Kindles and CPE Presentations – Some Thoughts

A bit of a Twitter conversation got started on using the Kindle for continuing education materials for CPAs. As I’m a CPE instructor that is actually using a Kindle DX for the presentations I give, I thought a share a few additional thoughts in a forum that allowed more than 140 characters.

I use the Kindle DX to hold the manuals I use during a full day CPE presentation. The Kindle 2, which is a smaller form factor like the original Kindle, does not show PDF files in their native format. That poses a major problem for me, since participants often want a reference to the page in their printed copy. Since the participants are still using a paper manual, I need a device that will let me see exactly what the participants see.

As well, any fancy formatting (such as tables or government forms) won’t tend to survive the reformatting when sent to the smaller device. Considering that one of Amazon’s target markets for the larger Kindle DX is the textbook market, it seems clear that, at least today, it’s the more reasonable device from a features standpoint.

That said, the support for PDF is not as robust as the support for standard Kindle books. You cannot create notes to attach to PDF files, and the Kindle reader doesn’t pay attention to bookmarks in the PDF file for navigation. As well, there is no built in zoom function. The best that a user can do is turn the device sideways, when it will go from showing a full page to showing the page full width in landscape mode. The device is built to automatically sense when the device is turned sideways, but it only reacts to such turns very slowly-at times so slowly as to make a user believe the device won’t recognize the rotation.

For participants the device would pose a couple of problems. A key one is that the Kindle DX costs $489-a significant cost that someone would have to absorb. Aside from use for CPE style textbooks, most CPAs would not have a reason to acquire the DX rather than the smaller (and cheaper) device. The Kindle 2 sells for $190 less than the DX.

As well, it’s probably only reasonable to use the Kindle for distributing CPE materials if all participants are using a Kindle. I doubt it would be practical for some participants to be using a Kindle and others to use a paper manual, at least unless the Kindle was a DX showing PDFs.

Getting materials on the Kindle also would be a bit troublesome with the current structure. There’s no easy way to “push” materials to a Kindle-remember it was designed by Amazon as a way to buy books from them. Materials that don’t originate with Amazon have to be loaded manually onto the Kindle either by emailing them to the user’s special address (for which there will be a charge) or by copying the file to the device after hooking it to the computer.

Copying a file is simple, but I doubt it will be obvious how to do it for users that aren’t computer savvy. You have to mount the Kindle as a drive using a USB connection. On Windows that means it will end up being given a drive letter that can’t be easily predicted, making “pure” step by step instructions impossible to write (on a Mac it will show up as a drive named Kindle in the Finder). As well, the PDF or Amazon book formatted file has to be copied into the documents directory on that drive.

I suspect that CPE administrators would end up spending considerable time, with the current structure, supporting participants who could not get the manual loaded onto their Kindle (presuming we’ve somehow solved the problem of getting them a device). Hopefully Amazon will come up with a “simplified” method for pushing out such materials, but for now it won’t be easy.

That said, the Kindle is a far superior device for viewing texts than a laptop. First, and most important, it doesn’t run out of power five hours after a full charge. A Kindle, because it uses e-ink, only chews up power when you turn a page-keeping a page displayed burns no power. Thus you don’t need power outlets at each desk.

Second, the display is much easier on the eyes than staring at a backlit laptop display all day for reading. Eye fatigue is a major problem when reading from backlit displays for a long period of time.

Third, the display does not wash out in bright light. Rather, it is virtually like paper in how it reacts to light-and, of course, the rooms currently being used for courses have to be ones in which paper manuals are readable.

We also have to remember that not all CPAs have laptop computers, even today. So even if texts were provided in computer friendly formats, there would be some participants that would not be able to “bring along” their computer to the course. Even for those with laptops, some are clearly not very portable. A power outlet has to be provided to each participant.

In Phoenix, another side effect that would not necessarily be very positive, is that a room full of laptops is going to generate a bunch of extra heat in the room (just touch the bottom of your laptop to see what I mean). Kindles don’t do that.

I suspect some sort of ebook reader is likely the future of all training materials. But I’m not sure we’ve yet hit the point where we have a fully workable solution-but it is one that those of us involved in CPE probably need to keep our eyes on.

We may soon, however, be at the point where it might be possible to offer an ebook manual as an option for participants. That is, they could optionally get a PDF manual in lieu of paper. The advantage to participants is they could have the material before class. And, for the organizations presenting, the advantage would be eliminating the cost of printing a physical manual.

I’m certainly not going back to hauling paper manuals in suitcases for when I am traveling to give CPE presentations. But I doubt I’ll be staring at a room full of CPAs holding Kindles looking back at me anytime soon.

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