Category Archives: (e-)Books

The Digital Classroom?

In reference to: http://www.teleread.com/paul-biba/why-jaron-lanier-is-wrong-about-the-digital-classroom/

Yes, Lanier doesn’t understand technology. A program that forces you to create and learn in a certain way is a problem, but the best educational applications are ones that allow you to freely create and share the content. Take the Wikimedia Foundation as one example of such a great application.

Bernius, on the other hand, misses the point. Lanier is not really writing about the “geeks of Silicon Valley.” Sure, he thinks he is, but all of the problems Lanier discusses are perfectly relevant. They’re simply misaimed. The policy makers and educators are the hands that wield the technology. Why is technology both ineffective and subduing? Most people think technology is just a trigger to press. Aim at the problem and shoot away with your easy solution.

When I was in high school, technology was so obviously ineffective that it was seldom used. Computers were still just for word processing. Today, technology has progressed to a point where the educator thinks it’s classroom-worthy. It’s also a political and capital problem in that the education policy-maker wants to be seen pushing technology and the companies involved want to be first in line. Today’s super-availability of media (however it’s obtained) is one of the only exceptions at how technology is put to good use in the classroom.

I see two problems. Firstly, technology — e-books, computers, the internet, tablet-PCs, etc. — still isn’t at a point where I’d consider it useful in the classroom. Specifically, e-books provide significantly less than your typical hardcover textbook. They’re difficult to use, highlighting and margin-writing are less useful, and they have all the same drawbacks that printed textbooks have (namely, inaccuracies and a narrow point of view). Secondly, technology needs to be seen as a tool, not a solution. The classroom picture in Lanier’s article shows two giant screens and no chalkboards or whiteboards. This clearly shows technology being used as a solution, not a tool. The smart classroom has many ways to put a point across. (To be fair, Lanier’s classroom looks like a VTC class, not typically in a standard school).

How are these problems solved? Move away from stand-alone textbooks entirely (electronic or printed). It’s not bad to have a reference book, but most classes I’ve had (most recently at the college graduate level) still rely on the textbook as a major source. I really see the textbook transforming, rather than being eliminated. There’s no reason a book can’t be a living, network-centric document (much like Wikipedia is). E-readers and tablets are the tools that can unlock such a resource. Teachers and textbook-writers can contribute, and rapid feedback and updates are a feature. Outside of the classroom, students and teachers in many different schools can discuss the content. Perhaps this could even solve the problem of grade-school textbook quality, an issue that has been around for many years.

To Lanier: this is what technology does, it’s what programmers, scientists, and engineers do: help people to communicate and do work more efficiently. I can’t disagree that this changes us, changes the classroom. I’d like to think that it’s for the better. I find it hard to believe that, as a computer scientist, you feel this way about computer scientists. Perhaps it’s because I’m an engineer, but I think you’ve simply forgotten the difference between a model and reality.

To Bernius: I agree, but lighten up.

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iPad Killer

It’s coming…

How will the Kindle become more multipurpose?

From: http://ireaderreview.com/2010/02/04/kindle-incrementally-improving-reading-service/

The standard argument is that devices that have ‘good enough’  reading will kill devices that ‘do nothing except reading’.

1. The mistake here is that people who don’t really read are trying to predict what people who read a lot will do.
2. To compound matters they are making predictions without enough experience with the Kindle.

Here are a few examples of what the ‘good enough’ argument sounds like to people who love to read and have actually bought and used an eReader –

1. Eye Lenses are going to be replaced with multi-purpose lenses that also function as computer screens and television screens. They won’t give you 20/20 vision any more – However, they’ll be good enough.
2. Cars will double up as treadmills. Their top speed will only be 50 mph – However, you can both exercise and drive at the same time.
3. Windows are going to be replaced by Multi-function walls that switch between being windows, blinds, and walls. They only let in half as much light – However, that’s okay because you can use them as a wall.

If those examples seem far-fetched it’s probably because you’re not the target audience for eReaders.

I think the examples regarding multipurpose devices are apt. Get the camera off my cell-phone and get the digital planners off my Kindle!

Personally, I do see the Kindle becoming more feature rich in the future. The signs are their with Amazon’s recent acquisition of a touch screen technology. Personally, I’d rather see the Kindle be more intuitive to use and include multipurpose use that keeps it a single-purpose device. Is that an oxymoron? I don’t think so. Here are some examples:

  • Writing, word processing, note-taking
  • Basic web, download of web pages for reading
  • Support for blogs, blogging
  • Support for book discussion, analysis (user-added content)

The Kindle App store may flesh some of these out, but I’d only love to see touch-screen soft-keyboards, handwriting, etc. if it does not come at the cost of readability and device longevity.

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On Publishers & Publishing… (what I think is wrong with e-books)

Here’s a quote from an e-book board I’m on:
I have been thinking a lot about the “perceived” value.  I go dancing and take dance classes a couple of times a week.  The total cost is about $11 per class, or $11 per hour.  How often do I buy a $9.99 e-book that takes me only one hour to read?  I still go dancing for social interaction and I still go to the gym for exercise, but if you count cost per hour spent doing the activity, I get more “value” out of my books on my Kindle.

The difference is significant. A dance class requires personal time with a teacher. This time is limited. If that teacher put out a book or DVD, the price might be the same, but again the popularity of the content plays a factor (if it’s sold to the same 20 people that take the class, the cost should really be much higher). This teacher’s book or video can be compared with a professor’s textbook (which often cost over $100).

It would be better to compare a widely available book to a mainstream movie. DVDs typically cost about $20 for two people to see in the theater or about $15-20 new on DVD. The cost of production for most movies is in the millions of dollars, but the number of consumers is very high. A book like The Lost Symbol was widely marketed and purchased. (I bought the hardcover, pre-kindle, and regretted it). I can only assume that the costs for such a popular book is similar to that of a less popular new-release hardcover (the only additional costs coming from extra advertising and probably vendor discounts).

Summing up… a hit movie costs in the order of millions and sells at about $15 per copy, a hit book costs in the order of ten-thousands and sells at about $15 per copy (in stores)… The amount of entertainment purchased is approximately equivalent.

Before I get slammed… I realize it’s not quite so cut and dry… The following (and more) have been left out (above):
1) Flops. The publishers have a higher flop:hit ratio than movies do (though movies flop a lot harder).
2) Niche. Publishers have many more niche markets than movies do… both have their own means of handling special markets.

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Here’s what I think the publishers are doing WRONG…
They’re still taking on hit-or-miss books (their biggest cost)! A new medium is available that promises very low costs. What prevents a publishing house from first e-releasing a book with tentative potential or mixed reviews? The known hits can be printed en masse… the unknowns can graduate from electronic formats. This seems to be how the indie market is working now, but if publishing houses would tap books and use the Kindle/Nook/iPäd as their proving ground….. the contracting could still be favorable for both parties (author & publisher). My suggestion fundamentally changes the publisher’s modus operandi, but I think it’s about time for that.