More Audiobook Discussion!

Today, I saw a counter argument to the recently referenced blog post from Digital Book World that slammed audiobooks.

I am very happy to report that today’s post is much more affirming of audiobooks, and for real reasons — not just the previous author’s “feeling” that audiobooks were cheating.

First, let’s make a point. I want no more argument with this one:

I call it “reading.” Consuming a book, whether you do that in hardcover, braille, tablet or audio, constitutes reading in my book. To suggest otherwise is discourteous to those who don’t have the choice.

This next quote is what makes me happy about audiobooks:

But what’s particularly exciting when you’re reading a book with your ears, rather than your eyes, is the whole world of possibility that instantly emerges.

Possibility! For example, the additional nuance that a good narrator can bring. (And the horror a narrator who doesn’t fit your expectations can bring….) I appreciate that the author points out that oral storytelling is where we all began. And that in our changing lifestyles (commutes, more technology, etc.) it is not only easier to access audiobooks, but easier to consume them. Let’s see — should we read a paperback book while driving? I think not. But we can listen!

Hopefully this is the end of the great audiobook wars for awhile. I’m heading out to drive to work, and will be listening to an audiobook on the way.

 

Really, Audiobooks do not make you a bad person

I recently ranted about post from an editor at Digital Book World thoroughly dumping on audiobooks.  Seriously? From someone who works in the  digital  publishing industry? Unless, of course, it was a plant to put down another format of book that competes with the ebook industry that publishes in text only – -the one that refuses to come up with a standard way of delivering books that have something besides boring black text, and isn’t doing very well when compared to the booming audiobook business….. (OK – that maybe needs to be a rant for another day.)

I just saw a reference to another post about the value of audiobooks (thanks to Blogging through the Fourth Dimension. She even calls audiobooks “gifts to all learners!”)  It’s even from a scientific perspective! “As far as your brain is concerned, listening to audiobooks isn’t cheating” by Melissa Dahl outlines exactly why reading books doesn’t prove you are  better person, as our society would make us all believe,

If, he argues, you take the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology — that is, the mental processes involved — there is no real difference between listening to a book and reading it.

The “he” referenced above is Daniel Willingham, a Psychology professor who studies and writes about education. His post is awesome – he wrote it because he’s tired of being asked if audiobooks are cheating. He says, “The point is getting to and enjoying the destination. The point is not how you traveled.”Agreed.

He also says that once a person has learned to decode words, reading print is no more work than listening, i.e., it doesn’t make you a better, smarter person.  . The comments at the end of his blog illustrate this view that somehow reading in print makes you a better person than listening to books. It seems there is really very little scientific study about which way of gathering knowledge is “better.”

For a less academic view about audiobooks, see this Reddit thread. (found through Dahl’s article.) I love the snark and, again, the pointed elitism we have about print being a “better” medium than audio.

Mind you, I am not arguing that audio is better than print. It’s like many debates: let’s stop the debating and let people consume knowledge/enjoy a story in whatever manner they prefer. Stop judging and making people feel like cheaters if they, in fact, prefer to listen to a book rather than read it.

History is too a worthwhile major!

Love this op-ed from James Grossman at the LA Times about why history is a worthy major, “History isn’t a useless major.” This post was written in May, but even in just a few months, his emphasis on the critical thinking skills one learns in history are even more crucial. Analyzing the current presidential election through a historical lens makes it even more terrifying than it is on its own…..

I was a history major. I love history. I admit it did actually lead me to my first job out of college – an interpreter (or guide) at a historic site. I spent the summer teaching the story of a fort in 1827 to visitors. I wore period dresses, I went barefoot, I cooked in a fireplace. It was fantastic. I still work for the same organization, but I rely much less on my historical skills, but on my much-more-recently acquired computer skills.

I never took a single computer class in college. I didn’t learn to code until I was 35. But – that doesn’t mean I can’t do this. Any coding I would’ve learned in college would’ve been so outdated by the time I was 35. My current job relies very little on what I actually learned in college, but relies much more on how I was able to learn since then.

I don’t put much stock in the “marketable” college majors. Of course, I don’t have anything to back this up — just that 30 years out, it really didn’t matter what my major was. It mattered how I was able to learn, adapt and keep up-to-date.  We tell our kids that they should major in something they find interesting, something where they are learning more and expanding their horizons and minds. Something where they can gain some expertise and confidence. We think that’ll carry them much further than having a specific degree.

Cheating (?) with Audiobooks

Saw a post by an editor at Digital Book World, “Audiobooks Make Me Feel Like I’m Cheating.” The premise of the post is that when we listen to books, we aren’t really “reading” — we’re cheating. His main argument is that when he listens to books, he’s always doing something else. When he’s reading a book, it’s the only thing he’s doing and his focus is just on the book.

Whoa. Seriously? I’m gonna just call it like I see it –  pretentious and elitist.

This guy is a word person. He learns through words. Fair enough, and I don’t discount this. For him, this may very be true.

HOWEVER – this is not true for everyone. There are many people – perhaps they have a form of a reading disability, or a audio learners, or are visual thinkers or have ADHD – who actually concentrate better on an audio book than a print book. Perhaps the letters jump around in a print book, perhaps their mind wanders when trying really hard to focus on text. Some people might be able to concentrate better when they are doing something like, like exercising, knitting, doing a puzzle, drawing. Just because the author doesn’t learn this way, doesn’t mean he can say that listening to audio books is cheating.

Audio books provide these learners – finally – with a mainstream way of reading — yes, reading. It’s no less valid. It’s not cheating. It’s reading.

The author argues that when he listens to audio books, he’s always doing something else: commuting, exercising, etc. I don’t know about you, but I see plenty of people reading books while commuting on public transportation or while on the treadmill at the gym. Does that mean they, too, are cheating? or are they really reading?

A few weeks ago, I was meeting with a digital game developer. This guy is amazingly intelligent, academic, creative, intense, and pushes boundaries in how to engage students in learning. He has a PhD. He is deeply immersed in the research around learning theory and game theory. During the middle of our discussion, he brought up a few books he’d recently read – all academic level books about his field. He talked about how he’d recently read them, and that they were all available on Audible.com. It was clear that he’d listened to them – and was surprised when someone else in the room said they had read the physical book. He just assumed that everyone would listen to the books. I’m guessing he listens to most of the many books he reads. I don’t think you could ever accuse him of “cheating” on his reading. I was so impressed and pleased to learn that he listens to books. I’m guessing he is one of those people who learns differently — but that does not  make him any less intelligent. In fact, it’s what allows him to push boundaries and think outside the traditional academic box and create new things. It’s impressive.

Listening to audio books is not not cheating. It’s reading.

 

Loving Reading

I love to read. As a kid, I read all the time. My cousins would hide my books so I would come out and play. I always, always, had a book with me in school so I could read if (when) school was boring and I finished the assignment.

I just thought my kids would love reading, too. We read all the time. We read to them starting as newborns. We did everything to encourage reading. However, my kids do not like to read. I admit I did not handle this well. I pushed, I cajoled, I panicked. My daughter felt stupid. We fought. Tests showed some minor reading disabilities, but never ever enough to get any help. Reading just was never enjoyable, so she doesn’t do it. Still doesn’t – yet has successfully finished her first year of college. My son doesn’t have an reading disabilities, but he, too, does not enjoy reading. What did I do wrong?

I don’t know, and I’ve given up asking. My kids don’t read. Guess what – I am now grateful for this.

I’m grateful because this taught me that there are many ways to learn. This taught me that there are many ways to express oneself, to absorb and demonstrate knowledge. This taught me to recognize the value in different learning styles. My children both are visual thinkers. They see the world in pictures. I see the world in words. Neither one is better – they both have value and are essential. My kids solve problems differently than I do. They see the world through a different lens. This means they don’t necessarily succeed in traditional academic settings with the highest grades – but that’s going to be just fine. I do wish school valued different types of learning styles more.

This post was triggered by a post by Pernille Ripp (“A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading“) about her daughter’s journey learning to read. As she describes her daughter’s hard work becoming a reader, it hits me hard – I’ve been there. I celebrate with her that her daughter is now reading at grade level. Yet, without devaluing reading, I also  want to encourage the embrace of whatever might be her daughter’s preferred learning style. If she’ll never be a strong reader, or one who loves reading, it is likely her skills/learning style will be something different. Instead of focusing on her perceived deficits (“reading at grade level” is a school based value), focus on her strengths. Maybe she is a strong visual thinker and the words get in the way of her thoughts. Maybe she’s a kinesthetic learner that needs to move in order to learn. It doesn’t matter – but what does matter is that her strengths are valued and honored.

Ripp’s post gives parents permission to do many of the things I did: lied about reading logs, bought audio books to help her finish assignments, read out loud for homework and for fun. I thank her for her understanding and support. I love this quote:

As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must never forget that.

We do. And if our kids don’t love reading and learn differently, we have the right and responsibility to our child to honor  and develop those strengths without criticism or making them feel less.

ISTE 2016

Back from #iste2016. Once again, I return inspired, motivated, energized — and exhausted!

Themes

From my perspective as a museum educator, there were some clear themes we saw this year:

  • Google, and Google Classroom in particular. Classroom had an strong presence with at least 10 sessions. Many of the sessions were full. I was relieved to find out that I’ve learned the tool well, as the ones I did get into were mostly things I already knew. I’m watching Classroom to keep growing and improving, especially after Google sees all the teacher use. Google Cast has huge potential, even though it really doesn’t impact me.
  • 3D printing/scanning, AR and VR were huge. I mean really huge. One presenter said there were 46 sessions about the AR/VR/3D modeling.  It feels like it’s becoming mainstream. Teachers are using it frequently in the classroom and companies are out with all sorts of things. My favorite sessions were about Paleoteach.org and one from @stemnation about a fantastic project getting kids to print 3D versions of printing “press” typefaces.  There were more 3D printers in the exhibit hall than you could count.
  • Free. Again, free is a common thread at ISTE. I heard complaints about software that used to be free now charging. I heard questions at my session asking about if a resource is free. If not, teachers won’t even look at it. It is essential that publishers and content providers keep this in mind.
  • Inclusion and UDL: I was happy to see quite a presence of accessibility and inclusion sessions. I attended a Playground about UDL and learned a few new tips/tricks. I sadly couldn’t make a couple of the sessions, but have downloaded the handouts. Hoping I can glean info from them.

The “disruptive” theme continues. ISTE attendees tend, as a group, to not like standardized tests and such. As a group, they lean towards empowering students and less about the top down. I’m not always sure what this has to do with technology, but I love it, and I love how the tools of technology are seen as a means to an end of empowerment and learning, rather than as the ultimate goal. I felt there were fewer “use this app” sessions, and more sessions about tools for learning.

Networking

This year was a networking year for me, which was so fun.

The Smithsonian’s Learning Lab officially launched at ISTE with a big splash. Having watched the Learning Lab from afar for a few years, it is really exciting to see it officially go live. I enjoyed talking about it at my poster session and was pleased to hear that many folks from my poster stopped at the Learning Lab’s table!

IMG_3543I also met a blogger icon, Glenn Wiebe of historytech. I was beyond giddy! We always read Glenn’s blog – he does fabulous work keeping an eye on the combination of social studies and technology. I fully admit we “borrow” (with credit of course) ideas from Glenn. It made my conference complete to connect Glenn and Darren Milligan (Smithsonian) about the Learning Lab. Glenn also published a far-too flattering post about my session. THANK YOU, Glenn! I look forward to working with Glenn in the future.

I was able to connect with the team at Georgia Public Broadcasting who publish the 8th grade Georgia history textbook and virtual field trips.  GPB uses the same digital publishing software that we use, so it was extremely helpful to connect with them and share our successes and frustrations.

The now-annual Minnesota Tweetup was also a fantastic place to reconnect with old friends and make new connections. These are often folks I see on Twitter or at conferences, so it’s a great chance to actually talk.

Sessions with iconic bloggers always makes ISTE fun. I saw Chris Lehmann, Will Richardson and Pernille Ripp around the conference. Why all three were scheduled at 4 p.m on Tuesday is beyond me. Why, ISTE????

Talking to strangers also makes ISTE fun. For example, I met @im_alastair and @mpickens813 on the train to the airport. Lively conversation made the long ride much more fun!

SessionScreen Shot 2016-07-01 at 4.21.52 PM

I did another poster session, although this one was on my own! Once again, it was about digital primary sources, “Reading Primary Source Images like a Book.” It was a busy two hours of sharing about primary source analysis and resources.

On to 2017 in San Antonio!

Elephants

Will Richardson is one of my favorite bloggers. Awesome post about the Elephants in the Classroom

In summary (in my words, not his), his elephants are:

  • We forget the specific content we are taught
  • Students are not connecting to school – the content isn’t relevant to them
  • Traditional schools don’t foster learning the way real world learning happens.
  • The stuff on tests doesn’t really matter
  • Grades are valued more than learning
  • “Curriculum” is random (can you say calculus and no statistics? stupid)
  • School is the only place subjects are taught in silos. In reality , subjects aren’t separate.

Just read Will’s post.