| January 24, 2011

E-Book Pioneers: Ghana and Florida


I have been thinking about Clearwater, Florida a lot recently, which is a little odd, because I have never been there.  Yet, my interest might be explained by the fact that to date, Amazon is actively working with two pilot programs with Kindles in K-12 schools: in Clearwater, Florida and in Ghana with Worldreader.  So, understandibly, I was wondering what their experience was like; I was curious to see if there were any similarities.  I reached out to John Just, Assistant Superintendent of MIS for Pinellas County Schools, we swapped war stories, and found interesting comparisons in how this new technology works in schools in the developing world contrasted to the developed world.

In a write-up for Worldreader, Mr. Just explained Clearwater’s experiences.  To begin, Clearwater had more to choose from, like the iPad which, according to NYT’s Winnie Hu, is being piloted in Long Island schools, but after a committee looked at all options, they chose the Kindle.  Meanwhile, Worldreader’s choice of the Kindle was directed by which e-reader could work the best in the most remote areas of the world.  I was surprised that the process of setting-up was largely the same.  Both pilots implemented a complex assembly line, run by a team of dedicated volunteers, and both set-ups took a very long time.  Doesn’t this picture of our friends in Florida look a lot like these?  What it means is that this is no easy task for anyone to launch, wherever they are in the world, Clearwater and Worldreader are both pioneers in this.

Clearwater Florida Kindle Set-up

Both pilot programs are in conversations with Amazon on a weekly basis.  This is no surprise either-  there is a lot to communicate.  Both pilots are working closely with publishers: in our case, with publishers in Africa whose content we are digitizing and Random House, who generously donated thousands of titles.  In their case, they’re working with textbook publishers, who were initially reluctant to digitize textbooks but Clearwater prevailed.

Biggest Challenges?  Now this is surprising: both pilots have the same challenges with technology–kids involuntarily deregistering their Kindles and lack of parental controls.  Mr Just wrote: “we knew that we were having issues with students deregistering the school account and registering their personal account interfering with the download of books. The lack of enterprise controls on the Kindle made this tough to avoid, but something we needed to address with more awareness and dealing with inappropriate content.”  Right now, Amazon doesn’t offer parental controls on the Kindle; both programs hope this will change.

Regarding teacher training, Mr. Just wrote: “The training in pre-service days with Amazon and staff at the school was not enough for every teacher to feel comfortable and, if they did, even know exactly what to do with them.  More training was definitely needed and more information to provide them with basic use and troubleshooting…  There is probably a very small amount of teachers who just don’t want this to work but most do.”  I think this might be the largest difference between the two programs: the teachers in Ghana are profoundly motivated for e-readers to work in their classroom because before there were no books.  We will be producing a video in the next couple of days where teachers explain how it had been very difficult to plan for class when they had no materials.

Overall, there are some surprising similarities in two very different contexts, and I haven’t even touched on the students’ reactions here.  The deeper differences stem from the fact that Worldreader’s pilot is in a place where access to books is the problem.  Worldreader has been thrilled by Clearwater’s eagerness to work with synergies and create a partnership between the two programs.  We are talking about students sharing their favorite literature, writing competitions and other ideas.  These two programs, both pioneers with e-readers in the classroom, will hopefully be able to share their cultures with each other.

You can read John’s interesting write-up here, and follow him on twitter: @johnjust