Under the pilot, the reading materials for three courses due to start in the autumn will be loaded on Kindle DX devices. Participating students and faculty members in the selected courses will receive a free DX that they will be allowed to keep.

The $30,000 (£20,000) cost of the project is being met by a sustainability fund, and its aim is to reduce the number of pages printed throughout the University.

Last year, Princeton printed 50 million sheets of paper at the cost of $5 million (£3.3 million) and 25,000 trees. If e-readers can cut down that printing by 1 per cent, Princeton will have more than made up for what was spent on this pilot.

Certainly sounds good, doesn’t it? But:

I suspect the pilot is not even mathematically capable of affecting 1% of the printing load—-can just these three classes involve 500,000 pages? (well, yes, they could: let’s say Eng 101 is reading a novel a week: 200 pages/week x 14 weeks x 200 students gets you well over a half million right there).

However, I’ve rarely seen a very large class that makes excessive use of PDFs. Large classes tend to order books, don’t they?

Princeton’s article says the pilot will run about 50 students, but they haven’t decided which classes yet. Let’s say they are history classes assigning 4-6 articles each week in PDF form: maximum estimate 150,000 pages of total reading (at 30 pages/articles, 6 articles/week, 14 weeks/semester—I think that’s unrealistically high but just barely conceivable).

Probably still cheaper, if not more environmental, to force professors to do a paper packet with copyright fees than to buy Kindles (and packets should have a lower real printing cost than 10 cents/page, and a lower environmental cost as well).

Last semester, I used a fair number of PDFs and tried to give my students tips on zooming and annotating to make reading them better. I’m not sure anybody changed their habits. I’ve mulled the idea of trying a self-contained download, to break them out of the Blackboard/browser window limitations.

I polled my students on why and how they read PDFs. Small complaints about difficulty taking notes on PDFs. More likely to print short readings than long. Answers mostly boiling down to they prefer paper and don’t like reading on the computer, which isn’t that helpful. But the Kindle does apparently export your notes with page numbers and the associated text, which might be enough to make reading on it actually happen.