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Is an App on WW1 better than an eBook and better than a book?

Dan Snow. “Clearly an App is better than a book for history.”

This is a fascinating insight into the way we learn and educate is changing with students exploring, creating and sharing from an App ‘smôrgasbord’ of rich, interactive content.

I picked up this thread in the WW1 Buffs Facebook pages

This conversation will keep me busy for several months. The debate on the guardian site is heated, personal and too often Luddite in tone. Why try to say that a book is better than an eBook is better than an App that is ‘book-like?’ I’ll be pitching in as I believe what he argues is right and applies immediately to Geography too. I‘ve studied online learning, history and geography – all to Masters level. I’m not an historian, geographer or an educator: I’m simply deeply curious and fascinated by the way we learn.

Key to Apps is immediacy, relevancy and motivation.

Put content into a student’s hands in a way they appreciate: at their fingertips, multi-sensory and connected. An App can take all that is a book, and add several books and angles; all that is TV or Radio and have the person sit up, create content of their own, form views, share opinions and therefore learn, develop and remember.


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?

The Gutenberg Galaxy – first thoughts, from the first pages


Fig. 1. The Gutenberg Galaxy – Marshall McLuhan (courtesy of Amazon and a US bookseller)

Like visiting a library, having a book as an object in my hand, a singular artifact rather than its substance digitised, feels like a visit to a National Trust property. There’s meaning in it, but that way it’s packaged is all a bit ‘historic’.

Mosaic – kaleidoscope – environment – constellation

These are some of the ways Marshall McLuhan may have written about the changing society he was commenting on in the early 1960s with reference to previous shifts from an oral to a written tradition, with a phonetic alphabetic to the printing press.

We like to visualise the complex – to simplify it.

No less so than in what we perceive as a new era – that of the Internet and ever deeper, faster, more complex and fluid, even intelligent ways to communicate, share and think.

In the prologue p.1 we are told that papyrus created the social environment – how?

Immediately we know that Marshall McLuhan will be talking about an elite as if they represent everyone. authors are constantly guilty of this today, discounting those who lack digital literacies as if all that matters in the world is what these people are doing – as if it is above, beyond and distinct from everyone else. Or should we just tackle this interconnected community and ignore those who are not and may never be part of it – those thousands of millions who do not have Internet access 24/7, just as when dealing with previous eras the illiterate are ignored because they voice could not be captured and disseminated?

Society existed before script – so few could write and read would make the impact of papyri irrelevant to all but the smallest of minorities, the elite who could write and read, own and store such things.

The stirrup and the wheel – is offered as a period of transition.

We are to think of this transition as a revolution, just as the development of print from the time of Gutenberg is described as a revolution – not matter how many centuries it took to evolve, and the development of TV from Marshall McLuhan’s particular is another, as the innovation shines such a bright light that it becomes impossible to see anything else. Far from television replacing the written word it has expanded at a time of vastly increased literacy rates and has been complemented to a burgeoning publishing of cheap paperbacks, journals and magazines.

‘Technological environments are not merely passive containers of people but are active processes that reshape people and other technologies like’. (McLuhan, 1962. p.0).

As an aphorism this may apply – by ‘environment’ Marshall McLuhan is once again searching for words, in conversation in the 1960s I would imagine him saying ‘technological mosaic’ and then correcting himself and saying ‘technological constellation’. Several decades on and we may be better able to comprehend ‘technological system’ in the context of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (Engestrorm, 2006) or ‘technological ecosystem or ecology’ (Bateson, 1972., Lukin, 2008)

Applications of metaphorical notions of ecology, culture and politics can help us better understand and deal with these complexities. (Conole. 2011. p. 410)

Then McLuhan tells us that print created the public – by inference did those who made up the majority in society not exist as a ‘public’ until then?

There is a sense as he later draws on the work of anthropologist X to infer that those with only an oral form of communication are part of an amorphous mass, that literacy empowered a new, though initially quite small group, to gain some kind of status through print.

‘Electric circuitry does not support the extension of the visual modalities in any degree approaching the visual power of the printed word’. Says McLuhan who sees television in the 1950s and the 1960s as something as ephemeral and passing as radio.

Without the research then available that tells us that watching TV is a passive activity that has little impact on the short term memory and next to none on the long-term, McLuhan is saying that electrical forms of the visual have less substance than the printed form of the visual. It isn’t however the means of distribution that is the cause of this, the thesis of all the Marshall McLuhan is remembered for, but the way we behave in front of these technologies – simply put, we sit forward and make an effort to read from a book, even to interpret pictures, but with TV we sit back and let it wash over us. ( Myrtek at al, 1996) Umberto Eco (1989) explains how the read gives meaning to the ‘open’ book, a far more rewarding experienced that the reading of a ‘closed’ text – the same applies to all media -we the viewer, reader, player or participant provide the meaning; the interpretation is our own.

With content from the Internet we can do either or both, or one or the other and the kinds of interaction and engagement that are far more complex and today far more like direct, face to face interaction as we do deals, discuss and debate in live groups and play massive online games.


Bateston (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind: collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution and epistomelogy. New York. Ballantine Books.

Conole, G (2011) Designing for learning in a digital world. Last accessed 18 Dec 2012 http://www.slideshare.net/grainne/conole-keynote-icdesept28

ECO, U., The Open Work, trans. Anna Cangogni, Cambridg, MA : Harvard University Press, 1989 [1962].

Engestrom Y, (2006) Learning by expanding. An activity theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki. Orienta–Konsultit.

Luckin, R. (2008), ‘The learner centric ecology of resources: A framework for using technology to scaffold learning’, Computers & Education 50 (2) , 449-462 http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/2167/1/Luckin2008The449.pdf

Myrtek, M, Scharff, C, Brügner, G, & Müller, W 1996, ‘Physiological, behavioral, and psychological effects associated with television viewing in schoolboys: An exploratory study’, The Journal Of Early Adolescence, 16, 3, pp. 301-323, PsycINFO, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 February 2013.


Orientation ahead of OU MBA Module ‘Creativity, Innovation & Change’ (B822)

My fourth module and some 12 days before we officially start.

I neither hang back, nor do I wade in; I appreciate that the person who finally makes it on 1st November may feel left out or left behind.

I leave nothing in the cafe area where no fewer than two course tutors have introduced themselves. Elsewhere I am one of four to have made it to the door.

There will be books, though thus far I am downloading PDFs are reading them off the iPad.

In order to take motes it strikes me that a second tablet would be an advantage so that I can have two screens. Two hinged like a book?

I sense a different tone, a sense that there is a team present to supervise our first moves rather than a single tutor.

The print-like lay-out of the texts lifts the words away from the VLE too, subtle yet recognisable differences. Already the reading impresses: I could spend the next ten years giving the many creative techniques a go and not get to the end.

This is something that has impressed me with each OU module that I have done, you could never want for something to do, ample to fill 12-15 hours a week, yet room to spend 20 or more hours if you wished.

On a totally different matter I agreed to complete and submit my old Swimming Club’s Swim21 application, something that I had done for the last three years. In this way I can at least keep my interest in swim coaching alive even if I am no longer poolside (for now).

And then in my inimitable way I go to the Harvard Business Review, as invited, to download ‘How to Kill Creativity’ only to spot ‘The Rise of the E-lance’ instead which takes a 1998 look at the opportunities then arising for the freelance in an IT rich world.

I download this into iBooks only to find a 2011 PDF on Webinars of most immediate interest, afterall I am this week an next seeing people about putting on Webinars for us. Some self-discipline is required, getting the required reeading done first during time I set aside to do so, rather than last.

The medium is the message – Marshall McLuhan

I struggle with McLuhan‘s point of view  because it can be argued in many ways: is he saying that the message is controlled by the affordances of the medium or by the people running the shows? Or both?

And in plenty of country’s the medium was/is state controlled.

While in the US it is controlled by the advertisers. TV lends itself to a certain form of expression; historically there have been and are producers who create TV magic and get the format right, though there are plenty of experiments too that kick against what is possible and an audience will tolerate.

A shift to YouTube is fascinating.

I watched the Japanese Disaster‘s play out live, first on BBC 24hr News, then CNN, then best of all Japanese TV with English voice over NHK all on Freeview. I thought, having sat through IRA bombs and 9/11 that these feeds were the best source … the closes to being there. My son was getting this on YouTube directly from people’s SmartPhones ‘on the ground’. For the Libyan crisis I am taking Twitter Feeds and watching Al Jexera.

The point I feel is that each medium offers different possibilities: print, radio, TV and now online.

Everyone is their own producer/director if uploading from a Flip camera or SmartPhone. However, artists will come through. Within the communities that we become a part of there will be someone who is more informed, better at expressing themselves or exploiting the platform. Watching a documentary on Japan my son curses the amateur video producers for not keeping the camera still as vast quantities of water smash into buildings and boats. Not meaning to be flippant but he’s probably learning why locked off shots, from a tripod, work better.

From a learning point of view we are ‘there,’ the internet to a greater degree than print, radio or TV ‘puts us on the spot.

Is this not closer to reality, to being physically present, which is how historically (35,000 of human kind) we have learnt? By observation, participation and collaboration? Through mistakes and successes?


There is such thing as ‘The Google Generation’ – True or False?

Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Written in 2007 (published 11 January 2008). Reviewed in 2011.

Part of the Week 1 jollies for H800.

(This picks up where I left off in the Forum Thread)

After a year of MAODE, a decade blogging and longer keeping journals (and old course work from both school and uni I might add) I feel I can tap into my own first, second, third or fourth take on a topic.

Increasingly, where this is digitised my preferred learning approach is to add to this information/knowledge, often turning my ideas inside out.

We are yet to have a ‘generation,’ (a spurious and loose term in this context) that has passed through primary, secondary and tertiary education ‘wired up’ to any consistent degree from which to gather empirical research. Indeed, I wonder when things will bottom out, when we’ve gone the equivalent journey of the first horseless-carriage on the Turnpikes of England to the 8 lanes in both directions on the M1 south of Leicester – or from the Wright Brothers to men on the moon.

I’d like to encourage learners to move on from copying, or cutting and pasting in any form, to generating drafts, and better drafts of their take on a topic, even if this is just a doodle, a podcast or cryptic set of messages in a synchronous or asynchronous discussion i.e. to originate.

I lapped up expressions such as Digital Natives, an expression/metaphor only that has been debunked as lacking any basis in fact.

I fear this is the same when it comes to talking about ‘Generation X, Y or Z.’ It isn’t generational, it is down to education, which is down to socio-economic background, wealth, access (technical, physical, geographic, as well as mental), culture, even your parent’s job and attitude.

My 85 year old Father-in-law is Mac ready and has been wired to the Internet its entire life; does this make him of this ‘Generation?’

If x billion struggle to find clean drinking water and a meal a day, where do they stand?

They’ve not been born on Planet Google, so don’t have this generational opportunity.

I find it short sighted of the authors not to go for a ‘longitudinal’ (sic) study. It strikes me as the perfect topic of a JISC, Open University, BBC tie in, the filming part funding the research that is then published every three years for the next thirty, for example.

Trying to decide who is Generation X, or Generation Y or the ‘Google Generation’ strikes me as fraught as trying to decide when the islands we inhabit became, or could have been called in turn England, Scotland, Wales, Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

We could spend an unwarranted amount of time deciding who is in and who is out and not agreed.

We can’t it’s like pouring water through a sieve. The creator of IMBD, a computer geek and film buff was born in the 60s (or 70s). Highly IT literate, then as now, he is not of the ‘Google Generation’ as defined as being born after 1993, but is surely of the type?

Personally I was introduced to computers as part of the School of Geography initiative at Oxford in 1982.

Admittedly my first computer was an Amstrad, followed by an early Apple, but I’ve not been without a computer for the best part of thirty years. I can still give my 12 year old a run for his money (though he does get called in to sought our browser problems).

And should this report be quoting Wikipedia?

Surely it is the author we should quote if something is to be correctly cited; anyone could have written this (anyone did).

Reading this I wonder if one day the Bodleian Library will be like a zoo?

The public will have access to view a few paid students who recreate the times of yore when they had to read from a book and take notes, and look up titles in a vast leather-bound tome into which we strips of paper were intermittently stuck. (not so long ago).

Is there indeed, any point in the campus based university gathered around a library when all his millions, or hundreds of millions of books have been Googliefied?

Will collegiate universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Durham (Edinburgh and Dublin? Harvard ?) become even more elite as they become hugely expensive compared to offerings such as the Open University?

There may be no limit to how much and how fast content can be transmitted … the entire Library of Congress in 3 seconds I am told, but there are severe limits to how much you can read and remember, let alone make sense of and store.

Is this not the next step?

To rewire our minds with apps and plug-ins? I smile at the idea of ‘power browsing’ or the new one for me ‘bouncing’ the horizontal drift across papers and references rather than drilling vertically, driven by a reading list no doubt.

I can give a name to something I did as an undergraduate 1981-1984. Reading Geography I began I the Map room (skipped all lectures) and then spent my morning, if necessary moving between libraries, particularly the Rhodes Library and Radcliffe Science Library, by way of the School of Geography Library, of course, and sometimes into the Radcliffe Camera or the PPE Reading Rooms.

I bounced physically.

I bounced digitally online as a preferred way of doing things. Though this often leaves me feeling overwhelmed by the things I could read, but haven’t read, that I’d like to read. Which is good reason ONLY to read the latest paper, to check even here if the paper we are asked to read has not already been superseded by this or fellow authors.

Old digitised news keeps like a nasty smell in the wind?

Users are promiscuous, diverse and volatile and it is clear that these behaviours represent a serious challenge for traditional information providers, nurtured in a hardcopy paradigm and, in many respects, still tied to it. (p9)

The problem with the short read and low tolerance of readers is the way papers have thus far gone from print version to digital version without, yet, thorough transmogrification.

We await new acceptable ways to write, and submit and share knowledge that is less formal and to anyone versed in reading online, digestible.

All authors for the web would do well to read Jakob Nielsen on web usability.

There is a way to do it. If it looks like it belongs in a journal or book, you are getting it wrong

Do the authors appreciate that labelling the behaviour ‘squirreling’ is self-fulfilling?

It normalises the behaviour if anyone reads about it. Whilst metaphors are a useful way to explain, in one person’s words, what is going on, such metaphors soon become accepted as fact.

There is a running debate across a series of article in the New Scientist on the way humans think in metaphors (good, can’t help it), and how ideas expressed as metaphors then set unfounded parameters on how we think (not so good, and includes things like the selfish gene, competition and so on).

This dipping, bouncing and squirreling, horizontal browsing, low attention span, four to eight minute viewing diverse ‘one size does not fit all’ individual would make for an interesting cartoon character. I wonder if Steven Appleby or Quentin Blake would oblige. ________________________________________________________________________________

Why ‘huge’ and why ‘very’ ? Qualify. Facts. Evidence. And why even, ‘very, very.’ This isn’t academic writing, it’s hear say and exaggeration.

There’s a category missing from the graph – branded information, such as Wikipedia, or Harvard Business Publication, Oxford or Cambridge University Press and Blackwell’s, to name put a few.

Where so much information is available, and so many offerings on the same topic, the key for anyone is to feel they are reading a reliable source.

The point being made later about ‘brand’ presence for BL … something we will see more of with the commercialisation of information. Even Wikipedia cannot be free for ever, while the likes of Wikileaks, for its mischief making and spy-value will always be funded from nefarious sources.

There are very very few controlled studies that account for age and information seeking behaviour systematically: as a result there is much mis-information and much speculation about how young people supposedly behave in cyberspace. (p14)

Observational studies have shown that young people scan online pages very rapidly (boys especially) and click extensively on hyperlinks – rather than reading sequentially. Users make very little use of advanced search facilities, assuming that search engines `understand’ their queries. They tend to move rapidly from page to page, spending little time reading or digesting information and they have difficulty making relevance judgements about the pages they retrieve. (p14)

Wikipedia and YouTube both exhibit a marked age separation between viewers of content (mainly 18-24s) and content generators (mainly 45-54s and 35-44s respectively). (p16, ref 17)

‘there is a considerable danger that younger users will resent the library invading what they regards as their space. There is a big difference between `being where our users are’ and `being USEFUL to our users where they are’.

Surely it would be easy to compare a population that have access and those who do not?

Simply take a group from a developed, rich Western nation and compare them to a group that are not, that don’t have the internet access, video games or mobile phones.


Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. UCL 11 JAN 2008

E-learning with The OU

I’ve printed of the Assignment Guide ahead of putting TMA 1 togethe

Until now I’ve baulked at the cost of printer ink … indeed I ‘ve only had ink for the last week anyway.

It wasn’t just that, with no shelves up and stacks of files I have been finding that anything that does get printed off gets lost.

So it gets filed offline & backed up.

In the last 24 hours I have been telescoped back to 1982 and my many adventures at university. I had a video production ‘business’ called Last Stand Video. I have a dozen Betamax tapes from this period which I have been meaning to transfer for decades. I will now see if I can view & log them, then transfer (i.e digitise) the juiciest bits.

There’s a copy of  production of Romeo & Juliet in which I played Mercutio. During this particular fight with Tibalt the nappy-pin holding up my pantaloons broke so I cutched them as well as my ‘wound’ as I died to hysterical laughter on the marble floor of Magdalen Chapel.

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