Category Archives: Library 2.0

App-plying Myself

My husband and I gave each other iPhones for Christmas this year. In fact, it was an iPhone holiday–we surprised our daughters with iPhones, too. Poor nerdy children. Need me to pass the salt? Just text me.

I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a tech tool this much since my first Palm handheld. I like the immediacy of posting a photo to Flickr right away, responding to someone on Twitter, or checking for movie listings or store hours on the go. The cell phone functions seem little different from our old Verizon phones, though I’ve been cautioned by more seasoned users that I should’t expect the same coverage when I travel to less-populated areas.

Smartphones like the iPhone are becoming among the best-selling tech tools out there.  If you–like me–have been steadfastly ignoring all that Apple stuff, here’s a little primer. An iPhone is a phone with web access, an integrated camera and voice recorder, with an onscreen keyboard that lets you send an email or surf the web. An iTouch is the same tool, minus the camera and cell phone part– and it needs to connect to the web via a wifi network, instead of the cell phone network. For the foreseeable future, the iPhone is going to remain a tool that teachers buy for themselves but that just happen to be useful for school.  The reason is the contract iPhone users must have with AT&T for access to the cellphone & data network.  Most districts aren’t going to be able to pay for cellphone contracts for their staff. (I wish.) The iTouch is a different kettle of fish, because it can connect to the wifi network many schools already have in place, and because the iTouches don’t require a contract and monthly fee. At about $200, the iTouch is a good substitute–though not perfect–for the less portable, more expensive laptops.  Affordable magic.

Many libraries and classrooms are already using iPods to share podcasts, lectures, photos…a whole host of media.  iTouches can do even more–access the web, make audio recordings, and perform an amazing array of tasks using apps from the App store, which is the way software developers distribute and sell applications (what someone of my generation thinks of as a “computer program”) for the iPhone and iTouch. There are apps that make grocery lists, let you post to your blog, find an NPR broadcast, play a word game, find a recipe, or trackweight loss. Go ahead, diehard techies, laugh…but I had NO CLUE that such a variety of educational applications were available. Storytelling apps. Math game apps.  Music-making and art apps. Apps to help your learn Spanish, post to the class blog or to Twitter, or figure out what constellation you’re looking at.  Many apps are priced at less than $3; many are free.  The two apps from the International Children’s Digital Library are lovely. And free.

Quick example: my first graders have been learning about the various reasons authors write–to persuade, to inform, to entertain.  We were looking at books by NY author Seymour Simon, a great non-fiction writer.  We read his Danger! Earthquakes! (a far more timely topic than I had anticipated!) which explains the Richter scale and how scientists interpret seismograph data to learn about quakes.  The morning of the lesson, I downloaded an app called iSeismo to my phone, which shows a seismograph-type display (little lines going up and down as vibrations shake the phone.)  The vibrations were provided by 12 eager 6 year-olds, who could immediately see what a seismograph recording looked like, and how the intensity of the vibration changed the way the lines jumped up and down.

I spent some time this weekend reading up on the apps other educators are using, and finding what folks are posting on Twitter using the #app4kids hashtag.  More on this later…

The move to digital

Image courtesy of MorgueFile

Cushing Academy, a private school in Massachusetts, is making the move to a purely digital library–no more books.  Kids will access information only electronically.  The Library will have 18 e-readers for student use.

In general, the move toward digital information sources is a good one. Digital versions of books are often less than half the price of the library bound edition. E-books will never wear out, never get lost, never be chewed by a dog or left on the porch in the rain (though the e-readers will be, I imagine.) Students enjoy accessing information digitally–those that have them use cell phones and iPods and laptops and Kindles quite happily. Looking at the comparative weights of my daughters’ textbooks and a Kindle, I’m all for switching to digital.

Much of the reaction to the whole “coffee bar” idea comes from a sort of collective gasp over the cost. In a recession, with library budgets slashed, teacher positions cut, and families in financial crisis, it seems jaw-droppingly, over-the-top insane to spend that much money on a school coffee bar. (What would other schools do with $72,000?) However, this is not a school or a community in any financial difficulty. It’s their cash.

In the specific case, I cannot imagine why the administration (or the library staff) thought that 18 e-readers would be sufficient for a school with an enrollment of over 400. The $72,000 for the coffee bar would have purchased over 200 more e-readers. The original article did not address how kids without e-readers would access books. Perhaps, being the children of wealthy families, they all already have e-readers. Perhaps the library intends to license digital copies of the novels, poems, non-fiction, and reference books they’ve discarded. Perhaps.

A quick look at Amazon’s Kindle Store tells me they offer over 300,000 titles. The SONY e-Book Store looks to have a pretty comprehensive collection. But even the most cursory glance through what’s available show that there are holes. For example, Cushing will now have a school library with no Harry Potter books. I looked for the books our AP History kids read this summer, and discovered that you can’t get Salt, by Mark Kurlansky, in a digital edition.There are many, many more titles that exist only on paper. And–Cory Doctorow aside–I don’t see authors flocking to release their new works into the public domain or under Creative Commons license. And while many authors have licensed Kindle or e-book versions of their works, the books aren’t licensed for access on regular computers. If I’m a student with no e-reader, all the books in the Cushing library are closed books to me.

I also can’t quite imagine using an e-reader to read anything that relies heavily on graphics to support the text. Reading a graphic novel on a 6″ screen sounds like an exercise in frustration. And scrolling back and forth between an illustration of a physics experiment and the accompanying text doesn’t sound like a picnic, either.

It seems to me that there are still so many problems with access. The move to a purely digital library seems very, very, premature.