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Book or eBook? A case of apples vs. oranges or analogue vs. digital?

Fig. 1. Learning in the digital age. J F Vernon (2013)

You’re missing a trick if you’re ignoring eBooks.

My experience studying at postgraduate level over the last four years, first with the Open University and now with the University of Birmingham as well is that we need to consider and experience the affordances of both.

Fig. 2. EBook vs. the Book. It’s largely down to context – do you read on the go, or in a library? Have you got shelf space?

I will own the book and the eBook in some circumstances as they offer a different experience and options.

If you are studying a subject in a social context online it helps to be able to share what you find and think as you read. I did this with Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’ and found he was reading along through Twitter and my blog. I find where I have the printed book that I take photos of pages, mash these up and then share online – or resort to pen, paper and note taking in the traditional, lonely way. Then there are the huge tomes, some of the history books I am getting through right now that run to 900 pages – it is so much easier to carry around on the iPad. Using an eBook I highlight by themes of my choosing, add notes, Tweet short passages, seek out threads on single characters, link directly to references and post mash-ups from screen-grabs rather than photos straight into a e-portfolio so that the idea or issues are tagged and ready for later use.

Non-fiction books will become like some LPs of the past – do you want all the tracks or just your choice?

If I can buy 12 chapters of a book for £8.99 on Kindle, when will I be able to buy for 99p that one chapter I need? Speaking to a senior engineer from Amazon over the summer (old friends who moved to Silicon Valley twenty years ago) he wondered if the ‘transformative’ period for books was about to occur, just as it has occurred with music.

There will be a better, personalised hybrid form in due course, several of which I have tried. So far they have been marred by only one thing – poor content, the clickable, multimedia, well linked experience is apt for the 21st century.

Fig. 3. Mash-up from Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’ using the App ‘Studio’ to add text and icons to a cropped grab of a page.

Nothing replaces scholarship though , it’s just going to take a while to make the transition.

Near Field Communication

Where have I been the last could of years to miss Near Field Communication ?

Certainly over the last six months I’ve been reflecting on the desire for some kind of situation-based, intuitive, just-in time information-tailored system for applied learning … and more recently for use in museums and galleries. I have kids. I go to museums and galleries. The last time I looked we were still being invited to buy audio-guides.

Maybe that explains it. Does a museum or gallery want to diminish the value of its own paid-for services, even to reduce the likelihood of the purchase of a guide or any other sundry books or postcards if you’re getting a suitably rich record of your visit for free?

NFC, QR codes and the ubiquitous Smart Phone must in time give way to wearable technology, the wrist band with a chip in it that I got at the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum Ypres is the first step towards something bigger and brainer. The wrist band with a memory stick embedded in it from the University of Birmingham was a lost opportunity too – it should have been loaded with a ‘good bag’ some software, a piece to camera from the head of department and maybe an eBook to get us going.

In the past, and still, pen on paper, sometimes with coloured felt tips, is the main form of ‘user generated content’ for students – apt as they will be assessed by writing and colouring in. This needs to be replaced by UGC that uses the devices they have in their hands – their images, typed in text (or voiced) with annotations and mash-ups.

Print vs. the eBook

Fig.1. The Pity of War (1999) Niall Ferguson. Same page/location.

Unless someone can offer me away around this I have found myself, after reading, highlighting and adding notes to an eBook that the only way I could properly cite it would be to purchase a print copy. This I did for £1.86 exclusing p&p. Cheapest of all would have been the library, but getting it sent from an outlying library then not being able to locate my library card …

Even for £1.86 I will not annotate the printed page. I’m loathe even to break its back … some 500 pages takes some negotiation.

I have long taken the view that the amount of effort required to pull together your thoughts does more good than harm in the long run – I’ve engaged with and ‘constructed’ my personal understanding of what is being said here rather than on a whim highlighing pages in the eBook and never giving them a second thought. Matching up the Kindle Location to a page number has had me jumping back and forth.

Is there an easy way to do this? I find I look for tables and charts, or references (that are standard in both formats) near to the ‘search’ I\ve done in the Kindle book. Indexing is crude, the difference between throwing a dart or a kitchen knife at a target across the room.

In one made moment of ‘blending’ the approaches I thought I could buy two paperbacks, tear out the pages and wallpaper them to the garage wall, then use coloured string and such like to seek out all the links like some murder mystery investigation.

OTT (Over the top).

Will printed books soon seem as archaic as a codex or papyrus?

The highlights and notes in the eBook have been less useful than I had hoped. They were just jottings, moments that hinted at a need to give something further thought – more detailed notes would need to come on a third read through. I’ve managed two.

The book is chunky, a thicks as a telephone directory. You get NO impression of size with an eBook, not the weight, presence of page numbers.

I need to play around with it further still. I do wonder if after all there is real educational value, savings and practicality to loading an eReader with standard texts. A student has no excuse if that term’s books are on a device in their bag. What is best practice with use of eBooks in post compulsory education?

How do you split your time online? Visual expression of my ‘personal learning environment’ PLE

Fig. 1. The latest expression of how I learn on line. February 2013

This has gone through various forms and ought to included learning across all platforms – I get books from Amazon where the eBook doesn’t exist, I use sheets of A1 paper on a drawing board to sketch out ideas and plans, I use the iPad as a digital camera and use a digital SLR too.

Fig. 2. How it was

The difference? Even more reading and writing.

Fig. 3. Earlier still. A year ago?

A more realistic expression of my learning environment or context i.e. taking on board multiple influences

Fig. 4. A difference expression of the same thing – centred on e-learning

The greatest value of extending our capacity to remember, both externally and internally will be to take a record and build on it, treat it is as living thing that grows into something more.

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on Napster's Second ...

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on Napster’s Second Life? (Photo credit: Berkman Center for Internet & Society)

Fig.1.  Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger

The greatest value of extending our capacity to remember, but externally and internally will be to take a record and build on it, treat it is as living thing that grows into something more.

If human remembering is the weak link, then perhaps memory needs to move from the brain to some external storage and retrieval device. By drawing or writing, we capture an event, an emotion, a thought. Looking at our own drawings or reading our own words aids us in remembering, making it possible for us to recall more, and do so more accurately’. Mayer-Schönberger (2009. p. 28)

Does a weak or false link matter?

If an author looking for material for a teen love story would it matter a jot as the parameters for the story would need to be met by fiction, not fact. Can we so easily make-up stories based on fact, if we are encumbered by the actuality?

Being selective though there are times when an absolute record may be of value – a surgeon operating so that multiple aspects of the experience can be shared, at a distance with colleagues and students.

An artist in their studio, working in a niche material and using rare craft skills not simply preserving their actions, but doing so in a way where many followers get as close as they can be to sitting at his shoulder? And of value to the protagonist, to identify mistakes where improvements could be made.

On the other hand, the act of creating your own version of events, of reflecting afterwards, adds value, adds originality and perspective, like the director’s voice talking through a movie they have made.

The real-time record lacks the context of the person’s thoughts.

These ‘inner-workings’ are surely of greater value to prosperity?

In addition, to personally make the effort to externalise events by taking notes, by creating a drawing or chart, or table … by translating the essence of the experience for others into a form we recognise we etch it into our memory. It benefits from the phsyiological attribution, something that will be lost if the ‘memory’ is gathered automatically.

It matters that we select as we go along, listening to someone talk, but only seeing them or caught by a conversation on another table as we are served, or watching the traffic and thinking of a cycle ride we had a child.

Memory creation is not as literal as a digital snap … and when we hear, as any professional sound recordist will attest, we filter out a huge amount of noise.

Mayer-Schönberger (2011) takes us through a brief history of how we externalise our thinking and touches on painting. ‘Painting is perhaps the oldest form of establishing external memory. It creates an image of a scene or an event, whether real or envisioned, and thus enables remembering’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 29)

If I want a record of events, translated through my mind’s eye, then perhaps a drawing or painting is a better way to do it than to write about it? Then again, a ballad might do the job. Either are preferable to a poor ‘absolute’ digital recording of what took place from the odd-perspective of my chest (or the chest of another) via a cigarette-packet sized gadget hanging around my neck.

A record of what I read and watched might suffice.

Why complicate it by creating a personal digital log of all the above where so much will in future simply require a link – so not some grabs of a text book as I read it, but the eBook, not parts of a film that catch my attention, but the film in its entirety. This supposes a record that is even greater than that experienced, but one which may be of greater value to others so that they can ‘live’ a life alongside, rather than stepping into the shoes of someone else. This may be a more valid and useful way for someone to pick through the digitised memory too – as a video editor or director, at arms length.

Fig.2. John Seely Brown speaking at the Open University in 2007

‘The emphasis, though, is on mixing and recombining, on creating a bricolage as the former head of famed Xerox PARC John Seely Brown has suggested, in which the value is derived from the (re) combination of its parts, not necessarily from the parts themselves’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 61)

The power to remember and the need to forget

Fig 1. Your life? Remembered or forgotten?

Digitally record or better to delete?

INTRODUCTION

It frustrates me to try to read two complementary books e in two different formats – the first is marketed in its traditional hardback edition with a designer cover and eye-grabbing introduction from Bill Gates, while the second, an eBook I find understated – as if it is ashamed to compete. They are a pair. Twins separated at birth. They argue from opposite sides of the digital coin, one in favour of digitizing everything under the sun, the other for circumspection and deletion. Perhaps there should be a face off at the Oxford Union Debating Society. My role here is to bring them together and in doing so provide a one word conclusion: selection.

TOTAL RECALL

‘Total Recall’ (Bell and Gemmel, 2009) with its film-reference title and sensationalist headline ‘how the e-memory revolution will change everything’ risks ostracizing a discerning academic readership in favour of sales reputation and coining a phrase or two. It’s hero Gordon Bell might be the protagonist in the movie. The is is shame is that at the heart of what is more biography than academic presentation there is the desire to be taken seriously – a second edition could fix this – there needs to be a sequel. My copy of Total Recall arrived via trans-Atlantic snail mail in hardback, with it’s zingy dust jacket – it feels like a real book. I’m no bibliophile but I wonder if the pages are uncut and this edition has been pulled from a reject pile. It was discounted Amazon and as I’m after the words contained in the book rather than the physical artifact its state ought not to be a concern. Though the fact that it is a physical book rather pegs it to a bygone era. Total recall refers to the idea of a photographic or ‘eidetic memory’ – this needs to be stated.

Fig. 2. DELETE

‘Delete’ (2009) Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is subtitled ‘The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age’ and sounds as if it was authored by a vampire from Transylvania. It is a foil to ‘Total Recall’ with Viktor the antagonist to ‘Flash Drive’ Gordon. Delete hasn’t been – its in its fourth printing, needless to say I got mine in seconds as a Kindle version. I only ever by a book if I have to. I am too used to the affordances of the eBook to skim, search, highlight and share – and to have it on multiple devices, the Kindle, iPad, laptop and smartphone.

The copyright notice in Total Recall on ‘the scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet’ is ironic because this is what Bell does with his life – he has scanned and uploaded his life (though access is totally private). A double irony as he elects for Web 1.0 but won’t join the Semantic Web 2.0 and share.

I have been an exponent of ‘exposure’ – the release of a substantial part of who you are for others to chew over.

The online diary.

The way forward stands between the two, selective extreme gathering, storing and retrieval of your personal archive, while discretely deleting the irrelevant, possibly illegal (copyright, plagiarised, libel) and otherwise potentially reputationally damaging to kith or kin. (How can these be avoided if you wear a device around your neck that takes a digital snap every few seconds?)

They could be landform and landfill.

 

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