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January 22 2013

Four short links: 22 January 2013

  1. Design Like Nobody’s Patenting Anything (Wired) — profile of Maker favourites Sparkfun. Instead of relying on patents for protection, the team prefers to outrace other entrants in the field. “The open source model just forces us to innovate,” says Boudreaux. “When we release something, we’ve got to be thinking about the next rev. We’re doing engineering and innovating and it’s what we wanna be doing and what we do well.”
  2. Agree to Agree — why I respect my friend David Wheeler: his Design Scene app, which features daily design inspiration, obtains prior written permission to feature the sites because doing so is not only making things legally crystal clear, but also makes his intentions clear to the sites he’s linking to. He’s shared the simple license they request.
  3. The Coming Fight Between Druids and Engineers (The Edge) — We live in a time when the loneliest place in any debate is the middle, and the argument over technology’s role in our future is no exception. The relentless onslaught of novelties technological and otherwise is tilting individuals and institutions alike towards becoming Engineers or Druids. It is a pressure we must resist, for to be either a Druid or an Engineer is to be a fool. Druids can’t revive the past, and Engineers cannot build technologies that do not carry hidden trouble. (via Beta Knowledge)
  4. Reimagining Math Textbooks (Dan Meyer) — love this outline of how a textbook could meaningfully interact with students, rather than being recorded lectures or PDF versions of cyclostyled notes and multichoice tests. Rather than using a generic example to illustrate a mathematical concept, we use the example you created. We talk about its perimeter. We talk about its area. The diagrams in the margins change. The text in the textbook changes. Check it out — they actually built it!

January 20 2012

Top stories: January 16-20, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

SOPA and PIPA are bad industrial policy
Tim O'Reilly: SOPA and PIPA not only harm the Internet, they support existing content companies in their attempts to hold back innovative business models that will actually grow the market and deliver new value to consumers. (See also: Why O'Reilly went dark on 1/18/12 and The President's challenge.)

Big data market survey: Hadoop solutions
Edd Dumbill explores the Hadoop-based big data solutions available on the market, contrasts the approaches of EMC Greenplum, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle and provides an overview of Hadoop distributions.

Mobile interfaces: Mistakes to avoid and trends to watch
"Designing Mobile Interfaces" co-author Steven Hoober discusses common mobile interface mistakes, and he offers his thoughts on the latest mobile device trends — including why the addition of gestures and sensors isn't wholly positive.

From SOPA to speech: Seven tech trends to monitor
Mike Loukides weighs in on the tech trends — good and bad — that will exert considerable influence in 2012.

Early thoughts on iBooks Author and Apple's textbook move
James Turner considers Apple's new authoring platform and its restrictive policies. Will those restrictions limit the program's potential?

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Reposted byLegendaryy Legendaryy

May 04 2011

Does digital text create a cognitive gap?

Kindle DX Pilot Project montage.jpgEreaders are changing the face of reading across the board, and experiments in creating more economic-friendly textbooks for students are increasing. The results, however, are not all positive.

As students attempt to incorporate electronic text into their studies, issues with e-textbooks are starting to emerge — and the problems go beyond poor annotation and sharing tools.

A study at the University of Washington and six other universities in the US involving the use of the larger-format Kindle DX indicated a disconnect between digital text and the way students learn. In a post for Fast Company, Ariel Schwartz cited from the study results:

The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.

More results from the study are discussed here and here. All seem to point to an opportunity to create different kinds of ebooks and ereaders for use in academia that better accommodate cognition. If the study results hold, companies creating smartphone apps for e-textbooks may want to rethink their efforts.

Photo: From the University of Washington Kindle DX pilot website.


May 04 2010

iPad 3G and the vacancy of the connected textbook

Last Friday was iPad 3G day and, at my house, the FedEx truck barely made it out of the driveway before the iconic Apple-designed packaging was discarded on the floor and my iPad was busily synching it’s pre-purchased apps.

iBookstoreFor the past couple of years I’ve been pulling out my iPhone and my Kindle in meetings, laying them on top of each other and saying, “There -- something like that” when asked what the digital textbook would be like. It was an attempt to convey a fuzzy, absent space in my thinking where a tool should be that could serve as a window to the Internet, to an engaging world of content that invites exploration, and to communities of peers and others that enrich learning. Friday, I finally got to hold a beautifully designed piece of hardware with equally beautifully crafted digital books and learn a little more about the shape and structure of that fuzzy space.

The Elements, Alice, and Jack have been reviewed extensively elsewhere. My personal experience? Delightful. Engaging. Fresh. In an earlier post, I characterized the 21st-century textbook as, among other things, living, interactive, and connected. The artful books I enjoyed on my iPad brought home just how well authors can deliver engaging books that are living and interactive using the technologies of today. The fuzzy vacancy in my mind is filled up in places by rotating images of Boron and Ytterbium, or by a jar of Orange Marmalade falling down the rabbit hole. In other places, the fuzziness persists.

My iPad is connected, via Wi-Fi or 3G, almost anywhere I go. Why aren’t the books?

As far as “connectedness” goes, these wonderful new books are the App Store equivalent of ringtones: content that is created, then downloaded to live out its existence within the confines of a single device. A connected book, on the other hand, whether it be a textbook, a storybook, a reference book, or a novel, is a medium through which people interact. The shape of that interaction begins to emerge in conversations about shared underlines and margin notes and dog-ears and real-time chats about the plot twist in chapter 8, and things that make “book club” implicit in the book itself.

Largely, though, that shape is still amorphous. Somehow, connected texts will help us leverage our collective intelligence. Somehow, they will help provoke learning and expertise building at the level of individuals and communities. Somehow, they will support both broad exploration and deep dives and continue to evolve as the boundaries between the book and the community that engage with it start to blur.

Today, a textbook under the iPad model would be engaging as all get-out. Perhaps ‘ringtone’ is too stingy a parallel -- call it a single-player casual game: engaging, interactive, current, well-designed. What, then, is the equivalent of the serious online massively multiplayer version?

There’s a vacancy where the connected textbook ought to be, so I look at all the things that connect us on-line: the social networks, the blogosphere, the gaming world(s), the photo-sharing sites, the collaborative on-line works, and so on and I conclude only, “There -- something like that.”


April 27 2010

The 21st-century textbook

With new technologies constantly coming on-line, and with states like California, Texas, and Oregon allowing digital curriculum to replace printed curriculum, the question arises: what will textbooks look like in the coming years?

Dale’s post, "A hunger for good learning," featured a fantastic video about teaching math. In a few brief minutes, Dan Meyer showed us a photo of a math problem involving filling a tank of water and calculating how long that would take, then showed us why traditional approaches to teaching this problem stifled student learning. The picture showed a traditional math problem with a line drawing of the tank, a problem set-up written in text (octagonal tank, straight sides, 27oz per second, etc.) followed by short sub-steps that are needed to solve the problem (calculate the surface area of the base, calculate the volume). Then, finally, it asks the question “how long will it take to fill the tank?” Dan’s view is that this spoon-feeding of problem solving in little steps trains students not to think like mathematicians and not to have the patience for solving complex problems. Instead, Dan prefers to show his students a video of the tank filling up, agonizingly slowly, until the students are eager to know “How long until that tank fills up, anyway?” And then they’re off -- discussing, questioning, and, most importantly, formulating the problem on their own, just as good mathematicians do.

It seems that what the textbook looks like in the 21st century is a lot more like Dan's presentation than the bound paper tomes we grew up with. If the 21st century textbook is delivered digitally to students, we can expect it to be far more than a .pdf representation of a traditional text. For example, let's say the textbook publisher chose to experiment with findings from the research community that kids learn better from authentic and difficult problems than they do from bite-sized steps laid out one after the other. The publisher does what Dan Meyer did, recreates the tank problem and updates a version of the textbook for a handful of beta testers. The next morning, Dan’s students walk into class and open the book to chapter 5. The old problem is gone, instead there is just a video of a tank and instructions that say “watch me fill up -- when you know how long it takes, please enter the answer.” Sure, a student might choose to watch the video for seven-plus hours and finally write down the time it took. But when boredom sets in, a more engaging option is to just play with the problem. By staying up to date with new information and practices, this textbook is living.

In this example, the student finds all the needed tools lying around the page. A ruler for measuring the size of the tank, a cup of known size and a stopwatch to measure the rate of water flow, as well as various other tools, leaving it to the student to decide which ones are relevant to solving the problem. This textbook is interactive.

On the opposite page of the book is a chat window where students can share hypotheses, discuss approaches, share results from using the tools (I get 18.4 inches for the height, but you got 18.7). This textbook is participative.

Of course, for the kid who already understands this deeply and finishes quickly, there are better challenges waiting. Similar problems with trickier shapes to the tank, problems where there is more than one pipe filling the tank up, problems where the rate of the water varies. This textbook provides each student with the right level of challenge at any given time -- it is adaptive.

If some of these problems require new tools and concepts, the student has the ability to research on the Internet, connect with tutors in higher grades, chat with other students across the world who happen to be wrestling with this same problem right now, or find and watch a YouTube-sized lecture on a relevant topic. This textbook is connected.

In addition to living, interactive, participative, adaptive, and connected, we can expect the 21st century textbook to be personalized and mashable. Beyond that, though, could the 21st century textbook hold out a unique promise - that the student who uses this kind of textbook no longer needs to wait for high-stakes, anxiety-inducing tests to determine whether he had learned a topic? What if the digital textbook were instrumented to collect and interpret data in such a way that it could tell a student's level of mastery without test-taking, just from how he engaged with the content? Some of these measurements and interpretations are easy to imagine, such as: 'Which digital tool did the student first pick up to make measurements in the tank-filling problem', and 'What keywords did he search for on the internet?' Other kinds of data will be harder to interpret, such as: 'What solutions did he try on his scratch pad', 'What questions did he ask his peers', and 'Which of his peers' questions did he answer?' But to any degree, what would it mean for a textbook to understand a student's level of mastery in real-time from his work in this digital medium? With what information could a teacher know exactly what next challenge would be optimal for each student’s learning on a daily basis?

What if the textbook publishers could see, in aggregate, how effective their content is, learn from that, adapt their textbooks, and redistribute new and improved content in months, weeks, or days rather than the current seven-year adoption cycles -- much in the way that Google measures our interactions with their applications and improve them based on the results. Depending on how well the beta testers in Dan's classroom learned to solve algebra problems, the textbook modifications might become standard for all algebra students. What if the instrumented 21st century textbook were able to measure both a student's learning and its own effectiveness, and that capability moved education innovation itself to Internet time?

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