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I’ve recently become involved with ebooks on both a personal and professional level. As a keen reader I’ve been considering whether ebooks were for me and whether I should consider a dedicated ebook reader (ereader). We are also considering ebooks and ereaders, for our distance learners, as an alternative to supplying them with traditional textbooks.

A little research reveals that ebooks are produced in different formats but not all ebooks are available in all formats… and not all readers can display ebooks in all formats. There are extremely detailed comparison tables of ereaders (this one, for instance) and unless ebooks can always be converted into a format of choice, the user is left making a decision on their choice of ereader based on what format of ebook they foresee wishing to use. A less than optimal situation.

As well as dedicated ereaders there are of course other options for reading ebooks, including tablets/PCs/laptops/netbooks and mobile phones. The first group offers the greater flexibility in formats that can be displayed, but possibly a less comfortable reading experience than with a device with an e-ink screen and less mobility some cases. Mobile phones offer the greatest access when it comes to mobility, but the small screen size brings issues of its own along with limited memory size.

Attending the very well attended JISC Digital Media online surgery ‘Getting Started with ebooks’ this week we learnt more about creating ebooks including multimedia, insuring accessibility and copyright.

Those producing ebooks have obvious responsibilities (eg accessibility and copyright) but many options with the technology they choose to use. Recognising that readers may be using one (or more) of many possible devices to access the ebook must be the first consideration, because it determines:

  • what formats of ebook can be accessed (and therefore what titles)
  • the screen size which could affect how well the pages can be displayed (eg large tables or detailed diagrams)
  • whether colour can be seen (coloured diagrams rendered in B/W may be much less useful)
  • memory size (if the ebooks are intended to be stored on the device)

 

Possible solutions to this for ebook producers are:

  • produce ebooks that can be viewed fully on  the lowest specification device (eg smallest screen, B/W, lowest memory)
  • produce ebooks in all the major formats

 

Those wanting their students to access available ebooks could:

  • prescribe a device that the student would need to provide for themselves
  • provide a device for each student (could be a loan)

 

I would be interested to hear if anyone has succeeded in making what they feel is a successful choice of ereader/other device for students to access academic texts.

I was attracted to this conference both for the content which sounded intriguing but also to experience a wholly on-line conference.

The presentations and workshops were spread what at first seemed very thinly across the time available. But once I had attended a couple of sessions I began to really appreciated the breaks: it allowed me to keep up with my other responsibilities for the day, catch my breath and gather my thoughts. Each session was very intense with the oral presentation, slides, the synchronous and asynchronous panes to follow. It was a real challenge to take it all in and keep up; how the presenters managed, I do not know. The use of facilitators seemed to be an excellent idea and did at least aid the speaker in the balancing act of giving their presentation with following the ‘conversation’ going on amongst the audience sufficiently well to be able to comment and answer questions.

I couldn’t choose a highlight as I enjoyed all the sessions I attended both for the presented material and the interaction with other attendees. All were thought provoking.

I have attended a number of individual on-line sessions before this conference, many of them using Elluminate (the same tool used here), and though I could never say that I would like virtual meetings to replace all face to face events, I see real benefits. Short meetings are simply hard to justify the time spent in travelling, let alone the expense, and attending remotely may enable some to attend and still fulfil other commitments on the same day. Virtual conferences may enable some to attend events they would not otherwise be able to afford. Who wouldn’t support something that enables conferences and workshops to continue in lean times and possibly attract a greater range of attendees.

But I wonder also if there isn’t something extra to be gained from on-line meetings. It’s often said one of the most important aspects (or at least most often achieved) of face to face meetings is networking. I don’t know if it just the virtual meetings that I have attended, but I notice a lot more interaction, and between many more people, than in face to face events. Of course, what the quality of this interaction is, only time will tell. It would also be interesting to know how presenters feel about the kind of session where the audience can be ‘talking’ even more than they are.

My Tweets on the event

Phil Barker (CETIS) opened the day, mentioning the ‘dark web’, that part of the web which is inaccessible to search engines (‘The Invisible Web – Sherman and Price, 2001) and not adding your work to it inadvertently by choosing the wrong repository. Different repositories were contrasted, ones that manage resources instead of managing access (eg MIT OpenCourseware) and ones that manage different types of content (eg work in progress, finished work.) Ben Goldacre’s request for information on the content of a homeopathy course, though initially refused by the institution, was eventually granted after a court ruled that this was legally public information. Do we think of course material this way?

David Davis (Warwick) took us through his survey on searching for resources, conducted for the OOER project. This was full of interesting and somewhat counter intuitive insights into how users searched and how they assessed resources when they found them: an excellent read (see link below.)

David Millard (Southampton) compared sharing through repositories and Web 2.0 sites. He pointed out that those that shared did so for a reason (backing up our research in Skills for Scientists) and so it was important that the repository/site fulfilled those needs.

Joss Winn (Lincoln) expressed the view that a repository needed to concentrate on storing resources and nothing more, providing ”food for Google” rather than trying to provide social web functions which other sites already did so well and could be taken advantage of.

Patrick Lockley (Nottingham) spoke about the challenges of harvesting a multitude of RSS feeds; should be easy but it isn’t!

Lisa Rogers (Heriot-Watt) gave details of her work on two Subject OER projects, CORE for Materials and the Engineering Pilot Project. CORE involved experimenting with uploading to JorumOpen using RSS feeds (since manual upload of so many resources was unfeasible) whereas the engineering project had authors upload material themselves to make the process more sustainable.

Roger Greenhalgh (Harper-Adams) took us on a tour of repositories, including the Virtual Carrot Museum (everything you wanted to know about carrots ….and some) and his own OpenFields: a repository for land based studies.

Sarah Currier outlined a repository built by a community of practice based on Diigo and Netvibes.

Links to all the position papers can be found here: http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/Repositories_and_the_Open_Web

Tweets (tagged #cetisrow) can  be found here: http://www.twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/cetisrow

Today’s meeting was an opportunity for Subject Centres to learn more about JISC’s Curriculum Design and Delivery Programme, in particular the Design Studio.

The day started by looking at the programme which comprises 12 projects running from October 2008 – July 2012. The projects are all looking at institution-wide curriculum design issues and how practice can be improved or enhanced across the institution, with regard for necessary discipline variations, making curricula more responsive, flexible and agile.

Transforming Curriculum Delivery through Technology comprises 15 projects, two in FE alone, spread across the disciplines (sadly, none in physical science.) The emphasis is generally not on the technology itself but how it is being used (so may involve using established systems such as the institutional VLE.) Initial findings show a commitment to listen to learners and engage with stakeholders (though this can be difficult to measure) and to consider a cost benefit analysis (which is challenging to calculate.)

The Design Studio is an evolution of a wiki for the Programme. It comprises the outcomes of the projects (assets) and a design cycle linking them. The assets are tagged so (currently) the visitor can work through the Design Studio either by segments in the design cycle or through the tags.  Representatives of Subject Centres have requested a way visitors can look at this work with a discipline perspective and ways this can be achieved will be investigated as the wiki is developed.

Design Studio

Programme blog

Twitter: @circlespace

Netvibes: http://www.netvibes.com/circlejisc#CIRCLE_Feeds