Coming Soon: E-books Available Through Your Local Library

If you own a Kindle you may soon be able to check out e-books through your local library:

Amazon is preparing a new service called Kindle Lending Library that will allow users of its popular e-reader to check out Amazonian ebooks from 11,000 neighborhood and educational libraries.

“We’re excited that millions of Kindle customers will be able to borrow Kindle books from their local libraries,” said Amazon Kindle headman Jay Marine when announcing the service, which is scheduled to launch later this year, and which will be available to all generations of Kindles, plus other platforms running Amazon’s Kindle software.

That’s good news for Kindle owners.  Kindles, in addition to other e-readers, have become more popular with young readers.  By partnering with public libraries, Amazon is providing young readers with easy access to thousands of titles.  Students will be able to read more without having to pay for titles of their choice.

Just imagine: students may soon be able to create individualized reading lists through our own Find a Book tool and then check out the e-book versions, downloading them directly onto their Kindle.

Kudos to Amazon for partnering with public libraries to get more books into the hands of readers everywhere.

Finding the Silver Lining Among the Cuts: Personalized Learning Platforms

As state departments around the country attempt to find solutions to substantial budget cuts, one reoccurring proposal has been to increase the use of technology in the classroom.  As Sharon Otterman of the NY Times reports, New York City’s schools are planning to increase technology spending.    As Otterman explains, “the surge is part of an effort to move toward more online learning and computer-based standardized tests.”   With many states facing severe budget cuts the possibility of adding more teachers appears dim; and many states are finding that moving toward technology based personalized learning systems is an increasingly attractive option. 

We’ve written before on the advances in computer based personalized learning platforms and the support they provide educators.  As the number of enrolled students continues to climb – while the number of additional teachers declines  – personalized learning platforms offer a unique advantage.  Personalized learning platforms facilitate instruction without adding to many educators’ already heavy work load.  Utilities, like our own Oasis, allow students to engage in targeted, self-directed practice and even monitor their own growth through real-time assessments.  Plus, web-based utilities offer the promise of individualization – students are targeted at their own ability level.  In addition to true individualization, web tools offer the advantage of consistent availability.  Utilization is not tied to a particular classroom or the availability of a teacher.  Instead, students may access the tools at a time and location of their choosing.   As technology proliferates in classrooms across the nation, we look forward to seeing the various ways in which instructional tools will supplement the work of classroom educators and augment instructional time for all students.

Working Around Mother Nature: Turning Snow Days into Learning Days

We’ve written extensively on the importance of increased instructional time, and various ways to mitigate  summer learning loss.  As many educators have recently shared, all of the recent inclement weather has kept many too many students out of school.  Some schools are now finding creative ways around mother nature and have started utilizing technology to keep their students on track during the school year. 

USA Today reports that educators across the country have been turning to unconventional means to reach their students during recent and frequent snow days.

In Chicago’s suburbs, Lake Forest College professor Holly Sawyers uploaded videos of her anthropology lecture last week on YouTube and kept and e-mail line open while Chicago absorbed 20 inches of snow its public schools had their first snow day since 1999.  University of New Hampshire professor Kent Chamberlin gave an electromagnetic s lecture live – audio only – while still in pajamas.

In St. Louis, where blizzards have closed public schools for six days already this year, math, English, Chinese and history classes met via the Internet as usual…

With the proliferation of YouTube, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and of course the increasing availability of personalized learning platforms, educators are able to stay in contact with students in real time – all of the time.  Personalized learning platforms, like Oasis and MyWritingWeb, make real time instructional content and assessments immediately available to any student with an Internet connection.  And these tools further strengthen the home/school connection by allowing students access to the same content regardless of their physical location.  While many enjoy the benefits of social media as a way to stay in touch with their friends, these tools are increasingly being used to maintain contact between schools systems and students – making instruction a constant possibility and the snow day a thing of the past.

Washington Moves Toward Digital Texts

We’ve written at length about the shift from print to digital media in higher education. Many universities are now seeking ways to ease the financial burden of higher education for its students. One route that Washington State has opted to take is to offer more online classes with online resource material. According to this report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington state’s current textbook bill is financed through the state legislature, which has been facing financial hardships. The state currently has a half million students taking courses at their 34 two-year colleges. The idea was to create very accessible and affordable resources for students through online portals. The savings alone made the idea a winner. “We believe we can change the cost of attending higher education in this country and in the world,” says Cable Green, director of e-learning and open education at the Washington Board for Community & Technical Colleges.

The state received a matching grant of $750,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help begin development on low-cost online resources for the two-year colleges. The state is taking an ambitious approach to providing affordable education to their students, regardless of the obstacles they may encounter along the way. This is probably just a glimpse at what could be a revolutionary approach towards the future of higher learning.  If students are already receiving their texts digitally, it’s easy to imagine younger students receiving individualized texts targeted to their own reading level.  Personalized learning systems offer a world of possibilities to the world of education.  The wide availability of digital texts bring those possibilities that much closer to reality.

No Right Brain Left Behind

Related to yesterday’s post, FastCompany is asking for the best ideas on reinventing education.  A coalition of groups has formed No Right Brain Left Behind, a campaign developed to promote creativity in education.  The campaign is offering a contest built around the idea of attracting minds from a variety of industries to propose solutions for promoting creativity in education:

As part of Social Media Week 2011, next week in New York City, No Right Brain Left Behind is challenging industry teams (advertising, interactive, marketing, design, what-have-you) to come up with products and approaches that work within or outside the existing school system. These will be piloted by the end of 2011.

“What drives us is the possibility of a platform where the creative industries put their differences aside for one week out of the year to collaborate on something that is larger than ourselves and our business goals,” says Viktor Venson of multimedia and interactive agency Stopp, a driving force behind the campaign. ” If adopted, this would be an annual challenge asking the creative industries to respond to a burning issue or cause.”

Here’s the No Right Brain Left Behind presentation highlighting some of the most interesting ideas in education to date.  Be sure to take a look.

Remaining Relevant with Personalized Learning

Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevant is concerned about the lack of technological literacy within public education and is asking a long list of important questions.  To mention just a few:

  • 7 billion people on the planet; 5 billion cell phones. 2 billion people on the Internet. 500 million people on Facebook. 200 million on Twitter. 85 million on LinkedIn. 5 billion photos on Flickr; 50 billion photos on Facebook. 17 million Wikipedia articles. 500 billion mobile phone apps were downloaded last year. 6.1 trillion text messages were sent last year. Apple will sell 20 million iPads this year. 35 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute (or 176,000 full-length Hollywood movies each week). When are we going to start integrating technology into our schooling lives like we do in our personal lives and in our non-school professional lives?
  • What percentage of your school technology budget goes toward teacher-centric technologies – rather than student-centric – technologies?
  • How are you (or should you be) tapping into the power of technology to facilitate differentiated, individualized, personalized learning experiences for your students? (emphasis added)
  • When e-books or e-textbooks now can contain hyperlinks, embedded video, live chat with other readers, collaborative annotation where you see others’ notes and highlights, and/or interactive maps, games, and simulations, does it still make sense to call them ‘books?’ How might we tap into their advantages and affordances?
  • Electronic versions of books on Amazon now are outselling both their hardback AND paperback counterparts. Reference materials are moving to the Web at an exceedingly fast pace. When all of the books in your media center become electronic, will you still need a physical space called a ‘library?’ Will you still need ‘librarians?’
  • What percentage of my job could be done by robust learning software that not only delivers content in a variety of modalities to students but also assesses them on their mastery of that content? What percentage of my job could be done by a lower-paid worker in another country who is accessible via the Internet? In other words, what percentage of my job requires me, the unique, talented human being that stands before you?
  • Do I truly ‘get it?’ Am I doing what really needs to be done to prepare students for a hypercompetitive global information economy and for the demands of digital, global citizenship? In other words, am I preparing students for the next half century rather than the last half century?
  • Readers concerned with McLeod’s last point on the emergence of a hyper-competitive global elite should see last month’s cover story in The Atlantic, which illustrates well the new world in which students will soon find themselves.

    McLeod’s other questions are similarly provocative and serve as good reminders of why education must embrace these important shifts in technology.  The focus on technological literacy need not come at the expense of an ability to handle increasingly complex texts.  Students should be able to improve literacy skills across a variety of formats and genres. 

    McLeod’s particular emphasis is on the importance of personalized learning and of harnessing new technologies to facilitate targeted and differentiated learning.  Our own personalized learning platforms (MyWritingWeb and Oasis) were built around the idea of facilitating the move from novice to expert.  Because these tools are web-based students may access them from anywhere at anytime, giving students many more opportunities to write.   And because they are student-centered, these tools do not require teacher administration. 

    McLeod’s questions are worth considering.  And we’re happy to do our part to help prepare students for tomorrow’s hyper-competitive global economy.

    Capstone Digital Personalizes Learning with myON reader

    Capstone Digital launched myON™ readerat FETC yesterday. Described simply as the “first of its kind” personalized literacy environment, myON reader is designed to help preK-8 students and remedial readers take control of their reading development by recommending books they want and should be able to read, and monitoring their progress toward goals. And it’s all powered by The Lexile® Framework for Reading.

    Capstone Digital and MetaMetrics® announcedlast week that the Lexile Framework would power myON reader’s assessment engine, allowing students’ reading scores from benchmark tests and book-end quizzes to be reported as Lexile measures. Teachers and students can use these Lexile measures to build personalized reading plans that match ability level and interests with the more than 1,000 digital books available from Capstone’s award-winning imprints. Additional features, like embedded reading scaffolds (highlighting, audio and dictionary), increase student confidence and encourage more independent reading. Students can even monitor their growth with a personalized trajectory report that forecasts their expected reading level.

    According to Capstone Digital President Todd Brekhus, “Today’s students personalize their lives digitally on a daily basis through music, games and social networks. myON reader leverages those skills to engage students in an online, integrated reading environment using the same premise: digital personalization.”

    myON reader goes well beyond the basics of personalized learning. It provides a collaborative environment in which students, teachers and parents can work together to support student reading performance. myON reader uses cloud-based technology to connect school and home through anytime, anywhere access, and to provide a safe, social network where students can read, rate and review digital books, and recommend them to classmates.

    myON reader is supported by several research studies on how students read, how technology plays a part in reading, and what motivates students to read. For more information on the research behind myON reader, check out the white paper, “Building Proficiency Through Personalized Reading,” at www.CapstoneDigital.com.

    Capstone Digital’s New Literacy Program Launching Next Week

    Capstone Digital is taking personalized learning to a new level. Next week at FETC 2011, the company is launching what it describes as a “one-of-a-kind” literacy environment that will help students take more responsibility for their learning—with the support of teachers, librarians, administrators and parents.

    How is Capstone Digital making this level of personalization possible? Like many other companies before them, with the widely adopted Lexile® Framework for Reading.

    Capstone Digital just announced a partnership with MetaMetrics to use the Lexile Framework to level its digital content and monitor student progress toward goals. According to company President Todd Brekhus, “Our goal is to personalize the reading experience for every student. Collaborating with MetaMetrics to develop our new literacy program puts us one step closer to achieving this goal. Now we can provide educators with a powerful and proven tool to differentiate reading instruction for their students, and track their growth in reading ability.”

    So far, Capstone Digital has leveled more than 14,000 books from its various imprints and divisions. These Lexile measures will enable educators to personalize students’ reading plans—by assigning books at the right difficulty level to encourage independent reading and increase confidence.

    Check back here next week for more details on how Capstone Digital’s innovative new product will encourage a love of reading and increase growth—one student at a time.

    Google Takes the ‘Science Fair’ Global

    Google is expanding our traditional conceptions of the school science fair.  Student science fairs have typically been limited to local schools or districts, and budget cuts in recent years have meant that many schools no longer host local science fairs.  Google is changing all that.  Google is hosting the world’s first online, global science fair.  Students from around the world can participate via a browser and an Internet connection:

    The Google Science Fair takes the traditional science fair and moves it to the Web. Participating students both build and submit their projects online – using Google Docs, Sites, and YouTube, for example – for all aspects of their research projects – from the data collection to the final presentation. Students from all over the world are encouraged to participate – from Paris, Texas to Paris, France, from Venice, Italy to Venice Beach.

    And, of course, organizations well known for their commitment to innovation and scientific research are getting involved, giving students a chance for exposure to some of biggest scientific organizations from around the globe:

    To run this science fair, Google is teaming up with some of the most well-known names in science, technology, and education: CERN, LEGO, National Geographic, and Scientific American. And the judges for the event are just as prestigious, including the founder of the FIRSTrobotics competition Dean Kamen, the leader of National Geographic’s Genographic ProjectSpencer Wells, Nobel prize winner Kary Mullis, and the “father of the Internet” Vint Cerf.

    This type of open access and collaborative environment will do more than just provide an opportunity for students to present their work to a global audience; it also exposes students to the work and ideas of their peers by a sizable order of magnitude.  Google’s efforts will allow students to establish dialogue and interaction around science and technology issues in a way that regional science fairs are unable to match.

    And, of course, the prizes are bigger, ranging from a trip to the Galapagos Islands to a trip to Switzerland to visit  CERN and the Large Hadron Collider, or even a chance to work with LEGO on the next robotics project.

    To register click here.

    Augmented Texts:The Future of Digital Texts

    Which do you prefer, the look and feel of the paper and print book, or have you already grown accustomed to the e-book?  If e-books are your preferred medium, you may have already run across the next advance in e-book technology.  Here’s the Wall Street Journal on experiencing ‘augmented digital texts’, that is, interactive electronic books and articles.    

    The increasing popularity of e-readers has resulted in a rise in the number of active readers; and ease of access has many readers reporting reading more than they did just five years ago.  Electronic versions of text, however, are cheaper than paper and print versions and the rising popularity of e-books has proven a double-edged sword for publishers.  On the one hand, publishers are experiencing a wave of new readers and an uptick in the volume of sales.  On the other hand, the adjusted pricing model means that, for many publishers, an increase in digital sales actually means less revenue.  Publishers are struggling to create value in ways that make up that lost revenue.  One such possibility is to offer readers enhanced versions of electronic texts. And publishers are now experimenting with just how much consumers are willing to pay for additional, interactive content.  In addition to the prescribed texts, enhanced versions of popular books might, for example, offer audio and video support. 

    Enhanced versions may be catching on: there were more than 4 million copies of Jane Leavy’s biography of Mickey Mantle, “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,” sold.  The music industry offers an analog here.  The music industry has been producing enhanced CDs, or CD Plus, since 1998 and while there isn’t always a difference in cost between the ECD and the standard CD, the ECDs have proven much more popular:

    “This is a period of testing,” said David Steinberger, Perseus’s CEO. “We know the audiences for the two products are different. How do you craft the right level of video? What is the right release schedule? If you assume this is closely analogous to what we have today in the market marketplace with hardcovers and paperbacks, chances are that you’ll miss some good opportunities.”

    The ubiquity of e-readers and digital texts has presented educators with a fresh set of challenges as well.  Many classroom educators are struggling to integrate these valuable technologies into the classroom in ways that are neither disruptive nor irrelevant.  And many publishing and educational companies are working to do just that – to integrate new technologies with relevant content presented through a variety of mediums.  Inanimate Alice, for instance, offers a good example of the look and feel of augmented text and demonstrates the way that a wide variety of information can be incorporated into an interactive text.  This enhanced e-book takes you through the story of Alice and her imaginary digital friend, Brad. The four episodes offer progressive levels of interactivity, with the first episode offering minimal interaction, but increasing to a high level by the end of episode four.  The progressive level of Inanimate Alice makes it appealing to a wide range of ages and viewers. ‘Inanimate Alice,’ augments traditional storytelling through the use of images, sounds, text, and interaction and allows students to develop multiple literacies (literary, cinematic, artistic, etc.) in combination with the highly collaborative and participatory nature of the online environment.

    Consumers of digital media, including students, stand to benefit immensely from the emergence and refinement of enhanced texts.  It’s a trend worth watching.  And we look forward to seeing how these new augmented texts are put to use in classrooms across the country

    MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.