eBook Design: Designing for the Media v. Designing for the Medium

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how eBooks can be disorienting for the reader (and by “reader” I meant me.)

I have a difficult time “finding” my place when I’m reading an eBook. This isn’t really a problem when I’m reading a novel, but it becomes very frustrating when I’m reading a textbook or doing research. When I read a novel, I usually read from the beginning of the book to the end. I don’t flip back and forth. I don’t refer back to an earlier section. It’s a very linear expereince.

When I’m researching or studying, however, my reading practices are very different. I read a section, make highlights and notes, put the book aside. Pick up another text. Highlight. Take notes. Put my reading materials away and try to write for a while. If I get stuck while I’m writing, I pick my reading materials up again. I’ll flip through the text, looking for a quote that seemed important.

None of these “reading” (I use scare quotes because I’m clearly doing more than just reading) practices translate very well to an eBook.  The navigation on an eBook is clunky. It doesn’t really use the affordances of the technology. As the reader, I can progress forward one page at a time, as fast as my finger can swipe across the screen (which isn’t all that fast). Or, I can click on chapter or section links from the Table of Contents, which is really only useful if I know the exact chapter or section I’m looking for. And even then, this only takes me to the first page of the chapter. From there, I’ll have to start flipping pages again…

Annoying, to say the least.

Well, the folks over at KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence are prototyping an eBook design right now that certainly expands the navigation experience of the eBook. (Thanks, John, for sending me this video.)

While I am over-joyed that someone is working on improving eBook design, I’m also a little discouraged. I can appreciate that this design solves the page-flipping problem. But it feels like a band-aid solution to a gaping wound. And I have to question whether we are wrong in trying to fit an old technology form into a new medium.

It’s like the Romans saying, “We don’t like the codex book because we can’t roll its pages up like a scroll.”

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Udemy – Academy of You

I came across Udemy after following a link on Facebook from a girl I went to undergrad with: Official Udemy Instructor Course by Kristina Ashley Bjoran.  Kristina’s video is the first in a series on how to create courses on Udemy. (I tried to embed the video file into the post but wasn’t able to for some reason.)

Udemy: Academy of You is an online learning site, and their goal–according to their About page–is to “disrupt and democratize the world of education by enabling anyone to teach and learn online.”  It’s kind of like lynda.com with a social networking element: anyone can produce and develop courses and instead of just videos, Udemy also offers videos, powerpoint, pdfs, and other media files.

Udemy offer courses in the following categories:

The videos aren’t as professionally produced as Lynda, and many of the “Academic Courses” are simply recordings of class lectures.  Many of the courses are free, but a number of them do cost a fee, ranging from under $5 to $255.

I like the fact that anyone can upload videos, but it brings up many of the same questions I had while reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence (which suggested a more open publication process within the academy): How do you ensure quality with open source information? Who maintains it? And what are the incentives for creating quality content?

Udemy’s About page indicates that the courses are curated, but by whom? By what standards to they measure quality?  The site boasts that thousands of instructors have uploaded course materials, but with a full-time staff of just 15 men (I found it a little amusing that all the staff, advisors, and investors listed on the site are men), I’m a little confused about how the content is curated. The job descriptions listed for the staff include developers, programmers, engineers, social marketing, public relations, and user experience–but there really isn’t any mention of content analysis, evaluation, or curation.

I do think the site might present some really interesting possibilities for easily hosting materials for students enrolled in a “traditional” classroom. Udemy actually has a separate page marketing their site to instructors already teaching offline courses, explaining why they should use the site (and instructors from MIT, Yale, Standord, and UCLA are taking advantage of this).  Udemy allows you to to embed courses into websites using widgets, which could be useful if you already have a website you manage for your course’s content and don’t want your students to access yet another website for materials.

Note: Just a quick search for “writing” pulled up a pretty limited selection of writing courses–many of which are on grammar, second language issues, and “form writing” (application essays, resumes, employment application statements, 5-paragraph essays, etc.)

Annotated Bibliography Tutorials

I’m trying to think of how technologies can teach communication in ways that are MORE effective than traditional classroom instruction. In other words, rather than trying to simply REPLICATE in-class instruction with SUPPLEMENTAL tools, how might we RECREATE instruction techniques entirely?

Creating a tutorial similar to one of these could free up class time for writing and revision–and it could be reviewed by students multiple times, if needed.

I’d like to experiment with transitioning some of my current teaching materials into materials that could be used effectively online.  I searched for “how to write an annotated bibliography” on YouTube, and these were some of the more popular hits.

UMUC Library: How to Write an Annotated Bibliography Tutorial (5,235 Views) 

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography (13,401 Views)

Make an Annotated Bibliography (1,440 Views)

Creating an Annotated Bibliography (4,048 Views)