Posts in what-if

eBook Purchasing and Personal Values

An App to Proritize eBook Purchases by User-Set Priorities

I’m excited to read a new book, Sophia Samatar’s A Stranger in OlondriaI came across Ms. Samatar’s name and her work on the site Islam and Science Fiction and I was so excited about the perspective and literary references in A Stranger in Olondria that I immediately pre-ordered it from Amazon’s Kindle store. Then, after I’ve already bought the book, I noticed that it is also available from Weightless books, a niche retailer of ebooks that is small press and author friendly and sells books without DRM. I immediately regretted my Amazon purchase and wished I had sent my money to a vendor whose values are more in line with my own. The values I’m concerned about deal with DRM-free purchase options and the amount of my purchase dollars that go into the authors’ pockets.

I have a rough mental sketch of the ebook vendors I would prefer to use and in an ideal world, there are some resources available as well to help us choose. (If any readers cough librarians cough can help fill out this list, I’d appreciate it.)

My preferred ebook shopping list looks something like this:

  • Shop Smashwords first. In a conversation with Lindsay Buroker (the author of the fun steampunk series Emporer’s Edge) on Twitter, I learned that authors get a bigger cut of the purchase price on Smashwords then they get from Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.
  • Shop Weightless Books second. Weightless books have no DRM, and they work with small presses to develop new authors.
  • Shop direct from the publisher third. There are several publishers such as O’Reilly, No Starch, or BAEN who offer better service and DRM-free purchase options.
  • Shop Kobo next. Kobo sometimes has DRM-free options when the next item on the list does not. I buy John Scalzi’s work from Kobo for this reason.
  • Shop Amazon if all other options fail. I like the convenience of Amazon. I don’t necessarily care for their privacy policies, their clout in the industry, or their DRM policies. (Their MP3 store has no DRM, but Kindle and Audible books are locked down.) I don’t mind shopping there and I maintain a Prime subscription, but I prefer to use them as a vendor of last resort, not my first stop. Shopping at Bezos’ store first means that vendors with values that reflect my own are less likely to thrive or exist at all.

The App:

This  experience has me thinking: there should be an app that can do this for us. If such an app exists, please let me know about it in the comments. If not, it sounds like a good summer code project. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin sketch of how I want this thing to work:

Step One:

  • The first step is for the user to enter an ISBN, title, title keyword for the book they are looking for. This is a tool for known-item-searching so it doesn’t need to be able to browse.
  • The user input will return a list of possible titles and the users can confirm that this is the precise item they are looking for.

Step Two:

  • Once the exact title has been identified, a unique identifier such as an ISBN, DOI, or ASN will be used to search a set of vendors.

Step Three:

  • If multiple vendors stock the book, the user will be directed to the first vendor on a list of priorities. These priorities can be set by the user.

Step Four:

  • If the vendor selected has an affiliate program, purchase the book using the affiliate code. Otherwise, just send the user to the vendor’s storefront. It is important *not* to privilege affilate programs, otherwise we could just use Amazon all the time, but if such options exist, no reason the designer can’t get a small slice of each transaction enabled with the app.

I’ll throw something together when I get some project time and put it up on Github. Unless, of course, it already exists or one of you smarty-pants beats me to it.

Wrapping Up:

That’s it. It seems simple enough, but I’ve bought enough ebooks from the Kindle store, only to regret not shopping with my values that I think I’d benefit from having a tool like this. What do you all think? It should be noted that using a queue system like this assumes the user has the ability to strip the DRM from the books they buy. I use Apprentice Alf’s plugins for Calibre to do this myself. If there is interest, I’ll do a technical walkthrough for novices on how to own your ebooks using this method. Please let me know in the comments.

eBook Review – Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines

Orignially posted at ACRL TechConnect 2012/11/01.

Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines

This is a review of the ebook Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines and also of the larger project that collected the stories that became the content of the ebook. The project collects discussions about how technology can be used to improve student success. Fifty practical examples of successful projects are the result. Academic librarians will find the book to be a highly useful addition to our reference or professional development collections. The stories collected in the ebook are valuable examples of innovative pedagogy and administration and are useful resources to librarians and faculty looking for technological innovations in the classroom. Even more valuable than the collected examples may be the model used to collect and publish them. Cultivating Change, especially in its introduction and epilogue, offers a model for getting like minds together on our campuses and sharing experiences from a diversity of campus perspectives. The results of interdisciplinary cooperation around technology and success make for interesting reading, but we can also follow their model to create our own interdisciplinary collaborations at home on our campuses. More details about the ongoing project are available on their community site. The ebook is available as a blog with comments and also as an .epub, .mobi, or .pdf file from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy.

The Review

Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines [1. Hill Duin, A. et al (eds) (2012) Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota in 2012, An Open-Source eBook. University of Minnesota. Creative Commons BY NC SA. http://digital-rights.net/wp-content/uploads/books/CC50_UMN_ebook.pdf]

The stories that make up the ebook have been peer reviewed and organized into chapters on the following topics: Changing Pedagogies (teaching using the affordances of today’s technology), Creating Solutions (technology applied to specific problems), Providing Direction (technology applied to leadership and administration), and Extending Reach (technology employed to reach expanded audiences.) The stories follow a semi-standard format that clearly lays out each project, including the problem addressed, methodology, results, and conclusions.

Section One: Changing Pedagogies

The opening chapter focuses on applications of academic technology in the classroom that specifically address issues of moving instruction from memorization to problem solving and interactive coaching. These efforts are often described by the term “digital pedagogy” (For an explanation of digital pedagogy, see Brian Croxall’s elegant definition.[2. http://www.briancroxall.net/digitalpedagogy/what-is-digital-pedagogy/]) I’m often critical of digital pedagogy efforts because they can confuse priorities and focus on the digital at the expense of the pedagogy. The stories in this section do not make this mistake and correctly focus on harnessing the affordances of technology (the things we can do now that were not previously possible) to achieve student-success and foster learning.

One particularly impressive story, Web-Based Problem-Solving Coaches for Physics Studentsexplained how a physics course used digital tools to enable more detailed feedback to student work using the cognitive apprenticeship model. This solution encouraged the development of problem-solving skills and has to potential to scale better than classical lecture/lab course structures.

Section Two: Creating Solutions

This section focuses on using digital technology to present content to students outside of the classroom. Technology is extending the reach of the University beyond the limits of our campus spaces, this section address how innovations can make distance education more effective. A common theme here is the concept of the flipped classroom. (See Salmam Khan’s TED talk for a good description of flipping the classroom. [2. http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html]) In a flipped classroom the traditional structure of content being presented to students in lectures during class time and creative work being assigned as homework is flipped.  Content is presented outside the classroom and instructors lead students in creative projects during class time. Solutions listed in this section include podcasts, video podcasts, and screencasts. They also address synchronous and asynchronous methods of distance education and some theoretical approaches for instructors to employ as they transition from primarily face to face instruction to more blended instruction environments.

Of special note is the story Creating Productive Presence: A Narrative in which the instructor assesses the steps taken to provide a distance cohort with the appropriate levels of instructor intervention and student freedom. In face-to-face instruction, students have body-language and other non-verbal cues to read on the instructor. Distance students, without these familiar cues, experienced anxiety in a text-only communication environment. Using delegates from student group projects and focus groups, the instructor was able to find an appropriate classroom presence balanced between cold distance and micro-management of the group projects.

Section Three: Providing Direction

The focus of this section is on innovative new tools for administration and leadership and how administration can provide leadership and support for the embrace of disruptive technologies on campus. The stories here tie the overall effort to use technology to advance student success to accreditation, often a necessary step to motivate any campus to make uncomfortable changes. Data archives, the institutional repository, clickers (class polling systems), and project management tools fall under this general category.

The University Digital Conservancy: A Platform to Publish, Share, and Preserve the University’s Scholarship is of particular interest to librarians. Written by three UM librarians, it makes a case for institutional repositories, explains their implementation, discusses tracking article-level impacts, and most importantly includes some highly useful models for assessing institutional repository impact and use.

Section Four: Extending Reach

The final section discusses ways technology can enable the university to reach wider audiences. Examples include moving courseware content to mobile platforms, using SMS messaging to gather research data, and using mobile devices to scale the collection of oral histories. Digital objects scale in ways that physical objects cannot and these projects take advantage of this scale to expand the reach of the university.

Not to be missed in this section is R U Up 4 it? Collecting Data via Texting: Developing and Testing of the Youth Ecological Momentary Assessment System (YEMAS). R U Up 4 it? is the story of using SMS (texting) to gather real-time survey data from teen populations.

Propagating the Meme

The stories and practical experiences recorded in Cultivating Change in the Academy are valuable in their own right. It is a great resource for ideas and shared experience for anyone looking for creative ways to leverage technology to achieve educational goals. For this reader though, the real value of this project is the format used to create it. The book is full of valuable and interesting content. However, in the digital world, content isn’t king. As Corey Doctorow tells us:

Content isn’t king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you’d choose your friends — if you chose the movies, we’d call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.[2. http://boingboing.net/2006/10/10/disney-exec-piracy-i.html]

The process the University of Minnesota followed to generate conversation around technology and student success is detailed in a white paper. [3. http://bit.ly/Rj5AIR] After reading some of the stories in Cultivating Change, if you find yourself wishing similar conversations could take place on your campus, this is the road-map the University of Minnesota followed. Before they were able to publish their stories, the University of Minnesota had to bring together their faculty, staff, and administration to talk about employing innovative technological solutions to the project of increasing student success. In a time when conversation trumps content, a successful model for creating these kinds of conversations on our own campuses will also trump the written record of other’s conversations.