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Sign reflected in waterebooks – the future
Two contrasting views of the future of ebooks caught my attention this week.  Some of the news was positive such as the news that Microsoft is investing $300m in an ebook service with Barnes and Noble (reported by the BBC and the Telegraph), and then in news that 3M are launching a Cloud Library aimed at allowing library customers to borrow ebooks via kiosks.

The Microsoft news seems to be largely being reported as being Microsoft looking at getting a stake in the ebook and digital content world.  It looks like it potentially links the Nook ebook content into the microsoft operating system world and puts Microsoft in the same space as Apple and Amazon.  There’s an interesting quote on the BBC website “Our complementary assets will accelerate e-reading innovation across a broad range of Windows devices, enabling people to not just read stories, but to be part of them,” said Andy Lees, president at Microsoft.  And that seems to me to be envisaging an e-content experience that is far beyond current ebook look and feel.

The 3M solution is a very different type of product, aimed at a particular market (i.e. libraries) and including a pretty much total solution from the content through the applications to kiosks (a 3M speciality) and to their own ereader devices that are designed to be lent by libraries to people who don’t have their own devices.  It looks to owe a lot to 3M’s long experience of self-service in libraries and looks like a well-thought through solution.  Adoption will no doubt depend on price models and the content that is available.  It’s interesting to see 3M getting into the content reseller market and all that is implied there.  It will be interesting to see if this appears in other markets such as the UK.

or maybe not?
With a different perspective on the future of ebooks I was fascinated to read Jani Patokallio’s blog post yesterday Why e-books will soon be obsolete (and no it’s not just because of DRM).  It’s particularly interesting to hear the views of someone from within the publishing industry on e-books and their future.  His view is very much that the problems of long-term sustainability are partly around territorial rights for publications which is essentially the publishing industry’s attempt to take the print model and impose it on the digital world.  And unsurprisingly that model doesn’t work very well when set against the culture of the web of worldwide access.   He also picks up on the limitations of the ebook format(s) in comparison with what can be done on the web.  It’s a really interesting read.

It seems to me that the ebook publishing world is a very immature market that has grown massively in the last few years.  Seeing that growth in the market I can see why technology companies such as Microsoft would want to have a stake in that type of content.  It seems to me (and perhaps it is rather obvious) that once you have a reasonably competent piece of technology, it is the content that you can access on it that sells the technology product when you are talking about ebook readers.  For libraries I can see why an off-the-shelf solution for lending ebooks is attractive.



When you hear about an educational technology project that’s described as being inspired by Treasure Hunt, ‘… but without the helicopter’ then you know that it’s probably something slightly out of the ordinary.  And ‘Out There and In Here’ is certainly an interesting experiment in making use of educational technology in some innovative ways.  This week’s Coffee Morning session from Anne Adams and Tim Coughlan from the Institute of Educational Technology certainly demonstrated a fascinating approach to carrying out geology field trips, talking about the ‘Out There and In Here’ project which was a collaboration between IET, KMi, the Pervasive Lab, the Science Faculty, Microsoft and OOKL.

Out Here and In There project

Out Here and In There project

Essentially the project ‘Out There and In Here’ looked at carrying out a geology field trip with two teams of postgrad students and instructors.  One team located back at base (the ‘In Here’ team), the other out in the field (‘Out There’).   In part the project was aiming to look at alternatives to field trips, which can be expensive, logistically difficult and not suitable for all students.  But it was also looking at the way the teams interacted, how the dynamics of the learning experience was changed, and how technology can support the learning.

Using laptops, phones and video cameras the teams tried to work together to establish and test several hypotheses.  The ‘Out There’ team used cameras and laptops to record images and data that could be accessed by the team back at base. The ‘In Here’ team used projectors, resources tables and an interactive tabletop to keep track of what was going on.    It was interesting to see how the groups worked together and the dynamics at play.  Both teams seemed to find the exercise challenging and it led to a very different learning experience, particularly in the way that it forced the participants to reflect on what they were doing.  It was interesting that there seemed to be considerable potential for misunderstandings and miscommunication and the project team are looking at how other technologies can help support this type of exercise.

It was a fascinating approach and it’s interesting the way that mobile technology now has the ability to allow this real-time interaction to take place.  I suppose that the most obvious  exponent of this type of real-time interaction now is the military, where video-surveillance, radio and global positionning systems are increasingly being used to allow commanders to direct military operations remotely.  While geology field trips aren’t going to have the range of technology that the military has access to at their disposal, I wonder if  some of the experience the military has with these systems may have any lessons for this type of project in the education sector.

I also started to think about how this type of technology might connect with the work that academic libraries do.  There’s a couple of areas that come to mind – firstly around the management of the data that is being created by the exercise – and secondly around facilitating access to data or information that might be of use to either of the teams.  Is it too much of a stretch to envisage this sort of exercise being supported by a remote librarian who can help with the stream of data coming from and going to the teams?  Ensuring that data is being curated appropriately and connections are made with other data that may be of use to the teams?  All-in-all a fascinating and thought-provoking session.

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July 2020

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