You are currently browsing Hope Greenberg’s articles.
Screencasting is a technique that allows you to record everything that happens on your computer screen, then turn that recording into a video. It has been used extensively for online teaching where a process is better shown than described in words. For example, it can be used to create a tour of your Blackboard course, show how to calculate and solve a problem, demonstrate how to use a particular software application, or simply create a narrated PowerPoint for students to watch outside class.
Sometimes, however, the process you want to show is best done by writing or drawing. Now, you can certainly use a drawing program and use a mouse to write or draw your information–but that’s like “drawing with a brick” because a mouse is not exactly designed for such fine motor skills. Is there a better approach? Here are three options.
A digital pen tablet
The word tablet continues to be redefined to describe several kinds of devices. In this instance I’m using it to describe a device that plugs into your computer and becomes a larger alternative to the small built-in touchpad on your laptop. The device comes with a stylus and some software but largely relies on writing or drawing software you already have on your computer. For example, you may already use the annotation feature in your PowerPoint slideshow view to draw or write on your slides, or you may already have a drawing program like Windows Paint to make freehand drawings of charts and graphs.
The digital pen tablet gives you two advantages over trying to write or draw with a mouse or with your finger on your laptops tiny touchpad: a stylus and a large surface. One of the leaders in this field, and one whose products we have used in the CTL, is WACOM (“wah-kum”). They have several pen tablet devices that range from the small Intuous ($79) to the Cintiq 24HD (a $3,000 24″ HD touch sensitive display).
The iPad and other tablet or phone devices
You may already own a device that you can write on: an iPad, Surface or even a phone. While you usually interact with these devices with your finger it is also possible to find a stylus that will give you greater precision when trying to write on them. Some styluses can now even differentiate between what you are writing and stray marks made by resting your hand on the writing surface.
The easiest way to capture what you are writing as a screencast is to use an app designed for that purpose. My current favorite on the iPad is Explain Everything ($2.99, also available for Android and Windows), an app that lets you create slides on which you can write, draw, import pictures and videos, link to web sites, and attach files like PDFs. As you create those slides you can record the entire process as a video. If you need need to incorporate elements from your laptop you can save your Explain Everything recording and insert it into a regular screencast. You can even, depending on your device, use them in combination by displaying your mobile device’s screen on your laptop. (There are several ways to do this depending on your device.)
But what if I want to write on plain old paper and record that?
Recently a question from a faculty member led to an interesting quest. Even using a stylus, many of us have difficulty writing on a tablet device in a way that is legible. For example, we may want to make a video of drawing a graph or solving an equation. Yes, you can write or draw on your iPad. Yes, you can attach a drawing device to your laptop or write/draw on that. You can even use a stylus instead of your finger. However, learning to write on these devices is not always as comfortable (or legible!) as using the technology you grew up with: pen and paper.
So, the question? Can one use a standard classroom document camera (ELMO, etc.), write on a piece of paper or a transparency, and then capture that process as a video? The answer turns out to be yes, sort of. The doc cam needs to be a digital one, you need to find and install the drivers for it, and the drivers must be compatible with your computer and operating system. After some searching (and thanks to Classroom Technologies in the Library for the loaner of a Samsung doc com for testing!) I found some of the doc cams around campus could do this, with varying results. But the experience wasn’t always a happy one given the myriad combinations of doc cams and drivers (i.e. it flat out would not work with some combinations).
Enter the hi-tech + low-tech combo: a stand and a mobile device. There are stands that can hold your iPhone, iPad, MicroSoft Surface, Android or other mobile device over a piece of paper. You then use the device’s built-in camera to record writing on that paper. Belkin makes one (Belkin Tablet Stage Stand B2B054, $168) that can use any device as long as the camera lens can be positioned over the view hole in the corner of the stand’s holding tray. This type of stand is being used in K-12 and higher ed classrooms as a cheaper alternative to doc cams when the instructor has access to a mobile device.
The beauty of this combination is that you can use your own tablet or phone, using the software that is familiar to you. And though $168 is not inexpensive, the stand is portable and can be shared in a department.
So, UVM faculty: if you write better on paper than on a tablet, want to make a video of that writing and have an iPad or other mobile device, let us know. We can loan you the stand for a week for testing.
And if you would like to try any of the other options described in this post, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be happy to meet with you.
On May 14th, UVM’s Blackboard will be getting some new features and enhancements.
There are a number of minor cosmetic changes coming. For example, the logout button now looks like a power button, and the Needs Grading icon in the Grade Center is now yellow where once it was green. The Content (Text) Editor, the Discussion Board and Tests are also getting some updates. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.
The Content (Text) Editor has new features that include
- better pasting from Word
- easier table editing
- more control over image placement
- improved editing of the ‘behind the scenes’ HTML code
- ability to add CSS styles to your content
- an updated equation editor.
Also new is Video Everywhere. If your computer has a built-in or connected webcam, you can record video and embed it within the content you create anywhere you use the Content (Text) Editor. You can use this to create video instructions for a blog assignment, give feedback by video, or provide a video introduction to a unit. Video Everywhere is powered by YouTube so you will need a Google and YouTube account. By default, the videos are semi-private: available to those who have the link but not listed or searchable by others.
How you get around Blackboard is changing with the addition of the Global Navigation Menu. Click on your name in the top right corner next to the new Logout button and get one-click access to updates across all your courses. Here you’ll see due dates, and stay up to date on the latest Discussion Board, Blog, Journal or Wiki posts from your courses. Students will be able to see their grades and progress all in one place. Instructors can quickly access another new addition to their toolbox: the Retention Center.
The Retention Center provides an easy way for you to discover which students in your course are at risk. With it, you can track which students have triggered alerts such as missed deadlines, grades, course activity, or access. As you observe their progress and send emails, you can also keep track of this correspondence and make notes about each student from within the Retention Center.
Tests are essentially the same, but have several new improvements:
- Test Availability Exceptions – This new option lets you apply different deployment criteria for students taking a test. For example, you may set the timer so that some students are required to finish a test in one hour while other students are given two hours to complete it. Other criteria that can be set include date availability, forcing completion, and the number of attempts allowed. These exceptions can be used to provide an accommodation to a disabled student, or provide accommodations for technology and language differences.
- Progressive Feedback Release – Instructors will have much more control over student access to test feedback, correct answers, and the answers they have submitted. For example, you might want to show students their own answers after they have submitted a test but wait to show them all correct answers until after all tests have been graded.
- Test Access Log – A source of frustration for students, instructors, and test proctors is the inability to confirm whether students began a test or ran into problems during a test. The access log shows a detailed list of every interaction that students engage in when taking a test. If a student claims to have started a test, the log will show the time the test was started. If a network or internet disruption occurred during the test, for example, the log would show an unusual gap in the time.
- Item Analysis – You can obtain statistics on overall test performance and on individual test questions using item analysis. You can use this information to improve questions for future tests or to adjust credit on current attempts. Ineffective or misleading questions can be identified easily, corrected in the Test Canvas, and re-graded automatically.
- Responses to fill in the blank questions no longer need to be an exact match. Instructors can allow a pattern or a partial match as a correct student response.
The Discussion Board has been redesigned to add these features:
- All posts on one thread page – All of the posts in a thread are now visible at the same time on one page.
- Role highlighting – Posts made by forum managers and moderators now contain the user’s course role and forum role in thread view.
- Inline replies – When replying to a post, the editor for writing responses appears on the same thread, in the context of the discussion.
- Post first – This allows instructors to prevent students from seeing other posts before posting to a forum.
There are more minor features and enhancements coming as well, in addition to a number of long standing bug fixes. Keep an eye on the CTL events calendar for upcoming hands-on preview sessions.
Books upstairs, books downstairs, books in the office, books from the library, books I read long ago, books I’ve winnowed out to donate to the local book sales…I’ve always wanted to catalog them. When Goodreads came along a few years ago it seemed like the perfect answer: enter a title or ISBN and it searches the web and downloads the data. But even that seemed too cumbersome. The introduction of the Goodreads app for iPad helped as you can at least scan an ISBN UPC code, but creating new entries any other way requires use of the website version. The data it collects, or allows me to add manually after the fact, is not quite the type of data I wanted to be recording. (Do I really care if the tech manual I’m reading is written in 1st, 2nd or 3rd person perspective–probably not.)
Enter Book Crawler. It’s an iPad/iPod/iPhone app that may finally make the project of cataloging the library practical. It has a built-in scanner (using the iPad’s camera) but also offers several ways to enter data if the ISBN barcode is not available. You can type in a title, author, ISBN, LCCN or OCLC code and it will search Google Books and Worldcat to find the rest of the data. You can even add an author’s name and see a list of all their works, then select the ones you choose. It has a good range of data fields including one for whether or not you currently own the book, as well as several customizable fields. For example, I added a ‘location’ field to record whether the book was shelved at home, at work, or from one of several libraries.
You can put your book in Collections that you create, then sort your library based on those Collections. You can also create and associate Tags.
It is Goodreads ‘aware’ so once a book is added you can see any Goodreads reviews of the book, transfer your library to Goodreads and the reverse, and share your activity if you choose. If you care to share your activity with Facebook and Twitter there are options for that as well. You can backup your library to Dropbox, send it as an email attachment, or import and export the library as a .csv file.
And how practical is it to create a library? It took 8 minutes to take the books off the shelf, scan them , and put them back. It took an additional 5 minutes to type in OCLC codes or manually enter the 6 older books that did not have ISBN bar codes to scan, then to select the ‘at work’ location field for all 54 books. Maybe this weekend will be the true test–cataloging the home library!
A bit more about Goodreads: Goodreads was designed as a social media system with the main intent being sharing with others your reactions about what you are reading. You can write reviews and read others’ reviews, see what your friends who use Goodreads are reading, even see what’s being reported as read in your local community. The data that you add about each book tends towards things like tone, genre, pace, subjects, writing style, etc. Unlike Book Crawler, there is an Android version. Also, storage of your library is on Goodread’s own site which means if you are offline it will show you a list of your books but no details. Book Crawler does not need to be online to access your library or add books manually. It requires a Dropbox site if you want to make backups, although you can send your entire library as an email attachment. Neither Goodreads nor Book Crawler can automatically collect cataloging information from your Kindle, iBooks, or other ereader libraries, though Goodreads will give you access to a selection of free ebooks that you can download and store in its “My eBooks” area.
We love Google books but, for research, often find its limitations frustrating. We love the many and varied digital collections that abound throughout the web but wish they could be used in a more seamlessly interconnected way. The vision of a national online library is as old (older?) than the web itself and in the last two years working towards that vision has been the goal of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), a group of people from libraries both public and academic, technology companies, government agencies, publishers and funding institutions.
Launching this week* the DPLA (http://dp.la) , according to well-known digital historian and current director Dan Cohen, plans to connect “the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums so that the public can access all of those collections in one place; providing a platform, with an API [application programming interface] for others to build creative and transformative applications upon; and advocating strongly for a public option for reading and research in the twenty-first century. The DPLA will in no way replace the thousands of public libraries that are at the heart of so many communities across this country, but instead will extend their commitment to the public sphere, and provide them with an extraordinary digital attic and the technical infrastructure and services to deliver local cultural heritage materials everywhere in the nation and the world.”
The DPLA is built on a growing number of service and content hubs, institutions that already have large collections of digitized materials. It seeks to go beyond becoming yet another digital repository however, by offering services to increase the size and uses of the collections. For example, it will provide transparent access to its code and metadata so that developers can create additional capabilities. Its hubs may also offer services to local heritage organizations to help them digitize and curate their collections. [See also Palfrey, John “What is the DPLA?“]
Given the experience and track record of its leaders, this project promises to be the kind of digital library we have been waiting for. Read more about the DPLA and it’s vision for the development of this ambitious and amazing resource at http://dp.la
*The public beta launch was scheduled for April 18, 2013 at the Boston Public Library. Given the tragic events in the area adjacent to the library, the launch has been postponed. Check the website for news of rescheduling.
You put a lot of work into your Blackboard course space. As we move through each semester there are tasks you can do to protect that work. This checklist can help you wrap up the closing semester and make the transition to a new semester run more smoothly.
Links throughout this post take you to specific “How To” pages at the CTL’s Blackboard Help site at: http://www.uvm.edu/ctl
At the end of the semester
- Try Color Coding in your Grade Center to easily see students at risk.
- Download the final Backup of your Grade Center to store for your records.
- Create, download, and store an Archive of your course. An Archive is a compressed file that contains all the information you have built in your course as well as your student grades. It can be used to build a new course and it should be saved as your backup of your grade center and your course materials.
Before the new semester starts
- Log in to Blackboard, explore the new appearance (upgrade happening on Dec 19th), and check that your course appears with the correct instructors associated with it. Instructors are added to Blackboard through the Banner system, by departmental staff.
- Add TAs as soon as possible.
- Gather your course materials, plan how you will organize them in your course space, create Tests or Surveys, and plan which tools you will use for assignments and course activities. Plan early if you intend to create and incorporate videos.
- If you are reusing course material from a previous course, Archive the material from the old course, then Import it to the new course. Another way is with Course Copy command.
- Begin planning your Grade Center. Visit the CTL Dr Is In so our staff can consult with you on strategies for using this tool most effectively and efficiently, especially if you are teaching large enrollment courses. See Dr Is In schedule here.
- Post your Syllabus.
- Make the course Available to students when you are ready for them to access it.
During the semester
- Create and download an Archive of your course frequently throughout the semester. These will be your backup copies in case you need to restore any deleted material to your course.
- Download and store a Backup of your Grade Center both before and after adding grades.
- Use Color Coding in your Grade Center to easily see students at risk.
MOOCs are courses that are:
- Massive: designed for large-scale participation by dozens or even thousands of
- Open: freely available with free access to all course materials.
- Online: available through any web browser on any mobile device or computer.
As the MOOC model has gained acceptance it continues to be redefined and changed to suit the needs of learners, teachers, and institutions.
Currently, MOOCs combine the practice of online education with the ideals of open education and open courseware initiatives. They have gathered increasing attention in the past year as the model has been adopted by such well-known universities as MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and Berkeley . They have even been blamed for the recent controversy surrounding the departure and subsequent return of the President of the University of Virginia. 
Where did MOOCs Come From?
The advent of the web provided new opportunities for proponents of distance education. In addition to the ability to provide course materials and communication opportunities online, the web has allowed for experimentation with new pedagogical approaches. In 1999 the University of Tübingen in Germany made videos of its lectures freely available online. MIT followed suit in 2002 with its publication of course materials through its OpenCourseware initiative . Alongside these initiatives, discussions about Personal Learning Environments, or the more colorfully named Edupunk, combined a reaction against the commercialization of learning with a focus on individually crafting one’s own learning and curriculum. 
Giving away course materials for self-learners was one thing. Giving away access to actual taught courses was another, yet that is exactly what David Wiley of Utah State University did in 2007 when he opened his graduate course on, appropriately enough, open education, to anyone who wished to participate. The term MOOC itself, however, came as a result of a course taught by longtime open education advocates George Siemens , of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University and Stephen Downes , Senior Researcher at The National Research Council (Canada). The course was titled “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” and was offered both to the students at the University of Manitoba who took it for credit and to the over 2,000 students who participated for free. The course content and discussion were made available through a variety of tools such as blogs, threaded discussions using Moodle, virtual encounters in Second Life, and synchronous online meetings. As a result of that course, and with a nod to an older interactive and collaborative technology, the MOO, Dave Cormier, Manager of Web Communication and Innovations at the University of Prince Edward Island, coined the term MOOC in 2008 and created the video that defined it.
Cormier, Downes, and Siemans have continued their experiments with MOOCs, offering a number of courses. In 2011 they brought together over 30 facilitators to offer a 35 week MOOC focused on innovations and directions in online education.  As of the writing of this post they are offering a MOOC titled Current/Future State of Higher Education (#CFHE12) to explore the impact of the MOOC model. 
Who is teaching them? Where are they taught?
There are multiple online courses calling themselves MOOCs. These are currently taking one of two forms, recently labelled by Downes as cMOOCs and xMOOCs. The original MOOC concept envisioned that an instructor would provide information and encourage participants to share their knowledge and experience, connecting with each other in groups and sub-groups based on their particular interests and expertise. They would take the opportunity to peer instruct and even expand upon areas where the instructor may not have extensive knowledge. In other words, much if not most of the learning experience is derived through meaningful interaction with others in the course. This connectivist approach, or cMOOC, makes use of many of the social networking tools now available: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, discussion boards, etc.
xMOOCs, or those served by new start-ups such as EdX, Coursera, Udacity and Udemy  are an effort to formalize the MOOC model. Their service provides the managerial functions necessary for institutions offering MOOCs: account administration, server infrastructure, marketing, etc.
What are the potential benefits of the MOOC model?
- can encourage communication among participants who bring a variety of viewpoints, knowledge, and skills to the course. This serves to create communities of interest along with broadening the scope of the MOOC.
- could inspire people to “try on” subjects that they wouldn’t otherwise pursue or even try on education itself.
- can provide multiple ways to engage with course material, encouraging multimodal learning that can address the needs of learners with a variety of learning styles (i.e. Universal Design for Learning or UDL).
- by developing for multimodal learners, could inspire better teaching and use of technologies in general for face to face courses.
Yet MOOCs are viewed with trepidation and skepticism by some who see them as reinforcing the worst aspects of teaching. Those that are designed to simply provide droning lectures followed by auto-graded multiple choice tests are, in the words of Said Vaidhyanathan “taking the worst aspects of college learning as the favored methods of college learning.”
And then there are the financial questions. While MOOCs have been and might continue to be used for marketing purposes or to claim cultural capital for those institutions that are the early adopters, there is no doubt they can be expensive to run. They are not yet direct revenue generators. Among many educators that lack of commercial viability is seen as a positive trait, especially for public institutions that, ideally, promote the extension of knowledge as a core value. Those who see commercialism as corrupter are understandably leery of institutions that view MOOCs solely in terms of revenue generation through commercial transactions with students.
Administering several large MOOCs simultaneously has infrastructure implications. Alternatively, outsourcing MOOC administration to any of the several MOOC providers that have sprung up must take into account FERPA policies and the privacy of students.
Among the many questions revolving around the formalization of MOOCs are how faculty will be compensated for teaching them and how universities will credential students taking them. Currently, xMOOCs generally make a point of offering some form of assessment but we are a long way for any kind of standardization that would allow for MOOC credit to travel easily from institution to institution. Then again, “long” is a relative term. When speaking of the evolution of MOOCs that day may come much sooner than expected. Indeed, in the past few weeks the University of Texas has negotiated with Coursera to offer courses that may carry college credit. Meanwhile the State of Minnesota Office of Higher Education has declared that Coursera cannot offer any courses to citizens of Minnesota without that government’s consent, an odd proposition given that the courses are free and offer no credit. 
How can you learn more about them?
A quick look through the notes below, or a search through The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wikipedia, or even generally via Google or YouTube will net you more than a little information on MOOCs. A more experiential way to learn about MOOCs is to take one. Visit the xMOOC providers or follow Siemans’ or Downes’ offerings.
1. The Chronicle of Higher Education has compiled a timeline of their articles related to MOOCs at “What You Need to Know About MOOCs.”
2. In the May 2012 article “Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses” the New York Times reported that several other universities had jumped on the MOOC bandwagon.
3. While the ouster of President Sullivan was more complex than a simple argument over the adoption of MOOCs, it is interesting to note that almost immediately upon her return to that Office the university signed a deal with Coursera to begin developing MOOCs.
4. Since that time the MIT OpenCourseWare site has continued to be enlarged, reporting 100 million visits by 2010.
5. Educators also see a role for EduPunk and Open Education practices as a counter to the more restrictive and, some would argue, limiting environment of Learning Management Systems like Blackboard, Moodle, etc.
6. This video continues to be the definition of MOOCs as originally conceived, though the term itself is applied to two diverging definitions. In an all too common instance of web irony, and as an example of how quickly the MOOC concept is evolving, this video has been accused of being “inaccurate” by a commenter who apparently did not know Cormier’s role in creating the term.
7. While more formal talks by both George Siemens and David Cormier have been recorded, for a more casual discussion about MOOCs by these founders, see the interview with Martin Weller of the UK’s Open University at http://youtu.be/l1G4SUblnbo.
8. Stephen Downes has been writing and speaking about issues in education for many years. For example, in this 2009 video he describes Open Education. You can also see his brief introduction to the 2011 “Change 2011 MOOC” which provides his take on how that MOOC will work.
11. In an interview with Downes for her July 2012 article (“Massively Open Online Courses Are ‘Here to Stay’“), Tanya Roscorla picked up on his use of the terms xMOOC and cMOOC, so they have now entered the MOOC lexicon. See also the report by Sir John Daniels “Making Sense of MOOCs.”
12. EdX is a joint venture created by MIT and Harvard. Coursera was founded by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng of Stanford. Three roboticists, Sebastian Thrun, Mike Sokolsky and David Stavens founded Udacity. Udemy was founded by Gagan Biyani, Eren Bali and Oktay Caglar.
14. As reported in the Washington Post on October 19, 2012 (“Is Minnesota Cracking Down on MOOCs?”). For a recent recap of other general issues surrounding MOOCs, see Katherine Mangan’s “MOOC Mania” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 1, 2012. In addition, feel free to visit my growing collection of MOOC references at http://delicious.com/hopegreenberg/mooc+MOOC?link_view=expanded
iPads are continuing on pace in terms of the adoption curve. Though technology adoption is not as simple as first adopters/second adopters/third and so on, there are some definite patterns that seem to recur with depressing regularity.
Glossing over complexities, it seems that first adopters try a new technology because it’s new and by doing so gain experience in the possibilities. Second adopters try it because they think they should, but are disappointed when it doesn’t do things in exactly the same way that they are used to or doesn’t exactly replace a tool that they use regularly. (One might argue that that lack of exact duplication is the point of a new technology.) That group either drops it, decries it, or decides to wait and see where it will go.
In the next phase, the technology picks up a few new adopters who combine with the first adopters to create new uses, or even new paradigms of use, that end up controlling the direction of a particular technology. Third adopters take whatever the outcome is and run with it. The second adopters, who could have had lots of interesting ideas, often kick themselves for not having any input.
Shades of some of this are evident in two posts from today’s Higher Education Chronicle, one by Robert Talbert describing some of the currently perceived limitations of using iPads in education (“My three weeks with an iPad“). The second is by Nick DeSantis on the LectureTools app, originally developed by Perry Samson (“Professor’s Classroom iPad App Debuts at Consumer Electronics Show“). Favorite sentence in the latter article? “The goal, Mr. Samson said, is to occupy the devices students typically use to drift away from the learning environment.” Precisely!
Meanwhile, the rumor mills are buzzing about Apple’s January 19 event on publishing and eBooks, apparently targeting the publishing industry. Speculation includes an iPublishing app or channel, a TextBook app, undercutting Amazon and Barnes & Noble with some new iBook format that synchronizes across devices, an iBook lending library, updates to Pages for even easier eBook publishing, or something more specific like a deal to supply iPads and eTextbooks to a particular university or NYC school district? We’ll find out soon enough. Watch your Apple news outlet or post your favorite Apple event feed to “Ripe for Destruction” so we can all tune in.
We’ll be connecting to this webinar in Bailey/Howe 303 Friday at 4:00, so come by if you would like to participate:
Digital Scholarship and Liberal Arts Colleges
Digital technologies and the Internet have changed the context for inquiry and pedagogy, forcing the production and exchange of knowledge into an increasingly public, global, collaborative, and networked space, and increasing capacity to tackle complex questions across disciplines. In 2010 Hamilton College, Occidental College, Wheaton College, and Willamette University partnered with NITLE to create the “Digital Scholarship Seminars” to explore the implications of those changes on scholarship and teaching at small liberal liberal arts colleges. This series uses interactive discussions to showcase digital scholarship projects and other undertakings across or open to liberal arts colleges. A year later, the seminar program committee will lead an open discussion on the state of digital scholarship at their institutions and at liberal arts colleges in general, as well as sharing their practical experiences is pursuing and supporting digital scholarship projects.
Discussion leaders will be Janet Simons, Associate Director of Instructional Technology, Co-Director, Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi), Hamilton College; Daniel Chamberlain, Director, Center for Digital Learning and Research, Occidental College; Timothy Burke, Professor of History, Swarthmore College; Robert Nelson, Director, Digital Scholarship Lab, University of Richmond; and Michael Spalti, Head of Library Systems Division, Willamette University.
Questions to be addressed include:
- What do digital scholarship and the digital humanities mean for small liberal arts colleges?
- What opportunities and challenges are there for digital scholarship for liberal arts colleges?
- How does digital scholarship connect to the undergraduate curriculum?
- How can institutions facilitate collaboration between faculty, technologists and librarians?
- What are strategies to cope with limited resources on liberal arts campuses?
- How can you get started in digital scholarship?
More information about NITLE is available at: http://www.nitle.org
“Which ebook app should I buy for my iPad?”
I was recently asked to recommend an ebook reader app for a new iPad owner. At first this seems like a difficult choice: are the features of the iPad’s own iBooks that much better than those of the Kindle or Nook apps? Are there less well-known apps that have features not available in the others? I decided there was only one sensible choice: get them all!
Though ebooks have been available for four decades, and dedicated ereader devices for at least half that time, this new form of books and readers continues to evolve. A 2002 article in The Guardian traced the history of ebooks from the development from Michael Hart’s “Project Gutenberg” begun in 1971 through various developments in both books and reading devices, concluding with a quote from Time-Warner that “the market for ebooks has simply not developed the way we hoped.”
So much for prescience. Ten years later we have a cornocopia of ebooks, ereaders, reading apps, and publishers vying to create “the next big thing.”
Meanwhile, here are the apps I have on my iPad now. You can find them all in the iPad Apps store. No doubt there will be more to come:
With the iPad’s built-in ebook reader, iBooks, you can purchase and read books direct from Apple, or upload your own ebooks and pdf files. PDF files can be resized as you are reading, to zoom into or out of specific areas on the page. This reader provides 8 font sizes, 7 different font types, a sepia or white background, brightness adjustment, search function and a built-in dictionary. As with other apps, tapping on the edge of any page will turn the page forward or backward, while tapping in the middle of the screen brings up menus and options. Like the Kindle, you can highlight and add notes but iBook goes one better: you can also select and copy text to paste into other apps like Pages. You can even email all your notes to yourself or others.
Buying books is as easy as tapping the Store button, then selecting from free or pay books. The free collection is sizeable, including the usual classics as well as a selection of more recent works. iBooks is updated frequently, so more features will no doubt be added. The FAQ/support page is particularly useful.
I had a Kindle device before the iPad so I had already purchased many books in this format. I still do because of the selection and because I can sync all my Kindle books across the Kindle, the iPad, and my laptop to read them on any of those devices. It will keep track of where I am in the book so that when I move from one device to another I can pick it up wherever I left off. The Kindle app lets you choose from among 6 font sizes, 3 background colors (white, black, sepia) and one- or two-column format. As with the Kindle device, you will see your location in the book by percentage and by page number. However, this page numbering is dependent on the size font you are using, i.e. if you change to a larger or smaller font, the total page numbers, thus your current page number, will change. You can search, look up words in the built-in dictionary, add bookmarks, add notes, highlight and even see the most popular highlights created by others. Your notes and highlights remain in the book, i.e. you cannot copy and paste them elsewhere. Details on these and other features can be found on the Kindle app page.
Like the others, Nook has a choice of font sizes (5), font type (5), and colors (5 themes). The themes include “Earl Grey” that closely approximates the eInk reading experience you would get on a dedicated device. In addition, it allows you to set the line spacing (keep the font size the same but add more space between lines), the margin size (4 choices), and even has a Full Justification switch so you can read with a ragged or straight right margin. The built-in dictionary is similar to iBooks’ and Kindle’s while the bookmarks and highlights are, like the Kindle, limited to use in the Nook app itself. So, while the reading experience is good on the Nook app, the lack of a copy feature and its inability to import your own content–ebooks or pdfs, is definitely a limitation.
The Kobo device, most recently the Kobo eReader Touch, is one of the big four, Kindle, Nook and the SONY Reader being the other three. Kobo app has features similar to the other readers (4 fonts, brightness, sepia background), more free books, pay books, and the ability to connect to the Instapaper service which allows you to capture and save web pages for later reading. You can highlight and annotate, and send those annotations by email or to Facebook. In fact, here is where Kobo is staking its claim: It has a friends feature that lets you share information about your library and reading with your Facebook friends or Twitter followers (not share the actual books–just share the list of what you are reading, along with the ability to send notes from inside Kobo or share a passage). It can also keep stats on your total time reading, average hours per book, minutes per book page or magazine page, etc. Kobo, the device, along with Nook, are configured to allow for borrowing books from public libraries. The app does not yet have that feature but I expect it will at some point. (For now, if you want to borrow ebooks from your local libary, check out Overdrive, described below.) Like the Kindle and Nook your books are stored in Kobo’s cloud, so you have access to all your books from multiple devices. Kobo also adds one handy feature that the others don’t yet have: multi-touch gestures. Two finger swiping from side to side will jump you to the next chapter; two finger up and down will take you to the beginning or end of the current chapter.
Before the ereader device idea was, dare I say it, rekindled, Stanza existed as a PC or Mac application to read and create ebooks in multiple formats. It is designed to make it easy to share books across the iPad, iPhone, or iPod devices. The iPad app takes advantage of Stanza’s established history by making it easy to tap into several book sources, both free and pay. For example, it will connect directly to Project Gutenberg books (33,000 books and counting–all free), as well as Feedbooks (more free books, newspapers and original content), Munseys (pulp fiction), Harlequin, Fictionwise, Books On Board, BookGlutton, Smashwords, and even sheet music from Mutopia.
Stanza is strongest in the area of reading a variety of legacy ebook or digital formats like Mobipocket, PalmDoc (DOC), along with HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word and Rich Text Format (RTF). It also has connectivity to Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps the most interesting feature is its ability, in conjunction with the ebook editing and management software Calibre, to access ebooks you store in DropBox.
Yes, you can access thousands of free books at the Google Books site through a web browser, but the dedicated app gives you a more “ereaderly” experience. 2 colors, 7 fonts, multiple font sizes and 3 line height choices put it on par with thge other apps. The Google bookstore includes pay and free books, though you have to dig a bit for the free ones. You can choose Flowing Text for books whose font size you can adjust, or Scanned Pages to zoom in and out of pdf file’s pages. Biggest drawback: the books are stored at Google and downloaded on the fly, so if you are not online you will not have access to them.
Another old timer. Also has a large collection of free books, the usual easy navigation, table of contents, bookmarks, etc.
This reader reads books and pdfs but is especially designed to read comics or books with right to left paging direction. If you download the neu.notes application it can also act as a pdf markup app. It does a beautiful job of rendering asian languages.
Borrowing Books from Your Local Library
Library’s have been loaning ebooks to computer users for some time now. OverDrive, a company that has been managing these types of services since 2002, now has an iPad app, Overdrive Media Console. With the app you can connect to your local library or library consortium (for example, in Vermont you add your local library to the app but once you log in it actually connects to the Green Mountain Library Consortium).
You will need the app, an Adobe.com (free) account, and your library card number. Once in, you can borrow up to 3 books at a time for 14 days (or whatever time period your library has set). At the end of that time the book will automatically go back into circulation. Like a physical library there are limited copies available–once a book is checked out it is unavailable to others–so you may have to put your name on a waiting list for popular books, but it is still a delightful approach for those books that you want to read but not necessarily own.
Although Bluefire is an app for accessing several bookstores, I’ve included it here because you can use it to read Adobe eBook library loan books. The bookstores include Books-A-Million, BooksOnBoard, Feedbooks as well as BookRepublic for ebooks in italian, and Todoebook for books in spanish. The library loan feature works through iTunes and your computer’s web browser, as described here. For some books you can use the iPads web browser to go directly to the library’s web site, borrow and download a book, then get the option to open the book directly in Bluefire (or several of your other ebook readers).
By the way, if you are a Vermonter you can go directly to the ebook library from your computer by going to http://www.listenupvermont.org. The site has information and links to the software you will need to download the ebooks direct to your PC or Mac, no iPad needed. Other states probably have similar sites–check with your local library.
The Textbook Readers
Textbook companies are eager to capitalize on the ebook craze. eBook textbooks can offer additional features over paper-based books. Features like increased numbers of high-quality illustrations, animations, audio, video, built-in study applications, social networking features, etc. They even offer a solution to the “problem” of used books as every sale of an ebook can be a new sale, generating revenue for the company. Publishers are still shaking out how they will offer ebooks. Right now they are deciding whether to offer books in a standardized format or offer an ereader specifically tailored to their books (and their books alone). Another experiment is to offer lifelong access to a textbook. Nature Publishing Group, publishers of many scientific journals, is experimenting with this model with its “Principles of Biology,” promising that the book will be updated from year to year to reflect the latest research. These developments are particularly interesting in light of the new legislation regarding accessibility of educational materials in conformance with Universal Design principles. Another feature that etextbooks can offer is a way to purchase single chapters instead of whole books, or a way to combine specific sections of a book into a customized coursepack.
At the moment I only have three textbook-specific readers installed, and only sample books to view. I have not bought any full textbooks. These include: Inkling (Apple’s iPad designed format), which features pop-up definitions, images, highlights, notes, history of what you’ve read; Kno, whose catalog contains textbooks, Kaplan self-help books and O’Reilly technical books and has some built-in social networking links that allow you to share messages with friends on Facebook or Twitter while reading, as an attempt to encourage group studying; and Bookshelf by VitalSource, though I actually have not yet experimented with this one.
Books as Apps
What do T.S. Eliot, Peter Rabbit, and Al Gore have in common? Dedicated reading devices, and now their branded reader apps, are built on the model of offering ebook editions of existing print-based books. Yet digital technologies offer an opportunity to expand our conception and definition of the book. The idea of “born digital” works is not new: Apple’s hypercard (1987), Eastgate Systems’ StorySpace (also 1987), even the web itself, offer ways to create books that include animation, hypertext, audio, video and interconnectedness. The three examples mentioned, designed not to be read in an ereader app but built as standalone apps themselves, explore some of those possibilities.
Children’s books, like the Loudcrow Interactives edition of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, reimagine a pop-up version of the book and include “read it aloud” audio features. Building on his work on global climate change, Al Gore’s Our Choice (Push Pop Press) combines photography, in depth and interactive graphics, even documentary footage all wrapped in the narrative framework. Even more recently, Touch Press, already lauded for its Periodic Table app, The Elements, has published an iPad version of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland. The edition contains digital facsimiles of the manuscripts as Eliot developed them over time, perspectives and notes, audio recordings of several readings aligned with the text (one by Eliot himself), even a video performance.
So, your next favorite iPad ereader app may not be a reader at all but an ebook itself. Do you have a favorite reader or book/app? Have you discovered an interesting feature not described in one of the apps listed above? Let us know.
- Hope Greenberg, University of Vermont