Amazon Kindle Fire Fire: Not bad for $50 If you Can Manage the Frustrating Limitations

A 7" tablet is, in my personal device ecosystem, an essential device. It is my go-to device for reading news (thanks to the Inoreader Android App), managing email, keeping up with the Delos crew on YouTube, and controlling my multi-speaker Sonos system via the Android Sonos Controller App. My iPad 2 goes largely unused except when in situations where WiFi is not available and its 3G capability keeps me connected.

When my beloved Nexus 7 bricked, the new Amazon Fire 7" called my name. At $50 per unit, or six for $250 (buy five get a sixth free), Amazon hits a compellkng price point for a 7" tablet. It's an impulse buy. A "why not?" A "nothing to loose" and (possibly) much to gain value proposition. But is it?

The specs are promising. The screen is crisp (171 ppi / 1024 x 600).  The 1.3 GHz quad-core processor is capable. The 8 GB of on-board storage can be expanded to 128 GB by addition of a micro SD memory card. Lots of storage head-room there. And, in the field, the battery yielded full day use. Yep, lots to like. (For full specifications go here).

The operating system, a variant of Android, is much more Androidish than the first generation Fire Tablet. Amazon's take on the Android OS has a custom launcher that ties the Fire tightly into the Amazon ecosystem. One screen displays recent activity, including books read, movies watched, apps, etc. That recently used page proved useful. Another launcher page displays all installed apps. The remaining launcher screens are devoted to pitching Amazon content (books, audio books, movies, apps, games, etc.). Indeed, on powering up the device one is greeted by a pitch for a app or other goodie available from Amazon. In short, this tablet has a lot going for it. And at $50 a compelling impulse buy.

The Kindle Fire 7" is tied to the Amazon app store.  If you intend to consume Amazon content exclusively, that works well. The Amazon app store is stocked with myriad apps beyond Amazon's. However, the collection is unpredictable. And this unpredictability may prove to be a deal breaker (or force purchase of a different tablet). For example, the GoPro app is not in the Amazon app store. Neither is the lovely Wunderground weather app. On the bright side, the Sonos Android Controller app is available from the Amazon App store. And, oddly, the Amazon app store includes the NetFlix app (a direct competitor to Amazon's Prime Video), but does not stock the YouTube app.

The Amazon app store's limitations loom largest if, like me, you are thoroughly integrated into the Google ecosystem. The Amazon app store stocks none, nada, zip, zero of Google's fantastic Android apps. No Gmail, no Drive,  no Pictures, no Sheets, no Calendar. No YouTube.

As workarounds, the Amazon app store includes apps that are pointers to full screen browser sessions for Gmail, Calendar and YouTube. While a step in the right direction, these bookmarks are less than ideal if you use Google services.

The Kindle Fire ships with native email and calendar apps. The email app lacks the email sorting functionality that make the Gmail app so useful, and renders email a useful tool. The email app that ships with the Kindle Fire 7", because it lacks the magical email sorting functionality that Gmail and Inbox execute so well, managing daily email, given my typical volume is not possible. The calendar app that ships with the Kindle Fire 7" is serviceable.

How does the Kindle Fire 7" function as an Amazon consumption device?  I'm not a big movie watcher and play no games, so no insights are available on those fronts. The Kindle reading experience is, oddly, challenging. I found it challenging to access the menus without flipping several pages back and forth in the process. My Kindle PaperWhite provides a much more satisfying, and less frustrating, reading experience.

After using the Kindle Fire 7" for two weeks, with growing frustrations due to the lack of Google apps, I yielded to the call of an Acer Iconia Tab 8 while making a CostCo run.  Early impressions are very favorable. The screen is fantastic! It provides a fairly straight-up Android 4.4 experience. One concerning factor is that Acer is providing no guidance on whether and when Android updates will be available. Having experienced the ugly side of upgrading too soon, I'm currently happy with the rock-solidness of Android 4.4 Kit-Kat. We'll see how it performs over time.

Meanwhile, please share in the comments your experiences with the Kindle Fire 7" or the Acer Iconia Tab 8.


Reflections on SCOTUS' ACA Decision

Some reflections on today's SCOTUS decision re. the Affordable Care Act follow:

  • The "individual mandate" provision is unconstitutional when viewed through the lens of the Commerce Clause. The prevailing justification provided when the law was created and sold to the public was thus deemed out of bounds.
  • The "individual mandate" provision is Constitutional if construed as a "tax." SCOTUS apparently applied the "duck test" to reach this conclusion (i.e, if it waddles like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck). 
  • The determination that the individual mandate is a tax directly contradicts President Obama's assertion  that the individual mandate is not a tax and makes clear that the ACA imposes a huge tax increase on much of America (or at least the minority of Americans that actually pay income taxes). One gets the impression that the "liberal" justices, joined by the Chief Justice, were at pains to make obvious the President's lie.
  • The court's finding that the mandate is a "tax" reveals that the intent of the Affordable Care Act is to raise revenues for the government; not to make health care affordable. 
  • The tax determination fits the stereotype of President Obama as a "tax and spend liberal."
  • The tax determination will likely afford the Tea Party with renewed energy, enthusiasm, and focus, especially for Tea Party rallys already scheduled to occur in conjunction with Independence Day celebrations. 
  • A majority comprised of "liberal" and "conservative" justices converged on the decision that the individual mandate is a tax.  This "bipartisan" majority has the potential to nullify (or confuse) critics prone to characterize the decision as "partisan politics." 
  • SCOTUS severely limited powers under the Commerce Clause with regards to provisions of the ACA that would discontinue a state's Medicare funding if it did not comply with federal government mandate. 
Taken all together, SCOTUS' decision appears to have the potential to create more challenges for the Obama administration than it resolves.  On balance, the decision seems to afford critics of the ACA greater traction than is provided supporters of the ACA.  The decision also streamlines messaging objectives for opponents of the ACA in a way that makes it more difficult to message support of the ACA. It will be fun to observe how this unfolds in the coming weeks and months. @AnnAlthouse summed all this up with her concise Tweet: 

My view of the Obamacare case in 2 words: President Romney.


Useful iPad Apps

To complement my list of useless iPad apps, here's a list of useful iPad apps ... apps I use daily. The list is in no particular order:
  • Google search for iPad. Love the hands-free voice search feature. Beyond search, this app also provides a portal to all of my Google App services. One negative is that the Google Search app does not afford easy switching between Google accounts.
  • Safe Gmail for the iPad. This app provides for easy switching between multiple Google accounts. A real frustration reducer.
  • Gmail for the iPad. If/when Google enables quick account switching, this will be my go-to app for email. On the margin, the archieve and trash icons are too close together. It is too easy to trash a message by mistake.
  • MobileRSS for the iPad. I keep hoping that Google will publish a reader app that is as convenient as the Google Reader for Android. Until that happens, MobileRSS, is my go to feed reading app. MobileRSS integrates seamlessly with my Google Reader account. It also makes sharing posts via Twitter , email, Facebook, etc. a simple two-tap process.
  • Safari. Safari is an OK browser. The recent addition of Chrome-like tabs is a mixed blessing. The tabs use precious screen real estate. I rather liked Safari's previous "view all open windows" navigation scheme.
  • WSJ for the iPad. Because of this app, I now prefer to read the Wall Street Journal on my iPad, rather than the dead trees version. Dow Jones is to be commended for this!
  • DrudgeReport for the iPad. What can I say?
  • Facebook for iPad. This app is better than accessing FB via Safari, but that's not saying much.
  • Twitter for the iPad. As with the FB app, the Twitter iPad app beats accessing Twitter via Safari. However it's annoying and confusing to use. Why, for example, is the compose new tweet button located at the bottom left of the window?
  • WeatherBug for the iPad. My favorite weather app.
  • Google Maps. Gmaps on the iPad is just as useful as it is on the Android platform. Endless fun.
  • Google Earth. Ditto. Fun to pinch to zoom and swipe to relocate the earth.
  • Netflix. Gotta have it.
  • Kindle for the iPad. Essential for accessing and reading our household library of Kindle books.
  • Kno Textbooks. Useful for organizing technical reports and other documents in PDF format.
The iPad's lack of Flash support means that I cannot access the vast media library that accompanies my Amazon Prime account and makes impossible use of the myriad websites that use Flash.

See my companion post: Useless iPad Apps.

Useless iPad Apps

An iPad 2 (32 GB with Verizon 3G) has been in my bag for about six months. I use the iPad for:
  • Email. The iPad makes for an OK email device. Editing typos remains more difficult than with an Android device. Android provides a convenient way to locate an insertion point. iOS does not. The lack of SWYPE for iOS makes text entry more tedious than necessary.
  • Reading books and technical reports.
  • Reading blogs and news sources.
Here's a run down on the iPad apps that I've found to be useless (as in I've never used them or rarely use them):
  • Messages (New with iOS 5. I have now clue what it does).
  • Videos. Never used it.
  • iTunes. Ditto.
  • Photo Booth. Huh?
  • Photos. Why?
  • Music. How different from iTunes?
  • Face Time. Google + hangouts and Skype are better.
  • Mail. Awkward.
  • Calendar. Apple FINALLY added the ability to use swipe gestures to change months, etc. Generally awkward to use.
Most of these apps reflect Apple's legacy approach to content. Apple has historically assumed content is loaded on the device. In contrast, I operate in a cloud based environment. Google Apps is my primary tool for personal and work email, etc. iOS5 is a step in the cloud direction.

See my companion post Useful iPad Apps.

Overall, it's an OK device. Android provides a superior user experience. iOS lacks key information display features (such as widgets). And I find more consistency across Android apps than I find in Apple Apps.


Adobe Turing Test Fail

In anticipation of updating my Adobe Creative Suite, I probed the Adobe.com website in search of a chart that compares the myriad CS suite versions. Failing to find the chart, or any other tools useful for comparing Adobe's various CS5.5 suite offerings, I initiated a chat with Adobe's sales support system expecting a quick and direct answer to a simple question. As the chat transcript below reveals, Adobe's automated customer support chat service is unhelpful and fails the Turing test:

Please hold as we route your chat to an Adobe Representative.

Welcome to Adobe.com! My name is Robin. May I assist you with your selection today?

Robin: Hi, How are you doing today?

rob: i'm seeking a chart that compares the various 'suites'

Robin: I'll be glad to help you with that.

Robin: For me to assist you better, can you tell me what kind of tasks would you like the software to help you accomplish?

rob: i have 'cs3 design premium' installed now. curious how the various bundles compare.

Robin: I'm afraid, just to clarify, when did you installed 'CS3 Design Premium'?

rob: don't know an exact date. it's been a while.

rob: the website used to have a link to a chart that compared the contents of the various bundles. it was very useful. i'd like to find it again.

Robin: I'm sorry, you're using older version of the software, Adobe released new version of the software CS5.5.

rob: my question is about cs5.5

rob: is this a turing test fail?

Robin: Let me explain you clearly.

Robin: Rob, CS5.5 Design Premium includes Dreamweaver CS5.5 for web site designing, Photoshop CS5 Extended which will help you in editing photos in more advance way, Illustrator CS5 to create images for printed productions and logos, InDesign helps you to designs and publishes documents for print , Acrobat X Pro to edit, create, manage and convert PDF file and all Flash related software.

rob: please point me to a chart that compares the different CS5.5 suite offerings.

Robin: Please give me moment.

Robin: Please click here

Robin: Did you get the link?

rob: yes, thank you. that is exactly what I was seeking.

Robin: Lets go ahead and placed the order, okay.

Robin: Rob, are we still connected?

Robin: I haven't heard from you in a while. Would you like to continue chatting?

Robin: I'm sorry, we have not heard from you. We're happy to help. However, if you do not respond soon, this chat session gets terminated automatically.

rob: all purchases must go through our purchasing office

Robin: I can understand you're concern, is there any thing else?

rob: and all vendors must be able to articulate the significance of the number 42 in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide the the Galaxy.

Robin: Thank you for visiting Adobe.com today! Please come back online if you need any assistance. We will be happy to help.

Robin: We'd like to hear your comments. Please click on the 'Close' button in the upper right corner and take a moment to complete a short survey. Thank you! Have a Nice Day!

The convoluted grammar, and the repeated failure to respond appropriately to my specific questions, leads me to wonder: Does Adobe have a strategy of actively discouraging people from learning about and purchasing their products? As I've used Adobe products for more than 20 years, this is very disappointing.


First Look at the Kno iPad App: WTF?

Kno set out to reinvent the textbook with a proprietary hardware/software solution. After the iPad took off Kno did a hard pivot to become a software solution. Yesterday, Kno rolled out the Kno iPad App. After taking the Kno iPad app for a spin, all I have to say is: WTF?

Remarkably, the Kno app has a WTF button. The WTF button concisely sums up my impression of the Kno app. WTF? An app targeted to the primary, secondary, and higher ed market has a WTF button? We all know that WTF is short hand for what the fuck. Right? Um, not in Kno-land. In Kno-land WTF stands for Words To Friends. Huh?

What else does the Kno offer? Stickies and highlighting! Who-hoo! The ability to add notes and to highlight key passages are basic study tools. The highlight tool worked intermittently for me. Can I search my notes or highlighted passages within a book? Across all of my Kno books? Unclear. I can with the Kindle app.

Navigation within a book? I like the option of chapter level navigation and to then drill down to sub sections within a selected chapter. The Kno lacks, as far as I can tell, chapter level navigation. Navigation occurs via a tedious page oriented nav system in which each page is represented as a rectangle with the page number on it. Chapter home pages are designated, but selecting them simply takes you to the first page of the chapter. The sample Psychology text included with the Kno app download, has chapter front pages formatted with what appear to be links to the section. Nope, they are faux links. WTF?

How do book and PDF files render in the Kno app? OK. At times, pages of the sample textbooks would render larger than the screen of my iPad 2 and no amount of shaking, pinching, or flicking would readjust the page to fit the screen properly. I find the Kindle App provides a better reading experience.

Can the Kno reader play interactive media? It appears it cannot. Kno appears locked into a vision of textbooks locked into the dead tree text era. WTF?

The Kno app offers an academic calendar metaphor for grouping together books or materials rendered in PDF format. Assets can be grouped into Courses. Courses can be grouped into terms. This organization seems appropriate only for courses that have relatively few assets.

Ultimately, the Kno app appears to be little more than a ebook store. One can purchase books from the Kno store that are downloaded into the Kno app. Presumably, these books are accessible exclusively via the Kno app. Pricing? I shopped the Kno Bookstore for several titles I use in my classes. In each case, Kno is offering the book for the full sticker price of the dead tree edition. WTF?
Let's take a look at how the Kno fares against my eTextbook dream criteria:

1. Device independent? No. the Kno currently lives on the iPad exclusively.
2. Platform independent. No. iOS only.

3. Consistent reading experience. As the Kno is iOS only this is an n/a

4. No connection required. Yes. Once material have been downloaded to the iPad, an active internet connection is not required.

The Kno App scores a one out of a possible four.

Another challenge facing the Kno is that it does not appear to interact with learning management systems (LMS). For the Kno to be useful in the higher ed context, it is essential that faculty can distribute class assets via the LMS and that students can easily pull those assets into their working environment. The Kno App appears to be an island in a land of LMS connectivity.

Ultimately, the Kno App's value proposition eludes me. Why would anyone purchase etext (or other) books from the Kno Bookstore as opposed to, say the Kindle bookstore or CourseSmart? The Kno App offers no apparent distinctive difference that enhances value to students, faculty, or institutions.

Don't Kno.


eTextbooks: A Wish List

Kindle at the Barnes & Noble CafeI'm a fan of ebooks. My Kindle Reader is my primary reading device for trade books. Text books, and some professional research books, render better on my . The iPad's larger screen and color display is a better fit for rendering tables and figures. Many eTextbooks are not available in Kindle format. For eTextbooks, published on proprietary platforms such as CourseSmart, a tablet device provides a reading experience vastly superior to reading texts on a laptop, netbook, or desktop machine.

I prefer to purchase digital books in Kindle format for three key reasons:
  1. Purchase ease: Amazon.com provides an excellent shopping experience.
  2. Safe keeping: Amazon.com stores my ebooks so I always know where to find them.
  3. Ubiquity: I can read Kindle format books on every digital device I own: my laptop, my netbook, my iPad, my desktop machine, my Droid X Android phone.
  4. Future proof. I have confidence Amazon will make it possible for me to read my Kindle books on any device I may own in the future.
A recent email exchange with Steven Joos, Product Development Manager for 4LTR Press | Cengage Learning, suggests that some textbook publishers misunderstand the Kindle platform. Text publishers appear to equate Kindle with the Kindle device. Viewed narrowly, I agree that the original Kindle, due to its 7" screen, does not provide an optimal textbook reading experience (I've not tried reading texts on the larger Kindle DX, which seems a better fit with textbooks).

Texbook publishers appear to misunderstand (or prefer to ignore) is that Kindle is a publishing platform that integrates acquisition and distribution to almost any device a person is likely to own and use. If textbook publishers were to prioritize market access, the Kindle publishing platform would seem to have much going for it. I am confident that 100% of my students own one or more devices that support the Kindle platform.

Cengage dismisses the Kindle as incompatible with how students use text books; claiming that the Kindle is too linear. This video is offered as evidence of the superiority of Cengage's proprietary etext publishing platform. Perhaps I'm missing something obvious, but the video seems to confirm that the Cengage platform is (a) linear and (b) offers functionality very similar to that of the Kindle platform. The Kindle apps enable jumping around a text, search, highlighting, etc. The key features demonstrated in the cengage video. I do appreciate that the Kindle publishing platform has some limitations with regard to incorporation of interactive elements. Consequently, the Cengage claim of platform superiority of the Kindle platform appears without merit.

As a faculty member, the proliferation of ePublishing formats discourages adoption. I presume my students have a similar reaction. Keeping track of which platform I must access to use a particular text book -- must I log onto the publisher's website? do I use a dedicated app? what device do I have to use? -- is a distraction. The CourseSmart delivery platform offers less functionality than I experience with the Kindle platform. Flat Earth publishing offers wonderful customization features, but is weak on delivery options. The demise of the Kno Tablet illustrates the hazards of device dependence.

My take is that the textbook publishers efforts to develop proprietary eTextbook distribution systems is retarding, rather than encouraging, eTextbook adoption. By focussing on developing proprietary publishing platforms (i.e., by decreasing compatibility), textbook publishers are increasing complexity and failing to leverage ubiquity of availability (a key relative advantage of eTexbooks). The net result is to diminish customer value of eTextbooks relative to traditional dead tree textbooks.

My dream eTextbook (one I would readily recommend to my students) is:
  1. Device independent. I can read my eTextbooks on every device I own today or may own in the future; I'm not locked to reading the eTextbook on a specific device.
  2. Platform independent. I can read my eTextbooks using any OS platform.
  3. A consistent reading experience across devices and platforms. I want a similar reading experience and suite of reading tools (e.g., search, highlighting, etc.) now matter the device or platform on which I read an eTexbook.
  4. No connection required. Affords the ability to use materials when not connected to the internet. Yes, internet connectivity is near universal, but it is not universal. I want to know that I can read my eTextbooks anytime anywhere I happen to be and have a device available.
At present, the Kindle platform appears to be the publishing solution that comes closest to delivering on my dream list.


The Chronicle Perpetuates Myths and Biases Against Undergraduate Business Students

The Chronicle has an article, Business Educators Struggle to Put Students to Work, that, I believe perpetuates a number of myths about undergraduate business students that are tied to flawed analysis reported in Arum and Roska's book Academically Adrift. My comments on the fatal flaw in Arum and Roska's analysis of undergraduate business students can be found here.

To recap, the Arum and Roksa findings about undergraduate business students are fatally flawed. Most undergraduate business programs do not admit students until the end of their sophomore year. Consequently, the Arum and Roska data concern students that may intend to become business majors. This implies that the Arum and Roska data include as business students a segment of students that, due to poor academic performance during their freshman and sophomore years, will not be accepted into business programs.

The Chronicle article is populated with myths about undergraduate business students, documented via anecdotal data rather than by data. Myths designed to perpetuate bias against undergraduate business students. and programs. This is unfortunate.

It strikes me as bizarre for the faculty faculty (quoted in the Chronicle article) to claim students are not engaged. Student engagement is usefully viewed as a course design issue. If engagement isn't designed into a course's DNA, students likely won't engage. Viewed thus, lack of student engagement is a more a reflection of the faculty member teaching the class than of the students taking the class; a reflection of a faculty member that has not, or cannot, design an engaging course experience.


Managing Google Calendars with Multiple gApps Domains

I've been a happy user of Google Apps standard edition since it was first launched. Tied to my personal domain, the suite of email, calendar, docs, etc. have bee worth far more than their (Free!) price would suggest.  Above, all gCal has kept our hectic family life as close to coordinated as is possible.  Each family member has an account. Family rule is that all events must go on your gCal.  gCal is configured so that everyone sees everyone else's calendar.  Scheduling family events is much easier. 

Google Calendar Sync has further simplified keeping calendars up to date. gCal sync automatically and seamlessly allowed my work Outlook calendar, on Exchange, to sync events both ways with my Google calendar. Ditto for Susan.  With gCal Sync it doesn't matter whether I use the Outlook calendar or the Google calendar.  Sync is configured to sync changes both ways.  This capability was especially valuable when I had a Treo 700P and then a Samsung Saga smartphone. Both connected via the Exchange server.  Seamless, as long as gSync was running.

Last week, ONU transitioned -- finally! -- to Google Apps for Education. (In celebration I retired my WinMo phone for a Droid X ... but that's another story.) So, now I have two Google Apps accounts: a personal account and a work account.  Work-Life separation is good. Right?  Maybe.

I've discovered that there is a big difference in gCal calendar sharing within an Apps Domain vs. across Apps Domains.  Within an Apps Domain, one can share a calendar and allow the other person the ability to modify entries.  Within an Apps Domain, one can see all details on shared calendar events.  Sharing calendars across domains allows, apparently, only sharing of free/busy status. That's helpful, but if I'm sharing my work calendar with family members, I'd like for them to know whether that blob on the calendar is a class session or office hours, for example.  

What to do?

My (non-optimal) work around is to create an event to my work calendar. When creating the event I invite myself using my personal domain email address. This has the effect of getting the event on both calendars in a way that can be seen by all family members on my private domain gCal.

Ideal? Nope. But servicable until Google modifies gCal to expand calendar sharing abilities across Google Apps domains.


Drifting Through Academically Adrift

Arum and Roska's book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College CampusesDescription: http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=gentleeyeimagery&l=as2&o=1&a=B004LE9ILS has created quite a stir lately. The book reports a study of student learning in college. The data are from students that have completed their sophomore year at a small number of diverse institutions.  The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) instrument, a device designed to measure critical thinking skills, is their key measure of academic performance. 

Arum and colleagues interpret their data – which tracks students through 50% of their undergraduate college experience – to suggest that today's college students are "academically adrift."   This catchy phrase is intended to convey that today’s college students lack purpose, lack an understanding of the academic foundation necessary for aspired career paths (or a lack of an aspired career path altogether), and that today’s college students spend more of their waking hours on non-academic activities than they allocate to their studies.

"Academically adrift" makes great headlines. However, the connection between the reported findings and the “academically adrift” conclusion is tenuous. The authors provide no historical data to support that what they observe in today's college students is any different than what a similar study may have revealed if conducted twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago. They provide no evidence that today's college students are any more (or less) "academically adrift" than college students of yore. Further, the conclusion appears to emanate from the authors’ normative stereotype of undergraduate college students specifically, and the undergraduate college experience, generally. The reported data could be interpreted to suggest that the data don’t align with the authors’ stereotype of the undergraduate college experience.

The authors’ observe that many college students lack a clear understanding of their career path and of the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) necessary for career paths they may aspire to pursue. And, some undergraduate students are found to be unclear on their career aspirations.  It is unclear to me how this lack of understanding or clarity of career aspirations affords evidence that students are academically adrift in college. This symptom could evidence failure of multiple systems: our high schools, parenting, and/or other institutions that socialize young Americans about their options ahead of their progression to college. Besides, isn’t it common knowledge that one purpose of the traditional four year undergraduate experience is to afford opportunities to identify one’s destiny?

Courses that require reading and writing are are key factors in improved CLA performance. Whether a student took at least one course that required more than 40 pages of reading per week and at least one course that required more than 20 pages of writing over the course of the semester.  It is difficulty for me to conceive of any college course that does not require at least 40 pages of reading per week and in which students generate at least 20 pages of written material. That said, it appears that such experiences are in fact rare for many of the freshman and sophomore college students in the CLA database.

The analysis of how CLA performance varies across fields of study is problematic (p. 104). Their data suggest that business students evidence significantly lower scores on the CLA relative to all other fields studied (science/math, humanities/social sciences, health, engineering/computer sciences). This finding holds after partialling out variance attributable to other factors (e.g., social background, academic preparation, prior CLA performance, institutional factors, reading/writing requirements encountered in college course work). This finding is problematic because most undergraduate business schools do not admit students until they achieve junior standing and they survive a screening process. This implies that students self-identifying as business majors as freshman and sophomores are not yet in the business program; they are taking courses in hope of successfully achieving the GPA and other requirements for enrolling in a business program. (These students might be more usefully classified as 'undeclared.' ) A consequence is that we would expect substantial variance in the ability of freshman and sophomore students that self-identify as business majors. The performance of business students on the CLA would be more appropriately measured if the analysis categorized as business majors only those students that successfully matriculated into a business program at the end of their sophomore year.

What explains variance in CLA performance? Two class activities consistently emerged as predictors of CLA performance. One, students that took a course that required more than 40 pages of reading per week tented to perform better. Two, students that took  a course that required writing 20 or more pages during the semester  tended to predict better performance. Students that fell into both of these categories – i.e., took a course the required reading more than 40 pages per week and took a course that required writing more than 20 pages over the course of the semester – proved even more powerful as predictors of CLA performance. The authors suggest that courses with this sort of academically rigorous activity further in meaningful ways the critical thinking skills the CLA is designed to measure.

Unsurprisingly, academic preparation also emerged as a significant predictor of CLA performance; better prepared students tended to exhibit greater increase in CLA scores in the first two years of their college experience. This finding speaks to the preparation of students for college and not to the value added by the college experience.

"This pattern suggests that higher education in general reproduces social inequality" (p. 40). This seems a specious conclusion.  Implicit in this statement is the assumption that differential ability on the input end of a process will somehow disappear or be eliminated by the educational process.  A fairer conclusion is that higher education, in general, does not eliminate differences in ability.

The final chapter, A Mandate for Reform, strikes is oddly disconnected with the reported findings. The chapter reads more like the author's dream for the educational process rather than a discussion of potential implications of their findings.

The data for their study were collected from freshman and sophomore students. Accordingly, the findings afford some insight into what happens during the first two years of college for a sample of undergraduate students attending a finite number of institutions. Consequently, the data set affords a platform for offering recommendations for enhancing the effectiveness of these first two years of the college experience. To extrapolate data collected from freshman and sophomores to the totality of the undergraduate collegiate experience is unsupported by their data.

This is too bad. Their findings, to my eye, afford the foundation for some very pragmatic recommendations. For example, it would seem to flow naturally from their data that institutions should expand the number of courses that require reading more than 40 pages per week and/or require writing more than 20 pages over the course of the semester. Simple.

Ultimately, Academically Adrift affords interesting insights into the experience of some students, at some institutions, during their first two years of college. Arum’s extrapolation of their findings into an indictment of the entire educational system -- as they choose to do -- takes their rhetoric into territory not supported by their data.