• “Blah” Books

    Posted on October 19th, 2011 Rebecca No comments

    After reading this week’s Awakening the Digital Imagination piece–Kay and Goldberg’s “Personal Dyamic Media”–I am going to try to dig out my old VTech Precomputer 2000!

    VTech Precomputer 2000

    I remember receiving this “toy” as a Christmas gift somewhere around 4th grade, and I loved it!  It had 4 levels of instruction about BASIC programming, spelling games, typing games, math games, and more.  I hadn’t thought about this in years, but the Kay/Goldberg piece reminded me of it when they started discussing ways that children could use Smalltalk to program computers with what they thought SHOULD be there.  Perhaps I’ve even avoided Jill’s fate of computer phobia by my early exposure to these sorts of devices and programming!

    Regardless, after reminiscing for a moment about my Precomputer 2000, I started to consider some of the other points made in this piece.  For example, the imperative to not treat the Dynabook as a simulated paper book,  and the express goal of the Dynabook to not be worse than paper in any important way (395).  Thinking about the new reading technologies that we do have available–Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc.–I think that we have largely failed, according to this vision.  Although the possibilities of the Dynabook reach far beyond e-reading, this is what I (as a librarian) automatically jump to.  There’s a LOT of discussion going on in libraries right now about how we handle the e-book and e-reader revolution.  A particularly intriguing piece came out last week that actually scared me a little bit.  E-books have been embraced by publishers as good business models, and libraries have embraced the idea because they can get good deals, and save on storage space.  However, students (and other readers) are reluctant to use e-books because they are actually WORSE than paper books.  Many e-books are nothing more than badly digitized copies of their paper partners; at best, they are bodies of content that allow full text searching and minimal annotating.  Why would anyone want to read that on a computer, or any other electronic device?  We say, “oh, students love it because they don’t have to carry around heavy textbooks, pay less for textbooks, etc., etc.”  But we seem to be missing a huge opportunity here.  And I think Tim identified this exact problem in his blog post for this week.

    It’s come up in our class before that metaphors, especially in the electronic world, limit us more than almost anything.  This seems to be the case with e-books, and many other functions provided by the devices available to us.  Why can’t we think beyond the book for something more than the “blah?”  The answer is largely money, and our reliance on the paper metaphor.  I don’t have any solution to this, but I will certainly be thinking about it, especially as my profession engages in a meaningful discussion (and hopefully, negotiation) of electronic information and other content.

  • Mixed Emotions & Job Security

    Posted on October 12th, 2011 Rebecca No comments

    This post revolves around ideas presented by Ted Nelson in Computer Lib/Dream Machines–relevant pieces of this text from the New Media Reader is available here http://www.newmediareader.com/book_samples/nmr-21-nelson.pdf.

    There is a lot in these few pages.  Like Jill, I had pretty extreme emotional responses to several of Nelson’s opinions.  Nelson writes that the “emotional aspect” is “a legitimate part of our fantic design,” so I’ll start there–with my emotions–as I digest and try to make sense of these ideas.

    First of all, was I the only one who was distracted, and at times, confused by the layout of the work?  It felt like I was reading a (popular) magazine, and I struggled to try to make everything fit into the “unifying vision” that Nelson must have had for this piece.  Initially, I blamed the New Media Reader editors for my problems, but as I continued to read, it started to dawn on me that Nelson seemed kind of crazy, and that his original work may have looked just like this.  So, of course, I checked out Newman Library’s copy (which I’ll bring to class tonight), and  sure enough, the NMR copy is true to the original!  Perhaps I’ll just blame my inability to follow this nonlinear form of thought on the educational system that has turned off my mind and cut short my human potential.  Which brings me to my first real emotional reaction to Nelson’s ideas…

    I felt downright defensive (and angry) when I read through “No More Teachers’ Dirty Looks.”  I think I was sort of with him, up until the point where he started bashing learning theory (as he understood it).  I felt attacked for spending as much time as I have with my efforts to become a better teacher; have my educational psychology and instructional design classes and research done nothing for me, other than influence me to teach as an automaton? Certainly not.  I think Nelson wants people–particularly educators AND students–to have a strong emotional reaction to this piece, and really grapple with these ideas.  While I disagree with him that learning theory has no real relevance to actual education, I can’t help but agree with him as he talks about breaking down false structures, e.g. subjects) within curricula.  I can imagine that many students, when reading this piece, would get pretty excited.  Furthermore, I like the statement that Nelson expresses (below), but am not sure I agree with it:

    The enhancement of motivation that will follow from letting kids learn anything they want to learn will far outweigh any specialization that may result.

    However, I can completely agree with Nelson’s ideas about usability.  In fact, I think it should be required reading for librarians who deal with technology!  I often joke with students that, because many of our databases are so difficult to search, librarians have job security (I don’t really find this funny).  Right now, librarians are having a very similar discussion surrounding what we call “web scale searching.”  You may have seen it implemented this summer when we rolled out Summon, our “library search engine.” Many librarians are like the computer scientists described in Nelson’s piece:  they want people to learn to do advanced searching (similar to learning programming languages), so that they can do more.  But library users don’t need to do that if we can provide the tools for them to do it more easily!  Again, I’ll go back to Nelsons ideas:

    it is absolutely necessary that computer systems for complicated purposes be simple to use…the last thing you will tolerate is for your computer screen to introduce complications of its own.  

    Will these ideas convince anyone?  Probably not, but, like my interpretation Nelson’s view of education, perhaps it will cause them to think a little more deeply about it!