Delving into DUCKLING, e-books and e-book readers

Delivering University Curricula: Knowledge, Learning and INnovation Gains (the DUCKLING project) at the University of Leicester in BDRA is investigating the use of podcasting, Sony e-book readers and Second Life by distance learners taking postgraduate courses in Occupational Psychology and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). I shall be delving into DUCKLING over the next few days and may soon have more comments on it for my next blog. It’s certainly a remarkable research project, as I heard during a recent PANTHER seminar at the university, when two staff from Occupational Psychology and one from Education (TESOL) told us about their experiences in developing and using podcasts in their teaching.

Recently I picked up from the virtual airwaves some news that may interest you about other e-books and e-book readers (none of which I’ve actually seen or used as yet). Wiley has joined Simon & Schuster, Barnes & Noble, O’Reilly and many other publishers to offer e-books in the Scribd Store, which enables you to embed and share documents in a Flash viewer.  Scribd has been working with publishers to sell downloadable digital versions of their books, available as PDFs, and excerpts can be shared through the Scribd reader. I gather that this strategy is seen as a counterweight to the closed Kindle store.

Spring Design, developer of the new dual-screen Alex eReader, has struck a deal with Google that gives users access to more than 1m Google books. The device is a Google Android-based platform with Web browser, Wi-Fi connectivity, audio and video playback and image viewing in several formats.

Ray Kurzweil is presenting a platform rather than a physical device. The Blio software is free and available for PCs, iPod Touch and iPhone. He says, “We have high-quality graphics and animated features. Other e-readers are very primitive.” One of Blio’s major advantages is that the software offers full colour as opposed to e-Ink’s monochrome, and text-to-speech is built in.

I won’t even mention use of the Apple iPad, which is not yet the subject of BDRA research. Nor is the big, thin and bendy Skiff eReader, with an 11.5” display or Philips Liquavista colour eReader that uses ‘electrowetting’ display technology, whatever that is. And Plastic Logic’s Que reader has a big screen (8.5” x 11”) but a big price (US$650).

The enTourage eDGe interactive dualbook combines an e-book reader, notepad and tablet netbook in one device. McGraw-Hill Education has announced a strategic alliance with its makers, enTourage Systems, to deliver nearly 100 top-selling McGraw-Hill HE titles to the device, spanning disciplines such as business, economics, science, mathematics, humanities, foreign languages and social sciences. Students purchasing these titles through the enTourage Systems e-book store can read the text, take and share notes online, search for phrases, listen to accompanying audio, and view images and video in full colour.

Toys for learning and teaching? We shall see.

David Hawkridge

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