Using the Kindle in Medical Education (And Why the Kindle Sucks)

John Halamka, CIO for Harvard Medical School, has an interesting post about HMS’ support for the Amazon Kindle ebook reading device,

We’ve recently implemented Kindle support for all our 20,000 educational resources at HMS.

Our integration on the Mycourses educational website enables any Word or PDF document to be delivered to the Kindle wirelessly. There is a cost which is clearly explained to the user (10 cents per document to Amazon). Those that don’t want to pay the 10 cents can download documents to their PC and transfer the documents via USB cable. Once the user enters their Kindle account into the MyCourses Kindle setup page (accessible via our resources page or the GoMobile page), any resource which can be sent to the device has a little icon and label “My Kindle” which when clicked sends the resource to the Kindle. It does this by sending the document to the Amazon account via email attachment which then gets converted into Kindles’s specific format and delivered to the device using Sprint’s Whispernet.

HMS is the first Medical School to offer such a green alternative to all of their compatible resources to be downloaded directly to an eBook. At some point it would be nice to bypass the 10 cent fee with some utility that allows us to send to the device, but it’s a reasonable cost when you consider that Sprint is giving Kindle users free internet.

First off, let me say this sort of implementation is extremely impressive. There’s been a of debate online over just how “green” the Kindle is vs. traditional distribution methods, but leaving that aside the convenience of carrying around a Kindle rather than stacks of papers/books is obviously one of the things that is appealing to dedicated ebook devices.

Unfortunately, this sort of application simply underscores the idiocy that is the Kindle user interface. Currently I’ve go about 300 books on an SD card in my Kindle, and you could easily imagine a medical student having hundreds of papers and books loaded on the Kindle.

But Amazon made the boneheaded decision not to have any sort of way to organize large numbers of documents. Instead the Kindle simply lets you scroll through One Big Damn List(TM) of all your books/papers in alphabetical order by title. Of course a medical student might want to, say, organize papers  by the specific classes they’re relevant too. Too bad — all you get is that One Big Damn List.

That horrible design decision alone renders the Kindle almost unusable for anyone who actually wants to carry a substantial number of books/documents around on it. This decision is especially mystifying in that being able to classify and organize books into some sort of category and subcategory system (not to mention being able to see a list sortable by author rather than title) is fairly standard in ebook readers and ebook software.

I’ve had enough with the Kindle and “features” like this and am switching to the new Sony PRS700 which allows you to set up categories and features a touch screen-based annotation system.

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2 thoughts on “Using the Kindle in Medical Education (And Why the Kindle Sucks)”

  1. i am a med student and at one point i had 500 documents on my kindle. I just added the prefix “Cardio” or “Microbio” etc to every book or lecture in that category. Pretty easy to do with a little computer program that appends things to file names. then you just type M and press enter and there are all my Microbio documents… so i had “micriobio.patho” or microbio.lecture.bacteria or microbio.book.lippincotts.

    not perfect, but works decently. 🙂 another way to get around the folder issue is to add a note to each book with the topic… then from the menu you simply search for your designated topics and all the books pop up. 🙂

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