Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 5.12

Long(er) time readers will know I’m a big fan of my iPhone, and a bigger fan of podcasts.  So recently I’ve been having a discussion with a friend about eBooks (ok, fine, I’m jonesing for a Kindle).

Specifically I’m wondering if there’s an impact on education.  With the advent of eBooks, it’s possible to update information in real time, and I think the science-minded seem more likely to be hip to that kind of potential.  Teachers? Skep-peeps with kids?

How does the advent of digital media impact our educational systems?  Any podcasts or eBooks part of required materials?  Any summer reading lists include multi-media yet?

a.real.girl

A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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26 Comments

  1. I’d like to start off by saying I’m from Arkansas, and Arkansas loves Mississippi. If it weren’t for that state, Arkansas would be last in everything.

    Moving on….

    It would be difficult to do so, since not all students will have access to the same resources. This comes from expereince, since had I been born 10 yrs later, I wouldn’t have access to any multi-media sources not supplied by the school.

  2. @infinitemonkey: Hey, hey, HEY! I’m from Mississippi, and I take offense to that. We’re #1 (in teen pregnancy).

    But seriously, we suck on ice.

    Well, the state does. Some of the universities are nice, and have nice people surrounding them (Well, MSU and USM do. Ole Miss and attached lands are a pretty big shit hole). I being at USM, that is (given, out of our faculty and graduate students that I’m one of, less than half of us are born and raised here, none of the faculty are).

    But anyway… The chemistry courses I’ve had seemed to be the first to adjust to electronic media. Both General and Organic had online homework you were required to do through a system called O.W.L. and something else I can’t remember the name of.

    Nice ideas, but not so great implementation. Both systems were clunky and a pain to use because of their draconian nomenclature systems (Any chemistry teacher can recognize that Fe^+3 and Fe^3+ are the same thing, and might admonish you for the first but won’t count it *wrong* like the online system does).

    Most of my science text books, and some of my general studies text books, had CDs with them, or web addresses for expanded material, notes, or flash cards on them. I never really bothered with any of it, but it was apparently there, and I suppose constitutes eBook additions to the texts.

    A couple of my courses have had websites that we were to go to so we could print materials for the class, such as copies of the syllabus if we lost the first, or information on final projects, etc.

  3. Well electronic submission allowed me to get feedback within a few hours on assignments even though my professor was 8 time zones and a hemisphere away. That was pretty handy :p.

    And I know of universities using webcams to allow students from different parts of the world discuss international issues, without having to travel.

    I dunno about kindels though, ok I’ve never used one before but whats wrong with just curling up with a book? plus books have longer battery lives.

  4. I’m thinking about what media toy I might want for my birthday this summer. A Kindle seems intriguing because I read a lot and it would be nice to have all five current books I’m reading in one convenient device. But I wonder what the backup system is and can you use a computer or external hard drive as a back up for a Kindle, and how much saving will there be when a book is purchased for download ??

  5. There are times when I prefer using a book (being able to flip pages) and there are times when I prefer using a computer (up-to-date info). So far, I’ve yet to find a situation where a half-assed mash-up of the two is preferable to either. Certainly not a $300 one. (curmudgeon curmudgeon curmudgeon)

  6. I work in a college bookstore and one of the required “text books” this last semester is simply a piece of paper which is shrink wrapped and contains a code to allow the student to access the text online. The publisher no longer prints the book and so the only way to gain access to the text is to go online.

    I wonder if a text is going to be updated, will the text denote the parts which have been updated to avoid confusion?

  7. I’ll go with steve on this one. Books don’t need batteries. They are cheap (especially if you buy used books). You can buy Used books (can’t get a used ebook cause that breaks the law). The kindle wants you to pay money to subscribe to enewspapers and blogs that you can get for free if you use a normal computer or an iphone. You can scan and copy a real book with greater ease than the kindle. The only thing that the kindle does better than a book is reduce the size of carrying many books. I am never carrying around hundreds of books. If I am reading, I will be reading a few books, and I don’t need to carry around a whole bunch of them at once. Considering all the downsides of the kindle, I don’t really see the advantage of getting a kindle. The kindle is really the razor to amazon.com’s razor blade (selling bits and bytes of books). Considering the kindle will be obsolete eventually it will contribute to ewaste as well. Yes you will save trees, but recycling and selling your old books (reusing) could be better than the mess that is electronic recycling. Just watch this and see how excited you are about electronic gizmos:
    http://www.china-pix.com/multimedia/guiyu/

  8. My school has some assignments that are submitted online, but they aren’t fundamentally different from pen-and-paper versions.

    Our biggest “learning gadget” is the iClicker, or PRS responder, or whatever you feel like calling it – basically, the prof gives the class a multiple-choice question and we respond in real time using a remote control-like device. In theory they’re great, because they allow profs with larger classes to quickly find out whether we’re ‘getting it’ or not. I’m not too fond of some of the policies around their use, though. Usually, clicker participation is part of the course mark (~5%) and the marks are given for participation in each question, rather than getting the answer right. Which means that for a painfully easy class, you’re forced to show up to every single lecture just in case you might be asked to push a button.

  9. I have not tried a Kindle, but I suspect that it does not *smell* like a book. I hope that I am not the only one who gets an atavistic pleasure out of the smell of books (every time I re-read Wm. Gibson’s Neuromancer I flip the pages and inhale deeply… umm…).

    Also, can one stick the equivalent of post-it flags in an e-reader? I have umpteen references on my shelf at work with the most-used sections flagged (the professional equivalent of having the dirty bits of your parent’s books being well-thumbed and flopping open preferentially to the good bits??).

    Oh, and the references at work, totally *not* the dirty bits.

  10. I bought my Sony eReader about 1 month ago and have been using it. It is very good for carrying a lot of reading material. (It accepts SD cards) My ebook directory on my computer is 41G with over 16 thousand books ranging from encyclopias [encyclopia is phural, but I have many different versions and with different specialisation. ] to novels to cookbooks to some oddies mostly downloaded from the Internet. I did buy a few ebooks, but not that much. Many out of copyright books are available free. You can find down just googling. My current reading books are in the main memory. I also carry a little box which contains some SD cards with different type of ebooks on them. If I want to read something else, just plug in a new SD card.

    As for the reading experience, it is quite different from a real book. For the display quality, make sure you get a epaper-based eReader, Sony PRS and Kindles are epaper-based. These devices’ display reflects light like paper. So you can read in any lighting condition similar to reading books. But they can improve by an anti-reflective coating on the surface.

    Yes, when I was educated, my teachers’ primarily responsibility was to provide me with information. But that has changed now. As for how such device may help/hinder learning is completely open to clever use. While reading is a significant part of most learning, it should NOT be the sole objective of the teacher. Teachers’ job is to arrange learning opportunities for the learners and help learners convert such experience into life-long benefits.

    Books are written records of experience – albeit via the author’s eye. We learn by “mirroring” that experience. Textbooks typically are summaries of widely accepted ideas organised in a way meant to be easily digested. If getting education is a matter of reading, we don’t need to go to school anymore. The web has more information than one can ever need.

    A good ebook reader is an easy way of carrying the information for the odd hours that I want to read. :-)

  11. I like iClickers. It turns class into a GAME SHOW! Woo!

    I think that it would be great if I could have all of my textbooks on my computer. Just exactly like they are as books, but like…PDFs that were on my computer. Then I could carry all of my books around with me everywhere I went just by taking my little netbook. It would save me about 50 pounds.

    I think the ideal format would be a downloadable textbook program that is interactive. All of the end of the chapter programs might be interactive — you type in your answers and the book provides you with instant feedback. My current chemistry course offers this sort of thing with the homework, but it would be nice if the whole text was online along with end of chapter problems and tutorials and such.

    I would have loved to have had something like this in high school. I don’t think it would be that hard for the public schools to ditch “real” textbooks and desktop computer labs and just provide every student with a very basic netbook type computer with all their textbooks loaded on it. They’re so darn inexpensive, I think the schools would probably save money that way. But kids are also careless, thieving little bastards, so maybe it’s not the best idea…

  12. books aren’t cheap. at least not school books. if i was in school know i’d love to be able to get all my texts on a device similar to a kindle. a local-ish college to me give each student a tablet pc when they arrive. so a kindle would be a cheaper option. typically ebooks are a good bit cheaper than printed text. for school texts a kindle would be perfect. just think of the paper it would save. especially when it filtered down to high school & grade school it would save the kids backs.

    don’t get me wrong i never want to be without hard copy books and prefer to read novels and such in hard copy. a kindle would be gread for a vacation, or travel in general, or if you were trying to get through multiple books, or if you finished one but weren’t near a book store. i too am jonesing for a kindle.

    maybe i’m old but i prefer to have hard copies, or back-ups of everything. i’ll purchase music electronically, but the first thing i do is to burn a copy to a cd. i’ve had too many computer and hard drive failures in my lifetime to ever dream of not having a back-up copy of everything important.

    i’d love to have a kindle, but i’d still purchase “real” books.

  13. I think I’d be OK with a tablet computer about the size and shape of a Kindle, that also just happens to work as an eBook. But a device that only works as an eBook? Hard to justify that.

  14. I teach math and science in a Norwegian “senior high”. I use animations and videos to present and explain subjects that are better explained that way than by drawing on the whiteboard.

    I’ve been to a presentation of an eBook for maths, but the disadvantages of that product far outweighed the advantages. The “publisher” was even planning to have a paper companion book.

    Thinking about it now I think that might actually be a good approach. Bring back the old school, skinny books with the bare facts, and put all the bloated “inspirational” crap online, together with the animations, videos and electronic tests.

  15. My daughter is wending her way through grade school and jr. high. So far most of the computer applications have been garbage–they teach them stuff that will be obsolete before they graduate. Some of it was obsolete before they taught it. They are finally (in 7th grade) doing a decent job of teaching typing (about the only thing so far that has any real application). Homework assignments are supposed to be online, which is handy.

    She was still taught cursive in 1st and 2nd grade.

    Online books would be handy, particularly in schools that are too cheap or too paranoid to have lockers. My daughter’s backpack is upwards of 20 lbs, fully loaded.

    Hmm–mandatory clicking in colege? Seems stupid. I expect that college has changed since I went, but learning the material would seem more important than particpating in classroom antics. Many of the classes I was in would give you the option of basing your entire grade on the final.

  16. Yeah, I like some of the features of the Kindle. The eInk screen is very attractive. And free cellular broadband with access to Wikipedia? Awesome. But I already carry a number of electronic devices, and one that is so limited in use is not very attractive to me. It would have to replace one or more of my other devices to win me over. I’m much more interested in the rapidly improving netbook computers that are on the market. The latest batch have much longer battery life, bigger displays, more comfortable keyboards, faster processors, and big hard drives. They’re much smaller and lighter than a standard laptop, and they’re in the same price range as a Kindle. If I had one, I could take it on my bus commute to replace my media player for music and video, as well as my Nintendo DS for games. Plus I could read and write documents, and access any internet content from anywhere with a WiFi signal. That’s a much more compelling device for me.

  17. Personally, although I’m too sentimental about my favourite books to ever give up ink and paper entirely, I would have killed for a Kindle with all my textbooks on it. Not only would it make my backpack ten times lighter, I’d never find myself with the wrong text in class or while studying ever again.

  18. I would love to have a kindle with my textbooks on it, but only because so many are such crap, yet I have to buy them. I have a learning disability that makes it impossible for me to learn by mass lecture. I have to have good text books. The courses I’ve struggled with I passed by going to the prof and having them recommend supplementary texts from the library.

  19. Lots about eBooks, less been said about education. More effective integration of ICT into classrooms is really being pushed her in Aus, and I’m entering the teaching profession just as it’s getting interesting.

    Using computers for internet research has nearly replaced class library time in metropolitan (as opposed to country) schools. Digital whiteboards are being installed all over the place that are sort of a digital projector combined with a reactive screen that you can write and draw on with a special electronic pen, the TurnItIn system is commonly used to check assignments for plagiarism, some teachers in some schools are putting all their notes online for students to download, to save mindless copying from the board and so that students who are sick or away on excursions can catch up easier.

    The key thing about ICT in classrooms is not what the technology is capable of (is can do pretty much anything you want, if you have a programmer to do it or know where to look for software) but whether the teachers themselves are able and willing to make effective use of it.

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