e-reader project: update on iPad trial

The main work of the e-reader project was to trial e-readers in two institutional committees for a year and to evaluate the suitability of e-readers for paperless committees. We are also keeping up with advances in e-reader and similar technology. The leap forward in devices came with the introduction of the iPad so we purchased a few to try out in committee.

We found that the e-reader has limitations for committee work. Like most e-readers, the model we are using has a small screen, so viewing A4 size pages takes several ‘pages’ of e-reader and slows down the speed at which one can read the page. In addition to a larger screen, the iPad has much more capability than an e-reader, providing greater flexibility in the work environment.

The last three committee meetings that were part of the project were held during the autumn and at these meetings the committee chairs, secretaries and one member used iPads instead of e-readers. First impressions were that the iPad overcame the limitations of the e-reader for committee business and there were a few envious glances from the e-reader users.

Since the last meeting committee members have taken part in evaluation of the project through an online survey and focus group. The analysis is well underway and we will be drawing out tips to share, as well as lessons learned, about paperless meetings.

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e-reader project prepares for new committee structure

There have been changes to the institutional committee structure for this academic year. Fortunately for the e-reader Demonstrator project we have two committees replacing the two which were involved in the project during the last academic year. The membership of SESC (Student Experience Sub Committee), the first of the two committees to meet, is mostly unchanged from the previous committee so they are experienced e-reader users. We know who are the new members and they have been provided with an e-reader and a training session organised.

It will be interesting to observe the next meeting to see how the new and experienced e-reader users use their e-readers in committee and I’ll be there to support and collect feedback on their experiences.

Membership of the second committee involved, AQSC (Academic Quality Sub Committee), is not yet finalised so we don’t yet know how many members will be new to the project.

As part of my preparations for the new structure, I asked ex-committee members if I could have e-readers back. We knew that a number of participants were using their e-readers for work-related uses including other committees and some enjoy reading novels. I hadn’t realised how keen they are to use their e-reader and nearly everyone wants to hang onto theirs.

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ALT-C 2010 and e-readers

I’m just back after an exciting few days at ALT-C (conference of the Association for Learning Technology). There were lots of interesting sessions to attend and workshops to get involved with.

Our short paper about our e-reader project ‘Trialling e-readers as a green alternative to paper: changing behaviours and maintaining effectiveness’ (slides available soon) was well received and generated a number of questions about their advantages and disadvantages. As mentioned in my previous postings, staff participating in our trial are storing committee papers on the e-reader and using it in paperless committees. They find the small screen size of the e-reader (6” diagonally) plus slow page turning is frustrating to use and choose to read papers from a VDU screen in preparing for the committee (printing only allowed if absolutely necessary).  

It was great that University of Leicester were presenting their use of e-readers as part of the DUCKLING project . In their trial Masters students, who are working and short of study time, have course material stored on their e-reader. They may have short (15 – 20 minute) blocks of free time on the train, waiting for a bus, and love using the e-reader to study anywhere, anytime.

A summary – fine for short periods, not so good for intensive reading. However, several people have commented that they like the e-reader for reading novels and they are ideal for storing holiday reading. Both studies agree that participants like the light weight compared to the weight of a large pile of paper, portability, ease of use and the long battery life.

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Using e-readers in committee meetings

The two committees trialling e-readers have held their first ‘e-reader’ meetings. Everyone has embraced the project and worked hard to use the e-reader and reduce paper usage to an absolute minimum. We’ve learned more about the challenges for members using an e-reader in preparation for committee and in meetings.

The size of the e-reader screen is 6” across the diagonal, so only part of a page is shown at a time. Readers usually have to ‘page forward’ three times to view the last part of a page. Many members commented that techniques they used in preparation with paper, such as skimming and scanning pages, were not possible with the e-reader and they viewed papers on a VDU screen.

In meetings some liked and used features of the e-reader such as highlighting, annotation and making notes. Others preferred the traditional pen and (one sheet of) paper. However everyone agreed that the limitations of the e-reader when viewing information presented in Tables was a challenge too far and committees resorted to using a data projector. Still in keeping with reduction of paper usage, but to be factored into our energy costings.

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Football World Cup and e-reader project

Is there a connection between the Football World Cup and the e-reader project? There is. The pilot committees working with the project use their e-reader and do not print the committee papers. I’ve been calculating how much paper we are saving and how I could visualise it. I thought about how far the committee papers would stretch if each sheet was placed end to end.

The papers for one of the pilot committees consisted of 209 pages of A4. Under the old paper-based system that would be 105 sheets if these had been printed duplex. Each sheet is 29.7cm long so one person’s papers would stretch 31.185m.

There are 26 committee members so the papers for the whole committee would stretch 810.81m. The length of one football pitch is around 100m, so that’s 8 football pitches. Imagine Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and the rest of the team running from end to end of the pitch eight times.

 If football isn’t your sport, how about running two laps of the athletics track just to get from the start of the committee papers to the end? That’s just one meeting of one committee.

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Reflections on evaluating e-readers

The first stages of the e-reader Demonstrator have been completed and it’s a good time to reflect on some of the processes, starting with the evaluation of e-readers and the desk benchmarking.

Using the matrix from MobileRead.com    was an excellent basis for finding out about the models available. I notice that this matrix is kept up to date and that some newer e-reader models have colour, a feature that we would have appreciated. However, back to reflecting on our experiences.

The desk benchmarking exercise was more time-consuming than we expected and planned for, and if I was carrying out a similar project I would allow more time and get more people involved in the internet searches. We needed to confirm that the specifications and features shown in MobileRead’s matrix were accurate, especially if they were essential to the project. Shall I put it this way, not all manufacturers’ websites are equal. Some are easy to navigate and I could find the information I wanted. Others were less good and one or two, in my opinion, poor. Another challenge is that a number of e-readers have been rebranded at some time and it was rather perplexing to be following up one model to suddenly be presented with a different name. Checking these out took time.

We managed to complete the task  and move on to purchasing e-readers for testing out the functions we wanted to use.

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Using a Visualiser for e-reader training

The training in using a Sony Touch Edition e-reader  has gone well. I hadn’t used a Wolfvision Visualizer before. It was easy to use and very useful for projecting the e-reader screen so that everyone could follow as we navigated through the options available on the e-reader.

The e-reader Demonstrator project  is using the e-readers to store committee papers, so in addition to reading the papers, committee members want to use advanced features. Those that have been received favourably include the annotation capabilities. You can make handwritten or keyed notes (via onscreen keyboard) and attach them to a bookmark or a highlighted portion of text. Alternatively there are the ‘Text memo’ (onscreen keyboard) and ‘Handwriting’ options to make separate notes.

Other features that were demonstrated in the training were searching, ‘go to’ paging and the dictionary. Elaine has produced a Quick Access Guide which has been very favourably received and invaluable in training sessions.

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Evaluation of e-readers

We have completed the initial evaluation of e-readers for the e-reader Demonstrator project. Some of the criteria were considered essential: model to be available in the UK with support available from the manufacturer, minimum 6” screen across the diagonal, highlighting or underlining feature, note-taking, bookmarking, compatibility with pdf, loading of pdf documents at no cost by user.   

The comparison matrix from MobileRead.com  then following links was a useful starting point, however finding out which models met the essential criteria was interesting. The criteria most perplexing to resolve were confirming that the model was available and supported here and that it had an annotation feature. Some information appeared contradictory.

Only one e-reader met all the criteria in the desk benchmarking exercise so we purchased two Sony Touch Edition (PRS-600) e-readers  for testing. Laura and I had great fun trying out our e-readers, the more challenging aspects came when we tested the options necessary for business use, in particular loading up and using pdf files. Sony point out that pdf documents are complex and certain functions may not work correctly and we are working on how best to format files for the e-reader.

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Hello to eReader demonstrator project

Welcome to the first post for the eReader demonstrator project.  The project is funded by JISC  as part of the Greening ICT programme  http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/greeningict.aspx . We will be evaluating and trialling the use of e-readers to replace paper documents in two institutional committees for one year. Sounds straightforward, but there will be some challenges along the way.

The project team involves SOLSTICE and Academic Quality Unit, with support from Learning Services and the Business School. 

The first part of the project involves evaluating e-readers against the criteria needed for use in business meetings. Desk benchmarking is well underway. It was quite a surprise to find how many e-readers are available somewhere, but not necessarily in the UK   http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/E-book_Reader_Matrix .

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