Monday, February 21, 2011


torrent: A large amount of something, especially water or rain; a heavy stream or flow. (Internet, file sharing) A set of files obtainable through a peer-to-peer network... -Wiktionary

This morning I followed a link, shared on Twitter by Kathy Ishizuka, which led me to a blog posting about Kindle e-book piracy.

Author David Carnoy explains:
"Over the months I've received news of the occasional blog post and tweets, but more recently I popped open an alert to learn that my book was being pirated--both as a separate file and part of two larger Torrents called 2,500 Retail Quality Ebooks (iPod, iPad, Nook, Sony Reader) and 2,500 Retail Quality Ebooks for Kindle (MOBI). I had the strange reaction of being both dismayed and weirdly honored that someone had selected my book to strip free of its copy-protection (DRM) and include as part of a collection of 'quality' e-books, many of which were from very good authors."

Since I am nothing if not inquisitive (a good quality for a librarian, no?), I immediately tracked down the Torrents in question. Both are hosted on a site called The Pirate Bay, which lists these stats:
  • 4.924.558 registered users
  • 29.869.780 peers (20.024.436 seeders + 9.845.344 leechers)
  • 3.652.205 torrents
Visitors can search by genres: audio, visual, applications, games, other, or all. Their legal threats page lists a number of challenges and responses, but The Pirate Bay boasts that " 0 torrents has been removed, and 0 torrents will ever be removed."

In his posting Carnoy noted that "the rise of the iPad has spurred some of the pirating, but now the huge success of the Kindle is also leading to increased pirating... At the time of this writing, 668 people were 'seeding' the Kindle collection while 153 people were downloading it."

As a Kindle owner, I have made use of free e-book sites like ManyBooks, even downloaded free public domain and contemporary titles from Amazon. I also purchase items - the one-click shopping, which automatically delivers new e-books to my Kindle, is all too easy to use, a seductive option for a voracious reader.

I don't wish to own everything I read, however. Some books are a pleasant diversion, nothing I would pay for or return to in the future. Our local public library is, of course, a logical source for this type of material. However, the only electronic options there are audio books (which I don't like) and Overdrive e-books, which aren't compatible with the Kindle. New sites like Lendle, which claims to be "The easiest, fastest, fairest, and best way to lend and borrow Kindle™ books," may offer another alternative to buying items.

I haven't knowingly downloaded a pirated e-book, and I don't see myself transferring files via a Torrent for recreational reading. As this posting points out, not all Torrents are illegal (Facebook and Twitter use BitTorrent to distribute updates) , but "Be advised: if you are downloading music or software that you would typically have to pay for, you are likely breaking the law, thus putting yourself at risk."

There are other caveats to using Torrents.
"Several studies on BitTorrent have indicated that a large portion of files available for download via BitTorrent contain malware. In particular, one small sample indicated that 18% of all executable programs available for download contained malware. Another study claims that as much as 14.5% of BitTorrent downloads contain zero-day malware, and that BitTorrent was used as the distribution mechanism for 47% of all zero-day malware they have found." -Wikipedia

I'm not willing to risk copyright infringement and malware to access a few novels. Let the Torrent sweep through my social networking landscape; it won't be swelling my Kindle pool.

"The Mighty Hudson" by dmcordell

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Me and My Kindle

I've had my Kindle for about six months now, but I've really just begun using it recently.

After a first "symbolic" purchase of The Complete Works of Jane Austen (all of her books are available for free online, but I wanted to make a statement), I didn't pick up the device again until I grabbed it to take on a train ride to Philadelphia. It's a fairly long trip, and I didn't want to run out of reading material, so I added a few titles to the Kindle and tucked it into my traveling bag.

The advantages of ebooks readers are many: they are lightweight, portable, easy to use and hold their charge for a long time. The fact that Amazon makes it so easy to buy books - one click, and my purchase is delivered to my Kindle electronically - is almost a disadvantage...certainly a temptation to an avid reader like myself! Fortunately, there are numerous sites that offer free downloads.

One of my favorite current author, Cory Doctorow, publishes his works under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license,
"which lets you share it, remix it, and share your remixes, provided that you do so on a noncommercial basis. Some people don't understand why I do this -- so check out this post if you want my topline explanation for why I do this crazy thing."
Doctorow is happy to post remixes of Little Brother ("A rousing tale of techno-geek rebellion, as necessary and dangerous as file sharing, free speech, and bottled water on a plane") as well as links to his novels and stories, via a blog.

Life with my Kindle hasn't been all smooth sailing. I found it necessary to reboot far too often, causing me to lose my place and my patience. A posting by Informania alerted me to the cause of the problem: my lovely green leather cover was the culprit. When contacted by phone, the customer service rep at Amazon pulled up my account information, offered a refund or an upgrade to the lighted model (which looks exactly the same, except for a retractable book light) and processed my order immediately. I didn't have to return the old cover; the new one arrived within a few days.

As I've said before, I don't feel that books are an either/or (paper or electronic) proposition. I still go to our local public library, continue to re-read old favorites from my bookshelf. The Kindle has just made it so much easier to carry and enjoy a personal library with the table, to bed, or to more exotic locales.

Thomas Jefferson said, "I can't live without books." Well, now I don't have to.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why ISTE? Why Now?

I've never been much of a joiner, preferring to go my own way without reference to a "party line."

Since (semi-)retiring from my position as a teacher/librarian, I've reconsidered this stance and now maintain membership in a few organizations. Of these groups, I am convinced that ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education, offers the most significant opportunity for effective change in education.

With the specter of deep cuts across disciplines and job titles, it is imperative that educators take every opportunity to update their skills, thereby proving their relevance and value...not just as window dressing, but as an obligation, in order to best serve the learners with whom they interact.

As a late adopter myself, I understand the fear that this prospect can engender in an established professional. The key is to remember that, in the world of technology, there is room for learners. Further, it is impossible to be an expert in everything. Sharing, collaborating, and creating must be the province of both "teacher" and "student," with these roles shifting back and forth in a facilitated, co-learning climate.

ISTE is uniquely positioned to sustain interactive, supportive experiences, offering Special Interest Groups (SIGs), Communities, professional development resources, and numerous other research and evaluation tools. It provides a vibrant environment in which all learners may thrive.

We owe it to our students to be able to help them locate and access appropriate technology at time of need. As an ISTE member, education professionals can feel more confident that they will be able to deliver this crucial service.

Full Disclosure: I have submitted an application for nomination to the ISTE Board. This is no guarantee that I will be chosen to run for office. However, going through the submission process has helped me to clarify my thoughts about the value of ISTE membership.

"circle of people" by PLCMC training account

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Start of a Journey

I've been home for a few days now, and the ideas and insights generated from EduCon 2.3 are starting to jell in my mind. Reflection is an important component of the education process, so here are some random thoughts I'd like to share.

Aside from one presentation that was perilously close to "sit and git," the scheduled sessions were interactive and inspiring. These events are meant to be conversations, and their leaders acted more as facilitators than as experts. Although there is sometimes the hero-worship factor, "Wow, I'm sitting here listening to that Twitter star ________," once things get rolling, there is an ongoing dialogue that energizes everyone in the room. Strangers band together for quick collaborative projects and share their products eagerly. There's a brainstorming mentality: everyone learns from others' experiences and anecdotes.

Among the sessions I attended, I particularly enjoyed
  • Design Thinking: 21st Century Skills for the Real World - Christian Long, David Bill, Ethan Bodnar. Participants were split into groups and guided through the process of solving a real world problem for an attendee-volunteer. The five steps - Discovery Define Brainstorm Prototype Test - can be applied to any problem; the design does not need to be for a physical space but can include learning environments as well. Christian gave us one important guideline, "You can only be wrong if you’re not listening to the client/her story."
  • The Future of Student Inquiry/Research: Environmental Scanning and Scenario Building - Joyce Valenza, Gwyneth Jones, Shannon Miller. Although the three session leaders are school librarians, the conversation was inclusive of all educators. Participants collected and shared research tools, then defended their decision as to whether a statement like "Wikipedia is a good student resource" should be categorized as "Rocks" "Sucks" or "Not sure." The ensuing mini-debates challenged people to intelligently defend their choices. As with many of the session activities, this type of critical thinking exercise could easily be adapted for classroom use. I know we had fun with it!
  • What's Wrong With This Picture? - Darren Kuropatwa, Dean Shareski. An introductory SlideShare was the inspiration for the activity that followed, as participants were invited to "play and learn and talk." Table mates collaborated on a photo challenge ("Create video or image that depicts something unreal, preferably with no post production") now archived in a Flickr slideshow.
  • The Power of the Product: Creative, Meaningful & Daring Ways to Demonstrate Information Mastery - Gwyneth Jones, Diane Cordell. Again, two librarians facilitated a conversation for educators in general. This was my debut as a presenter at EduCon, and it was quite an exhilarating experience (thanks in large part to my partner and inspiration, the Daring Librarian). Our goal was to create our own product, a slideshow featuring less-traditional ways for students to explain and illustrate their learning. I enjoyed chatting with participants, including a group of young teachers from New York and Meenoo Rami, the founder and moderator of #engchat on Twitter. The SLA student streaming our session told me about a QR project in her English and Social Studies classes (researching Philadelphia buildings, then generating a QR code to link individual buildings with the students' information); I let her use my iPhone to scan the code on my business card so she could see and feel the scanning app in action. Gwyneth is still tidying up the slides that were created, but the finished product will be available here Additional resources can be accessed via the TL Virtual Cafe Power of the Product page.
Commonalities of Successful Sessions
  • active
  • interactive
  • inclusive
  • universal
  • product-driven
A number of session leaders talked about "stories." Schools need to focus more on storytelling: helping students to understand stories from the past, stories from the global community and, more importantly, giving them the tools to articulate, capture, and share their own stories.

Back in the "real" world
In one sense, EduCon can be almost depressing. As Liz Davis noted in her reflective posting, My EduCon Struggle,
"While I did have a great time seeing people I only see once a year, meeting people face to face for the first time, and bringing a colleague from my school, I'm not sure what I learned. That is very difficult for me to write. I know I learn constantly and I certainly took back some good ideas. But many of the sessions, all of them well done, felt like things we have been talking about forever.

I'm tired. I'm tired of complaining about what schools aren't doing. I'm tired of lamenting what kids aren't learning. I'm tired of struggling to figure out effective professional development. I'm exhausted by the term 21st century skills."

Before my retirement, I also struggled with this. For a few days in January, it seems like you move in a bubble of excitement and optimism. Then you return to your home district, where innovation is an afterthought and no support is given to those who long for permission to tinker and create something new and meaningful for their students.

My professional response then was to chip away at the establishment, connect wherever, and however, I could with individuals, keep petitioning my administrators for more freedom, more tools, more more more. It was frustrating and largely ineffective.

Now, I believe that real reform will not come from within the system but from without. EduCon offers the opportunity to connect with innovators. This year, I've either had direct conversation about, or indirect connection to, several projects that may be game changers. I'm going to use my greatest gift, the gift of time, to contribute what I can to some of these collaborative enterprises.

EduCon is not a destination; it's the starting point of a journey.

"EduCon 2.3" by dmcordell