IOCT

Here’s an excellent example of using social networking, free blogs, Google tools, wikis and a University’s own website – all combined to create a web-wide research community centred around a physical-world research centre.

I found it via a Twitter feed leading to a Facebook link through a contact I made through a f2f meeting at the HEA; truly, social networking works inside and outside the virtual world…

http://www.ioct.dmu.ac.uk/

Conference attendance for hermits

Now here’s a thing – a conference that we can all attend at zero cost!
The Open University’s e-learning conference is open to anyone this year, and you can attend entirely online. To attend, simply click the Cloudworks link below and follow the instructions.
You may wish to explore Cloudworks a little more – it’s a free-to-all online social networking community maintained by the OU – http://cloudworks.ac.uk/about/
The conference is being organised by the OU’s Martin Weller, who is responsible for the excellent ‘Ed Techie’ e-learning blog – http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/ .

Now here’s a thing – a conference that we can all attend without leaving the house!

The Open University’s e-learning conference is open to anyone this year, and you can attend entirely online. To attend, simply click this Cloudworks link and follow the instructions.

You may wish to explore Cloudworks a little more – it’s a free-to-all online social networking community maintained by the OU.

The conference is being organised by the OU’s Martin Weller, who is responsible for the excellent Ed Techie e-learning blog.

Kindle’s in the kindergarten

Here’s a copy of a post from my Web 2.0 blog.

——–

In my own academic research work (PhD in progress until 2014) I try to keep all my data and documents in The Cloud. This is partly borne out of enthusiasm for e-learning generally, but mainly out of practical necessity; my bibliography is currently around 200 items, and I expect it to hit 1000+ eventually. Some of these works are paper-based books, but most are electronic journal articles (stored as indexed, searchable pdfs, with the attendant bibliographical metatdata available to the citation tools available in Zotero). I work on 5 different Macs and an iPhone, and although I have a paper-based library at home (with, like,real bookshelves and everything) this library is, of course, non-searchable by text string, slowing down my research productivity.

My supervisor is a very experienced and knowledgeable academic who tends to work in a very different way i.e. using paper-based books and printing out journal articles. We understand each other in this respect; he often champions the depth of thought needed to sit down for a long reading session with no distractions; I am inspired by the intellectual and conceptual ‘branching’ that can be achieved by plundering an academic’s bibliography and exploring ideas online – e.g. finding Google book previews to develop further reading.

To contextualise the forthcoming rant about the frustrating limitations of Amazon’s new Kindle For Mac (and iPhone) application, here are some of the characteristics of physical books vs on-screen documents.

Books .pdfs
Better/more tactile reading experience Uncomfortable for long reading sessions
Geographically fixed Available everywhere
No text-search Fully searchable
No copy and paste Quoted excerpts can be pasted into work
No hyperlinking Can be hyperlinked (chapters/headings etc)
Cannot be shared with others Can easily be shared
Immune to copyright infringement Susceptible to copyright infringement

If you agree with this (I hope uncontroversial) summary of the characteristics of the two media, you’ll agree that the first and last rows represent the advantages of using books for research; the rest represent the advantages of using electronic means of study (summarised by but not exclusive to the category ‘.pdfs’). My personal choice is always to go with e-media for these reasons, but it’s exactly that – a personal choice. Many highly effective and more high-profile academics than I are still using paper-based research.

So, to the issues with Kindle. As you see I am already a primed and enthusiastic user of e-learning and an on-screen reader, so yesterday for the first time I found an academic text on Amazon that was available as an e-book download for Kindle. Previously, whenever I’d discovered a research text that was in print, I’d either schlepped over to a library (creating an ever-increasing carbon footprint) or bought the book online and waited for the post to arrive a few days later (increasing the postal service’s carbon footprint – but I’ll leave aside the eco-angle for now).

The book (Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi) showed up as being $12.01 as a Kindle download. Not bad for a large-ish specialist interest book, I thought, and way cheaper than my local Waterstones, until I looked at the row below and  saw that the paperback version was $8.99. How can it possibly be cheaper to produce a physical book than an e-book – do the Kindle R&D department staff have a particularly luxurious office building? Never mind, I thought – at least I’ll get it straight away without having to wait for shipping from the USA, and I’ll have the advantage of being able to read the book on the phone too, so I’ll pay the extra and get the download now. Literally one mouse-click later, the book was on my Mac desktop and syncing merrily over the web to my phone, with Amazon’s legendary e-store usability making it an effortless online purchasing experience.

The Kindle app allows you to read the book, and change the font size on-screen. It remembers where you left off reading, and lets you put a manual ‘bookmark’ in the text. And that’s the whole feature set. No text search, no copy-and-paste, and no indexing – exactly, in other words, like a real book.

It appears, then, that Amazon have taken the e-book metaphor to its logical extreme. They have managed to reproduce faithfully all of the disadvantages of the physical book medium online. So much so that even when I’ve bought a Kindle book, I find myself going to Google Books limited preview in order to text-search it. Here’s the table updated to compare the Kindle to the printed book.

Books Kindle
Better/more tactile reading experience Uncomfortable for long reading sessions
Geographically fixed Available everywhere
No text-search No text-search
No copy and paste No copy and paste
No hyperlinking Very limited hyperlinking
Cannot be shared with others Cannot be shared with others
Immune to copyright infringement Immune to copyright infringement

The last row, of course, is key to all this. If Amazon enabled all my wish-list of features, the copyrighted object (the text itself) would be easy to copy and distribute. But these are specialised works with a small sales volume in any format – if Amazon made the usability of these e-books greater, more academics would buy them, especially if the price point was more realistically tied to the production cost.

My point is that the Kindle e-book represents an inferior product to the physical book – at a higher price – and it provides fewer features for the reader than a pdf. Even as an e-learner I do actually like the physical experience of having a book – it’s just that the other advantages of e-text outweigh this short-term tactile benefit.

Kindle/Amazon should learn from the music industry’s experience in the early 2000s – consumers will not tolerate Digital Rights Management for long.

Kindle's in the kindergarten

In my own academic research work (PhD in progress until 2014) I try to keep all my data and documents in The Cloud. This is partly borne out of enthusiasm for e-learning generally, but mainly out of practical necessity; my bibliography is currently around 200 items, and I expect it to hit 1000+ eventually. Some of these works are paper-based books, but most are electronic journal articles (stored as indexed, searchable pdfs, with the attendant bibliographical metatdata available to the citation tools available in Zotero). I work on 5 different Macs and an iPhone, and although I have a paper-based library at home (with, like, real bookshelves and everything) this library is, of course, non-searchable by text string, slowing down my research productivity.

My supervisor is a very experienced and knowledgeable academic who tends to work in a very different way i.e. using paper-based books and printing out journal articles. We understand each other in this respect; he often champions the depth of thought needed to sit down for a long reading session with no distractions; I am inspired by the intellectual and conceptual ‘branching’ that can be achieved by plundering an academic’s bibliography and exploring ideas online – e.g. finding Google book previews to develop further reading.

To contextualise the forthcoming rant about the frustrating limitations of Amazon’s new Kindle For Mac (and iPhone) application, here are some of the characteristics of physical books vs on-screen documents.

Books .pdfs
Better/more tactile reading experience Uncomfortable for long reading sessions
Geographically fixed Available everywhere
No text-search Fully searchable
No copy and paste Quoted excerpts can be pasted into work
No hyperlinking Can be hyperlinked (chapters/headings etc)
Cannot be shared with others Can easily be shared
Immune to copyright infringement Susceptible to copyright infringement

If you agree with this (I hope uncontroversial) summary of the characteristics of the two media, you’ll agree that the first and last rows represent the advantages of using books for research; the rest represent the advantages of using electronic means of study (summarised by but not exclusive to the category ‘.pdfs’). My personal choice is always to go with e-media for these reasons, but it’s exactly that – a personal choice. Many highly effective and more high-profile academics than I are still using paper-based research.

So, to the issues with Kindle. As you see I am already a primed and enthusiastic user of e-learning and an on-screen reader, so yesterday for the first time I found an academic text on Amazon that was available as an e-book download for Kindle. Previously, whenever I’d discovered a research text that was in print, I’d either schlepped over to a library (creating an ever-increasing carbon footprint) or bought the book online and waited for the post to arrive a few days later (increasing the postal service’s carbon footprint – but I’ll leave aside the eco-angle for now).

Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi

The book (Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi) showed up as being $12.01 as a Kindle download. Not bad for a large-ish specialist interest book, I thought, and way cheaper than my local Waterstones, until I looked at the row below and  saw that the paperback version was $8.99. How can it possibly be cheaper to produce a physical book than an e-book – do the Kindle R&D department staff have a particularly luxurious office building? Never mind, I thought – at least I’ll get it straight away without having to wait for shipping from the USA, and I’ll have the advantage of being able to read the book on the phone too, so I’ll pay the extra and get the download now. Literally one mouse-click later, the book was on my Mac desktop and syncing merrily over the web to my phone, with Amazon’s legendary e-store usability making it an effortless online purchasing experience.

The Kindle app allows you to read the book, and change the font size on-screen. It remembers where you left off reading, and lets you put a manual ‘bookmark’ in the text. And that’s the whole feature set. No text search, no copy-and-paste, and no indexing – exactly, in other words, like a real book.

It appears, then, that Amazon have taken the e-book metaphor to its logical extreme. They have managed to reproduce faithfully all of the disadvantages of the physical book medium online. So much so that even when I’ve bought a Kindle book, I find myself going to Google Books limited preview in order to text-search it. Here’s the table updated to compare the Kindle to the printed book.

Books Kindle
Better/more tactile reading experience Uncomfortable for long reading sessions
Geographically fixed Available everywhere
No text-search No text-search
No copy and paste No copy and paste
No hyperlinking Very limited hyperlinking
Cannot be shared with others Cannot be shared with others
Immune to copyright infringement Immune to copyright infringement

The last row, of course, is key to all this. If Amazon enabled all my wish-list of features, the copyrighted object (the text itself) would be easy to copy and distribute. But these are specialised works with a small sales volume in any format – if Amazon made the usability of these e-books greater, more academics would buy them, especially if the price point was more realistically tied to the production cost.

My point is that the Kindle e-book represents an inferior product to the physical book – at a higher price – and it provides fewer features for the reader than a pdf. Even as an e-learner I do actually like the physical experience of having a book – it’s just that the other advantages of e-text outweigh this short-term tactile benefit.

Kindle/Amazon should learn from the music industry’s experience in the early 2000s – consumers will not tolerate Digital Rights Management for long.

To see my Uncle Sam…

I’ve recently been researching musicians and neuroscience as part of my PhD in collaborative songwriting, and I’m starting to form the impression that the academics in the USA are a little freer with the copyright on their publications than many of their UK equivalents. Here’s an example from the Neurosciences Institute’s Aniruddh D. Patel. And here’s Laurence Parsons, a UK-based academic working in a similar area of research. Patel’s publications list has pdfs directly downloadable from the webpage with no login; Parsons’ page sends us to the usual gateways (JSTOR etc). This is not to compare the individuals, more the policies of openness relating to their respective institutions.

Anyway, this was just a quick example – I’ve ranted about the issues about copyright relating to academic journals in the Web 2.0 blog. The main point of today’s entry is to fly the flag for Zotero, an online research tool I’ve recently discovered in case any researcher academics stumble across this blog. I’ve been using Endnote (a commercial application costing over £100) and I wanted to find out if it would fulfil my own research needs, namely;

  • Storage of journal articles in The Cloud
  • Full text search of all documents
  • Drag and drop citation functionality using MS Word
  • Automatic web page indexing
  • Drag and drop citation functionality using Google docs

And I was amazed to discover that there’s a Firefox plugin that does all these things and more – outperforming Endnote (the application I’ve been using) and RefWorks (the one the University uses) and supplies 100MB of online storage. And it’s free!

Here’s their blurb;

Zotero is an easy-to-use yet powerful research tool that helps you gather, organize, and analyze sources (citations, full texts, web pages, images, and other objects), and lets you share the results of your research in a variety of ways. An extension to the popular open-source web browser Firefox, Zotero includes the best parts of older reference manager software (like EndNote) — the ability to store author, title, and publication fields and to export that information as formatted references — and the best parts of modern software and web applications (like iTunes and del.icio.us), such as the ability to interact, tag, and search in advanced ways. Zotero integrates tightly with online resources; it can sense when users are viewing a book, article, or other object on the web, and—on many major research and library sites—find and automatically save the full reference information for the item in the correct fields. Since it lives in the web browser, it can effortlessly transmit information to, and receive information from, other web services and applications; since it runs on one’s personal computer, it can also communicate with software running there (such as Microsoft Word). And it can be used offline as well (e.g., on a plane, in an archive without WiFi).

So here you go – check out Zotero. My bibliography-in-progress is online here.

Here’s a detailed comparison of several of the bibliographic applications available.

Dropbox and Zotero

All the previous posts have been discussions of the challenges and benefits of Web 2.0 tools in e-learning. In this one, I’m simply going to introduce a couple of useful tools (well, I’ve found them useful personally) with which fellow academics and students may not be familiar.


Dropbox

Dropbox is simply online storage for your files. You get 2GB (up to 3GB) of free storage space, which can be accessed from any computer. Its great strengths are;

  • Platform-neutral (OSX, Windows, mobiles)
  • Free
  • Background sync to Mac or PC
  • Usability (no login process – just invisible sync)
  • Mobile support (e.g. iPhone app)
  • Files or folders can be shared online

Dropbox duplicates some of the online storage functionality of Apple’s mobileme services (which is currently costing me $60 per year). I’m thinking seriously about letting my Apple subscription lapse next year – Dropbox is covering all my needs for the moment (and given the nice warm feeling generated by free services I won’t begrudge them the fee if/when I *do* need more storage). I’m two weeks in to using Dropbox – for me, it’s so far proved useful for;

  • Papers for academic meetings
  • Storing e-books for research
  • Sharing files with people without messing about with difficult login/authentication processes
  • An alternative to YouSendIt for sending large files

If you want to give it a try, simply go to dropbox.com and sign up for a free account.


Zotero

I’m currently working toward my PhD (in collaborative songwriting – I’m working on this part time as a distance learning student at Surrey) and needed a way to achieve the following study goals;

  • ISBN/ISSN/DOI search for books and academic journals
  • Ability to bookmark and archive web pages with correct citation
  • Citation in MS Word
  • Cloud-based storage of pdfs (my life is spread over several Macs)
  • Full-text search of pdfs
  • Instant local access to files
  • No login/authentication to slow down the study process
  • Ability to read BibTEX/RefWorks/Endnote citation files
  • Support for all citation/bibliographical formats
  • Drag-and-drop compatibility with Google docs
  • Automatic creation of an online bibliography (to ease networking/discussion with other academics)

I was aware of two of the market leaders in reference management software – EndNote (which I bought in 2006) and RefWorks (as used by the University) but they didn’t provide the full text search or cloud-based storage I needed. And it struck me that other academics must have had this problem in the past – and I speculated that someone in the worldwide academic community would have found a solution.

So I simply Googled “free citation software” and one of the first results was Zotero. It’s a Firefox plugin that provides everything in my wish-list, including (on a free account) 100MB of pdf storage. So I’ve abandoned both of the other solutions and gone to a free Web 2.0 tool that actually provides *more* functionality than its pay-for equivalent. I’ve already found one academic colleague working in a related area at another University who wants to share bibliographies – imagine what this would do for global knowledge exchange if every researcher had an account…

Zotero links

And before you ask, yes I *have* thought about what happens to my studies if the Zotero site goes down. It’s not a problem, because there will still be a local copy of all the study materials on every computer I use, giving me time to find another solution, or import the bibliography and attachments into another citation manager.

Dropbox and Zotero are both examples of a ‘Freemium business model‘ – the basic service is free in both cases; you only pay if you want more storage than the minimum (3GB and 100MB respectively). It’s conceptually related to the Long Tail principle – which is that a large number of micro-sales add up to a large amount of income. I really hope both companies thrive – it’s great to see free products that combine outstanding usability and lots of useful features. And they’ve improved my productivity (now all I’ve got to do is that actual work!).

Why didn’t the dinosaurs die out?

There are still some who believe that print-based research publication is inherently better than online publication.
There are still some who believe that print-based research publication is inherently better than online publication.

Got one!

In a previous post I was discussing the issues of copyright and peer review relating to the publishing of academic work online. Well, I’m delighted to report a lovely example of some progress in my own subject area, Music.

Daniel Leech-Wilkinson has been undertaking an AHRC-funded research project for CHARM (the Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music), the outcome of which is a book entitled The Changing Sound of Music: Approaches to Studying Recorded Musical Performances.

It’s a serious and in-depth study of its subject, and contributes new knowledge and debate to our discipline, as all good research must. And it has been published in online-only form – there is no physical book version. I emailed Daniel to congratulate him on successful publication, and he mentioned in his reply that some of his academic contacts were rather alarmed that he hadn’t ‘published’ his book in the print media sense.

Daniel shares my view that the economic arguments for an academic being supported by a print publisher are negligible – sales of such specialist texts being inherently small in number. And he believes that the best way to share his research  with the academic/musical community is to publish it in unprotected form online. The peer review/quality issue is taken care of (presumably by the AHRC funding application process, and the support of the three august institutions that make up CHARM – Royal Holloway, King’s College London and the University of Sheffield.

Medieval music notation - interestingly, this image comes from a Victoria University Medieval studies course - freely available on Blogger.
Medieval music notation – interestingly, this image comes from a Victoria University Medieval studies course – freely available on Blogger. Click image to go to this blog.

And most pleasingly of all, his work is not based around music technology or musical e-learning – he’s a self-proclaimed ‘traditional’ academic researcher working in ‘classical’ music – a specialist in, among other things, Medieval European music. So if colleagues like this are becoming early adopters of online research dissemination, the future for e-research looks very bright indeed.

Contrast this with the print equivalent – Daniel’s list of publications is formidable, but if you want to read his work now, you will run into another locked gate in print-only cases. He’s done his best to circumvent the copyright issues too, by putting as much of his work online as he can, and deleting audio/score examples that are still in copyright.

So Daniel, and all e-researchers like him, still needs to tiptoe carefully around the niceties of copyright. In his multimedia (presumably HTML/CD-R?) publication Multimedia Music of Fourteenth-Century France (1997) he describes “editions of music, recordings, maps, charts, facsmiles of manuscripts, tables and translations” that are unavailable in the online version for copyright reasons. What if he did publish these omitted excerpts online? Who really would be harmed economically?

This work, which is about as specialised/specific as music research gets, has a great academic significance but not an economic one. And the latter has hamstrung the former, as he acknowledges;

UK institutions of higher education are entitled to receive a copy for the cost of the copying. At the moment, again for copyright reasons, it’s not available elsewhere. But if there’s enough interest a commercial release may be developed later.

We need a change in copyright law – some extension of ‘fair use’, where the knowledge benefit to society outweighs the negligible economic loss to the copyright owner – in cases when the book version of the research is uneconomic to publish. Or better still, some form of digital watermarking/tracking (like YouTube’s previously-used mechanism for paying PRS royalties for music) so that academics, students and copyright owners can benefit from the ‘Long Tail‘ principles of remuneration that only the Internet can provide.

The status quo doesn’t help anyone – new knowledge is effectively suppressed if its dissemination (in print form) is uneconomic or unfunded. We have an opportunity to change this from the inside by simply publishing our research online as a matter of habit. And Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis etc) make this as easy as saving a Word document.