More from NFAIS conference

E-books and new ways of presenting content digitally (that go far beyond just digitizing the way we presented information in the print world) were the theme of several presenters for the Monday sessions of the NFAIS conference.

Speakers and discussions focused on how students want information presented in interactive, malleable ways that help them learn.  Access isn’t the amazing thing now; what will you let me do with the info once I get to it?

E-books today do one thing – digitize the content of a book.  They often can’t be used across multiple devices (remember what the Pew speaker said about people becoming platform agnostic, using multiple devices throughout the day?) and they’re static – you can’t integrate (remix or mashup) content.

Will publishers be able to personalize a product down to that specific student?

A study (by David Daniel?) showed student dissatisfaction with the current e-book technology:

  • More effort to get the same impact out of a digital textbook
  • Students skip the hyperlinks (they don’t want to go somewhere else)
  • Students prefer print textbooks; the act of just putting it online is not effective

The computable document format from Wolfram-Alpha was demonstrated.

Mindtap was discussed as well (Cengage), a product that turns an “online textbook” into a personalized learning experience (PLE).  The “textbook” is just the skeleton; the teacher can incorporate their own material directly into the student’s learning path, and the student can also incorporate some learning tools into the path.  As an example, a teacher can incorporate pre- and a post-reading mini lectures right there into the online space where the student is reading, and the student could open up a social media discussion space and start a discussion tied right to the section they are reading at the moment.

Remember the days of the reading rooms in libraries – students might study in the library because they could, if necessary, get up from their reading desk to get an atlas or use an encyclopedia in the vast reference collection right at hand.  Evidently, students now don’t want to even leave their learning path to go as far as the search box at the library’s website.  They see no reason why materials and resources shouldn’t be integrated, and they’re willing to help by inserting a useful map or defining a term.

Using a learning path with online contents allows for collection of data and permits learning analytics.  Ahhh, but if the faculty are using the company’s product, who gets the learning analytics?  Of course the company will own the data across all their deployments of the product.  This seems bad to me.  (If I didn’t mention, this product exists mostly in the cloud.)

The seductive pitch to faculty is the same as with the traditional courseware – we make it so easy, you almost don’t have to think when designing your course.  It will Integrate faculty powerpoints, google docs, course packs (they’ve cleared the copyrights), student flashcards, it can turn any text into audio, integrate subscribable services integrated like net tutor (a live tutor who knows what page the student is on, and can see all the previous tutoring sessions of that student).

They  partnered with ConnectYard which is a way to use social media without the necessity of “friending” between students and faculty.

Jan Reichelt, a co-founder of Mendeley, was the next speaker.

Mendeley is a convergence of several kinds of tools – a citation manager, personal library manager, note-taking and annotation platform, current awareness and collaboration platform.

Like other researcher network technologies, it can get to know you and make recommendations.  They use (of course) complex algorithms to make recommendations, and find that user-supplied tags are among the most useful drivers for making good recommendations.  The acceptance rate for recommendations is about 80%.

Reichelt talked some about the cultural/scholarly signals they were paying attention to as they develop Mendeley.  Here’s my summery of the signals he mentioned:

People expect good stuff to be brought together in interesting ways, not just presented as lists (and another thing, and another thing.)  He showed a really great website — thruYOU  http://thru-you.com — commenting that people these days are used to consuming information out there in the consumer web as mashups and remixed content.

Atomized content – everyone doesn’t want the whole book.  Perhaps just a chapter, perhaps that one really great quote.  He spoke about sharing and embedding atomized content but I don’t remember what Mendeley allows on this score.

Supporting community, supporting discovery.  Mendeley offers a Reader meter – top read papers for an author, geography of readers, etc.

Users adding value.  Kleenk – let users draw connections between articles.

Paper critic.  They have an integration planned for this — this seems really wonderful to me.

A professor at UCDavis – creates reading lists thru Mendeley and shares them in his blog, and then people share their comments.  So the interactivity is not happening in Mendeley or at the publisher website, it’s happening wherever the user wants it to happen.  One needs to make content available for these kinds of innovations—locked down content will frustrate these kinds of uses.

Opening up content for innovation can help profits. He used a Chrome plug in as an example – scrapes keywords from what you are reading, and recommends other articles.  NYT example.  It drives traffic to publishers.

Another signal to note — What is the academic community?  Lines are blurring. CGIAR – thousands of researchers spread across the world.  Bird watchers are also a huge community.  Channels from hobbyists back into the hardcore science community.

Tools for scientific discovery is one of the Nat Academy of Sciences Grand Challenges.

[ I could use some help understanding this…..Mendeley has “an api”  — Reichelt commented that it’s not just that you have an api, but what can you do with it?]

In survey of the group, nearly a third were allowing users to remix their content in some way.  So, when are we going to help our users construct their own research guides or their own personal learning environments?

I think the brilliant thing about Mendeley is the principle of creating the platform, the network, without extracting value.  In other words, the bigger and better that platform becomes (network effect, more users) the more valuable it becomes to everybody.

It’s also very interesting to watch how various scholarly needs are “converging.”  We criticize Microsoft for building huge big applications like Word that have so many bells and whistles most people don’t even know half of them, let alone use them.  And yet, Mindtap and Mendeley are looking to integrate tasks, which is a good thing.  I’d like to understand the problem space here better – when do you stay modular, when do you let tools converge and integrate them, how can you have customization that doesn’t end up as a Microsoft behemoth?

–Karrie Peterson

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