On E-readers

The number one best-selling product on Amazon.com this holiday season is the Kindle.  Visit sony.com and you’ll see a big push for the Sony Reader.  The same is true with Barnes & Noble and the new Nook.

As a book junkie, I confess I don’t understand what the fuss is all about.  E-readers are expensive, the screens are small and drab, and the interfaces are clunky and slow.  I’m not saying “don’t buy a Kindle” — I understand the convenience of putting a lot of books on a small, light device.  The e-books are cheaper than their print brethren, and yes, it is kind of cool to be able to say you have a library in the palm of your hand.  But books can be obtained FREE at the library, most people who aren’t students don’t carry more than one book around, and books are ridiculously easy to use.

More importantly, where is the fun in a one-dimensional informational gadget?  Hasn’t the smart phone taught the e-reader makers that we want to be able to surf the Web, send texts and emails, listen to music, watch videos, and make phone calls all in one device?

Well, maybe it has.  The major magazine publishers have recently piped up to unveil a prototype for a digital magazine concept that ideally works on a tablet-like computer.  TechCrunch has excellent coverage of the prototype in a recent post, a video from which is below.

It will be interesting to see if the e-magazine concept takes off the way the e-book concept seems to have done.  One aspect of this digital magazine prototype that I find inherently more interesting is the way the content is re-imagined for the digital medium.  This concept isn’t  just re-distributing the same print magazine like the e-readers are doing, it’s adding interactivity and inter-connectivity.

Another possible game changer is the much-rumored Apple tablet computer, which is speculated to be smaller and lighter than current tablet PC’s.  Supposedly set for a 2010 release, the Apple tablet may become the iPhone of e-readers–in other words a “must-have” type of portable device that can not only run applications and play music, but can also display e-books and e-magazines, dynamically and in full color.  As a September 2009 Gizmodo post points out:

Some [Gizmodo’s writer has] talked to believe the initial content will be mere translations of text to tablet form. But while the idea of print on the Tablet is enticing, it’s nothing the Kindle or any E-Ink device couldn’t do. The eventual goal is to have publishers create hybridized content that draws from audio, video and interactive graphics in books, magazines and newspapers, where paper layouts would be static. And with release dates for Microsoft’s Courier set to be quite far away and Kindle stuck with relatively static E-Ink, it appears that Apple is moving towards a pole position in distribution of this next-generation print content. First, it’ll get its feet wet with more basic repurposing of the stuff found on dead trees today.

It seems likely, then, that with Apple’s tablet, and Microsoft’s similar device the “Courier” on the way, current e-readers are probably just the first wave before a much larger and more interesting tablet computer invasion.

UPDATE [12/15/2009] : It’s worth mentioning that there is a wave of color e-readers on the way, too.  Qualcomm’s Mirasol-equipped e-readers, featuring a mirroring amplification display system that can split ambient light into colors, are scheduled for production in 2010.  (An interesting twist is a  potential video game controller add-on — perfect for study breaks.)  Pixtronix is developing an energy-efficient color pixel technology with the PerfectLight Display, which could find its way onto other e-readers. Meanwhile, Liquavista, a spin-off from electronics giant Philips, will use oil, water, and electricity in a technique known as electrowetting to produce color e-reader displays that use little power.  All of these technologies take advantage of ambient light to make text more readable and less energy-consuming than LCD screens commonly found on computers and smart phones today, and unlike the current E-ink readers, allow for color and video.

Bloomberglaw.com’s “Fantastic” Feature

Perhaps it was fitting that on the day the Dow surged past 9,000 Bloomberg pitchman Ken Sanchez gave a presentation here at Stanford on the Bloomberglaw.com pilot program, set to launch on August 13th.  Mr. Sanchez is as dynamic, energetic  and entertaining a vendor representative as I have ever seen.  The presentation he gave yesterday to librarians and law school researchers elicited some true “wows” from the audience.

In particular a law school senior analyst said “Fantastic!” when Mr. Sanchez demonstrated the Active Workspace and Notepad features.  I see many uses for these features in the curriculum as well, especially for the subject areas covered by the Bloomberglaw.com pilot:  Appellate Practice, Bankruptcy, Federal Securities, and New York Law.

The Active Workspace is a collaboration space, and the law school curriculum these days is all about collaboration.  It moves Bloomberglaw.com from being “just” a research tool, to a classroom technology tool.  And there are uses for collaboration beyond the classroom — clinics, journals, projects, and more.    When Mr. Sanchez pulled up a case in Bloomberglaw.com, he activated a Notepad feature where a yellow “pad” popped up next to the case for the user to take notes; these notes can then be saved to the Workspace. Anyone, even non Bloomberglaw users, may have access to the Active Workspace content.  Documents from Bloomberglaw.com can be annotated and mixed with uploaded files from anywhere, and the entire Workspace effort can be shared with anyone. 

I agree with our analyst:  Fantastic!

The pilot is set to roll out on August 13, and run until the end of the calendar year.  The aim is for Bloomberglaw.com to then fully launch in January 2010.  This is impressive for a project that began only in September 2008.

Teaching as a “collaborative, approachable ‘guru'”

Generations X and Y in Law School: Practical Strategies for Teaching the ‘MTV/Google’ Generation

Loyola Law Review, Vol. 54, p. 1, Winter 2009

JOAN CATHERINE BOHL, Stetson University – College of Law

The current generation of law students, members of Generations X and Y, experienced virtually unprecedented access to technology for their whole lives. The American educational system through which they passed was also fundamentally different from the American educational system earlier generations experienced. These factors have had profound influence on current law students’ learning styles. In this article, I address those learning styles in the context of the time-honored educational traditions of law school. I conclude that new approaches to law school teaching are necessary, and I discuss why the often-asserted claim that we simply need more technology in the law school classroom is deeply flawed. By analogizing to the paradigm shift that occurred in mutual fund management and marketing, I establish that successful law teaching depends on law professors who shed the old, authoritarian models of law teaching in favor of being collaborative, approachable “gurus” in the classroom. I also discuss the need to incorporate active learning into the law school experience and suggest some practical strategies for doing so.


Source:  LSN Law & Society: The Legal Profession Vol. 3 No. 18,  07/15/2008

Law School Laptop Bans

This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education has a front-page story Law Professors Rule Laptops Out of Order in Class which reports on new laptop use policies or procedures at the University of Chicago; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Michigan; Florida International; Georgetown; Harvard; and the University of Wisconsin.  Recently, in an editorial in the Stanford Daily, students themselves asked the university to “Consider limiting wireless access in class.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education piece discusses the pros and cons of various policies and also the technical difficulty of effecting a ban.  It quotes several law professors, including David Cole from Georgetown who offers this interesting observation:

Several weeks into one of his law classes last year, he asked the students what they thought of the ban, letting them respond anonymously. Roughly three-quarters of the students said they favored a no-laptop policy. And 95 percent said they had used their machines for purposes other than taking notes.