One-To-One Technology ‘Is Really About Building Effective Relationships’

My thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for the invitation to respond to his EdWeek Teacher Blog question: What are the Dos and Don’ts of having a successful one-to-one computing (where every student at a school gets a device) program? Check out the post to see responses from Alice Barr and Mark Pullen as well.

Quote

Part of my response to the question: “What are the Dos and Don’ts of having a successful one-to-one computing (where every student at a school gets a device) program?”


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New Podcast Series on BAM Radio’s Pulse Network

Having been a listener of BAM Radio for some time, I was happy to be invited to a conversation with Larry Ferlazzo and Alice Barr about effective implementation strategies for 1:1 programs.

Also, I was honored to be asked to begin a new podcast series on BAM’s Pulse Network. Designed as a tool to help every educator begin sharing his or her own voice, I wanted to make sure that I was using the new show as an opportunity to talk with teachers, not just at them. Fortunately, around the same time, I was in an email conversation with Katharine Hale, an outstanding young teacher that I met last year at a conference in Rhode Island. We had been talking about various ideas she has for integrating technology into the reading and writing workshop, many of which she shares on her blog: TEaCHitivity.

After some trials and errors with the technology (I am reminded that, yes, it is good to fail!), we can now share our first two episodes of Revising the Reading and Writing Workshop.

In the first episode, Katharine and I discuss some of the shifts that she has seen happening in her instruction this year while working to integrate iPads into her 5th grade classroom.

Then, in our second episode, we discuss how Katharine is conceptualizing the idea of “flipped learning” as a crucial component of her reading and writing workshop.

Each episode hovers at about the ten minute mark (a specific and intentional technical limitation of the BAM site), so each episode is short and sweet. Here is the RSS feed for the show notes, where I will provide links to the audio for each episode, too.

Of course, we are interested in your thoughts and questions, and we will also soon be looking for some guests. Please give them a listen and let us know what you think!


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Edutopia Article and Talks with Teachers Podcast

This past week, I’ve had two pieces enter the educational social media space.

First, my blog post for Eduoptia, “Feeding Our Students’ Reading Interests with RSS,” came out last Friday, March 21st. In it, I “reiterate the power of RSS as a tool for active reading” and recommend using Feedly and Flipboard as two great apps.

Second, my podcast conversation with Brian Sztabnik on Talks with Teachers released yesterday was a welcome reminder of why we choose to work with students, engaging them in the writing process and supporting them as best we can with individual attention.

Talks with Teachers Podcast (Episode 19)

Enjoy these two pieces and let me know how you are using RSS and social media in your teaching this spring!


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Reflections on the State of Writing Instruction

Over at Writers Who Care, Kristen Turner and I have shared some thoughts from our recent experience at Writing Research Across Borders III:

Arthur Applebee, a leading scholar in the field of writing instruction, shared some new research during his keynote at the Writing Research Across Borders III conference last week in Paris.

Applebee and his colleagues have conducted two wide-scale studies — 30 years apart — about the state of writing instruction in middle and high schools in the United States.

We had hoped to hear better news.

Read more…


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WRAB III Wrap Up

WRAB LogoThis has been both a personally and professionally fulfilling week for me, as I was able to travel with colleagues from the US to participate in the Writing Research Across Borders III conference in Paris. Along with the sightseeing, which has been wonderful, the general spirit of inquiry and collegiality from around the world has been inspiring. Here is a short recap of some of the key moments.

Arthur Applebee’s Keynote

As I wrote earlier this week, Applebee shared some relatively unsurprising news. While I had wished there might be something more optimistic in his speech, most of what he shared has also been reported in his latest book. Kristen Turner, my friend and colleague, will share a post on the Applebee keynote on the Writers Who Care blog soon. In short, as teacher educators concerned with the quality of writing instruction in our country — as well as the generally lackluster integration of digital literacy throughout the curriculum — we hope that the insidious effects of standardized tests can be stopped before any kinds of authentic writing instruction are stamped out forever.

Session on Automated Writing Evaluation

There were many (competing) ideas about the purpose, quality, and overall effects of automated writing evaluation. In sum, Carl Whithouse made the case that we have seen a shift from automated essay scoring (AES) to automated writing evaluation (AWE), and those slight changes language are not inconsequential. When the terms of the argument move beyond simply “scoring essays” (which, according to ETS presenters there, was basically a count of grammatical and vocabulary features) to “evaluating writing,” this raises a new level of concern for those of us who are teaching writing. No longer is it enough to take the either/or argument, for or against. We now need a much more nuanced understanding of what AWE does as well as how it works; in turn, we can still make compelling arguments for the value of teaching writers, not just evaluating single pieces of writing.

Panel on Writing, Language, and New Media

In our session, we were able to bring in multiple voices connecting issues related to reading, writing, digital literacy, and the uses of technology. You can find notes from the session here, and my short summary is that many of us are wrestling with the same questions about technology’s role in effective teaching and learning, whether we are thinking about our youngest writers or undergraduates or adult learners who work as translators. There are many shifts that we must consider, including what Daniel Perrin and I are framing as a difference between “focused writing” and “writing-by-the-way.” I was happy to present with Kristen and also to have another Michigan colleague, Sue Sharma, share her work on how she has developed an online reading clinic. I appreciated the many voices — of both presenters and participants — that made our session interactive and useful.

Panel for the Handbook of Writing and Text Production

This panel shared five different perspectives on the state of the field and the way we pursue scholarship: theory and methodology, authors, media and mode, genre, and domains (personal, professional). These five perspectives — and the scholars gathered to write and discuss them — are useful as ways for us to consider what is happening in writing studies. I was honored that Daniel invited me to be a part of this work on mode and media perspectives, and I shared my 10 minute overview of possibilities and problems we face from this perspective. We then broke into small groups and had a robust discussion about three “problems” from this perspective: what writing actually is, what the unit of study is or could be, and finally our ability to examine both process and product. Our small group conversation was quite productive, and I made some connections to colleagues also interested in these issues, so I hope our exchanges continue.

Kristen Turner’s Digitalk Session

Kristen Turner

For all the years we have known one another and projects that we have collaborated on, I have never seen Kristen present specifically on her work with “digitalk.” Since our session ended early, I was able to sneak into her session and gain a better understanding of the work she has done. In short, she positions “digitalk” — the types of moves that teens make in social networking, texting, and instant messaging — as both an act of code switching and individual identity making. I was most interested in how teens described themselves though the moves they made (for instance, one teen used “5″ instead of “s” in his messages and another discussed how many Ys she would put at the end of “HEY” to indicate a quick hello to an acquaintance (“HEY…”) or as a way to show she really like a boy “HEYYYY…”). I really appreciate Kristen’s approach to coding and analyzing her data, and look forward to doing more of this work with her in the future for our research on digital reading.

New Literacies in the Elementary Classroom

The final session that I was able to attend included a number of scholars from Canada, Sweden, and the US, each focusing on some aspect of new literacies in the elementary classroom. One team described the ways that teachers worked in PLCs as inquiry groups, the next did close analysis of students’ digital work, and the final one examined one kindergarten teacher and his efforts over six weeks to teach a digital storytelling unit. I was most impressed with the conversation that we had afterward, and the substantive issues that we are all wrestling with about instructional moves and assessment of digital writing. My wife would be proud of me, as I even mentioned my own book to the audience as a potential resource. I’ve emailed all the presenters and hope to stay in touch for future collaborations.

Au revoir

WRAB IV WordleMy experience with Writing Research Across Borders III has, indeed, lived up to it’s billing. I’ve been excited about the possibility of this conference since missing the first two, both in the US. As I was tweeting out ideas this weekend, I was engaged with colleagues both here in Paris and back home, and I think we already have some session ideas for WRAB IV in Bogota. I’m finishing up this blog post now so I can prepare for departure from CDG, and a return home for some much needed rest and sharing pictures of Paris with my family. Thanks to all who made WRAB III possible, and safe travels to everyone, too.


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Notes from Arthur Applebee’s WRAB Keynote

This morning, WRAB III kicked off with conference organizers greeted 1140 colleagues from around the world, followed by a keynote from Arthur Applebee, an academic hero for those of us interested in writing research.

Many of his ideas from this talk are also shared in his recent book, Writing Instruction That Works, looking at 20 schools, both in the classroom and with testing data from the school.

The idea was to look at ways that typical writing programs compared to highly successful ones. Here are some notes from his presentation, “What Shapes School Work? Examining Influences on School Writing Tasks over Time in U.S. Secondary Schools.” Main points from the talk:

  • Project looking at changes in writing instruction over the past 30 years
  • Looked across many states including Kentucky, Michigan, and Texas
  • Looked at successful students, as well as less successful students
  • Survey of 1500 teachers and at writing in English, History, Science, and Math
  • Compared to his 1981 study — not an exact replication of the research model, but looking at many of the same issues: assignments, requirements, instructional practices
  • Of course, some differences between then and now — more use of tech, casual atmosphere, but the practices of instruction are, sadly, mostly the same.
  • Example assignment from 1980 — writing was a response to material that was presented by the teacher and textbook, repeated in a format that was well rehearsed.
  • In 2006, the assignment required some knowledge of how to frame a response, drawing in material from class. However, still limiting in the sense that students do not develop new ideas, limited to a five-paragraph theme formulaic response.
  • In other words, students do not elaborate on understanding or construct meaning. Most writing in school is utilitarian.
  • The elephant in the room is that we have high stakes testing that is pervasive in US education. The threat to the teachers and school is what transforms instruction.
  • None of this bodes well for teaching writing. You can pass all of these exams without being able to write at all.
  • Lots of test prep reported by the teachers: Sample writing in class similar to exams, use of the test rubric, class assessments similar to tests.
  • Tests shape school work in four different ways:
    • Whether we should do writing at all?
    • How we should teach writing?
    • How to fit it in with test prep?
    • The use of word processing — most high stakes exams are being taken with handwriting, not the computer (this is changing, however!)
  • The use of writing is dictated by the requirements of the exam. For instance, in New York, the history test requires writing and so it is considered “very important” to teachers that student analyze and synthesize history ideas in writing.
  • Testing reinforces inequality by causing low-performing schools to focus on prep, which leads to inadequate curriculum and, in turn, poorer test scores. It’s a downward spiral.
  • Some good news: Good news is that students do write more to a wider variety of audiences. Teachers understand of best practice have improved.

Some final thoughts (from me):

I was hoping to hear some more of the “good news” in Applebee’s talk, thinking about the ways that we might build on the strengths of work that the National Writing Project and other professional groups have taken. However, it does seem as though there are some bright spots, just not at the moment. Off to the rest of the conference.

Arthur Applebee Keynote from WRAB III in Paris

Arthur Applebee Keynote from WRAB III in Paris


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Fourth Post from SDRC “Hack and Yack” Series

This post was originally published on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative blog on January 23, 2014.


Over the past two weeks, we explored the big ideas behind digital reading and ebooks, and have looked at basic ebooks and enhanced ebooks. Today, we wrap up the series by thinking about the possibilities afforded by interactive ebooks.

Features of Interactive eBooks

 

Interactive eBook Features and Examples

To return one more time to Avi Itzkovitch’s thoughts on ebooks, he defines interactive ebooks as “apps designed specifically to utilize the powers of tablets to enable users to interact with the storyline in sight, sound, and touch.” There are a variety of interactive ebooks available, and my colleague Rob Rozema has recommended Frankenstein (iPad App) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (iPad App) as two popular examples. I would also encourage you to check out his book, Bent Not Broken, which he has now made available for free.

Image from Robert Rozema's ebook Bent Not Broken

Image from Robert Rozema’s ebook Bent Not Broken

For Rob’s book in particular, he weaves the personal stories of refugees with a history of the war in Liberia end Sierra Leone. While many e-books are made for entertainment purposes, I appreciate the work that Rob put into his project, both as a researcher/writer and as someone interested in digital literacy. He was able to incorporate documents and video available in the public domain with his own multimedia including audio and video recordings as well as interactive maps of the region.

In addition to apps that are specifically designed for tablets, I would also like to introduce the idea of “transmedia storytelling,” described by Laura Fleming in this manner: “Transmedia storytelling exemplifies learning in the twenty-first century by merging the concept of storytelling with that of the listener-learner and the resulting emotional engagement with the pervasiveness of media” (p. 371). She builds on Henry Jenkins and his colleagues’ ideas of participatory culture and, I would add, connected learning. Finally, the Transmedia Storyteller defines this process as “telling a story across multiple media and preferably, although it doesn’t always happen, with a degree of audience participation, interaction or collaboration.”

One of the transmedia stories that Laura has studied and used with her own students is Inanimate Alice. Here is a description from the homepage: “Set in a technology-augmented near-future, Inanimate Alice tells the story of a young girl who grows up to become a videogame designer at the biggest games company in the world.” In her article, Laura describes the educational possibilities of Inanimate Alice, and transmedia more broadly, as:

Inanimate Alice is a bridge to literacy that today’s young learners inherently connect with and understand. Readers go to the story for inspiration, creative writing, and multimedia text analysis. It offers engaging materials enmeshed with educational guidance to be delivered across structures in a variety of formats. (pp. 375-6)

In short, I see the possibilities of composing an interactive ebook in much the same way as I do composing a transmedia story. Thus, for teachers aiming to support their students as they develop texts that include interactive features, I would encourage us all to consider the ways in which we may use blogs, websites, or wikis as a tool for production. In other words, students can compose a lengthy, significant text (like a book) and have it spread across multiple pages on a website, embedded with multimedia.

Tools for Creating Interactive eBooks

As noted above, to officially produce an interactive ebook, as compared to a transmedia story shared across multiple platforms (primarily the web), specific software will be needed. There are two primary tools for creating interactive ebooks, and they come from the tech giants that you would expect: iBooks Author (which forces users into Apples proprietary format and to distribute their work via iTunes) and Adobe InDesign, a part of their professional suite of tools in the Creative Cloud. In keeping with the free and open source ethos of this series of blog posts, however, I will offer two alternatives.

First MegaZine 3 (First Version Available as Open Source), is described in this manner: “MegaZine3 recreates the look and feel of actual books or magazines on the screen. And much more… all kind of multimedia content like video and audio and interactive forms, games and quiz are supported.” While I have not used MegaZine, I did take a look at some of their samples, including brochures, books, magazines, and reports. I’m sure there are other publishing tools that allow for the types of embedded multimedia that MegaZine offers, too, but the fact that the first version is available under an open license makes this particularly appealing.

Sopie Design Interface

Sopie Design Interface

Second, I’ve done just a little exploration on Sophie (Open Source – Mac/PC/Linux), which is billed as “software for collaboratively authoring and viewing rich media documents in a networked environment.” Much like what I have experienced with iBooks author, the interface for Sophie appears to have multiple options for laying out the page and embedding multimedia. And, like MegaZine, there are examples of Sophie projects to explore.

Conclusion

As I conclude this series of posts on ebooks, I continue to think about the amazing opportunities now offered to our digital readers and writers. As someone deeply interested in digital writing (with all its affordances including the use of links, images, and video), I’m genuinely curious to think about the ways in which we can support our students as they both comprehend and create a lengthier texts.

Many teachers are now having their students compose on blogs and wikis, use discussion forums or social networks, and create digital stories or other types of video projects. I wonder what might happen if, much like a portfolio, students might collect many pieces of digital writing and compile them in an ebook? Could one interactive feature also be in “author’s commentary,” much like the director’s cut on a DVD where we get insights into why and how the film was shot?

Personally, I look forward to continuing my own exploration of ebook publishing as I begin writing a professional book that will incorporate many multimedia components. As you continue your thinking and teaching, I will be curious to know what you and your students are working on, too.

References

Fleming, Laura (2013) “Expanding Learning Opportunities with Transmedia Practices: Inanimate Alice as an Exemplar,” Journal of Media Literacy Education: Vol. 5: Iss. 2, Article 3. Available at: http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/jmle/vol5/iss2/3


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Third Post from SDRC “Hack and Yack” Series

This post was originally published on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative blog on January 21, 2014.


Our post last week looked up an example of a basic ebook, one that is essentially a PDF document or ePub style and has features such as search and annotation, adjustments for readability, and the ability to access some other functions of a tablet such as a web browser. This week, we will look at ebooks with increasing levels of interactivity, beginning today with enhanced ebooks.

Features of Enhanced eBooks

Enhanced eBook Features

As Avi Itzkovitch describes them, enhanced ebooks “are a new digital publication standard that allows easy integration of video, audio, and interactivity.”  This can include options such as richer annotation features, quizzes, audio and video content, and links to supplemental content available on the web. While this type of interactivity enhances an ebook, I would argue that these features may still not contribute to the overall meaning making process for a reader in significant ways. In other words, simply because the digital writer may create a text using a tool such as iBooks Author, this does not necessarily mean that the content provided contribute to a reader’s comprehension or enjoyment of the book without careful attention to detail.

That said, making an enhanced ebook could, of course, contribute to a richer comprehension and enjoyment process. For instance, a text could be created as an interactive adventure, or having the reader to engage in one of the interactive features could reveal a crucial plot development or piece of information about a topic. Still, for the most part, these multimedia components or hyperlinks merely reinforce or complement the existing textual material. Ideally, this is not just interactivity for its own sake. An e-book that has some interactivity and multimedia features should bring something more to the reading experience than only reading text alone.

Enhanced eBook Examples

Given that my particular interest is in K-12 education and how teachers can help their students become digital readers and writers, I wanted to look for examples that they could use as “digital mentor texts.” This is a term that some colleagues and I coined for a series of blog posts in the beginning of 2012. By this, we were hoping to move the conversation about “mentor texts” — those exemplary stories, poems, articles, or even single sentences or paragraphs we can use as models for our students — and think about what types of digital writing could be used as mentors. Thus, I want to carry on in that fashion and look for some examples that could become the types of enhanced e-books that K-12 students could compose.

First, I might suggest building a “choose your own adventure” style book. Of course, there are our old favorites at the library, supplanted now with online versions (many community powered) such as Choose Your Story, Choice of Games, or this list from DMOZ. Please note that I am not attesting to the quality of any of these sites, or the appropriateness of the content, as some come with explicit disclaimers about not being for children. Still, the idea of creating hypertext with branching storylines in the “choose your own adventure” style is one that makes a good deal of sense, especially for students in elementary and middle school. This is certainly one model of interactivity.

Another potential example would be to create hypertext fiction. Described on Wikipedia as “a genre of electronic literature, characterized by the use of hypertext links which provide a new context for non-linearity in literature and reader interaction,” hypertext fiction can include words or images that are linked to internal pages of a website or out to different sources. Again, as a genre that would be relatively easy to produce in the form of an e-book, students could use principles of hypertext fiction to link to additional content that they create and present inside of the e-book, as well as to external sources. This set of 100 Flash Fiction Hypertexts  appears to be a good place to find some examples.

Finally, I would look to the example of Scratch, a tool that students can use to “program your own interactive stories, games, and animations.” I was fortunate enough to visit the MIT Media Lab last fall while in Boston for NCTE, and as someone who had only tangentially known about this tool, I’m simply amazed at what Scratch can do. In particular, as a storytelling tool, Scratch provides options for interactivity as well as numerous examples created by users in their community. Many of the same types of functions that would appear in an interactive ebook are available in Scratch, so it provides a good space for students to learn, play, and explore.

Tools for Creating Enhanced eBooks

Beyond the examples listed above, there are a number of tools that we can use to construct interactive e-books, or at least websites that would function in a similar manner. I suppose that I don’t get too picky here because, given that I am trying to present a wide variety of tools and options, whether or not something is presented in a downloadable e-book format or available on the web seems to matter less than the actual quality of the writing. For teachers, my strong inclination is to use web-based tools to create these kinds of enhanced texts, yet encourage students to move beyond short and simple pieces into lengthier, more nuanced, and complex ones.

So, one possibility that I think many of us might overlook is the idea that we could create a simple slide presentation, using words, images, or invisible shapes on the screen to act as hyperlinks. There are of course the free Open Office Impress and Google Presentations which are popular tools, and Cool Tools for Schools lists even more. There are a number of other tools that would allow students to create some level of interactivity such as Booktracks (adding a sound track to a written text), Voicethread (for commenting on text, images, or video), or Meograph (which invites users to create stories with various media elements). Recently, I was introduced to a new tool, Play, which allows users to “ curate emotive multimedia content, stimulating peers to create, circulate, and interact through new media.” And, finally, I have heard about, but haven’t really tried Inklewriter for Teachers, a tool that allows students to create stories that require the reader to make choices, much like the Choose Your Own Adventure idea noted above.

Conclusion

With this post, I end with a few questions for us to consider:

  • As we think about the affordances of enhanced ebooks, how can we help students think creatively about telling stories, presenting information, and making arguments?
  • What do we feel could be a useful way to encourage the remix/reuse of existing media as we create ebooks?
  • How might we invite them to make their own media that could enhance their ebooks?

We want our digital writers to think about enhancement in ways that move well beyond the bells and whistle, inviting their readers to use these features as a critical component of meaning making. My final post later this week will look at the last category of ebooks: enhanced ebooks, in which interactivity and multimedia are, indeed, central to the comprehension process.


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Second Post from SDRC “Hack and Yack” Series

This post was originally published on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative blog on January 17, 2014.


As mentioned in our introduction to this series of blog posts, we are heading into the world of e-reading for the next few days, considering what it might mean for us as digital writers and rhetors. Today, I want to explore the first type functionality made available to typical ebooks.

Features of eBooks

eBook Features

These books can be as simple as a PDF document, or they can be comprised of “flowable” text that allows for font size adjustment. Probably the most common formats for  ebooks are the Kindle and iBooks formats as well as the more ubiquitous ePub. Some of the essential features for ebooks in these formats include:

  • Basic search and annotation: users can search for particular words or phrases using an integrated search function. Additionally, users can “highlight” selected passages that can be collected by the ebook software as a set of notes.
  • Readability features: because of the digital nature of the text itself as an XML or HTML5 format, Michael Wesch reminds us that the content and form are separate. Thus, flowable and adjustable texts have become the norm. No longer do we need to tell students to turn to page X. Instead, we can have them search for words and passages.
  • Use of external computing functions: another useful feature of eBooks is the connection to the dictionary and web browsing functions. Finding a definition or more information about a word or phrase is, quite literally, at one’s fingertips by simply pressing and holding a word and launching these additional features.

These features — while not nearly as snazzy as some of the ones we will explore in our next two posts on enhanced and interactive ebooks — are nonetheless quite useful for readers. Moreover, they are important for us to remember as writers, too. Are there ways that we can use images within our digital writing, for instance, to maintain the exact size, shape, and color of a particular font? Might we use certain words, alone or in combination, together to signal certain sections or transitions in the texts (without necessarily using sub headings, bold or italics)? Are there ways to hide other “Easter eggs” in our very basic ebooks that would reward a savvy user?

Basic eBook Examples

Project Gutenberg is probably the widest known site, providing tons of texts that exist in the public domain and available in a variety of ebook formats. Additional sources for public domain ebooks include Amazon, Feedbooks, and your local library’s ebook service. As noted above, there aren’t too many features that these texts have, but the one specific advantage to getting the book in an ebook format — as compared to a straight up PDF — is that the book will have flowable text. For instance, here are two screenshots of from the Kindle App showing some of the features noted above.

Kindle Viewing Options

The Kindle app allows users to change default font sizes, as well as text and background color.

Kindle Highlighting Options

Also, the app allows users to highlight text and provides quick access to the dictionary and web resources.

Tools for Creating Basic eBooks

Finally, what tools can we use to create ebooks — in the flexible, flowable ebook format? As I explore software packages and web-based solutions over the next few blog posts, I am sticking to free, open source options. So, please know that there are other programs out there for creating ebooks, and I suggest using Alternativeto.net as a resource for finding them.

So, given the free and open source requirement, for standalone software there are a few options. A standalone program such as Sigil or eCub, both ePub editors, as well as the Mobipocket Creator, could do the trick. For the iPad, there is Storykit, which is simple yet quite useful for younger students. A search of the iTunes store also yielded Quark DesignPad, though it looks from the reviews that an upgrade to the pro version might be necessary to get the types of features that would make it truly useful. Finally, you could use the open source Scribus and then share it as a PDF.

Conclusion: Pushing eBooks into New Territories

Again, I wonder how we can remediate and use text in innovative ways, perhaps speaking directly to the reader in a basic ebook format? Of the tools listed above, are there ones that you have experience using and would you recommend it to others?

Before my next post, we will have a guest post from someone who has done a great deal of thinking about e-reading: Heidi Perry of Subtext. This is a very useful e-reading app for the iPad, allowing teachers and students the ability to communicate during the reading process. As always, I appreciate your comments and questions so we can keep the conversation going!


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