Opinions

Saving war-torn cities through education [and asking publishers and libraries to do more]

On Thursday, April 27, I spoke about Free Reading Zones in Osijek, a city in the East of Croatia that some 25 years after the (last) Balkan war, still shows visible signs of devastation and remnants of human cruelty. This “forgotten” city, as it’s often called, may still be hurting and trying to rebuild itself (I felt this on every corner and in every conversation), but it’s a city that recognizes the value of free access to knowledge. Otherwise the University of Osijek wouldn’t have invited me to speak about Croatia becoming an open virtual library.

Thursday was the first time I publicly spoke about turning Croatia into a Free Reading Zone since the pilot ended in January. And it didn’t happen in its capital (Zagreb) or its major tourist draw (Dubrovnik). Or in any other fancy coastal town on the Adriatic that reaps the benefits of its geography. It happened in the devastated and impoverished Northern city of Osijek, where bullet-ravaged buildings still populate even the main square (see picture).

It was an emotional three-day visit, my first in the fourth largest city in the country, where I spoke in an auditorium full of mostly students (some faculty) about the importance of free access to knowledge (ironically enough) outside institutions such as the University of Osijek, where the event took place. I spoke about the importance of universities and libraries raising their own awareness about the possibilities afforded to us by ebooks and econtent, which still remains largely locked away from most humanity. It took for me to leave New York to become acutely aware of that. Continue reading Saving war-torn cities through education [and asking publishers and libraries to do more]

Croatia Reads was not about Croatia [but about free access to books for all mankind]

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This is Article 3 (following What readers want and What books want) in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series of articles on NSR, which aims to describe the experience of turning the country of Croatia into a Free Reading Zone in December 2016.


So what exactly  happened with ebooks in Croatia in December of 2016? The first two articles in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series, which focused on why the project was immensely beneficial for readers and books (and the future of books), left some questions unanswered, owing largely to my affinity for describing life’s experiences (not just this one) not in a linear fashion but instead in the way in which they get stored in my memory. This often has little to do with chronology and more to do with how various lessons from the experience present themselves to  me after the fact.

The Croatia Reads project, which I founded and managed, was many things to many people who are, in one way or another, affected by books either because they write them, read them, sell them, distribute them, or manage them. In retrospect, and perhaps more than anything, Croatia Reads was an attempt to present the library of the future in all its invisible glory. And this library is able to (finally) fully democratize the written word by virtue of becoming completely invisible, thus accessible to all people, all at once. This, as I’ve written in various other posts, is the vision I have both for the industry I love and have devoted two decades of my life to and for the world, which I’ve had the privilege of experiencing through life on three continents.

The idea came to me about a year ago in the midst of a meeting I was having with my (at the time) colleagues at Total Boox, the company behind the pay-as-you-read ebook model for libraries and direct consumers. Continue reading Croatia Reads was not about Croatia [but about free access to books for all mankind]

What books are becoming [and what we may not be seeing]

This is Article 2 (following What readers want) in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series of articles on NSR, which aims to describe the experience of turning the country of Croatia into a Free Reading Zone in December 2016. The series is not meant to be a standard case study of all that various numbers and figures prove and don’t prove about the future of books and reading in digital format. It is an attempt to highlight the perspective that I think is missing in the publishing and library industries. The Croatia Reads project was/is meant to give all who work with books a glimpse of a future that holds so much promise for the written word. In this future things look radically different than they do today, but the possibilities are greater than they are today.


I start by responding to what I have heard publishers, librarians, and authors say for many years (especially in recent months), and what I no longer relate to as a publishing professional, passionate writer, life-long learner, and restless reader. This idea—this insistence—that books and knowledge must be protected. That there is a lot of logic behind how books are written, how they are published and distributed, and how they are curated and ‘saved’ for future generations. But is there? What if there used to be a lot more logic behind it all but that sam logic no longer applies today?

Books, I see now, do not want to be guarded or protected. They do not care to belong to any entity (human or artificial) and, in fact, do not want to belong even to those who create them (authors), claim them (publishers), and collect them (librarians). Books don’t want to be recommended and they don’t want to be judged. Like traveling souls yearning to meet a curious companion on their journey, they want to be free to reach the reader on their own terms. They want a relationship with the reader that is genuine and organic and does not involve outside forces.  And it is clear: they can only accomplish all this in digital format. Continue reading What books are becoming [and what we may not be seeing]

Not all libraries are created equal. What would the world be if they were?

According to an article I recently read in the New York Times, Merryl H. Tisch, the former chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, and her husband, James S. Tisch, the president and chief executive of Lowes Corporation (who sits on the New York Public Library’s board of directors) will give  20 million dollars to the New York Public Library (NYPL) to “expand and strengthen its education programming, from early literacy classes to technology training.”

The article goes on to explain that owing to this gift, a new position for a director of education will be created and Tisch added that she hoped the money would help the library create more job training courses and other programs to help expose students to the library’s rich collection of resources. Christopher Platt, the chief branch library officer, is also quoted saying that, to his knowledge, “this is the first educational gift to public libraries of this scale in the country.”

Giving money—especially large amounts of money that can make a lasting impact—to support any organization and institution on a mission to promote literacy, education, and access to knowledge is admirable on every level, yet this article (and story) has left me with unsettling thoughts that I wish to share here, in hopes they are not misunderstood or taken out of context. And these are pervasive thoughts, similar to those I have often expressed on NSR in my effort to draw attention to unequal access to knowledge and books permeating our society. Continue reading Not all libraries are created equal. What would the world be if they were?

A librarian’s response to “Dear librarians, please don’t move away from enabling reading”

A librarian responded to NSR Director’s Dear librarians op-ed  with such thoughtfulness, the comment itself deserves to be published as a stand-alone post. Thank you, F Goldsmith, for taking the time to offer a perspective that deepens everyone’s understanding, especially my own. And for writing it so coherently. And for caring enough to take the time to write it so coherently. May the dialog continue. And the learning.


Comment:

It’s good to see how cultural changes look to those who are close and yet not inside the circles where goal setting, strategic objectives, and tactics are discussed. I’m glad to see this eloquent view as it opens a way to broaden understanding.

No one, least of all you, is surprised to hear that reality is ever more complex than one perspective—and a well informed perspective—on its nuances can note without some acknowledgment of other perspectives. In the case of what truly appears to be librarians abandoning the savvy reader and experienced library user to bring services into the larger community, several factors should be noted:

Continue reading A librarian’s response to “Dear librarians, please don’t move away from enabling reading”

If the only necessary people in the publishing process are the writer and reader, shouldn’t libraries serve both?

self-publishingThe concept of a public library as self-publishing platform for aspiring writers isn’t new and libraries across North America are steadily warming up to it, increasingly becoming the go-to places for aspiring local writers to produce, publish and share their work in their community and nationally. In recent years there has been an explosion of self-publishing platforms available to writers all over the Internet and several are used in libraries in the United States and Canada. The three that stand out include Biblioboard, Pressbooks, and Self-E (by Library Journal).

Stratford Public Library (SPL), Ontario, Canada, provides access to all three of these resources for its card holders who may use them through the library’s website. Clearly, the library is trying to position itself as the place where local residents don’t just get free books but also create them from scratch for free.

Just underneath the “Self Publishing Resources” heading on SPL’s website, one notices this quote by Guy Kawaski: “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader.” Public libraries such as SPL are certainly making the necessary steps to stand as examples of institutions that serve the needs of their patrons in an age that transcends traditional publishing channels and recognize that emerging digital technologies are democratizing the written word like we’ve never seen before. They are making it possible for writers in their community who would normally not be able to get exposure to share their writing and possibly realize their greatest dreams and ambitions. Continue reading If the only necessary people in the publishing process are the writer and reader, shouldn’t libraries serve both?

The flawed (and outdated) art of categorizing books and knowledge in digital formats

books-401896During my years as a Library Journal book review editor, I spent countless hours each week sorting through books (then physical objects only) to figure out what goes where. When I started my editorial career (in the late 1990s), book categories made a lot more sense than they did when I left the book review job in 2010. I can’t count the times I went back and forth with my Library Journal colleagues about whether a newly arrived print galley belonged in my or someone else’s “pile,” to be assigned for review.

Is it Military History or Politics? But couldn’t it also be Law & Crime? Is it Literature because it’s literary or Self-help because it’s about a writer’s spiritual journey? Is it Philosophy or Religion? And what if it’s always at least three categories combined? Questions like these were part of our daily dialog. In retrospect, my colleagues and I made educated guesses every day when assigning books for review and I have no doubt that we didn’t always make the right ones. The way we printed book reviews in the magazine corresponded to the way books were categorized in libraries. Since we were the ones instructing librarians what to buy (by category), we were essentially driving the way books would be made available to patrons in libraries. Quite a responsibility. Continue reading The flawed (and outdated) art of categorizing books and knowledge in digital formats

What readers want (and what we are not giving them)

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[Article 1 in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series]

This is Article 1 in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series, which aims to describe the experience of turning the country of Croatia into a Free Reading Zone in December 2016. The series is not meant to be a standard academic case study of all that various numbers and figures prove and don’t prove about the future of books and reading. It is an attempt to draw from the experience in a way that highlights all that is missing but within our reach. Croatia Reads was/is meant to give us a glimpse of a future that holds so much promise for the written word. In this future things look radically different than they do today, but the possibilities (and opportunities) for all who work with books are endless.

* * *

For the past many months, I’ve had the privilege of stepping outside the confines of the publishing and library industries (as well as the borders of the United States) to engage in non-profit projects and initiatives that bring books and knowledge to people. There comes a point in every person’s career when we crave to turn our professional jobs into missions, and it simply isn’t enough to earn a paycheck, even amidst the most challenging circumstances. We take a leap of faith and jump.

And jump I did, from New York all the way to Croatia, where I would (not immediately upon arrival but soon thereafter) embark on the project of my life and turn an entire country into an open virtual library (available to all its people without a card and access code and regardless of status, geography, background, citizenship, etc). In early December 2016, Croatia (the country of my birth) became the world’s first Free Reading Zone for one entire month. Continue reading What readers want (and what we are not giving them)

Just Listen

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Almost all of us know a kid whom we recognize as an inveterate reader, and some of us were that kid or grew up to be litaholics as adults. When you think of such a person, regardless of age, is your image limited to that someone who reads silently, eyes focused on text strewn pages?

A variety of expert groups now are on board with audiobooks both as “acceptable” for supporting literacy attainment efforts.  That has placed them in a kind of literacy medicine cabinet, where the format is simply means to an end that must be in a different format, the silently consumed text on paper page.

Listening well can help us understand concepts and feelings—and thus our world and the others in it, as well as ourselves—that escape our notice when we listen poorly or apply only our own interpretation to a printed page’s text. Audiobooks aren’t a booster chair to get kids to the table of text literacy; they are a rich means of offering the opportunity to build a skill just as valuable and necessary as that: the skill of feeling at home in a world where others are just as real as we are. Continue reading Just Listen

A time to (finally) incorporate indie eBooks into library catalogs

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By Emilie Hancock


It’s no secret that technology has impacted reading. As eReading has become more prevalent, readers demand publications in both print and digital formats. Not only has that thirst for varied formats allowed greater freedom for how and when we read — devouring short serials on the bus or listening to audiobooks while running, for instance — it has also allowed more freedom in what, or who, we read. In addition to books available from big publishers, digital publishing has seemingly conjured scores of indie and self-published books out of the shadows. And judging by the success of Hugh Howey and CJ Lyons, among others, readers are happy to include indie books along with those from big-name presses.

However, while most libraries around the country meet patrons’ digital demands by lending eBooks, many have historically been  less than enthusiastic about the idea of adopting indie eBooks. That has been changing in major urban libraries and in the thought leadership of the library world, with good reason. By examining evidence around the consumer demand and affordability of indie eBooks versus eBooks from traditional publishers, we can demonstrate how incorporating indie eBooks into libraries’ catalogs can be good for both patrons and libraries. Continue reading A time to (finally) incorporate indie eBooks into library catalogs

Why audiobook listening expands, rather than derails, our access to literature

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Reading by Ear: Who’s the Model Reader?

We seem to be in the throes of a season of debate about whether audiobook listening can be equated with reading print. Several readers who enjoy listening couple that statement with another that notes they feel “ashamed” or “guilty” for taking pleasure in such literary participation. Print readers who advertise how they are “against” audiobooks note that they themselves read print books with no other accompanying activity while only listen when otherwise engaged; that they don’t attend to detailed passages when they are “only” hearing them. There are even the overly self-confident naysayers who forthrightly declare that those other people who suggest listening to books is participating in literary culture are either pranking themselves or spreading a vile cancer upon the literary landscape. Continue reading Why audiobook listening expands, rather than derails, our access to literature

How a café in Europe became an open virtual library (and what it teaches us about the future of books)

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No Shelf Required announced on Thursday that Café Velvet in Zagreb, Croatia, opened its doors on September 22 with a new mission: to not only serve first-rate coffee and cake but to allow its guests to access a Virtual Library of 100,000 (and counting) titles in several languages and to read to their hearts’ desire (using an access code) without paying for any of it. In other words, Café Velvet is the world’s first Café turned into a Free Reading Zone.

How do I know it’s the first? Because I run this initiative, and this was the first time we turned a café into a Free Reading ZoneSM —the kind your local library simply wouldn’t be able to pull off without the right technology. Allow me to share the story behind how it all came together and why I think the Velvet story serves to remind us that books are asking (begging, in fact) to be read freely online, just like we enjoy all other creative mediums in digital format for free (music, articles, news stories, etc.). And that the whole world, it seems, is waiting for us—the book industry—to get our act together so that books in digital format can realize their full potential.

In the beginning

As fate would have it, I met Yoav Lorch, CEO and Founder of Total Boox, in 2013. At the time, Total Boox was a new entrant into the ebook market and a company from Israel on a mission to change the world of reading. How, I asked him. Simple, he said. “We will make all of the world’s books available for reading upfront (by asking publishers to give us their entire catalogs; no buying in advance), we will expose them for reading, and we will pay publishers for what was actually read. We will charge readers (or whoever pays for the reading) only for what was read (not downloaded).” In other words, books and knowledge will flow in all directions, and readers will be in charge of what they want to read (not publishers or libraries).

I remember our meeting like it was yesterday. We set in a café right across the street from the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and he offered me the job of helping Total Boox build a collection of titles that would be always available for reading. No restrictions. No barriers. No expirations. Little did we know then that a few years later, we’d be turning cafes around the world (like the one we were siting in that day) into Free Reading Zones and open virtual libraries using the brilliant ebook model he came up with. And little did we know that neither of us would be in New York to do it. Continue reading How a café in Europe became an open virtual library (and what it teaches us about the future of books)

Academic libraries are shrinking, while content is growing. How did we get here?

New ZeoliAcademic library staff has been shrinking for 2 decades, while the quantity of scholarly content has grown exponentially.  In the 1960s Richard Abel & Company began the Approval Plan service as a systematic approach to help libraries manage the volume of new books published.  Libraries rely on vendor services (i.e., companies catering to libraries) to discover and acquire much of scholarly content.  Since the 90s, libraries have also depended on vendors to provide shelf-ready services for print books, customized cataloging, to manage financial transactions electronically, and to maintain online interfaces to support collection development and acquisitions processes.  Ebooks brought another layer of labor and complexity to library workflows.

Ebooks elbowing their way into the landscape

Within a decade of their birth, ebook aggregators entered mainstream library collecting.  Initially, the ebook appeared as just another format or manifestation of the print book; the library choice expanded beyond paper or cloth to include ‘e’ versions (in many cases PDFs).  Technology changed this: ebook models have upset the balance in traditional library collecting and continue to challenge traditional understandings not just of collection development, but of the role of the academic library.

The ebook aggregators’ business models exist outside the realm of print books – except as a distribution model on which to piggyback for just as long as necessary (think ‘the scorpion and frog’ fable).  The business of the aggregator is to sell ebooks, not books.  Aggregator ebook platforms are designed for this purpose.  Each is different from the others in design (technical as well as strategic):

  • User interface & experience
  • Library acquisition models
  • Library control of patron access
  • Publisher control over: 1) Library acquisition models; 2) License terms for each model; and 3)  ‘Triggers’ to purchase and loan (Patron-Driven Acquisitions – PDA / Short-Term Loan – STL / Evidence-Based Acquisitions – EBA)

‘Standards’ in the industry exist only to the degree necessary for one company to compete with another (‘not-for-profits’ are not exempted!).  Focus has been split 3 ways:

  • Competition to win market-share
  • Sustainable development of the market
  • Alternatives to ‘unsustainable models’

To a large extent, the futures of libraries and publishers live at the margins of these considerations. Continue reading Academic libraries are shrinking, while content is growing. How did we get here?

Unlocking knowledge means empowering people, and MIT is setting a powerful example

MIT OPenCourseWare

No need for an elaborate introduction here about what exactly MIT is doing by opening up their digital content online. Best to start by simply quoting Dick K.P. Yue, Professor at MIT School of Enginnering: “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.”

If you haven’t heard about MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW), here is the scoop. It’s intended not just to help educators at MIT improve curricula and make learning more effective for those enrolled at MIT, but to invite independent learners anywhere in the world to use the school’s course materials in their own educational pursuits and at their own pace. In other words, they are free to ‘take’ the course in the privacy of their own home by following full notes and having full access to materials every step of the way.

This is admirable. Truly admirable. And this is what the leaders among us who recognize the true value of digital content do: they open it up to the world. They eliminate all frictions and find ways to bypass man-made rules and institutions and simply make knowledge available to all. They have outgrown all unnecessary discussions of print and digital competing, and about complicated models that serve the select few, they recognize that unread/unused content has little to no value, and, most of all, they are pushing their own ‘institutional’ status quo by embracing the idea that learning never stops and that it is our collective responsibility to educate the world beyond the confines of university walls at a time when, despite all of the technological advances the world has seen, more than 90 percent of its population is not college-educated.

In a way, one can even argue that the same way the print book (the physical ‘paper’ object) is the container we buy, while consuming the content inside for free online (well, not really, but we hope to get there one day, don’t we?), the brick-and-mortar institution becomes the ‘experience’ we now buy (to directly engage with others, including professors and fellow students), while consuming the content (from course materials) online for free. So if we can’t afford to ‘be there’ in person, we can still afford to do it on our own terms.

Everything related to one’s ‘physical experience,’ then must come at a price, for obvious reasons: books must be printed (and before that, they must be written and produced); professors’ time must be paid, and the school’s expenses must be covered. In the same way, we are now able to listen to music for free online, while we must pay to attend a concert or by a CD or an LP (those of us who still collect them).

If we are able to recognize that digital content helps us open up knowledge to the world virtually while doing no harm to the ‘physical experience,’ we are able to create a circle in which everyone benefits. In fact, digital content and its widespread availability enhances the value of the ‘physical’ experience. All other creative mediums have caught on to this but books and textbooks. Initiatives like the one at MIT are a step in that direction.

Materials from 2340 courses are available, and the site is visited by millions. Each course includes lecture notes, slides, videos, instructor insights, Further Study listings, and much more. Here is a list of the most visited courses. MIT accepts donations to keep the operation running. For more info, go here.

Unlocking knowledge means empowering people not only beyond the university but beyond the borders of the United States of America. MIT is setting a powerful example.

Who decides? [what, how, and when people should read]

This post, recently published on Facebook by NSR Managing Editor, was addressed to book readers (not book professionals). But publishers, librarians, authors, editors, distributors, and all others in the business of creating, selling, and managing books would benefit from asking the same questions. If for no other reason than for the simple fact that they, too, are book readers before they are book professionals.


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Who decides?

In 2016, human creativity is exploding online. Right here, on Facebook. We admire paintings and sculptures from museums in far-away countries, we watch videos, share photographs, listen to music, read articles. Everything is within reach, and everything is free. At the same time, the world’s knowledge is locked up in books, which still carry a high price tag.

In 2016, every man should ask: Why can’t we read books freely online like we read everything else? Are publishers and librarians doing enough to maximize the potential of the ebook in ways we haven’t seen before? Is what we see in bookstores and libraries all there is out there to read? Should others decide what I will read, how, and when? Why are we talking about the love of paper and not about the love of learning and the ability to get to the right information at the right time? What if there wasn’t even competition between the two formats (print and electronic)? What if there was already a way to open up books online so that everyone benefits, including those who create them? How much do I even know about the technologies supporting the growth and development of ebooks as free mediums? Why isn’t anyone teaching me?

In 2016, every man should ask: Why don’t we have free access to knowledge and the written word online? When will we have it? And who decides?


Opinions my own.

Mirela Roncevic is Managing Editor at No Shelf Required. For all NSR-related news and book reviews, follow her on Twitter @noshelfrequired. For her writings related to creativity, writing, and literacy, follow her on Facebook.

Writer is Self, Author is Ego [and an Editor would like to apologize]

Writer vs. AuthorWhat is a writer? What does it mean to write? I searched high and low for answers, looked left and write, and came to this conclusion:

Writer is — any man or woman willing, learning, or already able to express him or herself through writing in order to grow spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually and to contribute to a larger community by sharing one’s own experience with others for the sake of augmenting collective consciousness.

What is an author? What does it mean to author? I searched high and low for answers, looked left and right, and came to this conclusion:

Author is —  a man or woman selected by an institution or organization to express him or herself through writing in order for that institution or organization to grow financially and through branding and to contribute to a larger community by sharing his or her experience with others for the sake of augmenting budgets of institutions and organizations and salaries (and titles) of those who run them and who deemed that man or woman ‘worthy.’ Collective consciousness also grows this way, but it is controlled by the institution which exercises tremendous power over that consciousness. This institution can be a private entity which first identifies the author (e.g., established publisher) or a public entity which, often in cooperation with an established publisher, chooses to nurture the author and the spreading of his or her message (e.g., library).

Writer creates. Writer is an artist. Writer is self. Writing is liberty. Writing is personal growth. That which is written only asks to be read.

Author controls.  Author is a brand. Author is ego. Authoring is power.  Authoring is institutional growth. That which is authored only asks to be sold.

Writer =  Creation. Art. Self. Liberty. Personal growth. Reading.

Author =  Control. Brand. Ego. Power. Institutional growth. Selling.

Author =Authority

[As concluded by a professional book editor and book reviewer who spent 20 years of her career telling everyone she believed that a) writing was hard work, b) not everyone can or should write, c) we needed publishers and libraries to tell us what is worthy, and d) being rejected by publishers and libraries means that you are less worthy and you should not write (and therefore not participate in creating). She would now like to apologize.]


Opinions my own.

By Mirela Roncevic

Three Reading Revolutions

3 Reading Revolution

I have been thinking ‘long and mad’ (in the words of my favorite poet Pablo Neruda) about the history of the book. I’ve been thinking about it most of all in the context of how readers consume it. Truth be told, thinking about it as a ‘book professional’ leaves me gasping for air sometimes.

I am not even sure that I can convince most of my colleagues (publishers, librarians, and authors alike) that my thinking about the “three revolutions of reading” (as I see them) makes perfect sense and that it is, indeed, the way it is. But I can say this: these thoughts are persistent and consistent with my experience as editor, writer, content developer, and publishing/library professional. Yet they are NOT the thoughts of an editor, writer, content developer or publishing/library professional. They are the thoughts of a reader living and experiencing the world in 2016 (and beyond). Perhaps also the thoughts of a parent raising a reader living and experiencing the world in 2016.

And I could write many paragraphs and ‘throw’ them between the lines written on this board (to explain each revolution in detail), but perhaps it helps to say as much as possible with as few words as possible.

Perhaps.


Mirela Roncevic is Managing Editor at No Shelf Required. For all NSR-related news and book reviews, follow her on Twitter @noshelfrequired. For her writings related to creativity and literacy, follow her on Facebook.

Technology is not the death of deep reading

river image what is referenceIn the summer of 2016, National Public Radio (NPR) announced a new reason for bibliophiles to celebrate. In an article about publishers returning to serialized fiction, Serial Box Publishing Co-Founder Julian Yap reiterates an all-too-common argument for why most Americans — three quarters of us, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll — don’t read books: not enough time. While we have little chance of decreasing how much time we spend working, caring for family and commuting, the amount of time that could stand the most modification is leisure time.

Continue reading Technology is not the death of deep reading

Why education continues to fail digital content and students

Education Opinion Piece

Making the Move from Print to Pixels in Educational Content

By Kathryn Stewart, CEO, Metrodigi 

The migration from physical to digital content has transformed many industries from entertainment to publishing. Why has education—a market sorely in need of innovation—been so slow to leverage the benefits of digital content, especially given the enthusiasm of today’s tech-savvy students?

As schools and universities are quickly being populated with digital natives, it’s essential that campuses keep up with their technology choices to keep students satisfied. In fact, a recent study found that 73 percent of college students recommend their university review and change its digital strategy. How can the institutions that are preparing tomorrow’s leaders keep pace with the rapid advancements in technology and student expectations today?

I see the challenges/opportunities as three-fold:

Much of the educational content available today does not provide a robust user experience.

Digital textbooks, for example, are often little more than PDFs of the printed textbook under glass. Today’s students (and instructors) are receptive to digital educational content, but a more engaging experience is required to realize the full potential for this content.  A recent survey of college students from Wakefield Research bears this out: according to that survey, 34 percent of students said the greatest benefit of digital textbooks is that they are more affordable and convenient – but not necessarily compelling. In fact, those same students identified various aspects of digital content that would improve their learning experience, including:

  • 61% of students said that homework that is more interactive, containing elements such as video, would improve learning outcomes.
  • 48% of students said their learning would be enhanced by technology that helps them collaborate digitally with students from their class, or from other schools.
  • 61% cited the ability to exchange instant feedback with instructors as something that would improve learning.
  • 55% said digital learning that personalizes their learning experience (i.e. gives instructors the ability to track student progress in real-time) would be useful.

Clearly, there is a market for engaging, educational content, but supply has not caught up with demand.  Which brings us to the next barrier: Continue reading Why education continues to fail digital content and students

The cry of the stories to be FREE [from all who write, package, and sell them]

Stories not atoms

“Every renaissance comes to the world with a cry — the cry of the spirit to be free.” I discovered this quote by Anne Sullivan (1866-1936) while searching for quotes about the meaning of renaissance. I read at least 50 before I came across the one that came close to conveying what I was feeling when I visited Florence last year: the cry of the spirit from centuries ago to be free.

If Venice (which I visited a day before Florence) was “the depth where the spirit hides,” I wrote, Florence must be where it comes out. If Venice was about closing the soul, Florence was about opening it. If Venice was about concealing the unspoken, Florence was about expressing it.

The more I walked through the streets of Florence, the more I felt my own spirit coming alive. And I wondered: if renaissance means “cry of the spirit to be free,” could it be that the “spirit” must first be “locked up” in some place (or age) before it can even yearn to be free? What if the pain (or inconvenience) of confinement was the prerequisite for experiencing the Renaissance? What if all that I was seeing in Florence couldn’t have happened any other way?

What about the stories we have been locking up in books for centuries? What if the stories we write (and package/distribute/sell/curate in containers we call books) are asking to be free? What if they could give us much more if we would set them free ? What if they want ‘their’ renaissance? What if what we think of as “protection” is nothing more than a human need to guard not the stories but our own professional, culturally-induced identities and financial well-being? Continue reading The cry of the stories to be FREE [from all who write, package, and sell them]