PLAYBACK: Teachable Moments from the SOPA Standoff and Apple’s Education Makeover
1.21.12 | In this week’s PLAYBACK, we look at the ramifications of Apple’s iTunes U and and iBooks Author for students and educators, and take a closer look at the protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate. Plus: A world without Wikipedia? Students come to grips, thanks, of course, to librarians.
Stopping SOPA: Among the many links viewed this week explaining why SOPA is the wrong solution for these times, my favorite 2-minute summary of what it could mean for those of us who create online content was posted by The Oatmeal. The Berkman Center for Internet and Society links to a number of more in-depth responses created by faculty, fellows, staff and community members—a good one-stop site to pass on to anyone who still has questions.
Some examples of what you’ll find: Berkman Center co-founder and faculty director Jonathan Zittrain posted “A Close Look at SOPA,” written with research assistants Kendra Albert and Alicia Solow-Niederman, in December. Musician and fellow Erin McKeown posted this video on YouTube. And faculty fellow danah boyd posted a nuanced examination that includes this point:
As we go deeper into an information age, I think that we need to have serious conversations about what is colloquially termed piracy. We need to distinguish media piracy from software piracy because they’re not the same thing. We need to seriously interrogate fairness and equality, creative production and cultural engagement. And we need to seriously take into consideration why people do what they do. I strongly believe that when people work en masse to route around a system, the system is most likely the thing that needs the fixing, not the people.
Teachable Moments: Wikipedia was one of the most well-known sites to go dark in protest of SOPA and PIPA. Writing at The Digital Shift, Lauren Barack explains how some librarians turned the blackout of the popular research site into a teaching moment for students.
Cassandra Barnett, former president of the American Association of School Librarians, and a high school librarian at Fayetteville (AR) High School, said she might “make a quick button that says, ‘Can’t get to Wikipedia? Ask me.”
“I thought, my gosh, what a perfect opportunity to talk about the subscription databases we have. Or walk over to the shelves, take a book and show them an overview of their topic where they don’t even have to log on to a computer,” Barnett told The Digital Shift.
Inside HigherEd has more on how college students managed the blackout with the aid of college librarians—or tech-savviness that helped them maneuver around the outage.
Syracuse University’s iSchool, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in information technology and graduate degrees in library science, was the only higher education institute to take part in the virtual sit-in, according to ReadWriteWeb. A commenter later noted that MIT admissions also took part.
“Students are very plugged in and interested in the tech world,” J.D. Ross, communications director at Syracuse’s School of Information Studies, told ReadWriteWeb. “This was already on their radar, and it’s a perfect opportunity to raise awareness among students who don’t know about it.”
This is What Democracy Looks Like: Students might also engage in conversation around digital protests and collective action. Fight for the Future, which launched two useful sites (SOPA timeline and the SOPA protest by the numbers), logged 10,000,000 signatures, 3,000,000 emails sent and at least 115,000 websites that participated in the strike.
Wikipedia reported that “162 million people experienced the Wikipedia blackout landing page—an unprecedented, historic shuttering of the largest repository of free knowledge in the world.” And of those, 8 million looked up their representatives in Congress through Wikipedia.
Of course, many others were confused.
“Twitter also revealed frustration and lack of understanding of the blackout,” writes Jon Mitchell at ReadWrite Web. “But this was all by design. Censorship is frustrating. Wikipedians wanted a campaign that was both symbolic and effective, and that’s what its staff delivered.”
If you passed up the link within the quote, please reconsider; it leads to tweets by frustrated Wikipedia users, curated by @herpderpedia.
What ultimately matters, though, is whether SOPA and PIPA have congressional support. To that end, both both votes have been pushed back in the face of overwhelming opposition. ProPublica.org published a good graphic showing how many members of Congress switched their positions during the blackout. Here’s the related story.
The New Look of Learning: In other news this week, Apple presented its vision for the future of education with the unveiling of a new iTunes U, making available entire college courses and free education content.
Steve Kolowich at Inside HigherEd explains the new platform, “designed to help instructors push assignments to students, while enabling students to retrieve and check off assignments as they complete them.” A separate story by Mitch Smith focuses on the professors who created the first classes included in the new iTunes U library.
Read more from Inside HigherEd bloggers covering Apple’s unveiling of iTunes U and a suite of tools aimed at transforming the textbook industry.
The new iBooks textbooks for iPad includes titles from three major high school textbook publishers—Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—focused on algebra, biology, chemistry, geometry and environmental science. None are priced higher than $15.The iBooks Author app enables anyone to build and share their own iBooks, integrating a variety of multimedia content.
Quality Control and Access: Rosa Golijan of Gadgetbox immediately put together some smart questions that didn’t come up during Apple’s press event, including, “how Apple will control the quality of textbooks offered through the iBookstore, whether these interactive textbooks will truly be a help (rather than a distraction), and how [Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller] expects all these snazzy new tools to make their way to students who may not be able to afford iPads.”
Golijan’s story includes insightful comments from both enthusiasts and skeptics, including Sylvia Martinez, president of Generation YES, a nationwide program that helps K-12 schools integrate technology into the classroom, who’s a little of both:
All the features offered by iBooks 2 are great, Martinez said, but they’re still not changing how education is being approached. We’re still attempting to “deliver learning to students,” instead of focusing on reality — which is that students need to be encouraged to learn.
“Students taking notes, creating flashcards and taking quizzes after reading a text are not revolutionary, even when spiced up by multimedia. Students should be creators, not consumers. Decreasing the weight of student backpacks may provide a health benefit but says nothing about learning in the 21st century,” she said.
“But,” Martinez acknowledged, “some teachers and students will [use iBooks 2] and that can be great.” Perhaps some students will even begin to get in groups and create their very own textbooks using iBooks Author.
Chris Foresman of Ars Technica has more reaction from educators and technology experts. Matthew Gray, assistant professor of arts, media and design at Boston’s Northeastern University, was enthusiastic about iBooks 2 and iBooks Author:
“Personally, I love this development” Gray said. “What was funny to me was the continuous emphasis on the word ‘book.’ But what Apple’s new technology says to me, however, is ‘syllabus.’ This new kind of ebook acknowledges that we all can Google things, and therefore education needs something to bridge ‘fixed’ knowledge and ‘fluid’ delivery systems for knowledge. An e-book can use its unique referencing ability to link a far wider resource library to students.”
Costs and Apple’s closed platform still remain concerns, notes Foresman, who talked with intellectual property lawyer Nazli Saka, among others:
“There’s no denying that this new textbook experience will revolutionize learning and education,” Saka told Ars. “But will Apple be willing to let users interact with the textbooks on multiple digital platforms and not just the iPad?” So far, according to the EULA for iBooks Author, that answer seems to be “no.”
Over at Nieman Journalism Lab, Berkman fellow Matthew Battles, author of “Library: An Unquiet History,” wrote an interesting article on the history of mixing interactivity into learning, and why the future of education may be less dependent on tablets than Apple would have us think.
And despite Apple’s focus on education, Joshua Benton notes that “much of what Apple announced was squarely aimed at further disruption of the publishing industry — in this case, the book publishing industry, already facing disruption from Amazon and ebooks more broadly.” He offers four take-aways related to publishing and news organizations.
Plus: Meanwhile, e-book lending is soaring at schools and libraries, according to Overdrive, a digital distributor of e-books, audiobooks, music and video. Among the stats the company published this week: 1.6 billion book and title catalog pages were viewed in 2011, up 130 percent from 2010.
Overdrive employs some old-fashioned techniques to promote e-books. The Digital Bookmobile, an 18-wheeler traveling that travels North America to raise awareness about digital reading, visited nearly 100 libraries and schools in 2011. Since its launch in 2008, Overdrive says the Digital Bookmobile has trained more than 87,500 users on library digital downloads.
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