A Year Into The E-book Reader…

DUCKLING started researching the impact of e-book readers on distance work-based learners about a year ago.  I did a presentation at ALT-C 2009 about DUCKLING’s experience of using new technologies , including the e-book readers.  At the beginning of my presentation, I asked the audience a question about how many of them owned or used an e-book reader. Very few people in the room responded to my question.  At ALT-C 2010 this year, I did another presentation specifically about e-book readers, and I asked the audience the same question. To my surprise, half of the audience raised their hands!

The e-reader is one of the fast-growing and changing technologies in the past year. Changes and movements in this technology are on news every day. For example, Leeds University gives textbooks on iPhones to its medical students (but students have to give back the iPhone when they graduate).  Free e-reader software has been recently released and is set to ‘revolutionise the e-book reading experience’. You can see a screenshot of what the Blio[TM] free e-reading software looks like below.

It is amazing to see how e-books and e-readers have shaped our life, changed our relationship with traditional books and the library, and the way we learn.

Ming Nie              05 October 2010

The future’s not too far off

In 2008 as part of Beyond Distance’s annual conference we ran a session on the lines of BBC’s ‘Dragon’s Den’, where e-learning researchers and practitioners were invited to pitch ideas for funding support to an expert panel.

Conceived as a forum for bringing ideas through a process of scrutiny and providing feedback to the proposers, the ideas pitched were for real but there was no actual pot of funds available to back the ideas.

One of the proposals that was considered ‘fundable’ then was for an e-paper and the technologist who proposed it made a spirited defence of the proposal in the face of stringent questioning by the experts.

The proposed  e-paper was suggested to be a rewritable and flexible display – but not foldable – that was proposed as a significant step-forward from the tethered and portable display units that we were used to.

The logical next step to this was e-readers and tablet PCs, the current pinnacle of which is Apple’s iPad. The reason I mention the ‘futuristic’ proposal from 2008 is within two-and-half year time span ‘electronic paper’ which is bendy, able to retain an image and electronically rewriteable – is getting closer all the time.

In January 2010, LG Electronics showed off a 19in flexible e-paper, and companies such as Plastic Logic and E Ink are getting electronics that look closer to paper all the time.

So the next time an idea is pitched or you spot something interesting in a sci-fi narrative, don’t be surprised to see it in a shop window sometime soon.

Jai Mukherjee, Beyond Distance Research Alliance

Do you have a favourite piece of technology?

I was inspired by this article in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/mar/28/martin-freeman-celebrity-squares to ask two of my fellow learning technologists what their favourite pieces of technology were.  One answer was the 13″ MacBook Pro, the other was a label making machine.  These two different answers seem to be at different ends of the spectrum of technology although both have their uses. 

But without a clear purpose for technology new inventions can fall by the wayside.  Just a quick Google (one technology that hasn’t failed) and I can pull up a list by Computer World which interestingly includes e-Readers as a failed technology: http://tinyurl.com/yftpb3j.

E-Readers are one of the technologies used within DUCKLING and it’s safe to say that we have explored, researched and developed the content and approaches to using these e-readers with our students with success.  Beyond Distance have had a clear aim and purpose with e-readers, including increasing flexibility and mobility for students, and have been able to convert the uninitiated. While it might not become everyone’s favourite piece of technology we’ve been able to successfully highlight the benefits of e-Readers to students, lecturers and colleagues (particularly in Education and Psychology)

Your favourite piece of technology might be one that satisfies a certain purpose for you whether that’s reading an e-book or even labelling something.  You might find that if you explore other technologies and their uses more, like we did with e-Readers, that you will find another piece of technology that becomes one of your favourites.

What’s my favourite piece of technology? Running through some of the different technologies that I own and use: Blackberry, Laptop, iPod Nano, DVD Recorder, Dreamweaver, Adobe Photoshop, Twitter, Digital Camera; I think that my favourite piece of technology would have to be my trustworthy Canon a1.  Slightly old school (it’s older than I am) but it’s stood the test of time (hopefully I will too!) and I still aspire to create my own darkroom so I can process the film myself.

Do you have a favourite piece of technology?

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

An Initial Reaction to the iPad

Steve Jobs’ 27 January unveiling of the Apple iPad has drawn reactions running the gamut from adoration to ridicule.  Most comments in the latter category take aim at the device’s name. Other negative opinions focus on the iPad’s inability to multitask, lack of a camera, or the fact that it isn’t more like a netbook.

I for one agree with Jobs’ quip in his keynote: “The problem is, netbooks aren’t better at anything.” He goes on to show how the iPad is designed to do chosen tasks better — the chosen tasks being email, displaying photos, watching videos, playing music, browsing the web, playing games, and, yes, reading e-books. In addition, one can create Keynote presentations, spreadsheets, and word-processed documents using iPad versions of these apps, features which look quite impressive and set the iPad notably ahead of both the iPhone and arguably netbooks.

Those who have test-run the iPad testify to its clever usability and speed, courtesy of the new custom-silicon A4 chip. The iPad’s price tag is very reasonable, and its 3G data plan with AT&T is surprisingly low-priced and flexible, with no contract to sign. This alone well positions the iPad for all kinds of users — businesspeople, artists, students, academics, everyone. And since, in many parts of the developing world, 3G is the most common method of internet access, the iPad is in this respect well-positioned for new inroads into international markets.

For me, the most interesting, even revolutionary, news about the iPad was not only that e-books would now be available for purchase through Apple just as music and films have been, but also that Apple has been negotiating with textbook publishers to this end. In the UK we have had Sony e-readers and Waterstones, while the e-books scene in the States has been dominated by the Kindle and Amazon, but neither Waterstones nor Amazon has been offering very much in the way of textbooks for e-readers. We at Beyond Distance have been evaluating the use of e-readers by masters-level distance students as part of our DUCKLING project. As a part of this project, publishers Routledge made a special deal to allow us to include their textbook on the e-readers supplied to students, and we will be sharing with Routledge the results of our research. Now that Apple has taken the major step of promising textbooks on iPads, we should begin to see textbook publishers not only provide their materials for e-readers but hopefully benefit from Apple’s consistent “cool factor” with students.

Vive la revolution!

Terese Bird

A Media Zoo for University of Leicester Postgraduates

The Beyond Distance Research Alliance Media Zoo is a place where members of staff from University of Leicester can learn about new technologies for teaching and learning and try them for themselves. Now, the University’s postgraduate students will have a Media Zoo of their own. Wednesday 25th November 2009, 2pm, sees the launch of the Graduate School Media Zoo in the Graduate School Reading Room, first floor of the University’s David Wilson Library.

This new Zoo is a joint endeavour of the University Library, the Graduate School and Beyond Distance. Daily on-site drop-in or prearranged support will be provided by my able and enthusiastic colleague Emma Kimberley who rejoices in the title of Research Forum Facilitator.

 A series of workshops will be on offer over at the Zoo, geared to help postgraduate students explore time-saving and innovative technologies for their research work. Workshop topics will include “Blogging for Research” and “Social Networking in the Research World.” Additionally, the Graduate School Media Zoo has a growing and interactive web presence, including a Facebook group and a blog, so that postgraduate students who are studying at a distance can also benefit.

The Zoo will be formally inaugurated by Dr Malcolm Read, Executive Secretary of JISC, which has funded many of Beyond Distance’s research projects, followed by a workshop on “Keeping ahead of research in your field using RSS feeds”  led by Information Librarian Sarah Whittaker.  There will also be opportunities to test-run one of several eBook readers, podcasting methods, and Second Life, in the new Zoo.

Postgraduate students are perpetually busy and hard-pressed by the demands of both research and part-time teaching. Finding the time to learn about innovations and technologies which can facilitate networking and collaboration with others in their field can be a challenge. We hope that by virtue of its accessibility in the library and its web presence, the new Graduate School Media Zoo will help meet this challenge, and will equip Leicester’s postgraduates with research tools to enable them to achieve more not only as researchers but as academics of the future.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist & Assistant Media ZooKeeper

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