Speculative Words: Textbooks as New Media

“It’s not a textbook, it is an entire course,” says Jean Wisuri, director of distance education at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, describing a product called Course360, from Cengage Learning. “It has activities built right into the textbook itself.”

A professor could essentially rely on a Course360 title as the full curriculum in an online course, letting students loose in the system and having them teach themselves. The Course360 titles connect to the university’s learning-management system, linking them directly into an institution’s existing virtual classroom.

The above is form a Chronicle of Higher Ed artcile (not sure how long it will stay on the free side of the firewall) about e-texts, “The Object Formerly Known as the Textbook.” Quotes a Pearson exec with Marshall McLuhan‘s observation that the first thing that happens in a new medium is the loading of content from an earlier medium. (To wit: Vaudeville stars like George Burns and Gracie Allen become radio stars, then their hit radio show becomes a TV show. As late as the 50s, plays were still being shown on TV. During the Web’s youthful days, I made a living helping video producers put “TV on the web.” (It was a hit or miss affair.)

I hadn’t seen this old media on new platform trope for books (but, seems obvious once pointed out. Books are a media technology, after all.) And now as an ironic aside, I’ve got a work project to help put educational TV on an e-textbook. Old media? I’m your guy!)

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$20 on eBay.

The Chronicle piece makes some interesting points. Author Jeffrey Young got an oddly sanguine quote from a publisher about the risks MOOCs (and perhaps also Sal Kahn) pose to his biz model.

Whole thing makes me a little nostalgic for those monster tomes: George B. Thomas’ Calc text, with its quiet jokes, the Norton Anthologies and their younger siblings “Adventures in Literature.” They weren’t just content delivery platforms, they were emblems of the role of student. Just as you can recognize saints in paintings by their attributes, you could spot a law student at 50 yards. The ebooks should come with patches you can sew to your Hollister to prove you really are a student.

Beautiful Song: Serendipty, Carlos, and Martha Argerich

Looking for something else on Naxos Music Library, I happened upon a trove of Carlos Guastavino piano works. Trove, as in treasure, and his elegant, nostalgic piano writing helped turned my mundane home office into a Buenos Aires café, and my template coding task into something like sipping Fernet-Branca and reading Pessoa. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine listening to the incomparable pianist Martha Argerich, playing Tres Romances through a distant window. Of course, that didn’t do much for the coding!

And as a bon-bon, mezzo Teresa Berganza, another musical hero, singing one of Carlos’ songs. (And yes, I know Pessoa is Portuguese, not Argentinian, but he seemed like better company for this day dream than Borges.)

Reasonable Words: Health Care, Language and Aging

Melancholy, and provocative piece by Michael Wolff in the Guardian reviewing David Goldhill’s bookScreen Shot 2013-01-29 at 10.02.52 PM about the care for his aging father, (previewed in the Atlantic a few years back). Lacking the policy knowledge to assess the arguments, I’m still struck by a point Wolff (who wrote a compelling “You are there” first-person account of the first dot.com melt down) makes that the language we use to describe the problem inevitably constrains the set of solutions we can talk about. What if part of the problem is the very word “insurance”?

From Wolff’s essay:

And Goldhill’s book does something else. It steps outside of the established political debate and lexicon – one of the rare books addressing a major national policy issue that is able to do so in language not already debased by the problem itself.





Unreasonable, but funny: Samuel L. Jackson’s Bedtime story

I guess he really wanted to do it, and of all the bedtime stories he could tell, this is probably the only one that Quentin Tarantino would be willing to direct.

We’re (quite happily) childless. But maybe our cat would listen to SLJ during one of his midnight walkabouts?

Quotable Tech: Info Gluttony & Cross-Channel Design

A List Apart” (awful name, but good web publication) did a round up of lessons learned for 2012 in the broad category of technology and design.  A few excerpts:


The most essential service of the next decade will be the one that keeps you the best informed in the least amount of time. There’s more to life than staring at screens all day.
Mike Davidson, VP of design, Twitter, and founder, Newsvine
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For me 2012 was a year of experimentation. I learned that the more certain you are about something, or the longer you’ve been doing things one way, the more important it is to abandon your assumptions and try the complete opposite. The more embedded your assumptions are, the less you notice them—so this is not easy. —Matt Mullenweg, founder, Automattic and WordPress

I think we’re going to see more cross-channel design thinking in 2013 to address simultaneous multi-device usage, and frequent device hopping in a single workflow. Continuity between platforms will be important, but we don’t need to make the experience the same between devices. The user experience will morph with each context. We’ll need to design systems, not screens, to solve cross-channel experience design problems.
—Aarron Walter, director of user experience at MailChimp

Enthusiams: Are they Goths?

Computer journalist Sean Gallagher accompanied his college-age son to last November’s Darkon event, in Maryland. The Darkon Wargaming Club is a LARP group, and Gallagher’s piece, published by ArsTechnica, gives a real sense of it–and the level of detail involved.  Not my thing personally, but since a friend and I seriously considered (right, Tim?) creating “fantasy opera camp,” I can appreciate specialized enthusiasm.
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Some nice quotes:

A middle-aged woman (in a store) whispered, “Are they Goths or something?”
“No, wrong tribe,” I answered. “I believe they’re more like Vikings.”

“I basically get to play a mob boss. I used to be a wallflower before I got involved in this,” she told me. “Darkon is my shiny, happy place.”

Critical Words: George Bernard Shaw’s “Fave Song”

Gramophone, the UK-based classical music magazine, asked the good and the great for their “favorite song” in a piece in 1926. They’ve put the archive article up on their web site, and it is a blast from the Anglophile past. Not to be picky, but I strongly suspect that Noël Coward knew how to spell Lorenz Hart’s first name correctly though…

Interesting to browse, and GBS’s answer will not disappoint his many fans, of which I am one.

One of the choices, a setting of Masefield’s Sea Fever by John Ireland was news to me, and quite lovely it is. Here is a rendition by the great British baritone Thomas Allen.

The number of people from non-musical walks of life who talk about Mozart, Bach, and Gluck as their favorites is striking, and would not be the same today. So what’s your favorite song?