e-book readers

In June I blogged about the barriers ebooks present for visually impaired users. This post focuses on e-book readers. The synergy should be obvious. Download an e-book onto an e-book reader and listen. But no, no, no… it simply doesn’t work like that.

Amazon have a vested interest in cornering the digital text market; their first e-book reader, Kindle, came out in 2008. There was no text-to-speech facility  but Kindle2, launched in February 2009, put this right. So far, so good.

Then, in an astonishing act of discrimination, the Author’s Guild declared this was infringment of copyright unless the copyright holder had specifically granted permission. Amazon’s response was a modification allowing  authors and the six publishers supplying books to Kindle to have the text-to-speech turned off.  The Reading Rights Coalition (RRC), the National Federation of the Blind, the Author’s Guild and Amazon became locked in battle over an issue that should never have arisen in the first place.  Plus not only was there the issue over copyright, ut problems for blind people with using the e-reader independently suggested Amazon failed to test their product with equality and diversity in mind.

The Amazon US Kindle site currently says: “Read-to-Me: With the new text-to-speech feature, Kindle can read every newspaper, magazine, blog, and book out loud to you, unless the book’s rights holder made the feature unavailable.”

In the UK there are a number of e-book readers currently on the market, but none that seem to address this issue. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I looked on Sony’s e-book site and could find no mention of listening to text should you be unable to see it.  The digital divide seems to be going in totally the wrong direction;  further away than ever from ensuring the rights of the visually impaired to have equal access to digital data.

social homes

Reflecting on the blog below I feel a mixture of professional and social online identities is the ideal. This can offer a prospective employer a holistic view of you as a person. I’ve been engaged in a quest for the holy grail of online identities with which to do this;  one that incorporates everything into a single place. The closest I’ve come is over on the top right of this screen; the Social Homes plugin.  It’s a shame that all the icons are not working but this is close to the one-stop-shop I’ve been searching for.  

As well as saying something about us, this variety of tools demonstrates competence with Web 2.0 type software. It also shows we’re in control of what we chose to put online.  That’s not a bad thing. Even if we struggle with Facebook or Twitter we still need to engage if only for the benefits of networking and increasing our virtual profile.  This is one side of the digital divide where we clearly need to position ourselves. Apart from demonstrating that this is our forte, there’s also the separate issue that if we don’t take control of our online identity someone else may take it over instead.

redundancy consultation process

At the moment it’s difficult to think about anything other than being in a consultation period for redundancy. This is underpinned by knowing that across the sector Teaching and Learning Development Units/Offices are being devolved into faculties and libraries or dissolved as the reality of the end of the TQEF means there is no longer a ring fenced budget to support the enhancement of Teaching and Learning. Does teaching and learning suddenly not matter anymore?  Why isn’t the Teaching Enhancement and Student Success (TESS) fund not ring fenced in a similar way? Teaching and learning is integral to the future of higher education, to student success, to widening participation and to retention.

At a time where there is recognition across the sector of the changing nature of higher education and student demographics, the need to ensure that virtual learning is not seen as a quick fix, cheap solution has never been more crucial. In my department we support the use of educational technology to enable and enhance the delivery of high quality, interactive online content and have extensive experience of supporting successful distance learning provision. There are substantial costs involved with the development of effective virtual learning and we believe we are well placed to offer appropriate and meaningful advice.  Redundancy may represent a threat to the teaching and learning development work we carry out across the university and in particular the pedagogical support of Blackboard, our virtual learning environment.  Feeling at risk is a scary and lonely place to be.


I’m intrigued by LibraryThing – are there also facilities for virtual collections of cds and dvds or even vinyls?  I use Delicious  for creating lists of websites I want to go back to – but spending time creating digital collections of my non-digital life – should I be excited or just plain scared? Or is it just an extension of putting my photographs online – which I already do.

The site promotes the idea of community –  for example

LibraryThing connects you to people who read what you do
Find people with eerily similar tastes.
Many social connections thrive at the site

How much does this emphasis on finding other people who share your interests tap into real-world isolation and loneliness? Participation in the construction of online identity does involve a fairly intensive relationship between you and your laptop. This I know – the laptop bit not the loneliness I hasten to add. This made me think of Second Life. I can’t remember when I last logged on and both the media and the education sector seem to have gone quiet on the subject and I wonder if Internet addicts are migrating back to the construction of text and image based avatars rather than 3D virtual worlds?

Back to LibraryThing and with my gender head on I note that of the 22 profile images on offer only six are female. Ignoring the obvious US–centricism, I found the preference for Jane Austen over the Brontes, George Eliot or Virginia Woolfe says much about the representation of women writers in the western world.  Instead there is Emily Dickinson (clever with words but not a poet) and Helena Blavatsky (wasn’t all her text channelled anyway?) Soujourner Truth (activist rather than writer) and Sappho (most of whose poetry is lost). I’m guessing you need to be dead to be on this list which may excuse the omission of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, and not by your own hand, which leaves out Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. We are left with Edith Wharton – no lack of respect intended but and how many of her books are you familiar with?

blogging has rules

Last night I posted a blog in which I reflected on my shock at how in less than 24 hours words like voluntary and compulsory redundancy, consultation procedures and union representation had become part of my working vocabulary. I felt that blogging might help make some sense of the craziness of a situation where colleagues are facing the potential prospect of competing with each other – regardless of contractual status (fixed or permanent) or source of funding (core or external) for a lesser number of posts. I asked questions about how the end of the TQEF and the lack of ring fencing of the TESS might impact on the provision of teaching and learning development and I reflected on the reality of a finance driven strategy.

Today I was advised by a colleague that being critical of the university’s senior management in a public forum and using a system supported by the university within the lincoln.ac.uk domain could easily be interpreted as a disciplinary offence. Not wanting to make my current situation any worse, and not having any real intention other than trying to make sense of it all, I took down the blog.

Since then I’ve tried to rewrite it but the moment has passed. It stood as it was or not at all. However, it has taken me back to the recurring theme in these posts – what is blogging all about? What do we risk by posting part of ourselves online? I was using this forum to work through my own thoughts and reactions. Clearly blogging needs to be more measured than this. I was using a ‘work’ area for ‘work’ reflections but obviously stepped beyond the boundaries of what is considered to be appropriate content. Like anything else, blogging clearly has rules and risks of its own and we all need to be aware of them.

How many online identities do I need?

Personally I’m reaching the point where I think one may be enough. In the same way that I use Netvibes to pull together all my rss feeds into one place, I’m starting to want a single point of reference for my digital self. It’s difficult to find the time to keep up with my Netvibes and even harder to maintain multiple instances of myself online.

The Internet is like a black hole; it sucks you in. Before you know it an hour has passed, then two or three and the day is gone. I think I want more of a non-digital life. I can’t break completely free because my work revolves around virtual learning and assistive technology and don’t get me wrong – I believe internet literacy is important; it shows you have competence with ICT and that is very much a feature of 21st century life. In terms of employability and communication it’s essential criteria. But there are other things I would rather be doing instead of  being hooked up to my laptop. 

The impetus for this is revisiting the idea of e-portfolios as electronic CVs and liking the thought of having just one digital area to maintain.  Although if I’m going to look for the most appropriate software with which to create my single online identity then I’ll have to stay hooked up for just a little bit longer…


The International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Education (ICICTE) was held in Corfu 9-11 July and focused on the changing nature of higher education and the implications of this for students and staff. I was half expecting a ‘techie’ based conference but found presentations and workshops embedded in pedagogical frameworks and my paper on the design of learning for distance delivery was well aligned with the conference keynote and themes. The challenge of blogging a conference is to be succinct so here is my blog summary.


  • the changing nature of the student – student as ‘consumer’ with increasing numbers entering H.E. students are the new drivers for change
  • the changing role of staff from deliverers of ‘knowledge’ to guides for internet browsing and inquiry based learning
  • the changing nature of the H.E. institution as validator and mediator of knowledge rather than the gate-keeper
  • the ‘commodification’ of H.E. as academic capital; ivory towers changing into golden arches as university’s become service industries/providers
  • international vision of senior management that ICT is a cost effective solution for delivering H.E. to a widening participation audience
  • increased demand for H.E. is happening alongside mass reduction in funding


  • costs associated with ICT are higher in terms of finance and resources than traditional face to face delivery but senior management still see ICT as quick fix solution.
  • increased use of ICT raises digital literacy and digital competency issues for both students and staff
  • changing location of knowledge – no longer esoteric and behind campus doors but increasingly freely available – raises issues of management of mass electronic library resources and critical digital literacy abilities


  • Shift happens – higher education is changing and its future is online – the tide of education technology is unstoppable.
  • Bridges must be built between the technology and pedagogy if traditional H.E. qualities of critical thinking by independent self-aware individuals is not to be lost
  • The role of students in providing support digital confidence and competence should not be underestimated
  • Staff have to engage with virtual learning – CPD through PDP could provide initial steps if senior management recognise the need for strategic direction
  • Higher Education will continue to be an exciting, rewarding environment in which to work

I’ve come away with my head spinning as usual with the wider international picture; networking with educators from different countries reinforces how the UK is seen as exemplifying all that is relevant and important about higher education.

I’ve gained increased awareness of the potential role of eportfolios and the importance of digital identity for everyone and personally I like the idea of a virtual one-stop-shop, that can say more about you than a CV ever can. The question is one of choice – WordPress, FaceBook, Mahara – realistically one area is enough to maintain –which one you choose is becoming the question – not whether or not you do it in the first place. Like it or not, online identity is fast becoming non-negotiable.

The conference website is here and the organisers have a produced a CD-ROM containing all the peer reviewed presentation papers; light, portable, saves trees and is transferable from one environment to another – the future is indeed online!

Slave to Outlook

I hope I never get blasé about presenting papers; the opportunity for an international perspective on education is a fantastic privilege especially if it involves a country I haven’t travelled to before. But however well prepared to try to be, returning home is fraught. Tired, disorientated, laden with practicalities like fridge filling, post opening, clothes washing and generally catching up and then – of course – the email. I have an Xda (which doubles up as my own personal technological challenge but that’s a different story). It enables me to keep in touch but its capacity for reading and replying to lengthy emails is limited; all those emails dashed off a quick ‘thanks and I’ll get back to you next week’ – not to mention those not replied to then but need an answer now – are all roosting in the inbox, waiting for action.

Do we make ourselves slaves to Outlook? It can certainly be quicker, easier and sometimes more effective than other forms of communication; it gives you an audit trail, you can sort it and filter it and linked to your calendar it’s an excellent organising tool. But no matter how hard you try to stay organised while you’re away, any first day back after an absence has to include it and that’s where the ‘fraught-ness’ comes in. I’m wondering if it’s just me, or if others have noticed it too, that there seems to be more now than when I started. Is it possible that the more you do then the more you create? That this breaks all the rules which say tackling a problem diminishes it when as far as your email is concerned you would actually be better leaving it alone!

on the other hand….

I wonder how I would feel if….
I was chugging along nicely in my own little world, having raised a family who were doing all right, paid my bills on time and stayed the right side of the law – maybe I’ve got a garden or an allotment – a social circle of like minded friends and am enjoying a slower pace of life – then along comes yet another government initiative telling me I have to get online. What if I’ve visited one of those online centres and tried a computer but didn’t like it – what if I don’t have relatives abroad so don’t need emails and webcams – what if I avoid supermarkets anyway – and prefer to shop on my high street where I can get everything I need – what if my budget won’t stretch to a monthly increase for internet access never mind the setup costs of the hardware and then the maintenance and upgrades and virus software etc – what if I don’t want my life digitally transforming – what if I like being the ‘wrong side of the digital divide’ – what if I just don’t want to be online….