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Textbooks Out - Kindles In - Radio ?????


June 2, 2010
Let the revolution continue!!! Let’s say you own a CHR station in Tampa and you would like to have two-way electronic access to every single high school and college student in the market. I’m dreaming…right? Well maybe not.
Clearwater High School in Clearwater, Florida has announced a very ambitious plan to eliminate ALL textbooks by the start of school this fall. This means that all 2,100 students at Clearwater High will be issued an Amazon Kindle or some other electronic notebook when they start back to school in August. The Kindle (or other device) would be pre-loaded with every textbook the student will need and not a single tree will be felled. The students can even use online dictionaries, web sites, bookmark pages, highlight text and type margin notes, much like we did to our textbooks when we were in school and much to the chagrin of the next textbook owner/user. Students will be able to access a free 3G network so long as they promise not to look at naughty sites. No really, it’s going to be the honor system. 
This development is viewed as so important that it was the lead story on the front page of this morning’s St. Petersburg Times. Clearwater High may be the very first high school in the nation to undertake such a project. The funding is in place, an estimated $600,000 to get started this fall. The school is currently negotiating with Amazon but may look to other hardware providers if a reasonable deal can’t be struck with Amazon. Are you listening Steve Jobs? Principle Keith Mastorides may have just given Amazon the ability to save their Kindle readers in light of new competition from Apple and more coming from Dell, HP, K-tel, Whammo, Billy Bob’s Gadget Garage and others. 
Mastorides said he was inspired to make the switch earlier this school year after campus surveys revealed a desire to integrate more technology with classroom instruction. Duh. They needed to do a survey to figure this out? 
The really exciting part for radio is figuring out how to have a place on these devices. No doubt as this rolls out across the country schools will try to prevent distracting content from being loaded and used on the devices. This would be much the same way Lone Oak Middle School tried to prevent me from sneaking my transistor radio into school so I could listen to the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and Cardinals. Sorry Ms. Matheson….I won that one….HA!!  
Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Think about how many high schools and colleges are in the United States alone. Total U.S. enrollment in high schools and colleges is nearing 50 million. The schools see this not only as a way to better engage the students and enhance learning but to also save a ton of money on textbooks and paper. The students will even be able to take exams on these devices. Now it will be the feel of the neoprene protector that students remember and not the smell of that purple mimeograph ink. 
The school had already issued a Kindle to every single teacher on staff this past year to introduce them to the devices and get them used to it. I would have loved to have seen the looks on some of the teachers faces the day that box showed up on their desk!! But even the self-described “dinosaur” teachers see it as a positive step forward.
Clearly, this is the future. Let the games begin. Every business in America that targets 12-24 year olds will be trying to find the angle once this rolls out nationally. Radio should assume a leadership position and sell some of those businesses access through the stream and other station generated content that is likely to also show up on these devices some day. It really does drive me crazy how some of the big radio companies drag their feet and resist change and more importantly opportunities such as this. 
This will be yet another game changer. Most high school and college kids don’t have $800 laying around for an iPad. But a free Kindle? Or a free iPad or other tablet device? I’m in!!! And I personally can’t wait to read the first high school history book written by Glenn Beck!!! 
Here are a few nuggets about the program at Clearwater High that you might find interesting…
·         All 2,100 students will be issued an electronic tablet device which has been custom loaded with the correct content for their classes.
·         A Kindle costs $259 but school systems can probably get them for a lot less when they buy them by the thousands or even tens of thousands.
·         The only other known attempt at anything similar is by a school in Massachusetts which recently digitized its entire library.
·         High school textbooks cost between $70 and $90 each….college texts even more. A typical high school student would have about seven. The electronic texts are usually far less expensive….at least now. 
·         The estimated $600,000 startup costs include purchasing the tablets and the textbooks, technical support, teacher training and even insurance.
·         One of my first thoughts was this will spawn a cottage industry of thieves that may steal the devices and try to sell them on eBay or through some other means. Plus there is the issue of damage and “I lost my Kindle.” The school will have insurance in place to cover loss during school hours and will offer parents an inexpensive policy to cover loss and damage outside of school hours.
·         The battery life of the Kindle is one week when it’s turned on….two weeks when it isn’t.
·         The electronic tablets will also have the capability to convert text to voice so that users can LISTEN TO THEIR TEXTBOOKS. 
·         When asked about the plan one teacher said, “I think it’s the way kids are thinking today.” NO…..really?
 Now, let’s see if radio CEO’s are smarter than a fifth grader.