Posted on January 28, 2012 by Ollie Dreon
Last week, we discussed a new iBooks Author app which Apple unveiled at its huge education event. By giving free authoring tools to educators, Apple aims to revolutionize the textbook industry by providing homegrown competition to traditional publishing companies. With educators creating their own multimedia e-textbooks for their students, Apple hopes to drive the price of textbooks down and to channel more students to iDevices and the iBookstore.
Besides the iBooks Author app, Apple also announced a few other important initiatives at their education event. One of the announcements included the release of a dedicated iTunesU app for iPads, iPods, and iPhones. While iTunesU has been around for a while, a dedicated app makes educational content easier to find. With the app, students can search for instructional materials from around the world. They can learn about astrophysics from Harvard professors or about European history from professors at Oxford. The best part is that the content is available for free! The app even allows users to subscribe to courses so they’re notified when new material from a iTunesU course is uploaded.
I’m really impressed by iTunesU and the whole “open education” movement. While it challenges some long held beliefs of what it means to learn and teach, open education frees students and educators to independently study and teach based on their interests without worrying about their geographical location, their socioeconomic status, or their physical mobility. A middle school student in Nebraska could take a class from Yale without ever leaving their living room. A high school teacher in rural Kansas could upload educational content for the world to use. Open education is truly democratizing learning.
But this democratizing process may concern some people. I know some educators will balk at providing their course material through such an open system like iTunesU. Some will be worried about intellectual property and worry that another educator will “steal” their content to use in other courses. But that’s exactly the point. With open systems, sharing is the goal. If an individual educator shares some brilliant lecture through iTunesU, the world can access it and learn from it. Other educators can have their students watch it and discuss it in their class. The brilliant lecture now has worldwide value because of its openness. This may change how some people view and value instructional material. With time, my hope is that content will no longer be valued simply because it’s hidden behind prestigious walls that limit access. Instead, I see a world where value is determined by the number of people who can access the content openly and choose to use it. If a million people download a lecture through iTunesU, doesn’t that demonstrate it’s value? I know this a huge paradigm shift for educators and that it will create some interesting challenges (especially for promotion and tenure committees as they try to evaluate how sharing “counts”). But I prefer to look at the positives. With open education options like iTunesU, it’s a really exciting time to be a learner!
Filed under: iPads, Sharing | 2 Comments »
Posted on January 24, 2012 by Ollie Dreon
Apple dropped an educational bombshell last week by announcing a new venture into the textbook market. Besides providing separate iTunesU access for course materials (more on this next week), the announcement included the release of iBooks Author, a free app for creating eTextbooks right on your Mac laptop or desktop computer. With the iBooks Author app, textbook writers can bring multimedia right into their book to help bring the content to life. An author can pull videos, podcasts, images and other media alongside their writing, allowing students to interact with the content as they read. This type of publication is really not new. People have been using Mac’s word processing program Pages to create ePubs for years. The downside, however, is that the ePub formatting in Pages could be a little daunting. iBooks Author simplifies the process tremendously. Just drag and drop different chapters and sections and paste your content in. Want to add a video? Just drag it in. Want to link to a webpage? Piece of cake. The best part is being able to preview your efforts on your iPad as you work. Once you’re finished writing and editing your book, simply publish it to the iTunesU site where users can purchase and download your text.
While the authoring process has been streamlined, some challenges and concerns emerge. First off, I experienced a little trouble previewing my eTextbook on my iPad 2 because I hadn’t updated my iBooks version. Also, the file (only about 25 pages with a few short videos) became so large that I couldn’t easily share it with anyone else. Coming in at 125 Mb, the file locked up my email and even crashed my DropBox! The only way that I could actually preview the book was to connect my iPad to my computer with a cable. At first, I thought this was just the nature of ePub. With all of the multimedia included in eBooks, the files were bound to get large. But as I’ve thought about this some more, I wonder whether this challenge is by design. The real motivation is to get authors to share their eBooks (or iBooks) through Apple’s iBookstore. I’m certain sharing the file through their system would be much easier.
But that’s where my other concerns emerge. I’ve been reading a lot about the iBooks Author’s End Users Licensing Agreement (EULA). The EULA governs what authors can and can’t do with the content they’ve written with the iBooks Author app and what they’ve uploaded to the iBookstore. Some authors are concerned that the EULA is overly restrictive, forbidding them from selling their iBook publications through any other service. Others are interpreting the EULA as restricting any content that is authored using the iBooks Author app, whether it is uploaded onto the iBookstore or not. This is pretty far reaching stuff. Imagine if Microsoft claimed some ownership documents produced with Word or presentation created with PowerPoint! That’s how some people are interpreting the EULA for the iBooks Author app. Personally, I’m holding off publishing my book to the iBookstore until more clarity emerges regarding the EULA.
To read a more comprehensive overview of the EULA concerns, check out:
Apple’s iBook Author EULA is more and less evil than you think
The Unprecedented Audacity of the iBooks Author EULA
Filed under: iPads, Sharing | 4 Comments »
Posted on January 17, 2012 by Ollie Dreon
Educause recently published a comprehensive examination of technology ownership by collegiate students. In the study of 3,000 students in 1,179 American institutions, Educause reported that almost 87% of undergraduate students owned laptops. They also reported that 55% of students owned web-enabled “smartphones” that allowed connection to the Internet. As a professor who teaches instructional technology courses and studies student use of technology, I see these statistics as a blessing and as a curse. While these devices can provide tremendous opportunities for educators and their students, they also can create distractions in classrooms and have the ability to undermine assessment integrity. Faced with these concerns, I understand when my colleagues ban the devices from their classrooms and teach in technology-free zones. But also I hope (and work) for better. One of the reasons I started this blog over two years ago was to help educators develop skills to utilize technology in meaningful ways in their classes. In this blog, I try to highlight instructional strategies that are pedagogically sound and incorporate technology to engage students and foster new means of collaboration and learning. While I feature a lot of different websites and tools on this blog, my focus is always on education and learning. I came across this quote by Diana Laurillard recently that captures my philosophy of technology integration and the motivation behind my work:
“We have to be careful not to focus simply on what the technology offers, but rather on what the pedagogy requires.”
While I agree completely with Ms. Laurillard, before educators can effectively integrate technology, they need to have a grasp of what technology can offer and how it can support any pedagogical requirements. This involves educators having more than a passing knowledge of the digital terrain. They need to know how technology can support collaboration and communication and how it can help to form learning communities. I don’t take a “technology first” approach when planning lessons for my students. I don’t squeeze blogging artificially into some lesson just to have my students blog. This is like having a hammer and treating every lesson like a nail. I start with my instructional objectives and choose instructional strategies based on these objectives. At times, this might mean utilizing no technology at all for a lesson. Other times, it might involve developing a fully online lesson where students communicate via a chat room. The important component, however, is that we as educators need to a have a variety of pedagogical strategies to draw upon when we plan and teach lessons. We wouldn’t want to artificially squeeze blogging into a lesson any more than we would want to lecture to students every day. We absolutely need to focus on what the pedagogy requires. But we also need to have a strong understanding of what technology can offer in order to make informed pedagogical decisions.
Filed under: Assessment, Student engagement | 2 Comments »
Posted on January 10, 2012 by Ollie Dreon
It seems that almost everything is going social these days. Want to watch an online video with friends? You can do it through Facebook or in a Google Hangout. Want to work on a presentation or a document with some colleagues? Check out Google Docs. But what if you want to read a book with someone else? Traditionally to add a social element to the reading experience, we’d loan the book to a friend or join a book club. With the increasing prevalence of connected reading devices like the Kindle, the iPad and the Nook, it was only a matter of time before someone brought a social networking aspect to the books we read. That’s where a free iPad app called Subtext comes in!
Subtext offers all of the functionality of other eReader apps but adds a unique social element that other apps lack. With Subtext, you can download eBooks from the Google eBookstore and engage in conversations with your friends. The app also allows readers to connect directly with authors from around the world and explore links to relevant articles, images and multimedia on the Internet. Subtext creates an online reading community where users can browse and preview books from their friends’ bookshelves. It creates a platform where “social reading” becomes a reality in the eBook world.
Used with students, Subtext can help educators create an online book club for their classroom where students discuss the content they’re reading with one another. This type of online interaction can help students construct meaning with the content they’re reading. Using an app like Subtext can help take the reader out of the book and encourage them to make connections, draw conclusions and summarize their thoughts by engaging in conversations with their peers. The online world has become a social place. With Subtext, reading eBooks has gone social as well.
Filed under: iPads | 1 Comment »
Posted on January 3, 2012 by Ollie Dreon
When I was twelve years old, my family purchased its first computer, a TRS-80. My father was sort of a computer guy and first learned to program using punch cards on a mainframe at a local university. He wanted his sons to learn to program as well and presented us with the TRS-80 for Christmas. My brothers and I learned to program in BASIC and we stored these very simple programs on cassettes after hours and hours of “coding.” We would anxiously run the program, hopeful that no error messages would disrupt the process.
I share these nerdy holiday memories to demonstrate how far we’ve come as a society. Thirty years ago, the TRS-80 was a relative novelty. Now, almost every teenager walks around with a device that is far more powerful than that computer. The Pew Internet Research Center reports that 75% of teenagers (ages 12-17) own cell phones. While educators often complain about these devices being huge distractions in classrooms, I think we miss the power that these devices hold. Although I doubt anyone is learning to program in BASIC on their cell phone, mobile devices can be tremendous tools, especially in classroom settings. Sites like PollEverywhere allow educators to easily create free cell phone polls to engage their students and assess their understanding. The downside of Polleverywhere, however, is that it only allows one-way communication. While its great that students can respond to a poll with a text message, the site isn’t really designed to promote teacher-student or student-student interaction.
That’s where Celly comes in. While Celly allows for student polling, it also offers so much more. With Celly, an educator can create a “cell” to promote communication and interaction across a group of students. The cell can be tailored in a variety of ways, allowing teachers to customize how they interact with their students. A teacher can create a cell to send out text announcements to students or create a cell that allows students to interact with one another. For those of you who may be concerned about privacy, Celly blocks the phone numbers from text messages so you don’t need to be worried about being texted by students in the middle of the night.
The important thing to remember is that cell phones can be powerful communication devices when used properly. While we don’t want to promote texting while driving or personal texting during class time, we can’t forget that cell phones are mini-computers with tremendous computing power. Celly can help us expand how we communicate and interact with our students and, best of all, it’s free! For help getting started, check out this Celly guide and this short tutorial.
Filed under: Communication, Student engagement | Tagged: free cell phone, internet research center | 2 Comments »