To save paper and test electronic reading devices in the educational setting, seven universities are testing Amazon.com's Kindle DX this fall. As part of Amazon.com's pilot project, 40 to 60 students will be given the Kindle DX at each participating school, which include: the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia, Arizona State University, Case Western Reserve University, Princeton University, Reed College, Pace University and University of Washington.

Kari Barlow, assistant vice president of strategic alliances and special initiatives at Arizona State University, said 60 students taking a freshman honors course -- called human events -- are using the Kindle DXs to read textbooks and PDF files. The 60 students represent three sections of the course, which has approximately 48 sections. The human events course runs for two semesters, and the pilot will last the duration of the class.

"I think part of the strategic vision for IT at the university is to try to move students' educational experience closer to the way they live, which is increasingly digital," Barlow said. "Certainly there are sustainability aspects to this that are important also. We're very interested in seeing how electronic textbooks will play out in this pilot."

The Kindle DX differs from previous versions with a larger display, 9.7 inches across, and PDF reading capability. According to Amazon.com, the device can hold up to 3,500 books, periodicals and documents, weighs 18.9 ounces, and has 3G wireless Internet to download books. Students can use the QWERTY keyboard to add annotations to the text and bookmark pages, just like they would when using a textbook. There's also a search feature to help readers find a specific word or phrase within the text.

Amazon and the universities split the cost of the Kindle DXs. The device retails for $489 -- Barlow said a teaching grant run by the Provost Office covered Arizona State University's portion of the $29,340.

To determine the devices' effectiveness, Barlow said the participating schools have agreed to complete a survey. Arizona State University will ask the students additional questions outside of the standard survey and is also collecting anecdotal evidence, like feedback from students. Barlow will interview the students once a semester about their experiences with the Kindle DX, and the university also has a teacher's assistant tracking any problems, issues or recommendations from the students.

She said the university didn't experience any barriers to implementing the technology and the students have been very excited about using the Kindle DXs.

"I think it will be really interesting just to see how electronic tech can become more useful in all kinds of environments, not just higher education," Barlow said.

Elaine Rundle  |  Staff Writer