Is Digital Democratic?

images.jpgFOR SEVERAL DECADES, textbook publishers followed the same basic model: Pitch a hefty tome of knowledge to faculty for inclusion in lesson plans; charge students an equally hefty sum; revise and update its content as needed every few years. Repeat. But the last several years have seen a shift at colleges and universities—one that has more recently turned tectonic.

In a way, the evolution of the textbook has mirrored that in every other industry. Ownership has given way to rentals, and analog to digital. Within the broad strokes of that transition, though, lie divergent ideas about not just what learning should look like in the 21st century but how affordable to make it. …

This article in Wired Magazine  by Brian Barrett develops and comments on the recent transformation of school textbooks.

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It’s an Old Prejudice

tapesWhen my wife was alive and commuting daily at least 45 minutes to work, she loved recorded books, mostly mysteries and usually abridged. For a few years I joined her in the commute and it was obvious how the recorded books relieved the tedium of the drive and I had to agree with her, the abridged versions left out a lot of boring description and made the trip more pleasant. Due to the number and size of the abridged tapes, she was enjoying a typical novel in just two days. Recorded books were, as they say, better than mayonnaise.

I knew a few readers that used recorded books to cover the hours washing dishes, weeding the garden, or ironing the sheets (they still do that?). Being an avid reader myself, I tried recorded books, thinking it was another avenue to expand my reading. What a disaster!

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Paradox of Automation

Interesting.

Crash: how computers are setting us up for disaster

by Tim Harford at theguardian.com

The paradox of automation, then, has three strands to it. First, automatic systems accommodate incompetence by being easy to operate and by automatically correcting mistakes. Because of this, an inexpert operator can function for a long time before his lack of skill becomes apparent his incompetence is a hidden weakness that can persist almost indefinitely. Second, even if operators are expert, automatic systems erode their skills by removing the need for practice. Third, automatic systems tend to fail either in unusual situations or in ways that produce unusual situations, requiring a particularly skilful response. A more capable and reliable automatic system makes the situation worse.

ibm-704-1954_thumb1Back in the late 1970s I was responsible for supporting an then state-of-the-art communications system (think airline reservation system) with the latest hardware and the most elegant coding. However, at that time the console for the system was a Model 33 Teletypewriter (unless, as we occasionally were forced to do, you input instructions through the front-panel toggle switches).

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