Saturday, September 13, 2014

Connected Reading: Culture and Tools

I just finished posting a note at Anatomy of an Online Course about the Google Form I am using to gather student feedback about the UnTextbook. That process is going great, but I thought I would say something here for Connected Courses about the need for more/better ways to create social reading experiences. As often with education, it's a question both of culture and technology — and probably much more a question of culture! People are just used to reading privately, even if that culture of private reading was technologically determined by the limited writing technologies at our disposal. For the most part, people read in silence, in physical isolation from one another, consuming an individual copy of a text that is likewise physically separated from all other copies of the text.

Technology, of course, is now poised to change that all of that, but we need to imagine that change; we need a vision of what this new kind of reading will be like. I was thinking about that as I created my weekly UnTextbook report, gathering up the ratings and the feedback that my students provided about what they read. They provided that feedback via a tool (Google Form) that is completely separate from the reading tool (Blogger), and it was up to me, the Queen of Kludge, to make these two tools work in tandem — awkwardly, but good enough for my purposes. There are some rating and feedback options in Blogger, but they are very primitive and are definitely not good for aggregating the ratings and feedback over time, which is what I need to do.

But here's the thing: ratings and feedback are the easy part, a problem we should be able to solve more or less easily — and as Amazon and Netflix have shown, there are big advantages to gathering ratings and feedback. The real question is this: what will it mean to share reading experiences in the future? That is a question I am so curious about, and I am hoping to meet people here at Connected Courses who are working on social reading experiences and the tools that can support them. That is something I would very much like to learn more about!


  1. This reminds me of discussions at the Digital Reading Network symposium that i blogged about recently You will probably be particularly interested in Socialbook and the open utopia project. There has been a lot of talk lately about how reading on digital devices is just not the same/as good as 'real books' but the potential for discussion and collaboration in and around books-as-learning-spaces is phenomenal.

  2. That question of "shared reading" is so intriguing, and it reminds me of opening up my Kindle app and seeing where others have highlighted in a text I am reading, and how it both intrigues me (they found THAT interesting? Why?) and annoys me (what are their notes doing in my text?) and the larger question of Amazon (in this case) keeping track of all that ... so many things to consider.

  3. Kevin, that Kindle experience is the only one I have had also!!! I got really excited about that when I learned that I could use Twitter to send notes from a Kindle book (I read on my iPad, but the Kindle app does that) to the Amazon clippings... but then when I found out that I could control nothing else about that experience, like making a group of friends, etc., then I just got frustrated that there was not real software out there to help me make this work. I am so glad this is something you are keeping an eye on too because you are a master at finding cool new tools. And I know they have to be coming!
    Anne, I missed that blog post - thanks so much for the tip! I will go read about it now. This is a field I have not been keeping up with at all but I know there has to be stuff going on. Thanks so much!!!

  4. A while back, in a P2P U course where several of us looked at the writing section of the Common Core State Standards, Bud Hunt got the whole document into BuddyPress, a Wordpress plugin. That made it so all of us could comment on the document and on each other's thoughts. It made the experience feel really rich, much more extensive than was possible in a webinar.

    When I teach students about Google Docs, I find the same thing. I have them all find a place on the document and start writing in response to some prompt. Then I ask them to use the commenting feature to respond to others' comments. That activity could fill a class. There is something very powerful about reading and writing back to someone else.

    Is it possible to share a reading experience? Maybe reading is the one thing that can be done (only) on a purely individual level. When we compose/represent/express about our reading, that's a shared interpretive act, yes, but it's not the actual reading. So maybe we don't share a reading experience, we share the representation and interpretation of ideas in a particular time and place.


  5. Collaborative writing is a great experience, and that will definitely teach us a lot about shared reading... I guess what I am hoping for is something bigger: when we have works that persist over time, I would really like there to be a way to accumulate LOTS of annotations, from many communities, over time, which would then be searchable: sort of giant marginalia which would accumulate, be searchable, indexable, etc.
    And not just with reading of texts, but also with images too.
    So, you could organize ad hoc communities who are read together quasi-synchronously (as classes do in school, or book clubs, etc.)... but that would just one layer of the many layers of accumulating commentary, translations, etc. etc.
    Big but messy.
    Still with all the promises of AI, surely this is exactly the kind of mess that IBM's Watson could help us to manage! :-)


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