Who is Smik?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Blog Action Day 2010

Blog Action Day is an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action.

This year's topic is Water.

Right now, almost a billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s one in eight of us who are subject to preventable disease and even death because of something that many of us take for granted.

Access to clean water is not just a human rights issue. It’s an environmental issue. An animal welfare issue. A sustainability issue. Water is a global issue, and it affects all of us.

After all, clean water is essential for our survival, but dangerously scarce. Nearly one billion people in the world today don't have access to clean water and 42,000 people die each week from water-borne diseases. And the issue doesn't stop there — water availability impacts a wide variety of issues from the environment to women's rights and from technology to fashion. If you're unsure what to write about on October 15th, there are some great suggestions on the Blog Action Day site.

Registrations for Blog Action Day have now opened.
Why not make blogging about water a class project for October 15?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Steps towards e-text books

Japan will soon start trialling electronic textbooks in primary schools, enhancing the role of IT in the classroom for a generation of "digital natives" born in the wired age.


Free high schools text books for Maths and Science - available from Amazon, or as pdf - could be loaded onto the iPad


CK-12 Trigonometry
CK-12 People's Physics Book Version 2
CK-12 Life Science
CK-12 Geometry
CK-12 Engineering: An Introduction for High School
CK-12 Earth Science
CK-12 Chemistry
CK-12 Calculus
CK-12 Biology I - Honors
CK-12 Algebra I
CK-12 Advanced Probability and Statistics
CK-12 21st Century Physics: A Compilation of Contemporary and Emerging Technologies

Comment from a teacher on a list I belong to:

I have had a look at the Chemistry ebook. It is a good reference for senior students (and their teachers) seeking extension and deep understanding.  The illustrations are informative and attractive.  It pre-supposes a thorogh year 10 knowledge, and does not build concepts from
the ground up as is necessary for the NSW Syllabus.  It includes terms that NSW students do not encounter until the HSC course in Year 12.  The book also provides students with extra calculations, extra readings on the web and sources of videos. If my students could answer the questions in this text I would be ecstatic (and redundant)

Create your own textbooks?

Have you seen e-readups?
It basically allows the user to select resources from wikipedia (more available if you ask for an account) and then generates an e-book in .mobi and epub formats. The resultant e-book has a hyperlinked table of contents. I could imagine it could be very usful on almost any topic, so long as you trusted the content.

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Friday, 24 September 2010

Creative Minds of 21st Century Librarians: an e-Book Project

Today I am just passing on something I've come across
Author: Marilyn P. Arnone

book cover

From the Creative Minds of 21st Century Librarians is CDL’s first e-book project made possible in part through an IMLS grant awarded to CDL in 2008 to update the AASL standards in the S.O.S. for Information Literacy database. This 275-page free downloadable resource contains dozens of lesson plans that implement AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in the context of the curriculum. Contributing authors include more than 30 teacher-librarians. The book, edited by Marilyn P. Arnone, Ruth V. Small, and Barbara K. Stripling, was more than a year in the making and features a foreword by Barbara Stripling and graphic design by Marguerite Chadwick-Juner. If you are looking for creative ideas that target the standards to implement in your school library, this book will help you jumpstart the process. Download the publication and please pass on this link to your colleagues in the school library field.

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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Presentations that may interest

The first two are presentations that I gave yesterday.

They are both produced in Prezi, a tool that if you haven't yet tried, you should.

e-books: the state of play, barriers & challenges

Virtual Worlds: why we need to allow SL access in our libraries

A Scholar Gets a Kindle and Starts to Read
James J. O’Donnell, Provost as well as Professor of Classics during Georgetown University, talks about a intensity of e-books as well as e-readers.

An interesting talk where he talks about his needs as a scholar, and how e-readers, the Kindle in particular (because that's what he's been using), are like a paprus roll, giving linear access to text. He says all the current e-readers have selected a  form of reading that is old-fashioned, and not what the modern scholar needs. They are better for "ludic reading" - reading for pleasure - rather than academic.

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Monday, 20 September 2010

Reading more with e-readers?

It is probably a little early to consider the impact of e-readers on reading habits but already US sources are claiming a surge in reading with the new devices.

A recent survey from Marketing and Research Resources found that 40 percent of those questioned now read more on their Kindles and iPads than they did with print books, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A study of 1,200 e-reader owners by Marketing and Research Resources Inc. found that 40% said they now read more than they did with print books. Of those surveyed, 58% said they read about the same as before while 2% said they read less than before. And 55% of the respondents in the May study, paid for by e-reader maker Sony Corp., thought they'd use the device to read even more books in the future. The study looked at owners of three devices: Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle, Apple Inc.'s iPad and the Sony Reader.

The Wall Street Journal article continues... because e-book gadgets are portable, people report they're reading more and at times when a book isn't normally an option: on a smartphone in the doctor's waiting room; through a Ziploc-bag-clad Kindle in a hot tub, or on a treadmill with a Sony Reader's fonts set to jumbo. Among commuters, e-readers are starting to catch up with BlackBerrys as the preferred companions on trains and buses.

Committed readers are also saying that their e-reader won't totally replace paper books in their hands but the following characteristics of e-readers are without doubt contributing to their growth in popularity:

  • the portability of the devices. Earlier attempts at e-readers were not successful because they were basically software on a computer. Until recently computers were not very portable and so the user was tethered to the desk, using a back-lit screen.
    • for me this is where those who claim that netbooks or laptops with e-reader software are a satisfactory substitute are still missing the point.  The clue lies in the instant availability, lightness, portability, and dedicated nature of the device.
  • the ability to acquire a new book in a moment, on a whim - Amazon for example are saying that sales of e-books has spiralled upwards - "its customers buy 3.3 times as many books after buying a Kindle" - but is that just because they are now able to track the book purchases more readily?
    Certainly if my own behaviour is anything to go by, I see a book advertised and think I wonder if Amazon has it for Kindle
  • the ability to scale a font larger or smaller to suit your eyesight. I hadn't realised how important that was becoming to me until I struck a paper book where the font is just a little small for me. A friend recently revealed that she can't read a 550 page book in bed, not because it is heavy, but because the print is too small.
    There's another point to the font issue: there is some evidence that now suggests that a child with reading difficulties may find the lines of larger font easier to follow, and even be completing books, a new experience for them. See more
  • There's a suggestion that the voice synthesisers available on e-readers and iPad apps may help the reader bridge the text/meaning gap by appealing to visual and auditory sense simultaneously. A case in point might be an iPad app that allows child to touch a story and have it read to them, similar to the "bouncing ball" technique we used to use in computer prohgrams to teach reading.
  • if you are travelling, or studying, then an e-reader can replace the several books you would carry about with you.
  • Many of us were surprised when the recent Jacob Nielsen survey claimed that we read more slowly with e-readers. Anecdotal evidence was suggesting to me that we are actually reading faster with an e-reader. When I checked on what text Nielsen used in the survey, I wasn't actually surprised. I still think an e-reader encourages you to read faster.
  • And here's an article that suggests that e-readers allow us to read in non-linear ways that actually enhance the reading experience
  • availability of free books - again from the Wall Street Journal - E-reader users also say that 52% of their e-books were ones they purchased, while 48% of their e-books were free because they were sample giveaways or out-of-copyright.

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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Teaching with an e-book - part 1

As in schools the e-book and e-reader debate continues, and hovers on the "which device?" and "which format?" sticking points, it also strikes me that we need to think about what we will do in teaching and learning if e-books become a reality.

I saw something recently where a teacher was talking about the difficulties of using e-texts in a classroom where you have some students using a traditional paper book, and some using a text book via the e-reader.

I am hoping that this post will attract some comments from teachers who have actually "done it" - some classroom teaching where some students are using an e-reader of some sort.

In case you are not experienced and don't understand what difficulties we could be seeing, here are just a few.

  • A "paper" book has page numbers, and it is a relatively simple exercise to tell everyone what page to go to.
  • The Kindle format uses location numbers (but not page numbers). The number of locations a book has remains constant regardless of font size. So if the whole class is using the same size Kindles then being at the same location is also relatively simple.
    • However I have discovered that Kindle for PC does not use the same location format (as a Kindle device)  for the same book. So then to be at the same location, you will need to use the Table of Contents (if there is one). Currently Kindle for PC does not have a "search" facilitiy, although it does Have "Go To"
    • Today I have compared e-copies of A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. Until that practical experiment I had assumed that the Kindle formats would be the same.
  • I've also experimented with another title THE MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES  by Conan Doyle on both the Kindle for PC and the Borders e-reader (on my computer).
    • The Borders application uses epub, so although the source of both copies is probably the Gutenberg Project, Borders numbers its pages according to how many there are in the chapter, and, just to complicate things, if you change the size of the font on the screen, the number of pages changes.
    • On Kindle for PC, the number of locations remains constant even when you change the font size.
    • Neither the Borders e-reader on the computer, nor the Kindle for PC have a search tool. Borders has a "table of contents" for this novel, as does Kindle for PC.
    • But how would you get on I wonder if the "table of contents" was not recognised?  Sometimes, I have noticed that the Kindle version of a book has not been formatted to show a table of contents. This is the case in the Kindle version of THE MEMOIRS.
  • If we add a fourth e-reading device to the mix, namely the iPad, and you have running on that one of the above Apps or iBook, then life just gets a even more complicated.

But - it can be done!  I guess what it boils down to is that the e-reader is just the vehicle for the text. What happens in that context, with a variety of e-readers is up to the teacher's management strategies. It would certainly help if the teacher was aware of the limitations of each device.

But we really can't assume that a particular text will be delivered the same way on a variety of devices.

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Friday, 10 September 2010

10 second grabs and 140 characters

There's an interesting re-surfacing of the debate about whether going digital is making us dumber, or at the very least reducing our concentration span, making us cyber butterflies.

On one of my blogs I monitor what visitors do when they arrive. Many alight on a post from a Google search, and then, less than a minute later, they have departed on a link they have found on my blog. I've never thought of that in the light of reduced attention span. I've always thought it was a sign that they had found what they were looking for. Google Analytics tells me that even on this blog, the average visitor spend only 1:03 minutes before they bounce off somewhere else. Can they, I ask, get the meaning of my post in that time?

Critics of Twitter, who are invariably not persisent users, deride the fact that tweets have a 140 character limit. After all, what of import can you say in such a short space? They obviously don't understand the lengths you have to go to in reducing your message to the 140 character limit and yet still get your meaning across. Most of us can read 140 characters in 10 seconds or less.

In a recent article in The Age, How the internet makes us stupid, Nicholas Carr writes "A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers."  He's writing a new book The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember, and he says he was stimulated to write the book after realising his own capacity to focus and concentrate was changing. He attributes it to some sort of internet addiction. [Factors like advancing age, eyesight, and pressures of work crop up in my mind.]

Of course there are those who object strongly to this point of view. Computer World echoes "Digital Doesn't mean Dumb. It’s a myth that we have all become Twitter-brained visual grazers with no appetite for prose."
PC Advisor makes a similar point, claiming that  It’s a myth that we have all become Twitter-brained visual grazers with no appetite for prose. I’m with comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who said: “There is no such thing as an attention span. People have infinite attention if you are entertaining them.”  The article goes on to claim that good digital design helps us locate what we want to know more quickly.

It all reminds me a bit of the debate between the skim-readers and the rest. Those of us who can't skim-read a book for any length of time claim that those who do must miss a lot of meaning and nuance.

I'm more inclined to think that the pressures we are under to cope with information overload, and at the same time appear to be on top of it all, means that we have to be able to flit like cyber butterflies. The important this is to be able to recognise the good oil when we've found it, and to be able to think deeply about the issues.

That's why information literacy is so critical in education, more than ever before. Our students have to be taught to skim, to recognise, to select, and then dwell when needed.

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Wednesday, 8 September 2010

e-books and e-readers: criteria for choosing your e-reader

There are some common questions that educators and librarians ask about choosing an e-reader.

  • Which comes first the e-reader or the variety of e-books that I have access to?
  • What was the process that you used to select an e-reader?
  • What criteria would you suggest in choosing an e-reader a) for ourselves and b) for our primary students?

Current evidence seems to suggest that many are waiting for answers to these questions before deciding to see which way to jump. I actually think teachers/librarians need to be a bit more pro-active than that and try to get some experience in using e-readers and in reading e-books.

For myself, I bought a Kindle because they were virtually all that were on the market here in Australia a year ago. Purchase was easy, delivery was quick, and I've added about 100 fiction books both manually and through purchase from Amazon.

Mine is the Kindle 6” which is fine for reading fiction, and I would say, suits both adult and secondary school readers, and perhaps even middle school.
There has been some research done with middle school students in the US particularly in relation to the effect on reading of being able to vary the size of text.
The research seems to say that for children/older readers with reading difficulties, being able to increase the size of text is beneficial, because they then have a better ability to “hold the line” with their eyes.
I’ve blogged about this at http://blogs.educationau.edu.au/ksmith/2010/05/12/e-book-readers-and-reading-competence/

In my opinion though, the 6” Kindle (or any other small e-reader for that matter) is for reading fiction, not text books where you would expect graphics and charts.
That is where the larger device, say the Kindle DX or the iPad or the Dream Books (http://www.pioneercomputers.com.au/products/info.asp?c1=183&c2=184&id=3172) probably comes into its own, and then you have to think about whether you want colour.
The bigger size (10 or 11 inches) and colour both add to the cost (although the Kindle DX still uses “black” e-ink)
And it becomes a question of whether you want the device to do other things as well as contain an e-reader.

In a poll that I ran recently here is what people chose from the criteria I listed
Colour  - 1 (6%)
adjusting text size - 7 (41%)
note making – 4 (24%)
dictionary – 3 (18%)
images - 2  (12%)
bookmarking (keeping your place) – 7 (41%)
audio -2 (12%)
not applicable - no experience – 9 (53%)
Other - 0

Now, I left cost off the criteria there, although I expect that for schools anyway that will be an important factor.
Whether you can justify buying an iPad for more than $600.

There is another factor to consider here at least in secondary schools: many students now have a laptop or a netbook.
What about if they had Kindle for PC software or some other e-reading device such as Calibre on their lap top – can you justify buying e-readers at all?

So I’d suggest you try drawing up a matrix with the important criteria on it (similar to the one below), and then rating them to see if that helps you make a decision.

Criteria for selecting an e-reading device


Most -5




Least -1







Text size adjustment






Note making
























Keeps your place


















Read fiction






Text books






Do we already have laptops?






Availability of particular books






Size and weight of device






However on top of these criteria you need to look at ease of use (and that's where the teacher/librarian's personal experience comes in, and the ease of adding new books, or isolating access to the account from students.

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Tuesday, 7 September 2010

e-books and e-readers: devices and formats

There seems to me a number of issues emerging and I think we are just on the cusp of dealing with them.

• the first is  - which device?
There are a number of e-readers available here in Australia, the commonest being the Kindle 6" (attached to Amazon),
 the Kobo e-reader (attached to Borders),
the Kindle DX (this is the larger version),
 the Sony e-book Reader (based on e-pub),
the Kogan e-book reader (available late August - and looks like it will support a very wide range of formats)

Then there are the devices like the iPad or the iPhone where an e-book reader is just one of the Apps.

And then there are computers/net books - you can download Kindle for PC for free, or Adobe Acrobat for reading pdfs or Adobe Digital Editions (epub), or the Borders application to your computer.
If you'd like to read more about any of these there is lots of information at http://www.groups.edna.edu.au/mod/forum/view.php?id=77812

• the second is – how do you obtain books?
If your device has 3G or wireless then you can connect directly to the online store, purchase an e-book through your previously set up account, and download that way.
Some devices (like the Kobo) rely on you being able to connect it to a computer and then using the online facility there.
Your computer will see most of the devices as an extra drive and you can load documents like pdfs directly onto to your device.
Most of the e-book readers now handle “native” pdfs quite well, but I’ve found it depends on the format and layout of the pdf and whether it has been locked in some way.
If you have an iPad or iPhone then you use iTunes to manage your downloads just like you would for music or podcasts.
Once you have purchased a book and have it on your device, you read it from there – it is stored on the device, and you no longer need to be online.
I’ll come back to this question later though: whether you own the book or just the right to read it?

• the third is – which format?

The main formats are
for Kindle - .azw (Amazon's proprietary format), .mobi, and pdf
epub - The EPUB format is a standard eBook format recommended by The International Digital Publishing Forum. It is essentially a ZIP format. It is the format used by Sony and Apple.  EPUB is designed for reflowable content, meaning that the text display can be optimized for the particular display device used by the reader of the EPUB-formatted book. The format is meant to function as a single format that publishers and conversion houses can use in-house, as well as for distribution and sale.

Many of the non-Kindle devices are saying they can accommodate a range of these formats.
For example the Kogan e-reader says it will support PDF, CHM, EPUB, TXT, HTM, HTML, RTF, PDB, DJVU, DJV, IW44, IW4, FB2, OEB, PRC, MOBI, TCR, OPF

There is software available on the market now that allows you to convert files from one format to another providing the inbuilt Digital Rights Management (DRM) allows that to happen.
 For example Calibre: http://calibre-ebook.com/ and
Mobi Pocket Creator: http://www.mobipocket.com/en/downloadsoft/productdetailscreator.asp
Amazon has a free service that allows members to send a pdf for conversion to .azw – I have used it several times

Where the arguments seem to have got stuck at the moment is on the device issue - which seems to have boiled down into an Amazon/Apple war.
There's a comparative table here: http://www.groups.edna.edu.au/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=41823
This device war though is fast becoming a “bang for buck” war – Amazon has lowered the original price of Kindles considerably, and many are predicting that Apple will do the same for iPads, although their sales have been remarkable.
Many of the new devices coming onto the market are trying to beat these “big boy” prices.
The pundits are saying that Amazon is no longer making a profit on its devices – they are simply a means of getting people to buy books.

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Monday, 6 September 2010

Out of the pond...

I like this metaphor from today's Sydney Morning Herald..

For most of us, school was a sheltered educational pond largely removed from the wider world.
.... Now new technologies and attitudes are helping to create learning communities that encourage students to work collaboratively.

The article goes on to give examples of teachers and students working collaboratively with other schools and organisations like the Taronga Park Zoo, and universities.

The aim of such collectives is to promote public education, but the benefits go beyond publicity. Teachers say they improve camaraderie, revitalise learning and improve student attendance.

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Friday, 3 September 2010

The importance of conversation & collaboration in learning

I am indebted to Stephen Downes for this prompt today. I am a subscriber to his OLDaily and can't recommend it highly enough.

Today he pointed to Harold Jarche's post titled The Evolving Social Organisation. Admittedly Harold was really talking about how to implement social learning, but a bit of it resonated in my mind with what needs to happen in formal learning organisations.

It struck me how well this analysis fits what should happen in educational institutions, in classrooms, whether we are talking about students or their teachers:

Listen & Create:
Being open to self-education is the foundation of individual learning. Part of this is the development of habits of continuous sense-making by recording what we hear, read and observe; e.g. personal learning environments (PLE) & personal knowledge management (PKM).

Sharing is an act of learning and can be considered an individual’s responsibility for the greater social learning contract. Without sharing, there is no social learning. Through ongoing trusted conversations we can share tacit knowledge, even across organizational boundaries; e.g. social learning.

Group performance enables the creation of new knowledge and is a source of innovation; e.g. collaborative work, customer experience.

Formalize & Share: Some informal knowledge can be made explicit and consolidated through the formalization and creation of new structured knowledge; e.g. taxonomies, document management, storytelling.

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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Online Professional Development Courses are effective

Teachers who took online professional development courses improved their instruction and subject knowledge, as well as produced gains in student achievement, says a new study by e-Learning for Educators, a 10-state consortium funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Ready to Teach program.

The 330 teachers in the study participated in three 30-hour online professional development courses developed by the Education Development Center's EdTech Leaders Online, or ETLO. The teachers included elementary and middle school math teachers, as well as language arts teachers.

The series of four randomized controlled trials examined the effect that a series of three Online Professional Development (OPD) courses had on teachers’ knowledge and instructional practices, and subsequent effects on student achievement. Collectively, the four trials provide strong evidence that participation in a coordinated series of three OPD workshops has positive effects on teachers’ instructional practices and content knowledge.

"While a growing body of research demonstrates online learning's effectiveness at the college level, very few studies focus on K-12 and track the impact of teacher professional development to student learning," said EDC's Barbara Treacy, director of ETLO, in a press release. "It's extremely gratifying to see that the online model we've developed leads to such positive results across all states, grade levels, and teacher groups."

The research was culled from 330 teachers and 7,700 students



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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

myfuture 2010 User Survey

Complete the myfuture 2010 user survey to go in the draw for a chance to win a weekly prize of a Kindle Reader.

The myfuture annual survey seeks user feedback to ensure the provision of services and website information layout meets the needs of all users.

The user survey covers aspects of the site such as the quality of information and services, site usability – ease of navigation and look and feel, and user views of how the service could be improved. 

If you are a career practitioner, teacher or someone who uses myfuture for your own career development we would greatly appreciate your feedback.

The survey is available here

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