Posts Tagged Technology

eBooks in the Classroom

23 April 2010

I’ve been reading through the past few months of the blog at Worldreader.org, a project that is experimenting with using e-books (specifically, Amazon Kindles) to deliver textbooks and other reading materials to students.  They’ve undertaken two trials, one in Barcelona, Spain and another in Accra, Ghana. The blog is a very thoughtful and honest reflection on the project, and if this is a topic that interests you, it’s worth spending some time browsing through the archives.

Kindles in AccraThey started on this project because of the potential upside of replacing paper texbooks with a high-tech solution. Primarily, that upside is the relatively cheap, high-speed delivery of books.  In Accra, texbooks are only replaced about every five years, and donated books are often irrelevant and of patchy quality (“All About Utah!” isn’t even something that I’d be interested in reading). With the Kindle’s connection to the local GSM wireless network, just about any book can be downloaded in less than a minute, at a fraction of the cost of buying a paper copy and having it shipped to hard-to-reach places.

In the blog, the authors also wrestle with the challenges that present themselves– the high initial cost of the eBooks that could make the program difficult to replicate (though they got subsidized Kindles from Amazon), keeping the eBooks charged up, and the relative fragility of an electronic device. They also wrestle with some of the bigger questions around a project like this: Is this addressing a problem the market would eventually solve on its own? Is this just another form of cultural imperialism? How much of the early success of the Kindles is because of the novelty factor?

All these problems have solutions, at least in the longer term. Costs will drop, batteries will improve, and durable eBooks will find their way into schools. For me, reading an eBook will probably never completely replace the tactile experience of reading an old fashioned paper book. But it’s hard to imagine a school of the future in which students are still lugging around massive, decade-old textbooks. That will be even more true in places like Accra, where schools and students stand to gain so much from the low-cost, instant delivery of the world’s best and most up-to-date learning materials.



Connectivity in Hard-to-Reach Places

30 March 2010

Global Mobile is on vacation this week, but I felt I should share the below:

Trans-Canyon Telephone Line

In 1867, John Wesley Powell became the first white man to explore the Grand Canyon, filling in the last “UNKNOWN” blank spot on the maps of America.  A few decades later, in 1935, connectivity came to the bottom of the Canyon, as the CCC constructed the Trans-Canyon Telephone Line.  As you can see above, the telephone line covers some pretty hairy terrain, but FDR and the CCC knew the power of connectivity, and knew the value in connecting tourists and rangers to the world outside the Canyon.

Now, of course, we’re canyoning in a more high-tech world– America’s forest rangers, for example, are plugging their smartphones into the AnaBat, a small piece of hardware to help them hear, count, and identify the bats that call the Grand Canyon home. Meanwhile, the FCC, rather than the CCC, is working to connect all Americans, bringing broadband to even the most hard-to-reach parts of our country.  Plus ça change…



Sharing Content in the FUTURE

16 March 2010

The internet is a very disorganized place. I think our children and grandchildren will laugh at us for (among many other things) even trying to bushwhack our way through this chirping, hissing, dripping jungle of data, media, networks-within-networks, and kittens doing adorable things. The next truly killer app will be the one that is able to organize content, suss out what matters and what matters to you, and deliver it to you on a silver platter (or on a lunch tray, or in the Stanley Cup, or however you want it served).

The big question that follows is how, exactly, will content– written, visual, audio, etc.– be sorted and organized? Who will be the decider? Will the New York Times editorial board bestow the label of true and important? Will Google’s algorithms sort items based on myriad criteria to allow the relevant to rise to the top? Will billions of netizens vote and decide? Who knows.

Media JungleHere’s what I do think is true: In dealing with the oceans of media and content, perhaps the most valuable validators will be our friends. They’ll share links, photos, videos, blog posts, quotes, quips, and other stuff they like with you, their friend, and you will share back with them. We already do this of course, through e-mail and IM, status message and Tweet, RSS, Blog, Buzz, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook. But it’s fragmented, it’s disorganized, and it’s not very well integrated.

A recent article by Marisa Meltzer at the American Prospect wrote about blogging/sharing platform Tumblr, which gives users a slick, easy way to share content– original or not.  She aptly describes it as a tool for “curating” the web– for picking out and sharing what matters to you, and ignoring the rest. I’ve experimented with a number of blogging platforms over the years, and Tumblr is the one that feels most relevant to the moment we’re in now: distilling simplicity from the pandemonium.

So is Tumblr the future of content sharing on the web?  Well, no, not exactly. I think we’re gravitating toward something that melds Tumblr’s simplicity, ease of use and customizability with much of Google Reader’s functionality, and then ties it together with Facebook’s network. Google and Facebook are both working hard to develop the killer content-sharing platform, but Facebook still feels clunky, and Google Buzz is the worst of all worlds.

But it was just 25 years ago that the first .com was registered.  Fifteen years ago, Netscape changed the internet.  And five years ago, nobody had heard of a Twitter.  So I won’t go any further in my speculation about how we’ll be sharing– or even what we’ll be sharing– five years from now.