R685 – Mobile Experiment Series – Post 3 (The Experience)

Recently in R685 we did a week on mobile learning, or m-learning. As a companion activity to that week, I decided I would limit myself to participating in class only via my smartphone. This is the third of a series of blog posts I’ll be doing on my experiences that week; this post will focus on the experience I had carrying out the experiment. You can view the entirety of the series here.

The Experience

Working entirely with my smart phone for a week was an interesting experience. There were many things that were frustrating, not the least of which were the myriad of ridiculous typographical errors that had made their way into my swype dictionary. I’d used my phone to access reddit on april fool’s day, and a couple of well-intentioned “gifts” from friends and coworkers meant I couldn’t use the letters e or x. I thought up some rather clever ways around those restrictions, but I wrecked the dictionary in the process. Even now, almost a month later, I’m still removing words every other day or so.

swype is also imperfect at figuring out which word I want when there are similar input paths. I frequently had to stop and reenter words, slowing me down considerably. Additionally, I found that my recall on the smart phone is not nearly what it is when I’m reading in other media, which meant that I had to resort to taking notes while I was reading for the first time in my life. In that respect, it actually forced me to develop a new skill as a student.

While I did enjoy the ability to participate in class from just about anywhere at any time, i found that each activity I completed took me much longer than it otherwise might have. This blog post is a good example: it’s taken me as long to write less than 200 words, one paragraph of which was copy-pasted, as some of my thousand-plus word posts I’ve done. I feel like designing for m-learning probably requires a much smaller task granularity if it’s to be done effectively.

I will say that I’m glad I tried this, but I definitely wouldn’t want to try it again. How’s that for a privilege check?

As I mentioned, I’ve written the entirety of this blog post on my smartphone. While I’ve made every effort to correct misspellings when I’ve caught them, I’m sure a few have escaped. Please be gentle with me!

R685 – Final Reflection on Blogging

You can view my blog posts for R685 here.

I tried a lot of new things with my blog this semester because of the requirement that we do some blogging. For one, I posted more frequently than at the end of each semester completed. For another, I wrote my first-ever series of blog posts about something I’m interested in (in this case, the mobile learning experiment I did during that week in class). I have to admit that I procrastinated a lot more on blogging this semester than I would have liked to.

I have a million scraps of paper with ideas for blog posts jotted down on them, but unfortunately I had some personal and health struggles this semester that precluded me from ever have the time to develop these ideas as deeply as they deserved. Even still, this means I have a lot of seed topics for my blog for when I do have the time to get back to it. I procrastinated on commenting for my critical friends, as well, and I plan to catch up on it over the weekend.

I really enjoyed both Annisa and Christina as critical friends. They’re both incredibly intelligent and have a lot of good points. I wish either one of them would have responded to any of my comments I’d left on their blogs because I was really hoping to start a dialogue and each post failed to do so.

I suspect that the lack of comments during most of the semester was partially to blame for my constant procrastination; when I was getting comments, I remembered to keep on schedule and post, but once comments slowed and then disappeared, I started to forget. Then, when Christina was added as a second Critical Friend sometime mid-semester and she began to comment, I saw a brief flurry of activity before I lapsed into silence again.

I tried a number of different things with my blog posts to varying degrees of success. Reflecting on each week’s learning was useful to me during the first part of the semester. I tried for a couple of weeks to also include posts about the weekly tidbits and videos I was consuming, but that fizzled out rather quickly. I also shared the coursework I completed on my blog, motivated primarily because of a post by an IU student in the Learning Sciences department (you can, and should, read it here). McWilliams is one of the few non-entertainment bloggers I read regularly, and this particular blog post was the first one to get me really thinking about how much of an ivory tower higher education really is.

I’m fortunate enough to be an incredible student as well as an intelligent human being, and though many would consider me to have come from a relatively low-class family, I’ve managed to work hard enough that I have a lot of privilege regardless. I am fantastically lucky to be a member of a community of learners as wonderfully knowledgeable as the one at IU, but I don’t feel it’s appropriate to jealously guard my work as if someone else is going to steal it.

Having a blog also gave me a place to vent my constant need to be expansive about everything. I found that the free-form nature of the blogging assignment allowed me to do what worked best for me, and to work out the nature of my thoughts so that I could then rephrase them better in the forum discussions, when I did my blog before I did my discussions for the week.

Because of the kind of student I am, making the format and requirements for the blogs as open-ended as they were meant that I was consistently writing more than I might have if the assignment were “write a two-page reflection on this week’s topics.” I wrote until I didn’t have anything else to say about the topic, and then I published it; it was nice to not have to spend time worrying about saying too much or too little and instead just write what I felt was merited. I understand that this may be an opportunity for less-motivated students to do less work, but it really works for me as a student. The informal nature of posting a blog entry instead of handing in a paper also meant that I spent less time worrying about the mechanics and more time thinking about the content.

At the same time, however, the fact that my blog was not only readable by the entire internet, but being posted to the site I put on my resume, meant that I still had to do some pretty careful thinking about what I was posting. That meant that I had to back up things that I said, much like if I were working on research that I might try and publish in a peer-reviewed journal, except that the publishing process took much less time, and likely I’ll never revise anything I posted. So, at the same time as I was completing a homework assignment, I was experiencing the projected image of an IST scholar, something I’ve never been before, but which I’d like to be one day.

That’s actually a great way to describe my experience with this entire class, actually: I got to try on the identity of an IST student and see whether or not I liked it as much as I thought I would. Luckily, I did. Everything I read was interesting. I learned a lot of new perspectives on a lot of things that I was already familiar with, and I feel like I deepened my understanding of the concepts if I knew of them to begin with. Blogging was a big part of that; having to write about something forces me to think about it and connect ideas in a much more concrete way than just thinking about it requires.

There is much that could be said here about authentic activities and self-directed learning; I could apply a million of the concepts I learned about using blogs as an educational tool, about keeping students motivated to continue by assigning critical friends… there are a lot of lessons I’ve learned. But instead of writing about them, I think I’ll post this to my blog and see if I can get a discussion started about it.

So, there’s that. I’ve just had an entire semester of fun blogging for a class. Ask Me Anything.

R685 – Mobile Experiment Series – Post 2 (The Software)

Recently in R685 we did a week on mobile learning, or m-learning. As a companion activity to that week, I decided I would limit myself to participating in class only via my smartphone. This is the second of a series of blog posts I’ll be doing on my experiences that week; this post will focus on the software (both on the web and on my phone) that I used for this experiment. You can view the entirety of the series here.

Smartphone Applications

I have a Samsung Captivate running Android 2.2 (colloquially known as FroYo), as I mentioned in the last post in this series. Didn’t read that yet? Take a look at the link in the first paragraph of this post, then come back. I’ll wait. It’s fine.

Okay, we’re back.

There were two applications that I used extensively on my phone for this experiment. The first was the built-in email application provided by the Captivate, with which I accessed my IU email account. I used the software for a number of different reasons, including (but not limited to): reading forum replies, accessing lists of readings to choose from, and sending questions via e-mail a couple of times. I had already previously set up my e-mail on my phone, so this required no additional setup for me to accomplish. Those users who do not already have their primary e-mail account set up may have to invest some time in this initially, but it was a nonissue for me.

The first thing I learned in this experiment was that it is INCREDIBLY difficult to keep track of forum discussions when you’re tracking them via e-mail. Since Oncourse does not include the text of the message to which a user is replying in the e-mail notifications it sends, you basically just have to log into the forums if any context at all is required. I found that frustrating, but it was manageable.

Which leads me up to the other piece of software I used for this experiment: Firefox Mobile. Firefox has been my preferred browser, hands down, regardless of platform, for quite a long time now. Newer versions of Firefox, including the Mobile version I used on my phone, have a plug-in called Firefox Sync which allows you to automatically sync your saved passwords, bookmarks, and other such information across devices. I have made use of this to great effect previously, but never did I realize just how much easier Sync makes things until I set it up on my phone at the beginning of this experiment. The primary benefit of Sync was that it allowed me to not have to re-enter my passphrase every time I wanted to log in to Oncourse. Had I had to do that, I probably would not have succeeded at my experiment; my passphrase takes way more work to type in correctly on a tiny touch-screen keyboard.

Another great feature of Firefox Mobile is the ability to open pages in tabs, just like you might on your desktop or laptop computer. In general, over the course of the week, I had at least one reading open at all times, as well as the class forums in another. This allowed me to very quickly and easily switch over to the Forums when I had a concept from the reading I wished to share – useful, considering I still have not managed to figure out how to select and copy text from a web page. This also led me to rephrase concepts at the get-go instead of copying and pasting and then elaborating on them, which some people might say is a benefit.

The final piece of software I used was the built-in Quickoffice application. I used it to open PDFs, and it did an amazing job. One of the readings I had was over a hundred pages and it opened much more quickly than I was expecting, and had no trouble moving between pages at a quick pace.

Web Applications

I only have one web application to report on: the Oncourse forums. In general, I got much the same experience from my smartphone as I did from a desktop computer. However, Firefox had a little trouble with long-form text input; my posts were riddled with typographical errors from a combination of several spelling errors that I hadn’t realized I’d saved to the Swype configuration, and the only way I could remove them was to backspace the entirety of the text I’d typed out between the typo and the end of the text. There was no easy way to move the cursor within the text. This was my biggest frustration.

Another issue: there are a number of wysiwyg editing elements that display when you’re posting to the forums on a full-featured version of the browser. Firefox mobile did not render those elements, for some reason, which left me without any formatting ability – and stripped all the line breaks out of my comments, making them more difficult to read if I was verbose. This led to a number of shorter posts, rather than just a couple of longer ones.

Working with the Oncourse Forums was my biggest source of frustration over the course of the week. As I mentioned earlier, my phone can open and read a hundred-plus page PDF with no trouble at all. Why can’t it handle something simple like posting to a forum? I asked myself that question many, many times during the course of the experiment, and eventually changed the signature on my e-mail client to, “This message sent via semaphore. Please excuse my brevity.”

There was one requirement I did not fulfill, which would have added yet another web application to the list: WordPress. Since I didn’t blog over the course of that week, I owe you guys one! Look for that later in the Mobile Experiment series when I post about my experience. I’ll come back and update this once I’ve got that posted.

Edit/Update: Phew! I just spent a good half an hour writing a grand total of maybe 400 words, plus adding tags and then publishing a post using my smart phone. Given that I spent about the same amount of time to write this post, which was just about at 1000 words before the update, I think there’s a strong case that M-learning is slowing me down.

WordPress was probably the best-handled of any of the web applications I used on my phone. I was able to access full functionality, including adding tags from my “choose from the most used tags” function. I didn’t attempt to use the wysiwyg functions of the editor, but they did show up, which is more than I can say for the Oncourse forums. I managed to find a way to copy and paste the introduction text from the Mobile Experiment Series posts, but it required me editing this blog post, copying the entirety of it (all almost a thousand words), and then using backspace to get rid of the 920 or so I didn’t want. Less than efficient at best. But even with all that, using WordPress was actually pretty easy on my phone; I’m impressed even if it was the teensiest bit annoying at a few points throughout the process.

R685 – Final Project Reflection + link

Busy days for me! I’ve been working like crazy all week to get caught up – since life happened so many, many times over the course of the semester. I’ve been feeling like I’m behind basically the entire semester, but thankfully we didn’t have to turn in our blog reflections until the 25th.

This post is about the project I chose for the R685 final project. I decided to go with a student-suggested option: creating a resource for use with the class. In discussing this with Dr. Bonk, he suggested I create a web site with four to ten video resources per topic.

The link to the site I created is here – check it out!

Behind the cut is my full reflection, which I turned in with this project.

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R685 – Mobile Experiment Series – Post 1 (Motivations & Device)

Recently in R685 we did a week on mobile learning, or m-learning. As a companion activity to that week, I decided I would limit myself to participating in class only via my smartphone. This is the first of a series of blog posts I’ll be doing on my experiences that week; this post will focus on my motivations for choosing to do so, and then the device I used. You can view the entirety of the series here. Additionally, since time in the semester is running out, I’ll be skipping the rest of my weekly topical reflections, with the exception of discussing my m-learning experiment and one final post reflecting on the blogging I did this semester. I also plan on sharing the reflection I wrote on my final project.

The Motivations

I understand from my class readings this week that in a lot of areas, mobile phones are people’s only access to the internet. Even though the digital divide is shrinking, the numbers of people worldwide who do not own a desktop or notebook computer is staggering. Given that I come from a relatively privileged background, and have had at least one computer at all times for the last decade, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be constrained by relatively inefficient technology.

Dr. Bonk’s class is set up very well for the online learning format. I have had no real difficulty accessing the readings for a given week, or participating in class synchronous sessions, or the discussions on the class forums in Oncourse either. I had already been participating in a less-constrained form of m-learning all semester; my job provides me with a laptop, a recent-model Macbook Pro, which I used to access the entirety of the class this semester up until I began using my smartphone. I believed that this pre-optimized setup would make my objective easier to accomplish (whereas it would not have been nearly as easy to do an entire week’s worth of homework for my Web Programming class using a smartphone). This meant that I had a set of conditions that were ideal to fostering the success of my experiment, rather than ones that would frustrate me on the first day of attempting it.

Additionally driving my decision to try this experiment was the knowledge that we would not be having a synchronous session in Adobe Connect that week. Though I have a lot of faith in my little smartphone, I shudder to even think about what a nightmare getting Connect to work would be – if it could, in fact, be gotten to work at all. This meant that my restrictions would not prevent me from participating in any major way in the class (something I found important because my grades are important to me; I didn’t want to harm myself with this experiment).

The Device

Also motivating my decision to give the experiment a shot was the fact that I have just recently upgraded my cell phone. Previously I was using the Apple iPhone 3G, which was sufficient as a smartphone, but I have serious doubts as to its ability to handle the sorts of use cases I would be exploring.

The phone to which I upgraded is a Samsung Galaxy S, known in the United States and Canada as the Captivate. You can get a full breakdown of the device’s specs here, but I’ll give you the run-down on some of the basics.

First, this thing is huge. You could just about fit the entire iPhone into the display area on the Captivate. Second, it’s running on the popular Android firmware by Google. Third, it’s about twice as powerful as the first computer I ever got, in 2001, which came with Windows XP. The Captivate boasts 512MB of RAM, an internal 16GB SD card, and an expansion slot that can handle up to an additional 32GB, in micro-SD format. Its processor is one of the more modern mobile processors, the ARM Cortex Hummingbird, at a speed of 1000 mHz. I was using the most recent version of Android, 2.2 (colloquially known as FroYo), though I’m pretty sure anyone using a Captivate with the previous version, 2.1, would be able to duplicate my results using this particular class.

Furthermore, this thing is even more usable than I ever found the iPhone to be. Where the iPhone still reminds me more of a PDA than it does a computer with a touch-screen interface, there’s no mistaking the Captivate for anything less than a full, mobile computer. Having had it for all of maybe two weeks before we got to m-learning, I had already found myself surprised over and over again by the Captivate’s capabilities; it was this fact that convinced me that success with my experiment was possible.

And so, I pushed on. Look for blog posts later talking about the software I used and the experience I had.

R685 – Week Eight – Collaborative Editing

I was planning to use this blog entry to expand upon my positions vis a vis Wikipedia’s suitability as a scholarly resource. But, there’s already a shorter version of what I call The Wikipedia Rant in an earlier weekly reflection post, so I thought instead I’d do some reading outside of the class-assigned readings and see instead if I could find anything that changed my mind.

First, I checked the Wikipedia page on accuracy disputes. I didn’t find anything I wasn’t expecting to see here – Wikipedia tries to push a Neutral Point of View (NPOV) and had several mechanisms for disputing the accuracy of a corpus of text depending on how severe the inaccuracies are.

Next, I found an editorial piece by John F. Kennedy’s former assistant, who experienced what incorrect information on Wikipedia can do to a person. This particular piece presents a chilling picture of the kind of far-reaching effect factual inaccuracies on Wiki can have. This may be a little bit of my bias, but while I’m willing to believe that there are a number of sites who simply scrape data from Wikipedia for content, I have to take this one with a grain of salt. That’s not to say that I do not sympathize with Seigenthaler, who obviously had a lot of problems stem from the inaccurate information being posted to Wikipedia, but I wonder what he would have done had such information been printed in a paper encyclopedia. Which brings me to the next reading…

Wikipedia vs. Britannica – a comparison of the two encyclopedias which describes a recent Nature study of a number of articles in the sciences which found that the average Britannica article had about three factual errors, whereas the average Wikipedia article has about four. That’s pretty impressive, considering the relative sizes of the two encyclopedias – 1.5 million happened in 2006 for Wikipedia (and over 2,000,000 by 2007 according to the next article), whereas Britannica boasts about 100,000 topics. In addition, many of Wikipedia’s “featured articles” are at LEAST on par with Britannica’s standards, though a number of articles still do not meet Wiki’s established conventions, and thus not all Wikipedia articles can be considered as good a source as Britannica.

Comparison of Wikipedia and other encyclopedias for accuracy, breadth, and depth in historical articles. This is the one that really stopped me. I’ll quote directly from the abstract:

Findings – The study did reveal inaccuracies in eight of the nine entries and exposed major flaws in at least two of the nine Wikipedia articles. Overall, Wikipedia’s accuracy rate was 80 percent compared with 95-96 percent accuracy within the other sources. This study does support the claim that Wikipedia is less reliable than other reference resources. Furthermore, the research found at least five unattributed direct quotations and verbatim text from other sources with no citations. (Emphasis mine.)

I have definite plans to go back and read the last item on this list more closely. I’m not entirely convinced of Wikipedia’s unsuitableness as an academic resource just yet, but I’m pretty well convinced now that it is fairly unsuitable as a direct resource as of yet. I still have no plans to change my “check the citations” strategy, since it has built me a number of fairly good bibliographies. I wonder if, as a student, one or more instructors had had me engage in fact-checking a Wikipedia article, how would that have affected my impressions of it?

R685: Week Seven

During week 7 we discussed Connectivism and Participatory learning. I’ve decided, however, to replace this week’s blog post with a discussion on my Midterm Assignment Reality Check (MARC) assignment instead, because good LORD knows I can’t resist the opportunity to devote an entire post for Week 8 to The Wikipedia Rant (more on that later).

For the MARC assignment I chose to assemble articles, write abstracts, and reflect on the process. Behind the jump you can find the text of my reflection on the project; I have also attached a .docx file with my citations and abstracts here, if you’re interested.

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R685: Week Five Reflection

This week has been a blast in class! Talking about Open Source Software was already exciting enough, and then! Dr. Bonk assigned us each a prominent figure in the open source movement to role play as, and as anything must when including Richard Stallman, open source software using the GNU license, or not using the GNU license, and other people, it quickly devolved into a lot of terribly fun and surprisingly in-character sniping. I broke character exactly once, to post a link to this xkcd strip, which is a favorite of mine, and inspired this incredible photo of Stallman. So it was that this week I got to combine one of my passions – the open source movement – with one of my favorite hobbies – role playing.

Perhaps my favorite “player character” was Laurie, who was assigned the role of Stallman for the week. I was impressed early on by her quick perception of exactly how Stallman communicates in text, but she continued to be a great source of amusement as she teased discussion out of the other folks. If she had half as much fun writing those posts as I’ve had reading them, she’s had a pretty good week. I also rather enjoyed Dr. Bonk stepping in as the “non-player character” who knows everyone (this is a role playing trope. I played THAT VERY CHARACTER last weekend, except instead of being a mild-mannered academic with a legendary collection of awesome hats, she was a Russian assassin. What a varied and interesting life I get to live!)

Connexions. It doesn’t even look like a word anymore. Then again, neither does Sakai. GNU never did to me.

On a slightly off-topic but related note, I was conspicuously absent from the forums for about two days – Saturday and Sunday – which I spent in Indianapolis, dressed up like an elf, hiking across the snow (literally! About two-thirds of my steps I didn’t sink in AT ALL), and hitting people with a foam sword. Oh, and great role playing, too, though our characters are a bit less tech-savvy. Thanks to my armor, I haven’t slouched in two days. I played hard all weekend, and it was one heck of a fun time, but now I’m exhausted. I hope my responses to people’s posts tomorrow won’t be too late for the fun to continue.

As you might be able to tell, role playing is one of my favorite hobbies. I have Live Action Role Play (LARP) games scheduled… well, to be honest, most weekends of the month. I get the chance to play a lot of cool games based on the White Wolf system (Vampire: the Masquerade and Werewolf: the Apocalypse) here in Bloomington, and then I am lucky to have a large group of friends to game with in Indy, where we play a sword-and-sorcery boffer LARP called Trials of Terra Nova. There’s a game we go to in Michigan that’s also a fantasy setting, but as Michigan is cold, that won’t be happening until May. So, good choice, Dr. Bonk.

As a side note: I’ve got to say, having a blog relating to class is really useful to me because it means I can get off on these only tangentially-connected side stories, of which I have a million. Perhaps I should blog about my other classes as well! Though I don’t think many professors would take kindly to me furiously typing a blog post with a tangent instead of paying attention to the lecture. The game I played this weekend actually is quite notable for its extensive use of various emerging technologies for logistics and communications – in addition to a central repository of files (managed by Google docs, unfortunately, not GitHub), there is a forum and a mailing list, which we can use to discuss things and keep in touch – and in touch with our characters – in between games, which happen once a month.

R685: Week Four Reflection

This week in R685 we’re discussing online and blended learning.

“the smallest institutions have the lowest [online] penetration rates across almost all program categories” (Allen & Seaman, 2005).

I wanted to draw attention to this because I’m guessing there are lots of reasons worth talking about. For example: smaller institutions tend to have smaller staff and smaller budgets to work with, as discussed in the report. There’s more than that, though: the college at which I did my undergraduate offers traditional and distance-learning formats (though even the distance classes are really only online-facilitated at this point), and though it has begun developing an online degree program in recent years, faculty with whom I still correspond on a regular basis tell me that those people in charge of the program are having trouble understanding in what ways online courses differ from traditional courses, so that may be another reason as well.

At least at my small, private, not-for-profit school (my graduating class, 2008, comprised of the entire undergraduate student body, on-campus and off, was less than 200 people), much of the technological things we take for granted at IU just weren’t possible. The first semester online registration was even AVAILABLE for was the fall after I graduated – I had to truck pieces of paper around campus, get four or five different signatures, and then drop everything off with the registrar (uphill, both ways in the snow, blah blah).

Allen & Seaman (2010) seems to support my analysis that part of the problem is a lack of institutional commitment to online course offerings. “[S]chools [that institutionally believe that their online offerings are strategic for their institution and they have fully incorporated online into their formal long-term plan] enroll forty-three percent of all higher education students but educate nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of all online students in fall 2009.” Those schools that don’t “culturally” understand the importance of the technology are going to be slower to adopt the technology.

That said, I’m not sure if I’m convinced that online classes are unilaterally better than face-to-face ones. I love having course materials available 24/7 from anywhere I might happen to be, but on the other hand, one problem brought up by Figlio et. Al (2010) is one that I am already having trouble with, just a few weeks into the semester: “as has been documented at one major four-year institution, last-minute cramming in internet-based courses is rampant (Donovan, Figlio and Rush, 2006)”. Though I’m doing it on a micro-scale, getting my last-minute “cramming” done at the end of the week rather than the semester, I’m just not as active as I like to be in this class. For me, having concrete deadlines is very important, or I have a hard time getting things done. I find it a little funny that, as a person planning to work with teachers to incorporate technology into their classes, I’m having trouble taking an online class – even one as well-designed as this one.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2005). Growing by degrees: Online education in the United States, 2005. Needham, MA: Sloan-C. Retrieved on June 24, 2010,, from http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/pdf/growing_by_degrees.pdf

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2010, November). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010, The Sloan Consortium. http://sloanconsortium.org/sites/default/files/class_differences.pdf

Figlio, D.N., Rush, M., & Yin, L. (2010, June). Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning. National Bureau of Economic Research. http://www.nber.org/papers/w16089.pdf?new_window=1

R685: Week Three Reflection

Keeping it short this time, as the readings were a bit sparse this week. E-book and e-reader technology has been something of an area of interest to me for awhile (I think I find myself saying that every week), and I’ve used digital books and papers in every facet of my life: personal, for pleasure reading; professional, for reference (I find it much more convenient to have a searchable database of searchable text than an entire library of manually-indexed paper books); and academic, for classes. I still haven’t made the switch entirely, for a number of reasons.

First, my professors have yet to unilaterally adopt a policy of entirely-online textbooks. I’m very fortunate, however, in that many of my faculty have. This is my fourth semester in graduate school and I have collected a grand total of seven books – or eight, if you count the one that I had previously purchased for an undergraduate class and then kept. Another of those eight textbooks is a book that I purchased a paper copy of for an undergraduate class, then sold back, and then ended up needing again as a graduate student (though there WAS an updated edition). I’ve noticed that even many of my faculty who prefer to grade hard-copies of assignments are switching to electronic materials, freely available via one of IU’s many systems (eReserves, the Oncourse Resources section, etc.). As an IT professional and student at IU I also have access to Books 24×7, a database of technical textbooks, and that has been immensely useful in preventing my cubicle shelves from being clogged down with reference books (I prefer to use that space for tchotchkes instead).

And I’m all for that. I don’t feel sanguine, by contrast, about the idea that I might at some point have to purchase access to an e-textbook. Amazon and other companies have repeatedly proven that they are not of the opinion that you “own” digital copies of their media. One example of this: Amazon recently deleted copies of 1984 and Animal House at the request of the copyright holder. The irony of copies of 1984 disappearing down the “memory hole” is a subject for another post entirely – but it illustrates an important reason, I believe, why academia hasn’t more widely adopted digital textbooks. In addition, the lack of a widely available, standard, open format for ebooks is another huge issue. I once purchased a digital copy of a book for a platform not supporting my iPhone, which is the device on which I do most of my e-book reading. I never ended up reading it in that format – instead, I purchased a redundant, analog copy, which I was able to read unfettered by required software and hardware.

Another thing that I don’t think digital reading will ever be able to reproduce is the sheer sensory experience one has when reading a physical, paper book. There’s a smell, a texture, a sound the pages make when you turn them. My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice – I have a beautiful, leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of it that I take out and read about once a year, and for me the aesthetics of the book add to the experience. It even has one of those little sewn-into-the-binding ribbon bookmarks. While I could, theoretically, get an iPad (or whatever device) case that replicates some of these qualities, it’s just not the same: the weight, the thickness, the sounds are all off.

So for now, I stick to only purchasing (which we will define as “paying a set of US dollars for”) physical copies of the books I want to keep. If I’m not paying for it, as I do with a number of e-books (pro-tip: search for amazon free kindle titles. Discover new authors you might not otherwise), I treat it as a library book – something I have borrowed, but do not own. If I might be upset over losing it, I purchase a physical copy. Amazon hasn’t yet perfected the art of invading people’s homes to steal their books back.

….Okay, now go back and read the first sentence of this post. I think it’s time to admit I have a problem! And that’s my reflection for this week: I start out intending to write these clean, concise blog posts topical to the class sessions, and then I get off on tangents upon tangents.