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posted Feb 3, 2010, 9:19 AM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Feb 3, 2010, 9:22 AM ]

Unfortunately, Google Sites does not allow readers to comment anonymously on posts, so I have moved my blog over to a new site,

The Race is on for E-textbooks

posted Feb 3, 2010, 4:46 AM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Feb 3, 2010, 4:55 AM ]

The Wall Street Journal today: "Textbook Firms Ink E-Deals For iPad". Publishers are gearing up for the change. But not a Berkeley student's comment on the article: "I want to write all over my textbook." The Ipad has no stylus, whereas standard tablets offered by HP, Toshiba etc. do. Very exciting to watch MacMillan and Amazon break ties one day, and make an agreement the next. ("Amazon Pulls Macmillan Books Over E-Book Price Disagreement" NYT Friday and "Publisher Wins Fight With Amazon Over E-Books" NYT on Sunday!) By the end of this sabbatical, the market will be completely different. We may see the first big deployments in the Fall.

A Bookless Spanish Class

posted Feb 2, 2010, 1:20 PM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Feb 2, 2010, 1:59 PM ]

Visited Lauren's Spanish 3 class today. Works just like any other class. Students listened to an audio clip and then wrote a response to what they heard. They practiced the nice, animated flash cards to learn vocabulary words. They presented work to the group in Spanish. Lauren asked them questions and they responded. They listened, wrote, read and spoke probably a little more than they would have done in a textbook environment.
This case study happened by accident. The textbooks were state-owned and simply did not come in on time because of a paperwork error. Lauren began using the online content and liked it. The kids were resistant at first, but warmed up to it pretty fast. By the time the books came in, no one wanted them anymore. The kids keep them at home or buried in their lockers. I came on a day when the wireless system was down, so we all just moved into the lab next door, which had wired machines. We mused that one student can occasionally forget one textbook, but if the network goes down, and you are a book-free school, everyone loses all their textbooks. On a side-note, people's reactions to the loss of the wireless were interesting and varied. Some were drawing up battle-plans for survival, some threw their hands up, and one administrator seemed quite relaxed and at peace to have all the informational noise cease.
Lauren and her students are accessing the site using usernames and passwords that Lauren set up. For the initial setup, all she needed was the ISBN of the teacher's manual. The question is, how do publishers avoid getting ripped off using this business model? Couldn't anyone type in the ISBN of the text and start their own class going? How will the publishers protect their content? Honor system?

No Wikipedia?

posted Jan 31, 2010, 11:25 AM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Jan 31, 2010, 11:28 AM ]

I know a librarian who forbids her students from ever using Wikipedia at school or at home. This makes me bristle. Everyone uses Wikipedia. Kids need to learn what it is and how to use it. And yet it has all the problems that I addressed in my post earlier today: anonymity, authorlessness, unauthoritativeness. How do I reconcile this?

Authority versus Access and Democracy

posted Jan 31, 2010, 9:55 AM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Jan 31, 2010, 10:20 AM ]

A friend asks, why focus on authority instead of accessibility, democracy, conversation and free circulation of knowledge?  This is a great question, since these qualities are some of the salient features of the web. Indeed, these aspects are what make the web truly revolutionary. Interestingly, Jaron Lanier, in his book You are not a Gadget, argues that the web is now heading in the direction of a totalitarian sameness: the "grey goo" that some futurists bemoan. The danger presented by the grey goo arises from the very freeness of the web. Everything is free, so why take the time to create your own images, music or ideas when you can rip off someone else's and post them on your site? Creativity dies; culture becomes recycled and stale. Unless the creators begin to produce original material. And they probably have to get paid for it. And it probably has to be copyrighted, patented, or protected in some other way, so that there is an identifiable author. Lanier believes that anonymity on the web also contributes to this lack of respect for authorship. You never know who you are listening to.

Online Spanish Textbook

posted Jan 30, 2010, 10:23 AM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Jan 30, 2010, 10:34 AM ]

Here are the impressions of Lauren Bowes, an impeccably fashionable and gifted colleague of mine at The Episcopal Academy who teaches world languages:
"It's been very interesting using it.  The kids initially had a bad reaction to it.  This all started because our state books were denied due to the financial situation in Pennsylvania.  Our books were just sitting in a warehouse back in September.  I decided to make lemonade out of those lemons and just use the online resources that are made available to us.  By the time our textbooks finally arrived, most kids had a change of heart and still kept using the computers instead of the textbooks.  One boy in my class still prefers the text and brings it to class, which is fine by me.  Others took the texts home, and still the remaining texts just sit in the class for "emergency situations." 

Benefits of the online text:  it's one less book for the kids to carry, and it's available anywhere in the world so long as they have an internet connection. 

Disadvantages:  internet speed, connection, etc.  Your typical setbacks when trying to use technology in the classroom."
Here is a case of natural selection in the classroom if there ever was one. Broken of the habit of using a book, the kids chose not to go back. A wonderful, accidental experiment. Read more at (no relation) Pearson Publishing's site:

Online textbooks

posted Jan 28, 2010, 5:23 PM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Jan 28, 2010, 5:33 PM by Alex Pearson ]

Pearson publishing, to which I am no relation, offers online textbooks. A generous colleague of mine showed me how to log in and access her Spanish texts. One uploads one's roster, with a list of usernames and passwords, and then all the kids in the class can log in too. We have Blackboard at our school, and this system, Pearson SuccessNet, is quite similar: a course management system for content. But instead of just being text, students listen to native speakers, watch short vidoes, type their answers and get immediate feedback. This is much more than a book. I'm not sure what the business model is for this. Obviously, there is no advertisement. This could be accessed from an IPad, which has a browser, but not from a Kindle. Although one worries about the browser capabilities of the IPad. We know that Flash does not run, but one would assume that quicktime would.

Content is King (again)

posted Jan 28, 2010, 9:39 AM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Jan 28, 2010, 9:42 AM by Alex Pearson ]

I don't see any major educational publishers in the mix of Apple's IBook Store. I randomly sampled some of the textbooks we use at Episcopal: could not find any in the Kindle store either. It may be that educational context is going to take a completely different route. In the meantime it appears that if content is king, then paper is queen.

Content is King

posted Jan 27, 2010, 8:51 AM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Jan 27, 2010, 9:04 AM by Alex Pearson ]

Finished You are not a Gadget on the eve of Steve Job's announcement of the new Apple tablet, which will happen one hour from now. I agree with Jaron Lanier that Web 2.0, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs and twitters have created a mushy, gray sameness to content. And part of it is that no one is getting paid for their work. The trick to the tablet will not be its sexiness but whether Apple can put together a business plan like the ITunes store for text. Students will pay for a textbook if it is priced reasonably and easy to download and read in digital form. The publishers, editors and, most importantly, authors will get paid and will continue to produce accurate, well-written, authoritative content.

Jaron Lanier's world

posted Jan 26, 2010, 11:16 AM by Alex Pearson   [ updated Jan 26, 2010, 11:21 AM by Alex Pearson ]

About 75% through his book, You are not a Gadget. I think he is right to connect the decline of authorship with a decline in creativity. My interest is in the idea of authority on the web, which is close to the idea of authorship. One of the reasons that I stress on this site just who I am and what I and I alone am thinking is that I do not want it to be a rehash, aggregate or retweet of what others are thinking. That is not a contribution. My 10 year old has started to write his own book and is talking about what it is to be an author. He is just sparking with creativity and dreams. Quite an inspiration.

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