Sunday, December 28, 2008

My First eBook...on an iPhone

Last year I read my first eBook using the Amazon Kindle that our librarian at my previous school purchased. I really, really enjoyed the experience of reading Kite Runner on the Kindle. The digital ink had an unbelievable resemblance to paper and I loved many of the other Kindle features.

I was inspired by Dave Cormier over at Edtech talk to give one of the eReader apps on the iPhone a chance after he was spreading the iPhone love on a few of the December Edtech Weekly webcasts. I chimed in that I thought the iPhone would be a little hard on the eyes and Dave mentioned that this wasn't his experience at all. So I downloaded Stanza a few weeks ago and ended up loading a few free titles from the Gutenberg project on my phone. But I never really seemed to get anywhere with reading them. So yesterday I downloaded Andrew Keen's, "Cult of the Amateur," from the Stanza online store for about $14 (more on Keen's book in a future post or two). I figured that if I paid a little cash I'd be motivated to read the book. And this certainly turned out to be the case as I completed Keen's book in two days. It is my goal to create a little video review of the eBook reader on the iPhone and post it on YouTube, but until that happens, here are a few things I liked and didn't like about the experience of reading a book on the iPhone for the first time:

1. I loved being able to toggle text size and spacing between lines. I believe this feature turns the iPod Touch/iPhone into a wonderful piece of assistive/adaptive technology for leaner's with special needs.

2. I enjoyed setting bookmarks that I could come back and refer to at a later date. I want to create a blog post about some of the points that Keen made throughout his book, and being able to set a few bookmarks along the way will help me refer back to the sections that piqued my interest.

3. Reading in the dark was pretty nice. I woke up early in the morning today and turned on the iPhone to continue reading without having to turn on any lights. Because the Kindle doesn't have a back light, you need a lamp in order to read in a dark room.

1. I hope I'm not destroying my eyes. While my eyes don't feel strained when reading, I can't help but feel like looking at a device with a backlit screen for prolonged periods of time will contribute to vision issues down the road. I guess only time will tell on that one. Check back to this blog in 20-30 years (who knows, maybe sooner) and I'll let you know how this has worked out.

2. I felt like I was turning the page quite frequently, which I'm guessing slowed down an already slow reader. Obviously, when you have such a small screen, you're going to have to turn the page more frequently. This wasn't overly annoying, but I did notice it a bit. Also, I wish the Stanza eReader was programmed so that the iPhone home button could turn the page instead of having to tap the screen for page turns. This is where having a trackball like the Google Phone or the Blackberry has would be helpful. Not having a trackball is one weakness of the iPhone in my opinion...I feel like my finger is a distraction when I'm constantly putting it on the reading surface (this goes for reading and scrolling web pages as well).

3. Books in the Stanza eBook store seem to be quite expensive. Keen's book was $14 at the Stanza store and the Kindle edition over at Amazon is $9.99. The soft cover version of the book over at Amazon is $11.20, so I feel that $14 is a bit steep. This price differential isn't that bad, actually, especially in comparison to the next book that I want to read. Jane Mayer's book, "The Dark Side..." sells for $9.99 via the Kindle edition and $10.85 via paperback over at Amazon while the Stanza store offers it as an eBook for $27.50. That price differential is completely ridiculous and needless to say, I won't be purchasing many more eBooks over at Stanza unless I win the lottery (which is impossible, as I don't play the lottery).

4. Some/many Stanza books are laced with DRM, which makes it extremely difficult to put the book that your purchased on multiple devices. As it turns out, Keen's book could only be read on my iPhone...I couldn't even put it on my computer to read. I guess this is appropriate as Keen has a bee in his bonnet regarding new ways of distributing digital content. Also, I purchased Keen's book via the Stanza store on my computer. When I went to download the book wireless to my iPhone, I was prompted to enter the credit card information used to purchase the book online into my iPhone. I found this to be a hassle and a security risk as well (the fewer the number of times I have to enter my credit card on web forms, the better).

Anyway, that is it for now. Like I said, I'll try to post a video review at some point in the future.

Monday, December 15, 2008

iPhone 101 Wiki up and running

Eugenie Paick, a teacher here at Castilleja, recommended that we start an iPhone users community in Firstclass (our workgroup email system) so that teachers could share ideas for how they use iPhones personally and professionally. I thought Eugenie's idea was EXCELLENT, but I suggested that we open it up to a broader community and post it in a place where anyone could access the content and contribute to the space. So, we formed an "iPhone 101" wiki. While it definitely focuses on the iPhone, I'm hoping it morphs more into the realm of highly portable, networked devices and their impact on the learning landscape.

Feel free to contribute to the wiki over at:

And thanks, Eugenie, for the great idea!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Student Seminar Series

Well, I had a brainflare the other day and this one might be pretty decent if I don't say so myself. Most of these end of going nowhere, like my idea to setup a Wii for teachers and students to use during discretionary time periods throughout the school day (I think the Wii is an incredible platform for learning through play, collaboration, and socializing). I'm impressed by what Tom Barrett over in the UK is doing with the Wii in his classroom.

Anyway, the Wii isn't what I'm talking about in this post. My idea has to do with some suggestions and thoughts put out there by students in our first student focus group podcast from last week. During this focus group session one of the students talked about a recent class project (she is a sophomore) which required some collaborative writing. She suggested to other students in her group that they should use a google doc for this process, but many students in her group/class didn't know about google docs as a platform for this type of work. This is a student who is in the Gator Radio Experience, so she has some experience using a google doc to write collaboratively.

This student's story got me thinking about how we could get the word out to students about some of these platforms, tools, and techniques for working together. One of the thoughts that came across my mind was some type of voluntary monthly seminar series where interested students could come and participate in some type of hour long overview of digital resources that they may not be aware of. So it got me thinking about some possible sessions and they are as follows:

1. Free and Open Source Software...what it is and why you should care about it (we could even provide CDs loaded up with software for the students to have at the end of the session).

2. Harnessing the power of RSS in the research process - our incredible librarian, Mary Jean Conlon, would facilitate this session.

3. Collaborating near and far with google docs and wikis

4. The cell phone as a powerful learning instrument

5. Under the hood of Wikipedia...a look at the underbelly of the world's largest encyclopedia (again, facilitated by Mary Jean Conlon, our librarian).

6. Screencasting for students

These are just a sampling of the sessions, many of which could even be faciliated by some of our students (how powerful would that be!) I know the challenge will be logistics and getting very busy students to actually show up. Finding a way to plug this in to an already packed school day and schedule will be tricky. But if we record these and post them, perhaps we could transcend time and space a bit for those unable to attend.

What do you think?? Is this a decent idea?? Any suggestions for sessions and logistics??


As someone who works in an all girls school, this video definitely struck a cord with me. Thanks to Derek for sharing this over at his blog (I always get pointed to a bunch of really good resources from that dude).

What could we do at our school to support something like this? I'm not certain, but I've been thinking about a "cause" that our Gator Radio Experience show could take on. Some type of cause that we could help promote and support through our regular broadcasts, who knows. This might very well be it...

Here is the the way, I love the presentation style. The text is used in a very simple manner to create a very powerful message.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Student Focus Group Meeting - Podcast #1

Kyle Barriger (HS math teacher) and I will be conducting a few student focus group sessions over the balance of the school year. The idea of these meetings is to gather information from the students that could be useful in making decisions in the future relating to instructional technology. I met with 8 very sharp students today to begin these conversations. We had a list of 10 questions or so, and I think we only got through the first 2-3 in our 25 minutes together! I think you'll appreciate the candor on the part of the students.

Our next focus group meeting will be taking place in January/February. I would appreciate any suggestions for new questions and/or follow up questions to ask of this group at our next gathering. Thanks much!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Student New Yorker Style Profile Podcast Project

Our juniors are in the process of completing a "New Yorker" style profile project in their English III honors class. For this project they were required to spend several hours with someone they didn't know in their community. They did some observations, recorded interviews, and took some notes on their experiences. They then wrote an essay on their experience and boiled that essay down a bit further to create a 3-5 minute audio podcast. Their two english teachers, Holly Thompson and Ann Wagenhals, did a FANTASTIC job of providing the framework and structure for the students to create their work. I have to say that the podcasts are really turning out quite nicely! Way to go, students!

Check out the student podcasts at the Castilleja Community podcast page over here. If you have a moment, please leave the students a comment. I know they would appreciate your feedback!

After the smoke clears, we'll write this lesson plan up and share it in this space.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

2008 EduBlogs Awards...Parents as Partners has been nominated!!

I've had the good fortune to be a small player on the wonderful Parents as Partners webcast team assembled by Lorna Costantini. The mission of the Parents as Partners crew is to create a space for conversation to take place centering around new ways to think about parental engagement in the 21st century. We started our live webcast series over at EdTechTalk just under a year ago and I'm pleased to say that we've been nominated for an EduBlogs 2008 Award under the category of "Best Educational Use of Audio 2008." Please pop over to the EduBlogs award site and vote for us if you would like!! We're up against some pretty excellent projects and we know we're a huge longshot, but who doesn't like an underdog!!!