We had a demo of the product Highlighter a few weeks ago, by Co-Founder & CEO Josh Mullineaux (@joshmullineaux) and VP of Sales John Holdcroft (@johnholdsea).

Per their website:

“Highlighter is a web application that creates a dynamic relationship between publishers and readers. With Highlighter, readers can share, save, and comment on words, sentences, paragraphs and even images. All of this data is passed back to the publisher in the form of powerful analytics.”

Our staff has just started playing with this in the past few days.  So far it’s pretty cool!  I see a lot of uses faculty/students could have with this product to edit documents, collaborate on peer-review of papers, and potentially demonstrate the critical thinking a student does while reading a document (i.e. highlighting items they find to be important or that raise questions, etc.).  There is an e-book storefront to sell & publish your documents, analytics behind the scenes, security features, and mobile device support.

Josh & John so far have been very eager to hear feedback and quick to respond to questions.   As this is a growing product, there are still changes being implemented and development is still happening, including a new redesign of pieces of their site/tool to launch in the next few weeks.

We look forward to “playing” with Highlighter more and figuring out the ins/outs.   To try it out for yourself, go to Http://www.highlighter.com and select “Sign up” in the top right corner.   If you create a sandbox account to test and want us to join in, send an invite to elearning@tcu.edu and we will be happy to try it out with you!

I’ll be posting more once I dig in a little more. Stay tuned…


iBooks, Group Work, & Science Goodies

Things in the edtech world that caught my eye this week: the Apple iBooks announcement, the New York Times’ piece on group work (okay, that was last week, but, hey, classes started, things were busy, etc.), and some neat science tools.

First, iBooks. Big announcement from Apple this week that they are going to enter the digital textbook publishing arena. The goal is to make interactive, easy-to-update digital textbooks available on iPads, aiming at the K-12 market as well as higher education. iPads, of course, aren’t cheap. This pricing structure may be a major hurdle, given K-12 budgets in the US; interestingly enough, Apple is suggesting that the students themselves – not the schools districts – would own the books. I’m not sure how that is going to play out. The books themselves are to cost less than $20, and publishing giants like McGraw Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have already signed up to let their titles participate.

In terms of something that may have a greater immediate impact on higher education, Apple has also introduced software, iAuthor, for individuals who wish to publish their own textbooks. MindShift offers a great breakdown on what is iAuthor is:

[A]n authoring tool that greatly facilitates the layout of e-book content. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to add text, photos, video, Keynote slides, and even HTML widgets to build an iBook  . . . [F]or the time being at least, this app is Mac (OS X) only. The app itself is free, and after building an e-book, one can upload it to the iBookstore. The textbooks that are built to sell or give away in the iBookstore will be subject to a review process, Apple says, and the company will take its normal “cut” of sales as well as demand exclusivity to their sale. One can bypass the iBookstore by simply emailing the file to another person, who’ll be able to open it with the iBook app.

We’ll talk more about that exclusivity issue in a minute. But this does sound like a decent way to design a course reader, no? In addition, the iTunesU features have been bulked up, allowing for the distribution of more course content, including videos.

Here’s the Apple promo video:

And now for the critical perspectives. Hack Education asks some tough questions about the revolutionizing quality of partnering with established textbook companies, the validity of textbooks versus primary sources, and, as promised, that exclusivity issue. These are all important points, and she’s summed them up very nicely. Also, here’s a great breakdown of the pros and cons of each of the new tools.

Second, on collaboration. Oh, group work: do you love to hate it – or hate to love it? Or are your feelings less complicated? Last Sunday’s New York Times opinion piece by Susan Cain on The Rise of the New Groupthink offered an interesting perspective (also, note the mention of Apple – I’m thematic like that!). In the face of organized groups in schools, workplaces, and worship spaces, the author notes that “privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption” are associated with better individual performances. Group brainstorming runs directly counter to those sessions of sweet silent thought, a fact most upsetting for the creative introverts among us.

Of course, as a society, we may wish to use group work to develop communication and collaboration skills (perhaps even making the accomplishment of the task a secondary goal), since these are, to some degree, necessary skills in our society. We may also benefit from the minds of others to generate fresh ideas, correct our misconceptions, or prevent errors related to our own blind spots. Luckily, she identifies one area where teamwork is especially productive: digital collaboration. There, “protection of the screen mitigates many problems of group work”. Collaborate away!

Last, if you’ve made it this far, it’s dessert time! Two neat science-y tools I found this week: 1) An iPhone app that turns your phone into a seismograph ($.99, found via this list of science iPad science apps); and 2) a free graphing calculator on the web (found via Hack Education)- going far beyond what you’ll get if you just punch an equation into Google, and accessible across many devices. Treats to the first person who inventively combines these goodies! (Let me know in the comments, and we really will hit you up with something.)

Teaching grab bag

The best of internet, just for you:

What to teach? Great post about the arbitrary nature of course / textbook content. Bonus that the author references her course’s own learning outcomes! Looking at the learning outcomes is a great guide when you are thinking about how to mix things up with activities and content. While throwing out the textbook may not be for you, thinking about what you could do in doing without the usual suspects is a great little experiment. Plus–as she points out–the ease and speed of internet research easily allows students and instructors to focus on the interesting, puzzling, and often-overlooked ideas, events, and inventions.

Second, check out the non-profit Khan Academy. Instructional videos from a trusted source, widely used and widely reviewed The Khan academy started when the founder, a former hedge fund manager with degrees from MIT and Harvard, began helping his cousin with math by posting his own videos online. Not all videos are college-level (there’s a fair amount of developmental math, arithmetic, and test prep), but you can also find extensive videos on specific art works (for example, the Bayeux Tapestry, O’Keeffe’s The Lawrence Tree, and Gerhard Richter’s September), biology topics (Photosynthesis: Calvin Cycle, Saltatory Conduction in Neurons, and Cytotoxic T Cells – just to name a few), and topics in organic chemistry, calculus, etc. The videos vary in length; the ones I’ve seen ranged from 6 – 14 minutes. The history offerings are a little thin, and there’s not much in foreign language, social sciences, or literature. However, if there’s an appropriate video on a topic covered in one of your courses, this seems like a great way to get discussion started.

What to do when the best laid plans go awry. On those days when technology conspires to sink a great lecture or activity, what do to do (check the comments on the article). Other than not panicking and taking a few deep breaths, do you have a favorite lifesaver trick for a technology mishap? Please enlighten us in the comments!

When all else fails (or, always). Humor. In the classroom. Do you script your jokes into your lecture or your slides? Go for something off the cuff? Just share a funny comic? Apparently, there are 22 different kinds of humor used in educational settings—no joke (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). The bottom line? Humor done right is good: it creates a relaxing classroom environment and keeps students’ attention. But trying too hard or making offensive jokes? Not funny.

For extra credit. Not a believer in extra credit? Happy to hand it out to students doing extra work? For a round-up of a recent discussion on this topic, there’s this article – and the one referenced in that piece that started the controversy. As the semester draws to a close, extra credit certainly becomes a more pressing topic in the minds of some students. But, really, I just want to share with you this story of a sixth grader making two popular apps (plus giving a pretty popular TEDx talk). He did this just by playing with the iPhone software development kit. Someone, somewhere, give this kid–and his parents and teachers–some extra credit! I’m a total sucker for these stories of students inventing apps, and while the Justin Bieber Whac-A-Mole game and the Earth Fortune-teller app might not have a ton of educational merit, his conclusions are worth considering: “These days, students know a little bit more than teachers [about] technology . . . Educators should recognize this resource and make good use of it.” So, here’s your extra credit question for the comments: how do you make use of your students’ technological capacities?