Reflections on an iBook

The creation of an iBook is fundamentally different from anything I have ever done before. It is a truly strange creature, halfway between the old publishing world and the new world of digital media. This is true in more ways than one. Not only does the power of publication, and dissemination, lie in one’s own hands, the inclusion of digital media upends the traditional book format. Videos, pictures, and interactive widgets replace text. The author becomes more than a writer. Rather, they take on the role of designer and publisher as well. It is truly a democratization of the publishing process, even more so than previous online publishing platforms.

More than all of this though, it is a unique way to present history. We all know that history is dry. Although we might imagine science or even math using interactives, history has a special place in the realm of books. It is something we have always read. Part of history’s mythos, its identity as a scholarly pursuit, is sitting down with a dusty tome and discovering facts line by line. That is no longer the case. There is nothing particularly more or less intellectual or factual about reading. People listen, people appreciate art, and people watch movies. These are all valid sources of information and deserve the place in history afforded by platforms such as the IBook.

Despite this, the actual creation of my chapter – a reflection on the different experiences during the Battle of Somme – was fraught with a return to tradition. I am very used to writing. In middle school, I made longer and more complex sentences just to get a higher Flesch-Kinkaid grading level. Although I have come a long way since then, it is still the medium I am most comfortable communicating with. The comments I received on the rough draft of my chapter reflected this. They all revolved around the same themes: less text, break things into chunks, make the questions easier, and more. Obviously, I will have some difficulty thinking of a book as more than just a medium for words.

Even so, I was very happy with the eventual outcome of my chapter. It is minimal. There are no fancy widgets, less pictures, and more text. Yet I believe I have struck a good balance. It is a balance between the old and the new, the traditional format and the possibilities of a digital one. However, it is also a balance between two more simple concepts. Words still have a fundamental ability to communicate the human experience like no other medium. To close, let me reflect on the quintessential saying a picture is worth a thousand words. Although the basic premise holds true, it is far from being the case in all instances. In today’s media saturated social spheres, the power of the image is incredibly diminished. We are used to images representing the shallow, crass demands of a consumer marketplace that demands our constant attention. In this new world, the power of words to speak to our innermost emotions, remains unbelied – and perhaps even more powerful.

Alpha Centauri Flipped Lesson

Prompt: Students were asked to design a flipped lesson and then write a blog post that showcases their flipped lesson and reaction to designing it. 

Alpha Centauri is the precursor to the Civilization games, and, in my opinion, is one of the greatest games ever made. This video is less of a specific lesson, although it does introduce you to some of the general features of the game. A true lesson would be hours long, dissecting all of the particulars of multiple different strategies, factions, and more. Instead, I hope this video is just enough to whet your appetite and get you excited to play this phenomenal game.

In regards to the flipped lesson itself, I’ll be very honest. I hate the sound of my own voice. Furthermore, I hate the act of recording itself. It’s like talking on the phone, a prime chance for me to stumble over myself, use far too many ums, and generally make a fool of myself. It was perhaps the single most reason I put it off until now. At least when speaking in public, I can feed off the cues of my audience. When I’m alone, I can only hear the thoughts of my own worst critic – you know who that is.

That being said, I definitely see the benefits of this model. I don’t believe it is satisfactory as a complete substitution for the traditional classroom model. There are too many students who, whether it be an issue of motivation or some other factor, not complete the assignment and be ready for class. However, if it is something introduced early on, and scaffolded towards, it may become an important tool in a teacher’s repertoire

Our Digital Future and the Democratization of History

File:CyborG dc.jpg
By Kaio oliveira santos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Prompt: Write a blog post in response to our class on digital history.

Let’s start by getting this out of the way. There is not fundamental difference between “Digital History” and “Regular History.” Although the tools have changed, the underlying assumptions stay the same. Through critical analysis of a variety of sources, contextualized with background knowledge, and investigated with the skills of a seasoned detective, students will build historical understanding. That has not changed. What has changed are the tools by which this is accomplished. Although these tools confront us with significant challenges, they also provide an exciting new experience. In some ways, this experience is an even purer way to study history. Though gatekeepers of knowledge have been a bastion of higher education and philosophical debate for centuries, there is nothing intrinsic in them linking them indelibly to history done “the right way.” Digitization equals democratization. The challenge of moving forward is how to embrace these new technology, held in our hands and connected to our minds, while minimizing the risks and maximizing the incredible potential inherent in their capabilities.

Of course, there are both risks and challenges associated with embracing technology. Those who argue that the human brain has not evolved to efficiently cope with the incredible amount of information we are subject to on a daily basis are correct. That was not our evolutionary past. However, it may well be our evolutionary future. We stand at a precipice of incredible change. It is up to us to recognize our current limitations and carefully guard against the documented, harmful effects of too much stimulation – especially for children. Yet we must also realize that the future does not lie in the past. Books are being rapidly replaced by websites, podcasts, web journals, and more. The ability to push our historical understanding by engaging with multiple sources and viewpoints, especially beyond those of the intellectuals or elites, broadens historical inquiry into a truly humanistic endeavor.

In the classroom, this may take on varying forms. I honestly believe that, as future generations become more akin to the digital world, they will evolve the mechanisms needed to deal with the information overload we now face. However, the truth is, we don’t have that capability yet. Therefore, we must be careful. Use technology, but guided with great care. Evidence suggests that humans have not truly evolved the capability to multitask. Therefore, let us not pretend that our children can. When they are splitting their attention, they are missing information. Teach them technology, but also teach them moderation and focus.

To close, let us realize that there is no use fighting the inevitable. In fact, doing so may harm us in the long run. Realize that technology has an incredible potential to revolutionize our lives for the better. Yet before we dive headlong into this frenzy, let us take a step back and asses our current situation. We are at a cusp in our evolution and we have not evolved sufficiently to become truly digital creatures. Yet even when we do, there are so many incredible mechanisms our evolution has given us. We should not abandon the lessons of the past for a forgotten future, nor should we forget the potential of the future for the comfort of the past. Instead, we should move forward with caution and anticipation, welcoming the promises of the digital age and the true democratization of history.

Nexus Tablets 1 – 1 Classroom

Google Nexus Tablet

Prompt:  Assume you have your first full time teaching job and the principal tells you that you’ve been selected to pilot the  “1 to 1 Project.”  What are your thoughts about the opportunities and challenges that  presents?

I’m glad the Nexus tablets our students have are not this large. They would be even harder to type on and even more of a distraction … My CT chose the Nexus tablets rather than iPad’s because he could get more of them. With the Nexus, he was able to complete a class set. Although the ones we have are smaller, there are still significant issues with using them. As of now, I am torn on the merits of a 1 – 1 classroom through the Google Nexus Tablet design.

First and foremost, the tablets we have are not equipped with keyboards. My CT hoped that students – being so apt in texting – would be able to type quickly on the screens. This was not the case. There are consistent technical issues with typing, copying and pasting, along with the other issues such as WIFI connectivity and more. Rather than moving more quickly with technology, it would be more simple for students to write things by hand. If not, I often send them to the library where they can type more quickly.

There are good things about this format. Google Classroom is the largest by far. The ability to push assignments and handouts to students not only saves paper, it helps both the student and teacher alike by keeping their lives more organized. Students complete these assignments online and turn them in with the click of a button. This is an incredible bonus for everyone.

However, I am conflicted about the efficacy of this method. Perhaps different technology would make the situation better. If students had the ability to type rather than just using their thumbs, they would complete work more quickly. Even so, using these tablets in class has become a double edged sword. It deserves more consideration before full implementation.