendly, fellow prof. show me his model, and do so right before he took a big over-seas trip. Since he didn't want to pack lots of books, and then later be forced to lug them around the world, buying a Kindle 1 made good sense. (He's eventually sold the unit, however, after the trip, even though he got good use out of it.) I played with the Kindle 1 for all of about five minutes, found it intriguing, but at that time decided it too costly for the hundreds of dollars investment.

Then, of course, the next version, the Kindle 2, came out. It was thinner, and when compared with the earlier model, their keyboards and their navigation buttons are markedly different, in a good way according to my tapping intuitions. My friend's Kindle 1 used a scroll wheel and a weird selector column located above that scroll wheel, but the Kindle 2 did away with that and used a five-way navigation joystick instead, which sat nice and close to the 'menu' and 'back' buttons. Turns out that the joystick makes my thumb a little sore after a while, but it's been working great for me overall.

The Kindle 2 rests in the hands pretty easily also, and I used to get (what I called) "scholar's cramp" from holding a book or journal open too long with one hand while in my standard reading stance. In some ways, though, that problem was a major motivator for me to try the Kindle. I got tired of juggling journal articles, anyway, and many of the academic journals are now formatted to .PDF files, which our library offers in spades through its many scholarly databases. But in using the whole .PDF angle is wherein I really found that the Kindle was helpful.

As any owner knows, the Kindle allows for easy highlighting and annotating of text, thus one can excerpt all the annotations and notes one makes as s/he goes along in the article. (They're all saved to a text file.) I had students search around in the academic databases for articles they wanted to read, and then submit those articles to me by email or by some other link-to method we could all use. Then, we would all download the articles; they would print them, but I would stick them on my Kindle. (After all, it was a new device, so I was anxious to use it when possible.)

I quickly found that it was basically effortless to make fill-in-the-blank handouts for students to use while working through the reading of the articles. Sometimes I'd get the students together in small groups of 3-5, and they'd fill out these handouts, thus assuring me that they've at least surveyed the article. Or, at other times, I could give a hand-out to them before they read the article, and they could fill it out and hand it back the next day as a low-stress way of showing me they'd worked through the essential issues in the essay.

Naturally, all the straightforward advantages of reading books, news media, and other standard fare are still great, but the ability to manufacture hand-outs in such an easy manner was something I'd not anticipated. I also found that since the Kindle 2 is so easily transported from place to place, I was actually almost two weeks ahead in my homework reading load, since I'd grab 15 minutes here and there of reading on the Kindle (and, of course, marking the text along the way.)

I have not tried to use it from the lectern as a way of moving through my lecture material, since I'd gotten in the habit of not using notes a while back. (I tended to read them, which is hardly interesting for me, much less to students.). But I did find it handy to use my highlighted text as a way of reminding me of the things I wanted to talk about when they arose in journal articles. And, too, the ability to quickly search for an exact text phrase in an article came in handy more than once.

Again, the real time advantage seems to lie in the mark-as-you go method of reading the assigned articles. The only downside is that the keyboard, while adequate, is not comfortable to use for typing anything over just a dozen words or so. But I think that's been good, overall; since, I don't get bogged-down commenting, but instead spend the bulk of time actually reading. If students have as good experiences with usage as have I, then some academic version for them will probably be fairly successful in short order.


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At 11:18 PM, Blogger The Wanderer said...

Sounds like a nifty gadget. Of course, it's all a secret cover up:

Thought you, the consumer, should know.

At 12:14 AM, Blogger Jonathan Platter said...

I love the Kindle 2! I really want to get one. That's interesting about the outline hand-out things . . . how did you do that? by creating a text document based on your annotation?

At 4:55 PM, Blogger Brint Montgomery said...

Yes, the text document is automatically part of the files on the Kindle and shows up when you hook it to your computer. ALL of your notes and highlights are stored there.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Michael Conger said...

Sorry, I'm a little late to this party. I'm looking into Kindle(s) for my wife and myself (she a polisci prof, I a doctoral candidate in business).

The big unknown for us has been how well reading/annotating journal articles in PDF format (say, from JSTOR) works on Kindle 2. As I understand it, PDFs must go through some sort of conversion process to be usable on the Kindle. Do figures and tables survive the trip into Kindle? Is original pagination maintained so that annotations can easily be transferred to a bibliography?

Any further insight you can share on this would be very useful and appreciated.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Brint Montgomery said...


I download many articles from JSTOR, and the conversion process has treated me well. I should point out that the newest model, the Kindle 2 DX, as been specifically optimized to read PDF's natively, so I would advise you to go that direction if possible (The DX was not out when I got my Kindle 2.) If table and figures are important, you would definitely want to go with the DX. Pagination would also be easily preserved on the DX, while on conversion to the non-DX versions, the pagination is redone in Kindle 2 format (though the original pages are sometimes preserved in the document itself, as a part of the text).

The annotation works fine on all .PDFs that convert, which is to say almost all the modern stuff. When one gets back to older .PDF on JSTOR they are graphics OCR only, and do not allow for text selection and, thus, for easy annotation. One can still take notes, but not based on an underlined section of text.

Also, when you get your Kindle, get a free piece of software called Calibre, which allows you to convert all sorts of formats, including .PDF. to the kindle format. I have had very good experiences with that piece of software. They are continually updated it also, thus perhaps even further improvements will come in the future. Yes, Amazon, will do this for you by email, but for some reason Calibre seems to do the conversions in a much cleaner fashion. Also, since many word processors and other program drop-ins allow for .PDF export, print to .PDF options, etc. the .PDF conversion of Calibre becomes all the more useful.

You should also know that the Kindle uses its own annotation format which is saved as a text file, which can easily be loaded into a wordprocessor, notepad, etc. It looks like this:

* * *

A Study of the Problems of Peace.pdf (
- Note Loc. 23 | Added on Monday, April 13, 2009, 06:21 PM

how does this statement cohere with the smaller military conflivts that we are now exp. in the 21st cent.?
A Study of the Problems of Peace.pdf (
- Highlight Loc. 34-36 | Added on Monday, April 13, 2009, 06:23 PM

the science of peace. It should be noted, however, that this 'new science' does not have a uniform sys- tem of research, its own methodology, nor a single universally accepted object of study.
A Study of the Problems of Peace.pdf (
- Highlight Loc. 39-41 | Added on Monday, April 13, 2009, 06:23 PM

The different and, as a rule, broad inter- pretation of the aim, object, and methods of studies concerning peace has led to a situation where, to quote an apt expression by Profes- sor D. Barton, ten different scientists from ten different branches of sciences want to find ten approaches to one problem - only to find ten different problems.

* * *

Notice how the only the title is used, how a Kindle location is given, and the time and date is also recorded. So you don't get a full-spectrum automatic bibliography capability. However, if you use Firefox browser, and the Zotero add-in, you can get all this stuff automatically as you effortlessly capture the article and info from JSTOR, EBSCO Host, etc. Zotero + Kindle = a very easy way to gather research!

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Michael Conger said...

Thank you for the feedback.

We've messed around with Zotero. I really like it since I read a lot of material on my laptop. Kim tends to print everything and take notes on paper. I'm hoping something like the Kindle can bridge the gap.

So, I think I understand the whole process you're describing. Conversion from PDF to Kindle format works well for text but hit or miss with tables & figures. Annotations export in the format you've described.

The only thing I'm still fuzzy about is relating the Kindle location tag to a true, cite-able page number without having to go back through every one and look it up.

ps. For accuracy's sake, I should mention that I have not yet actually begun my PhD program (in case anyone reading this decided to Google my CV).

At 6:25 AM, Blogger cb said...

Here's a question for you. My wife is a professor and does not have a Kindle. One of her students does, and recently turned in a paper attributing to an article she read on Kindle, with location numbers.

How, then, does my wife translate those location numbers into real-world paper-and-ink page numbers?


At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cb, your scholarly wife cannot do this, since the location numbers change depending on the font size.

But all other bibliographical information could be cited, with the additional requirement that the originally published article must be referenced with beginning and ending page numbers within that original article.

For example, I read lots of journal articles on my Kindle, and when I cite the research I go find that article in the databases, execute a search for the phrase or area I'm using, and then make the reference.



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