Kindle in the Writing Classroom

Acheson, P., Barratt, C. C., & Balthazor, R. (2013). Kindle in the writing classroom. Computers and Composition, 30(4), 283-296. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.10.005



Amazon Kindle 3 by NotFromUtrechtOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This article studies the pedagogical effects of using Kindle™ readers for accessing texts in an English classroom in 2011. The results demonstrate minimal changes in learning as a result of using Kindle devices for reading and writing, but predict the likelihood that students of the present and future seek to access texts in multiple modes using multiple platforms (like laptop or desktop, smartphone, and e-readers).


Two librarians and an English professor at the University of Georgia received a grant to provide Kindle 3.0 readers “to be used as an integral part of the writing classroom experience for students” (p. 283) in a literature and composition class. The three developed a mixed methods study to assess students’ “comfort with and use of technology, their preferred method for reading different types of texts, and their experience with the Kindle at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the semester” (p. 284). The researchers concluded that pedagogical aims were neither more nor less effectively accomplished with than without Kindles. “None [students] noted either benefit or liability in the use of the Kindles for learning” (p. 291).

Although learning outcomes were not affected, researchers noted that some students struggled with disorientation as they transitioned from print text to e-text. The researchers recognized the value of disorientation: “We as professors and instructional librarians would be wise to expect and even encourage new tools in the classroom; the disorientation that accompanies these evolutions is often paired with new and valuable possibilities” (p. 293).

The Kindle afforded searching, highlighting, annotating, and bookmarking, but not every student found those features useful. In fact, librarians and professor alike found students taking notes on paper with Kindles in hand during class sessions. The researchers realized that students accessed texts in multiple formats as conditions dictated. Some found print copies easier to read and annotate. All used their Kindles for reading, but most also used other digital devices to access texts.


I found the conclusion that students “prefer access to materials in multiple formats” (p. 293) most interesting. This suggests that teachers must be prepared to support and provide information on multiple platforms for our students.

  • Provide Kindle section numbers and print page numbers for readings.
  • Expect students to highlight and annotate electronically and write marginalia in print copies.
  • Evaluate the fairness of asking questions about repeated uses of words as part of textual analysis, given the e-reader’s ability to conduct full-text searches.
  • Determine whether an e-reader’s ability to “read” the text back to the student is adequate to grasp its meaning and significance.

As a result of the study’s sharp focus on Kindle 3.0, I would recommend this article only to colleagues seeking information about the use of e-reading devices and/or e-reader software in classes. However, colleagues seeking insight into the future of digital text access will likely find the study informative.

4 thoughts on “Kindle in the Writing Classroom

  1. I am fascinated by this article, because I have been asked about the possibility of Kindles being used in a classroom setting for long novels, and whether because the “length” of the novel wouldn’t be as overt, would engagement with the text possibly increase–meaning would the students complain less about reading long Victorian texts if they couldn’t really “see” how far along they were?

    I attempted to read all my class texts last term on a Kindle and found that when I was most appreciative for the online was, as you mentioned, during the time I needed to do word analysis and reference searching. I think in a research setting, it helps with ease of referencing the text and once I got used to the note and annotations functions, I could satisfy my need for marginalia. What I did find on a side note, is that when I listened to the audio on Kindle, as an option instead of reading…I had no retention, so I did need that ability to make notes for the content to stick!

    • I’ve shifted to reading just about everything I can on my iPad. I’m trying to digitize all notes that I take, and the iPad affords this capability for the most part. I’m reading some texts on the Kindle app for iPad, and I find the annotating tool marginally (believe it or not, pun unintended!) useful. I’d prefer to be able to connect my notes to the highlighted text rather than highlights and notes being separated, but that’s a fairly minor quibble.

      I’d love to have seen this study on a larger scale. Given that middle and secondary students are being assigned ebooks on digital tablets, I’d like to see pedagogical, rather than fiscal or utilitarian, rationales for shifting to ereaders. At the college level, I think we probably need to re-study our annotating techniques and instruction to students — or, better yet, consider creating academe-focused ereaders that work across platforms and provide annotation tools like iAnnotate or something similar.

      Interestingly, I received an offer for a free Kindle ebook a couple of days ago, and when I made the purchase, the first recommendation was a discounted version of the audiobook edition of the text. I think there’s likely a market for professionally-packaged audiobook editions that can supplement, rather than replace, the text-only versions. A combined audio/text book would be quite useful for second-language and non-native learners, blind readers, and others. Might make for a more accessible text to meet the CCCC OWI Principle #1.

  2. Use of Kindle readers for accessing texts in English classrooms. While it does seem to be inarguable that both contemporary and future students will access texts using a variety of platforms rather than the standard paper-based texts, it is none the less a topic that does deserve some acknowledgement in order to best understand the unique opportunities, as well as possible disadvantages, that these new mediums may present. Personally, I’m a fan of using technology in the academic environment. I think it not only promotes greater attention, enthusiasm, but indeed makes many tasks easier. (Can you imagine students in the past having to literally type fifty-page papers on a typewriter and the difficulties involved in editing and proofreading that presented?)
    I was a bit surprised that the results were so mediocre. I would have anticipated there being some useful information revealed – be it pro or con. I also found myself wondering what the age/generational demographics were. I would think that if it were conducted with younger students, those having been raised with this sort of technology, that they wouldn’t have really experienced much difference, but older students may have more difficulty adjusting to screen-based reading rather than a physical textbook. Personally, I haven’t had much opportunity to play with Kindle’s, but I am heretical in that I tend to seriously mark-up my textbooks with notes, marginalia, questions, etc. So, for me personally, having the ability to conveniently annotate the Kindle text would be a valuable aspect to its ultimate usefulness and convenience. I think ultimately, whether via the Kindle or some other platform(s), digital texts will eventually outpace the printed text and, therefore, does in fact require further testing and scholarship into both the advantages and disadvantages that these contemporary mediums have to offer students in order to keep improving their effectiveness and ease-of-use.

    • Annotating ebooks is something I’m concerned about, too. I’m using Kindle software on my iPad for quite a few texts, and I’m struggling with annotation. I use iAnnotate for PDFs, which is much more robust. With Kindle, I can highlight and annotate, but I can’t directly connect the highlight and the annotation in a single annotated note. My purpose for using digital technology is to collect and load all of my notes into a single digital repository (Scrivener) that allows full-text and keyword searching over all of the readings I’ve done in the PhD program. Kindle software on the iPad affords annotation to an extent, but I, too, am surprised at the lack of careful attention paid to transferring paper note-taking and annotation practices to the digital.

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