Tag Archives: ebook

Looking back to so what of the future…


Five years ago in March 2010, I wrote an article on the “future”.

At that time I wrote

Over the last year or so I have been doing a few keynotes and presentations entitled the future of learning. I do start with a caveat that I don’t know the future for sure and that no one can really predict the future…

I then reflected on the past before looking forward.

Well for me the “next big thing” is e-Books and e-Book Readers. These will hit the consumer market big time over the next three years. We will see many more people reading books, magazines and newspapers via devices such as the Apple iPad, Microsoft Courier and other devices not yet on the market.

Well in May 2010, we saw the release of the iPad in the UK and with that came the iBooks application.

Though the Kindle was originally released in 2007, the third generation of Kindles released in 2010 were competitively priced and we saw more people buying these devices and reading ebooks.

By 2012 we saw a huge increase in the sales of ebooks, some of that was due to the success of “50 Shades of Grey”, but in 2013 and 2014 we saw a decline in the rate of growth of ebook sales, so still growing, but more slowly than in 2011 and 2012.

There is also a “backlash” against ebooks with many commentators and some booksellers talking about “a growing number of people who are going back to books.”

Within education, we saw projects such as the Jisc Collections e-books for FE which from 2011-2014 saw 2996 e-books made available to FE Colleges for free.

So we have seen over the last five years a huge increase in the usage of ebooks and ebook readers, though to be honest whatever did happen to the Microsoft Courier?

As for the next five years…. well that might need to be another article.

Running Pilots

Pilots running for their planes

So are you thinking about running a pilot or a trial?

How many pilots do we need? Or is it more a question that we need to run a pilot at our institution before we think about “rolling” it out across all curriculum areas. I am also aware of successful pilots in one curriculum area which have been followed by virtually identical pilots in a second curriculum area… Why? Well the learners are different! Really! How different, they have two heads or something? That actually raises a question on any pilot, well successful pilots have resulted in a roll out across the whole institution?

We do see institutions that use tools such as Powerpoint across the institution, similarly we see some institutions have embedded the use of the VLE. However was this via projects and pilots? Or was it something different?

Do pilots actually help institutions move forward in using learning technologies or are they causing problems rather than solutions?

Do you read about pilots and projects from other organisations? Do you follow their advice when implementing new technologies or do you decide to run your own pilot? If we don’t learn from pilots that others do, is there any point in doing or talking about pilots?

I also had a recent conversation where the institution was going to do a pilot as it couldn’t afford a mainstream rollout of the technology. Now this I really didn’t understand, you already know from the research undertaken that the technology works and has a positive impact, however rather than buy enough for the institution you’re only going to buy enough to repeat the pilot already done. Why couldn’t they buy enough? Well they weren’t given the funding.


Maybe the question is, why aren’t the people who are making the financial decisions reading the research and project outcomes?


Personally my view is that if there is only enough money for a pilot, it’s probably not worth doing and you would be better off spending the money on reinforcing and enhancing the use of a technology you already have. However many might see that as boring.

I thought I would mention some of things I have done at my institution in relation to the introduction of new technologies and the impact they have had.


When the JISC Collections e-Books for FE announcement was made, I immediately signed the college up. I recall talking to a colleague who said “so which group of students should we pilot this with”. I thought for a minute and wondered why we needed to do a pilot or a trial. Hadn’t JISC Collections already done that, seen the need to provide the collection and given us an opportunity. So I replied, “no we’re not going to do a pilot, we’re going to launch it for all learners and tell everyone about it, the pilot projects have already been done by JISC, e-books do work, they support, enhance and enrich learning, why on earth would we want to repeat that work, to get the same results, oh and get no funding to do it?” As a result of the mainstream launch of the e-books into the college, we now have learners and practitioners using e-books to support their learning. No need to do a pilot, we knew it worked elsewhere, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?

Video Cameras

I could go on about Flip’ping Pilots, but when an opportunity came to purchase some SD card based video cameras, rather than buy a set of 15 and see how they worked out with groups, we purchased over 300 cameras. The result was just what I expected. More practitioners creating and using video in their teaching. Learners using video for assessment and reflection. Availability of the cameras was the real issue, having lots of them meant that whenever someone wanted to use one, either they had one in their pocket or could get hold a class set really easily. Was I concerned about spending that amount of money on cameras that wouldn’t be used? Well probably slightly, however pilots and projects done elsewhere had demonstrated again and again that video had had a really positive impact on teaching and learning, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?


I remember seeing a demonstration of Activexpression by Promethean at my college and been very impressed, the main reason I liked the system over other “clicker” systems including the Promethean Activote was that you could use the system without needing to spend ages preparing the questions in advance.

However another thing I knew, from reading about projects that had implemented clickers in other institutions was that staff didn’t use their sets of clickers very much because they weren’t sure if they would be available, but when they did use them they really thought they worked effectively. The lesson was simple, ensure you have enough clickers available. We also had a need to make assessment more engaging and “fun”, clickers or voting units seemed like an ideal solution based on the work done elsewhere. So once more when some funding was available, we purchased 1500 Activexpression handsets, nearly enough for a hundred classes! They were made available in a range of departments. The result? Well most of the sets were used and used on a regular basis to the point where they are embedded into practice. However I should say not all departments engaged with the technology and some were left in cupboards. However after a period of implementation and relection we relocated the sets not been used. The result was across many curriculum areas the clickers were been actively used to enhance and enrich learning. I had seen the results of many pilots and projects that had used clickers and voting units, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?


When the iPad first came out, I didn’t think it was going to be the radical device for me that it has eventually come to be. In the end I was really impressed with the device and how it improved my efficiency and workflows for my job. As a result I bought every member of the management team in my centre an iPad. As well as the Libraries and e-Learning, my centre includes Construction, Engineering and Schools Liaison. I certainly didn’t see this as a pilot or a project, much more about them benefiting from the lessons I had learnt. I have had quite a few people in the college come and ask me to provide them with iPads (like I have the budget for that) or have asked to “pilot” them with a group of their learners. As far as I am concerned there have been lots of iPad pilots and projects elsewhere in the world and my college doesn’t need to repeat those experiences, the lessons have been published, the problems identified and many of the issues resolved. For me the question is now, now are iPads useful or will they enhance and enrich learning, no the question for me is, will iPads solve a specific problem we have in the college, will they increase retention and achievement for a particular cohort? If I can answer those questions I can then ask the question will the cost of the iPads be outweighed by the benefit they will bring? We don’t have that many iPads at my college, those that do have them, find they are really useful and have had quite an impact on their work. Elsewhere other iPad projects have demonstrated the value they can bring to learning, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?

Thinking differently

So with all the wonderful stuff that has been discussed at various conferences and events, I wonder how many of you are thinking about your next project, your next pilot, your next research grant bid… Do I only want to do a pilot because a) everyone else is doing a pilot and b) it means I get an exciting new gadget to play with c) I need to be seen to be doing new and innovative stuff. Pilots are fun, aren’t they?

Or are you thinking differently, thinking about why wouldn’t this work at my place? Why can’t I do a mainstream roll out of this new technology.

Are you thinking differently?

“I like real books…”

“…but I like real books, you know paper ones…”

This is a typical response from practitioners when I start talking about e-books.

There are three problems with this kind of response.

Firstly, e-books are not replacing paper books. Well they may in the future, in the same way cars have replaced horses. But at this time e-books can be used along with paper books. Just because e-books are available to learners doesn’t mean they are then banned from using paper books.

“Sorry, you’ve access an e-book, you no longer have the rights to read paper books!”

Secondly, which builds on the first point, is that just because we have a collection of e-books, this doesn’t mean you are forced to use them, you can still use the paper books if you want to. You do have a choice, as do the learners.

Thirdly is assumes that paper books can be accessed just as easily and quickly as the e-book collection can be (and vice versa). When I am in the library, yes it is often easier and quicker to get the paper copy of a book than start the computer, log in, download my profile, start the browser, enter the URL (or click the link), enter my credentials into the Federated Access screen, find the book, either by searching or from a “bookshelf”. Yes finding the paper copy is probably going to be faster.

However if that book has been lent out to another learner… than, accessing the book will be much quicker than asking the other learner to return the book, which could take days! Also imagine that the learner is at home or work, then travelling to the library will take time. What if the learner wants the book on Sunday afternoon at home, when the library is closed; once again the e-book will be much easier and quicker to access. This ease of access at a place and time to suit the learner is one of the key advantages of e-books.

Fourthly and finally, the initial statement is typical in that it uses the “I” word. Too many times practitioners resist using a new tool or service, or embed a technology into their teaching, because they say “I don’t like it”. Actually even worse some practitioners say that not only they don’t like it, but that there learners won’t like it… based on what evidence you have to ask? “I know my learners” they reply.

I’ll leave you with a final thought, many people did not like the fact that cars replaced horses. One of the reasons was that horses indicated position and status.

Do you prefer printed books?

A study group for the book industry in the US has found that:

…most college students say they prefer textbooks in printed rather than e-text form.

They also found:

About 12% of the students surveyed — mostly males, and often MBA-seeking or distance learners — said they prefer e-texts to printed texts because of their lower cost, convenience and portability.

So what does this tell is about the use of e-books in education?

That we should ignore e-books and only buy paper books?

Go back to the point “students say they prefer”, preference is about making a choice, and choice is important. Preference also can mean that both options are liked, but students when asked to make a choice, prefer printed books over e-books. For example I like tea and coffee, but prefer coffee.

There is another issue here in how textbooks are used by students. I wrote about this last May following a report in The Seattle Times that:

It would appear that students at the University of Washington don’t like using the Kindle compared to use printed books.

There were some interesting results and comments from the pilot. 80% would not recommend the Kindle as a classroom study aid for example. However 90% liked it for reading for pleasure.

The implication is that the Kindle did not work in the classroom, however as a device to read books it works fine.

This is a lesson that educational publishers need to recognise when publishing content to platforms like the Kindle and the iPad. Though novels are linear and as a result eBook formats can “work” like a printed book, educational books are used differently and as a result eBook versions need to work differently. Students need to be able to move around quickly, annotate and bookmark.

The experiences at the University of Washington show that the issue wasn’t really with the Kindle, but was much more about the format of educational text books in the ebook format.

I would argue that the results of the BISG survey is a similar issue, in that the merely digitising academic textbooks is not how we should be creating academic e-textbooks.

Students do not use textbooks in the same way that they read a novel. Digital textbooks need to evolve as do e-book readers. The iPad is starting to show the potential of what can be done, but more work needs to be done on how students use textbooks and how they could use digital versions of the textbooks.

The JISC work on e-books is certainly a start on this and makes for interesting reading.

We are still in the early days of how e-books will be used and can be used.

Why the Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization – iPad App of the Week

Why the Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization – iPad App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone and iPad Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive.

This week’s App is Why the Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization.

This groundbreaking app from bestselling author David Eagleman is a new way to experience narrative non-fiction, only available on the iPad.

The app allows the user to access each chapter at random using a unique navigational interface. Once in a chapter you can pull out to see where you are in the course of the argument, and see how far you have progressed through the content.

Each chapter contains tailor-made chunks of text with dozens of images, videos, webpages and interactive 3D models. These can be enjoyed alongside the text, or on their own once the text is swiped away in landscape mode.

Fully readable and adaptable to portrait or landscape, the app uses all the functionality familiar from iBooks such as page swiping and a bottom navigational bar, but re-configures it into a new experience that brings the content alive.

David Eagleman has spent years researching this topic and plans to release regular updates so that the information is current, and the content evolves.


I am not sure I can recommend this app, the main reason I bought it was to see how a book could work on the iPad away from the iBooks or Kindle style interface. In that this book does work, the interface is easy to use and you can move from one section to another with ease. The book makes good use of images, diagrams, animations and video.

The author has indicated that he will “update” the book as time goes on. In other words the book will evolve over time.

You can copy (therefore making it easy to cite) from the book.

On other book applications this is very difficult if not impossible. Though even I am not sure how to cite from a book such as this one. This is something that I need to look into further, but as more and more “virtual” books like this are published, the more we in the academic community will need a consistent way of citing such tomes.

So from a technical perspective I think the book works. As for the content? Well I thought it was interesting, but the topic is something you are interested in or not.

Update: this app is no longer available.

Google Books – iPad App of the Week

Google Books – iPad App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone and iPad Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive.

This week’s App is Google Books.

The Google Books app offers access to over 2 million Google eBooks on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. Take your favorite books with you on the go.

Great Reading Experience

– Change font, search within book, information about book
– Night-reading mode
– Offline reading mode

Discover Millions of Titles

– Millions of books in every imaginable category, from New York Times bestsellers to favorite classics
– Over 2 million free ebooks available instantly
– Over 400,000 ebooks for purchase
– Free preview pages
– Unlimited storage of books in the digital cloud
– Worry-free archive

Syncs With Your Google Books Library

– Find books at http://books.google.com/ebooks and add them to the ‘My Google eBooks’ shelf to sync
– Access all your ebooks wirelessly from the digital cloud; no dedicated e-reading device required
– Automatic page position synching across devices — pick up reading where you left off


Okay firstly an important disclaimer, this app is not currently available in the UK iTunes Store and more importantly even if you could get hold of the App from the US Store and install it on your iPad (or iPhone) you can’t buy any books for the App, though you can download free books.

Google announced Google eBooks on the 6th December.

Today is the first page in a new chapter of our mission to improve access to the cultural and educational treasures we know as books. Google eBooks will be available in the U.S. from a new Google eBookstore. You can browse and search through the largest ebooks collection in the world with more than three million titles including hundreds of thousands for sale.

Alas the eBookstore is US only, though outside the US you can download free books. In this post however I am going to focus on the app and look at the service in another blog post at a later date. A key part of the service though is how it links to your Google account.

Google have also released an App for the iPhone and the iPad. However as already stated this is not (yet) available in the UK store.

Having managed to get hold of the app, how does it compare. Like the Kindle App if you want to buy books (and could) these have to be purchased via the browser. Likewise choosing free books is also done via the browser.

The experience if very similar to the Kindle or iBooks apps and like those apps you can change text and colours to meet your needs. There is no way of highlighting text or making notes, this makes it less useful to learners who may want to do such a thing.

It does make me smile when Google extol one of the features of their service is an offline reading mode! One of the reasons I like native e-book readers (either as apps or devices) is that they work when a browser doesn’t, like when there is no connectivity. For me it’s not a feature, but an expectation.

Overall the app is what you would expect from any kind of e-book reader app, nothing outstanding and nothing special. However where Google Books falls down as an app is that in the UK you can’t buy books. So at this time, it isn’t really worth the effort or time to get the app, as you might as well use the Kindle app or Apple’s iBooks. Maybe in the future this will change, we’ll wait and see.

Kindles are wonderful things

Though we know books are wonderful things they do have a few disadvantages.

They are heavy! Okay carrying a single book is probably okay for most people, but think about carrying all the books in a bookshelf? Yes not a practical solution to carry them all in one go!

You have to buy books, either from a book store or Amazon. Regardless of the route you take it will still take time to either find and buy the book in a bricks and mortar store, or wait for Amazon to deliver it. I have bought books from Amazon.com and it takes weeks for them to be delivered from the USA unless I am willing to pay an arm and a leg for speedy delivery.

Of course if you don’t buy the book, you can always borrow from your local library. Well you could borrow from your library under two assumptions. First that they have a copy, second that no one else has borrowed it. Yes you can request a copy or reserve a copy, but once more that takes time. In academic libraries the problems of scarce real books can impact on the learning process. I recall from my undergraduate days when as soon as a lecturer mentioned a book in a lecture as “essential reading” the entire cohort of students would literally run to the library to get out the single copy available… The library did sometimes under the direction of the academics add the book to a “special collection” that allowed the book to be borrowed for one hour! No more, just one hour! The focus moved away from learning and onto book borrowing and logistics!

One advantage given to paper books is the ability to highlight words or phrases, annotate sections of interest or fold over the corner to bookmark a page. This is fine if this is your book, but can change how someone views the content of the book if they use a book that already has annotations and bookmarks. Their view will be skewed by the previous reader. Also if you annotate or bend pages of a library book then the librarians rightly get a little upset.

If you talk to lost property offices at railway stations and airports you will realise that people lose books all the time. Once lost, the only way to retrieve that book is to buy a new copy.

Finally though for many, books are an accessible format, for some the small text and black on white printing can be inaccessible.

The e-book reader is a technological solution to some of the issues we face with real paper books. There are many models out there from the new Sony Reader with touch interface, the Nook and the well received Amazon Kindle. These e-ink devices allow you to read books anywhere and at anytime, well under the assumption it isn’t dark!

You can put onto these devices an entire library of books. The Kindle is only 241 grams (8½ oz.) so weighs less than a single paperback book, but can be loaded with three and a half thousand books.

The Kindle (and now some other e-book readers) allow you to buy and download books over wifi or 3G without needing a computer and without needing to wait for delivery. A single click and the book is there in almost an instant ready to read. You can also download sample chapters, try before you buy. Well you can do that in a bookshop, but I find the shop assistants always look at me weirdly. In my local book shop, which has a coffee shop inside, has put up notices asking customers not to take books from the shelves into the café area and read them whilst drinking coffee.

Some educational institutions are now providing learners with a Kindle and filling it with the requisite text books, literally providing them with a library on the move. Libraries that use e-book readers, no longer need to guess how many physical copies of a core text will be needed they can provide copies on demand as and when needed. Many e-book readers like the Kindle, allow you to highlight, annotate and bookmark an e-book. However these can be easily removed if you are using a borrowed e-book reader from the library for example.

If you lose your Kindle, you’ve not lost your library. You can replace your Kindle and then re-download your library to the device.

In terms of accessibility, the ability to change text size and contrast on e-book readers ensures that they are more accessible than paper versions. The Kindle also has a text to speech capability, though it has to be said, some publishers do not allow their books to be read in this way, they would I guess prefer you buy the audiobook version.

Having said all that e-Book readers are not there to replace books, they enhance and enrich the reading experience. Just because I have a Kindle doesn’t mean that I am never going to read another paper book again! Far from it, I suspect that reading sample chapters on the Kindle will probably result in purchasing the paper version… likewise though I will admit I can see myself clicking the “buy” link now and again.

e-Books also have a few disadvantages in that once I have purchased a copy of an e-book, it is nigh on impossible to lend that copy to a friend… it is impossible to donate the e-book to the local Oxfam shop… it is impossible to impress your friends as you can with a books on the coffee table or the bookshelf when they come to visit…

e-Book readers, like the Kindle are wonderful things, but still, the iPad is the future of reading…

A version of this article originally appeared on the FOTE10 website.

Lending me Kindle

One of the main criticisms of e-books over paper books is how easy it is to lend a paper book to a friend.

To be honest that is a fair and valid point. Publishers it would appear would much rather prefer if the secondhand book market didn’t exist and that everyone bought their own copy of any book they wanted to read. I always think that is slightly short-sighted as I know when I lent out copies of The Colour Of Magic, people would go out and buy other books by Terry Pratchett. Hey I must have bought about four copies of The Colour of Magic myself as after lending my copy out and not getting it back I wanted my own copy. As with music I am inspired by others.

However of course with the current way in which e-books are bought and sold I can’t lend an e-book. I could lend my Kindle or e-book reader, but there are certain issues with that (as whoever has my Kindle can buy books).

However Amazon recognising the value that lending books has, have announced a new feature for the Kindle.

…later this year, we will be introducing lending for Kindle, a new feature that lets you loan your Kindle books to other Kindle device or Kindle app users. Each book can be lent once for a loan period of 14-days and the lender cannot read the book during the loan period. Additionally, not all e-books will be lendable – this is solely up to the publisher or rights holder, who determines which titles are enabled for lending.

So it isn’t as far as I would like it to go and you still can’t permanently transfer titles from one Kindle to another, however this is a start.

The future of the e-book

This is a nice video that echoes much of what I said in my FOTE10 talk.

The Future of the Book from IDEO

The book will evolve in the same way that audio and video have evolved. Not always for the better, but sometimes it will work. Remember that the e-book does not replace or duplicate the physical book, it is a different reading experience.