Resurgence of the scroll

Having found a liking for the Kindle reader on my Android smartphone, and with BDRA’s interest in e-books, it was quite a surprise this morning to have a washing machine repair man present me with what was basically, thanks to a turn-of-the-century suitcase of kit, a scroll.

Not parchment, and printed or the wrong side, but a scroll nonetheless

My first thought was some kind of reverse-medieval helpdesk comedy, but then it occurred to me that actually, we use the scroll as a presentation format every day. We just don’t notice, because we call them “pages”. Web pages. Except, they are not pages of a website really, because most people don’t find them by going to the “home page” and navigating hyperlinks, as was originally envisaged. No, they go straight to one “page” from Google. So really, each “web page” is a discrete document, and since these documents are usually longer than a screen-full, one has to “scroll” through them. So, they are scrolls.

Why, then, did the medieval scroll give way to the book? Well, according to Wikipedia, for “compactness, sturdiness, ease of reference (a codex is random access, as opposed to a scroll, which is sequential access), and especially economy; unlike the scroll, both recto and verso could be used for writing”, None of these matter in electronic format, especially “random access”, a problem solved by the browser’s “search” facility. In fact,  “search”, not hyperlinking,  is the key technology that has allowed what would have been books to become multiple small documents. In this brave new world, hiding part of the document on separate pages becomes a disadvantage. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you… The Scroll.

“Old” technology is often disparaged simply because it “wasn’t invented here” (i.e. by the current generation), but “old” technology may well be cheaper (analogue vs digital radio), easier to use (clockwork vs digital egg timer) and more appropriate (birthday card vs text message). When designing any new system – I’m thinking of learning design in particular – it’s important to use the most appropriate technologies from all those available, and not be seduced by newness.

Paul Rudman

Two hours at the museum

Here at the University of Leicester, we have a beautiful museum. It has brand new wood panelling, glass, artworks on the walls, helpful, friendly staff, computer terminals to help with interpreting the exhibits, spaces to sit and think, work, take stock.

Yes, it’s truly lovely. And in some ways, I enjoyed my two hours there this morning.

Unfortunately, in terms of productivity, a museum full of fifteenth Century technology is really not ideal. If the information in those museum pieces had been stored with twenty-first Century technology, I would have found what I wanted in two minutes, instead of two hours, and could have gotten on with something more useful.

I’m talking, of course, about the library – and the books therein. An anachronistic throw-back to the days when part of the point of academia was to limit access to knowledge.

Books are a lovely technology for reading a novel by the pool in Ibiza.

I’m trying to get some work done.

Paul Rudman


European Apple Leadership Summit – Part 1

On 11 January 2011 I attended the European Apple Leadership Summit at the Mayfair Hotel in London. This was a by-invitation-only event; my invitation was based on a few things, one of which is my work on the SPIDER project, looking at iTunes U as a distribution channel of open educational resources (OER). This meeting was Apple’s chance to make the case to those in leadership in European higher education that Apple software and hardware should play a role in educational technology. They mostly let case studies do the talking.

A Paperless Conference

This meeting was a one-day conference — keynote, invited speakers, and individual workshops. Apple did not hand out any papers nor post any charts in the lobby listing where each workshop would take place and who was signed up where. Rather, they gave all attendants an iPad for the day. I actually received an iPad for Christmas, and said to the nice Apple lady, “I have my own.” She said, “You’ll want ours, because it’s pre-loaded with conference stuff.” Indeed it was. There was a custom-made app for the conference, showing the Twitter stream, a little movie welcoming me to the event, bios of all the speakers, agenda for the day, list of delegates’ institutions, and an interactive survey to be filled in at the end. Because I signed into the app, with the same email address by which I registered for the conference, it knew who I was and which workshop(s) I signed up for, so it gave me a pop-up window telling me I had 10 minutes to get to my next session and displayed a little map showing me which room to go to. It did not work perfectly, but it was pretty close, and therefore pretty impressive. Of course I used the iPad throughout the conference especially to tweet. It was also a good chance to check out some of the new apps created by featured educators and speakers; while speakers were describing how they made these apps, I could check them out on my iPad. A couple of negatives about giving me an iPad: I had planned to take notes on my own iPad. If the Evernote app had been installed on the iPad they gave me, I would have been sorted; as it was, I quickly decided to take notes by liberal tweeting and a few paper scribbles. Another negative was that I would have liked a list of other delegates’ emails, or at least the emails of the speakers. But I handed in the iPad at the end of the day and had no list of delegates; of course I made contacts on my own, but it’s nice to have a list of delegates’ emails given to you. If this had been a proper academic conference, I would have thought the app should be tweaked to send a delegates’ list if desired.



'Globe' iPad app. Photo by kenco on Flickr.


News from Pearson Publishers

A very senior person from Pearson described how they are producing their textbooks in format suitable for all e-book reader devices: Kindle, epub for most e-readers, and media-rich epub for the iPad. She identified the iPad as the best vehicle for textbooks, because one can have colour photos and embedded movies and sound. The Open University, for example, has produced many free e-books (available on their iTunes U site) with embedded audio and (I believe) embedded video as well. The question I have here is: yes, iBooks displays multimedia-rich e-books beautifully. iBooks is Apple-only. Will there be an iBooks-type software for Windows computers and for nonApple handheld devices– how long will it take for something like this to appear?

There is more to report from this event. I shall write more in a future blog post.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

E-Books: Permeating and Complementing

Beyond Distance first began to research the use of e-book readers in higher education back in 2008 at the beginning of the DUCKLING project. From our research, distance students overwhelmingly reported that accessing course materials on the e-reader was a very flexible, convenient study method which helped them target the most relevant readings, well suiting their busy, on-the-go lifestyles. Yet, especially in the earlier stages of the project, I wondered about the long-term viability of e-books and e-book readers. E-book reader prices were not terribly far off from the price of netbooks, and publishers did not seem to be in a rush to make books available as e-books.

Photo courtesy of ceslava on Flickr

Today, especially since the UK launch of the iPad in May and Amazon dropping the price of the Kindle in June, the scene looks very different. But it isn’t just the low price of the Kindle or the cool tech of the iPad. It’s the fact that huge players like Apple and Amazon are managing to persuade publishers to make books, even textbooks, available as e-books. It’s also the fact that Amazon wisely made its Kindle App (the programme which nicely displays the e-book) freely available for iPad, iPhone, Android, and both Mac and Windows computers (and it seems to be do-able in Linux as well).

So now, students can take their reading list, check titles on a growing list of online e-book vendor websites including those of W H Smith and Waterstones, and download the e-book right now and likely for a lower price than the paper version. If they are lucky enough to have a reading list filled with the old classics such as Plato’s Republic or Huckleberry Finn, the e-books are free. Some good sites for free e-books are Project Gutenberg,, and, and most of the e-book sales sites also feature free e-books.

E-books won’t be pushing paper books out of the picture anytime soon. However, with their mobility, convenience, instantaneous delivery, and (usually) lower prices, they have managed to permeate the marketplace and complement the use of traditional books. They are here to stay, and their presence and use will only grow.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

DUCKLING’s e-book readers

E-book readers have been tested recently by work-based Masters’ students in Education (TESOL), studying at a distance, at the University of Leicester. The trial was part of DUCKLING, one of BDRA’s projects, funded by JISC.

Last week I read a draft case study by Ming Nie on these students’ reactions to using the Sony PRS-505 e-book readers (not the latest model). She says that the readers, preloaded with module materials, a textbook and podcasts were given to 17 Education students. The devices, they said, increased the flexibility and mobility of their learning, helped them to save resources and costs on printing, enabled them to do more reading of course materials during the working day and helped them to conduct their studies more effectively .

There’s been a lot of press interest in such readers. The Guardian (July 21) carried a front-page item about Amazon selling more e-books for the Kindle reader in the past three months in the US than it had hardbacks (though US hardback sales rose by 22%, in case you think the book is doomed already). Five authors had sold more than half a million digital copies each. In the UK, though, sales of e-books last year were  worth ‘only’ £150 million.

A recent survey for The Bookseller  of 3,000 British book-buying consumers showed that only 26% of respondents had heard of a Kindle and only 41% knew what a Sony Reader was, although 60% had heard of the iPad. They said they were “unlikely” (36.8%) or would “definitely not” (32.3%) buy an e-reader in the coming year. Of course, few of those surveyed may have been students at the time.

Brian Croxall  reflects on his experience of getting students to use Web 2.0 technology such as Google Docs, Twitter, Wave, Wikis and Zotero: it was mainly positive, he said, but beware of ‘tool fatigue’.  Students may be happy to use new technologies, but there’s a limit to their enthusiasm. Mine too!

Have you heard of Kno? I hadn’t. It’s an e-reader being developed for the HE market and due in the autumn. This twin-colour-screen wi-fi device will support Flash, HTML5, PDF and ePub formats.  See the video,  but what about its price and battery life?

The World eBook Fair claims to have 3.5 million e-books that can be read or downloaded. It’s free until 4 Aug, then $8.95 per year. Although I’d guess that a few thousand of these could be valuable in some way to UK university students, I do wonder whether e-book design is going to turn out to be different from that of the paper originals. I read this week that embedded video and audio in e-books will be with us soon. What a challenge — and what an opportunity for e-learning designers!

David Hawkridge

PS If you’re looking for a journal in which to publish your research paper, take a look at:

Can Learning Innovations be Embedded and Sustained?

On 28 April, 2010, Gabi Witthaus and Terese Bird attended a CAMEL meeting sponsored by JISC and which took place at Middlesex University, the theme of which was to examine whether the developments of the DUCKLING project can be embedded and sustained. Once the project is over, can teaching teams continue to use the technologies, findings and deliverables?

In this meeting, Gabi and Terese looked at the sustainability of each of the three technologies implented in the DUCKLING project — ebook readers, podcasting, and Second Life — as well as the pedagogy underpinning the use of each. Since the project is a joint effort amongst the Schools of Psychology and Education, and Beyond Distance, it was helpful to consider how each of the Schools implemented each innovation.

Psychology used Second Life as a forum for role-playing and simulation, to give students a taste of the experience of living and working on an oil rig with its dangers and isolation, as preparation for their assignment to write a health and safety training manual for oil rig workers. Beyond Distance techies supported this work. However, the actual role playing and leading of the sessions was done by Psychology academics and could continue that way, with some tech support. To watch a YouTube video capturing some of the action of the students’ experience on the oil rig, click here.

Education sent their students into existing language class forums in Second Life, where students observed and could participate in the classes. This was a very flexible way of making use of Second Life — students simply went in and signed up for classes already taking place pretty much 24/7. Observing language classes in Second Life has now been embedded into themodule as an optional activity. As long as there are such forums in Second Life, this activity is sustainable.

Podcasts have been fully embedded into the Psychology curriculum for the masters programme in DUCKLING — especially as part of the dissertation-writing process. These podcasts been rolled out to all cohorts on that module. Psychology academics have been making and distributing (via the University VLE, Blackboard) podcasts without any help from Beyond Distance for months now. Education has especially recently begun to record podcasts for its Masters TESOL students, and again the work of recording and posting onto the VLE is straightforward enough to continue without difficulty after DUCKLING’s conclusion.

With the ebook readers, we learned from interviews with students that using the ebook reader is changing their study habits. To quote one student: “I now study more in my workdays using the e-reader. I’ve been putting it in my bag every day and taking it to work and after lunch reading a few pages. I’ve found that way it keeps the content fresh in my mind. Before with the paper version, I’d allocate my weekends for study.”  Another student commented, “I think that the e-book reader changed my way of keeping notes and makes my study more effective. Before, I used my laptop to write a lot of notes because I felt that I would forget the whole thing if I didn’t take them down. But taking notes is time-consuming and not that effective because I never really use the notes. With the e-book reader, it’s not very inconvenient to go back to the material on the e-reader and I can remember where the material was and go back to the module on the e-reader and look through it. As a result of that, I didn’t take a lot of notes and I don’t think it (not taking notes) makes a difference to my study.”

A further aspect of the continuing use of ebook readers can be viewed from the point of view of finance. One department saw savings over printing and shipping stacks of handouts to students, by instead shipping to the students fully-loaded ebook readers. In some cases the students themselves experienced the savings, realising that they did not have to purchase hard copies of notes and choosing instead to simply read these on their ebook readers. Converting module handouts from Word format into format suitable for ebook readers (epub format in the case of the Sony ebook readers we are using) is not a very difficult process — click here for our instructions to do this. The fact that the iPad supports epub documents, public libraries are beginning to offer ebooks for download in epub format, and students are looking for reading material compatible with smartphones, presses the point that the use of this technology will only increase in future. We predict it will be sustained by popular demand.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant ZooKeeper

eBooks and eReaders: Advancing at Warp Speed

The DUCKLING project, a collaborative effort between University of Leicester’s Beyond Distance, the School of Psychology and the School of Education has been examining the impact on distance students’ learning of three technologies: podcasts, ebook readers, and the use of Second Life. Back in autumn 2009, we loaded learning materials onto ebook readers and shipped them out to distance students around the world, in lieu of the stacks of printed material shipped in years past and at greater cost. (For  a simple guide to change Word documents to epub documents suitable for most ebook readers, click here to download from the DUCKLING website.) As one of the learning technologists working on the project, I provided subsequent support to the students, mostly by answering their questions on a Blackboard discussion board.

In March of 2010, we shipped ebook readers to a new cohort of distance students, and I have again been providing technical support by discussion on Blackboard. I observed an interesting development in the kinds of questions being asked.

The September 2009 cohort asked questions about the different software required by the ereader (Sony Reader Library, Calibre) and what platforms these run on,  whether PDF documents display on ereaders (answer: they do, but line breaks are rigid so the document does not “flow”). Students also commented that they appreciated carrying all reading material in one package especially while travelling, and the fact that their ereader was a conversation-starter on their morning commute. Some students commented that they wished their ereader had facilities for note-taking (the Sony PRS-505 used in this project does not have this facility).

The March 2010 cohort asked fewer tech-help questions. They had many more technical comments, having already gotten to grips with many of the usability issues. Comments such as “I wish I could organise the documents according to my own design” were quickly answered by other students who had already figured it out. They downloaded their own material onto ereaders and discussed how that worked. Most interestingly to me, they compared reading documents on the ereader not with reading on paper, but with reading on other devices – laptop, iPod Touch, iPhone.  I found myself scrambling to keep up with the suggestions for software to try, sites to visit, apps to purchase. One student looked forward to the ease with which ereaders could make educational material available to students: “…education is the perfect market for ebooks I think. The amount of reading is so wide-ranging, and personally there is a desire to read tonnes of material. The access we have through Leicester for journals is immense; having the same access to the reading lists would just be good for education full stop. It will change, when is the only question.”

In January 2010 the Consumer Electronics Association predicted ereader sales will double in 2010, as Amazon announced the Kindle was “the most gifted item ever from its website” according to Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service. The Apple iPad has every possibility of being a game-changer in this field. Our students’ comments illustrate the speed at which the ebooks and ereaders market is advancing. For students looking for a convenient and cost-effective way of accessing academic material, the change cannot happen too soon.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant ZooKeeper

Mobile Learning, Handheld Learning

Whilst on the train returning from ALT-C 2009, I read John Traxler’s excellent thought piece “Students and mobile devices: choosing which dream”. John describes the conundrum of using mobile devices such as mp3 players and mobile phones for learning: so many students have them that it seems obvious that we should include them as learning technology. However, not all students have them, and students don’t all have devices with the same capability, and students may not wish to use their own mobile devices as learning tools. To quote, “Student devices unlock the dreams of agency, control, ownership and choice amongst students but put the dreams of equity, access and participation at risk. Universities cannot afford, procure, provide nor control these devices but they cannot ignore them either. Clearly such a stark choice is an over-simplification; there is no simple question and no simple answer.”

I am not so sure I agree, however, that universities cannot afford or procure these devices. Fifteen or so years ago we were discussing whether universities could afford the numbers of computers needed for students to be assured computer access. Today many universities offer students the free use of laptops, cameras and digital camcorders in addition to fixed desktop computers.

Today I discovered the website for the Handheld Learning Conference. Apple appears to be taking the lead on the conference this year, which seems only to be expected given the iPhone and iPod derivatives (as well as the rumoured iTablet). The development first of iStanford (by which Stanford students can check grades, registration, and the whereabouts of the campus shuttle bus on their iPhones), and now of MobilEdu with Blackboard elevate the handheld device to the status of a VLE. At the same time, Sony has just released its updated models of e-book reader, and new eReaders from IREX and CoolReaders will surely appeal to students looking for a way to consolidate required readings into one digital package.

The Burnt Oak Junior School in Kent recently gave out iPod Touches to 32 8-year-old students for general school use. A short film describing the project can be seen here. Whilst watching it, I was reminded that it was only a few short years ago we were first hearing about schools buying fleets of laptops for uses not unlike this school’s use of the iPod Touch — but the iPod costs a fraction of the price of a laptop. Schools and universities are indeed investing in handheld-learning hardware as well as software. Students will begin to consider an iPhone or whatever handheld of choice to be as much a required purchase as a rucksack.

Terese Bird

A tale of two sides?

I read Kelly’s recent post about a new e-reader joining the market place with interest.  I’ve been at Beyond Distance for over a month now and while getting to grips with the Sony E-reader I feel like I’ve been seeing, reading and hearing about e-readers everywhere, including seeing my first e-reader out and about being used by a man on the train.   Not that I’m complaining, to be able to figure out the details of how best to create an e-book and what works and what doesn’t and more importantly why not is something that could occupy me for hours.

To see another article in the Metro on the 16th September about e-readers made me realise that it wasn’t just me seeing e-readers everywhere it really is an emerging market and waiting to be embraced fully.  In my last post I mentioned a previous Metro article about Sony E-readers and while you might think I’m being commissioned by them to promote the Metro and E-readers I’m really not it’s just that a free paper to read on the train is hard to resist.

One of the points in the article that caught my attention was ‘Has publishing, a conservative industry learned its lesson from the music industry’s slowness in moving from selling CDs to selling online?’. The music industry is still adapting to selling online and issues of file sharing are likely to rage on for some time to come.  It seems that the publishing industry is trying to move forward but is also getting bogged down in some similar problems. You only have to look back at the article and within the first paragraph it mentions that ‘British licensing restrictions mean users here will only have access to 500,000 titles rather than the whole 2 million’.  Google as one of the driving forces in the online e-book shop market are still struggling with restrictions and are currently facing more legal action.

But with the technology already out there and being developed by the day the other side of the tale is that the demand for e-books is there and will carry on increasing and to refer back to the Metro article again if the price is right people will buy this technology and further increase its market.  According to the Guardian 52% of US print publishers are distributing content on mobile devices which again suggests that the demand is there, but will the demand overtake the ability to distribute books without any restrictions?  Obviously there are a great deal of e-books out there already that can be distributed but if a buyer of e-books has restricted choice due to licensing how long will it be before they want a solution? Creating your own e-books from online material is a possibility but with this process, at present, being one for the more technical people will it lead to a diminished uptake of what could arguably be the next big thing?

Emma Davies

Learning Technologist

Sony e-books going wireless

It’s the end of my first two weeks here at the University of Leicester as the new Learning Technologist on the OTTER and DUCKLING projects (I’m either a DOTTER or an OTTLING, whichever takes your fancy). It’s been a busy two weeks with plenty of information to take in but combined with lots of friendly faces and a nice, relaxed working atmosphere to help settle the first day nerves.

While I’ve been having plenty of meetings and discussions about both projects I’ve mainly been working on DUCKLING, specifically the creation of e-books for the Sony Reader.

I’ve written in more detail about the process that I’ve used for this on the DUCKLING blog. Before being appointed to this post I had limited dealings with e-readers; I’d used e-books but had read these on my computer and not found them a replacement for other online information such as tutorials.

So I came to the Sony Reader fresh and without any previous opinions on the hardware, or indeed really on the e-book software.

Getting the opportunity to get my hands on any new technology and play with it is always good. So being able to use the Sony Reader 505 and read through and add books to it was a novel experience (pun intended I’m afraid!). I’m always looking to improve my skills and am looking to focus on my web development skills in the future.

The ability to access books or tutorials converted to e-book formats would be incredibly useful while sitting at the computer using things like Dreamweaver as I can refer to the screen and at the same time refer to multiple e-books rather than having to either switch between screens or switch between books.

I can see how something like this would be an advantage also to someone writing a dissertation or a thesis as they can, in essence, have a mini-library at their finger tips. Although being someone who enjoys reading in the bath, I’m not a 100% sure how effective e-readers would be at this and I haven’t come across any waterproof ones, yet.

Reading the Metro on the train into work this morning I came across an article about Sony Readers. Sony is just about to launch their first wireless electronic reader which also includes a touch screen and the ability to store up to 1,000 novels. In the article, Steve Haber, a Sony president, said the e-book market was expanding rapidly, ‘Momentum is building tremendously. It’s just a matter of time.’

With 400,000 of the previous non-wireless e-readers sold since January the market does appear to be growing, the article also mentions the Amazon Kindle which is also popular but with the company not providing figures it is hard to say the exact level of growth and also to see the sales war.

I was interested to see this article for a number of reasons, partly to see something that is in an emerging market being talked about relatively prominently in a free paper. Also Seeing the evolution of e-readers and how this will impact on education, both with the learners and providers.

Finally thinking about whether these developments change the purpose of e-readers. The reason I say this is because e-readers are to an extent self-explanatory: their purpose is for reading. To me the idea of wireless connection and a touch screen move slightly away from just reading, whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your own purpose for using an e-reader and how the product targets and addresses that purpose.

Coming from a web design and development background I’m also interested to see how things such as CSS, JavaScript and even Flash could be utilised by this kind of technology. CSS can already be used in the process of converting files to an e-book format, so it will be intriguing to see how far styles can be applied and again whether they change or affect the purpose of an e-reader.

With mobile technology, specifically mobile phones, design-heavy websites have been replaced with content-lead websites, but applications for these phones combine content with design and with e-books being able to be read on an iPhone and iTouch (see for a more detailed overview), it will be interesting to see whether the e-reader gets seduced into branching out into related but different areas and how successful this will be.

Personally I would like to see the e-reader branch out, as depending on what I’m doing I will be doing other things while reading: if I’m reading for pleasure I tend to listen to music at the same time; and if I’m reading for study then I’ll tend to be on the computer.

So to further move to these things would attract me to an e-reader. It also makes me wish I could predict the development and then try and tap into it, as I feel that there is an emerging market of e-reader support, development and add-ons waiting to break through.

Emma Davies

Learning Technologist

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