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
BDRA

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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, Manybooks.net, and feedbooks.com, 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

Loosening the UK copyright laws: has the time come?

Speaking recently at an event in London, PM David Cameron made the point that intellectual property laws are to be reviewed to “make them fit for the Internet age“.

The six-month review will look at the American model, and see what the UK can learn about using copyrighted material “without the rights holder’s permission”.

This is interesting, especially in the light of the recent – and fairly draconian – Digital Economy Bill (DEB).

It’s possible this is the first salvo in a policy that realises and accepts that new models of commerce must be produced for the Internet age. And part of this needs to be a reassessment of copyright itself, and particularly what “fair use” means today and might in the future.

Cameron seems to be suggesting that the lock-downs of DEB-type legislation are not conducive to economic growth. I don’t think I could argue with that.

As a result of the OTTER OER project here at the Beyond Distance Research Alliance, and the knowledge and experience of the University’s Copyright Officer and honorary OTTER, Tania Rowlett, we all have a much clearer understanding of these issues.

However, I’m aware that sometimes our enthusiasm in support of openness paints those opposed to loosening copyright in a bad light. This is unfair.

Take, for example, the academic publishing industry, one of the fiercest protectors of the principle of copyright. This industry has used a commercial production model that has worked extremely well since Gutenberg first developed his printing press around 1440. Yet now, in the space of probably less than a decade the revenue-generating potential of this model has come under threat from the technological revolution that Web 2.0 publishing has unleashed.

The fact that I’ve linked to Wikipedia – a free source of knowledge or information as some might argue – in the preceding sentence is a perfect example of this. If I still worked in publishing, I wouldn’t sleep very well either.

But download one of the Open University’s 100+ free interactive ebooks  – in my case, to my iPad … of course! – available through iTunes U to see what technology allows us to do. The new digital world can’t be all that bad for publishers. 

However, there does come a moment in human history when change has to be accepted and absorbed. The Prime Minister’s announcement may well be one of these moments for us in the UK.

If the dam is broken, it’s not worth throwing sandbags at it. Far better that the cascading waters are diverted, channelled and controlled to benefit everyone.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

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

Learning Futures Festival Online 2010 (Twitter #LFF10): The mid-way point

I’m writing this blog on Day 5, just over halfway through our Learning Futures Festival Online 2010. I thought it might be  a useful point to note down some initial observations.

Overall, for me, it’s been a novel and fantastic experience. With my techie colleagues Terese, Richard and Emma, the physical Media Zoo has formed a suitable base of operations, with one desk used solely for vital equipment such as chocolate, Wagon Wheels and coffee.

The days have been long and the challenges diverse, but satisfying. For example, a wobbly wireless connection on the first day saw us move quickly into hard-wired mode for presentations. We’ve also been responding to a steady stream of help requests from delegates. Most of all, though, we’ve supported each other by shouting ‘PRESS THE RECORD BUTTON!!’ at the appropriate times.

Thus far, the online conference software provided by our sponsors Elluminate Live! has performed faultlessly, and the excellent suppport of our Elluminate liaison, Sophie, has been much appreciated. All proceedings thus far have been recorded and placed on the festival website (and will be made available to the public in due course).

The festival website, provided by our sponsors All Things in Moderation, has been excellent and under the control of Emma, who has done a great job keeping it fresh and updated. And I’m looking forward to the final day, when 10 ebook vouchers will be given away by our sponsors Routledge: Taylor and Francis (3 in Second Life!).

And, most important of all, the keynotes, papers and workshops have all been of the highest quality: engaged, intelligent, current, practical … I could go on. And our delegates have been fantastically enthused.

Considering our delegates and speakers are based all over the world, I’m very much a convert to this sort of conference. (Read Gilly’s blog about the environmental benefits.)

As long as we don’t suffer the trauma of the first day, when the supply of biscuits reached dangerously low levels, the final four days of the festival should be as good as if not better than the first four.

Simon Kear

Learning Technologist

PS The conference is still open!

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