The Argument for Linux in Education

I am always researching how Linux and open source software are used in a classroom or education setting. I like to stay up to date with any developments. In reading countless blog posts, Google Slides presentation, and discussion threads, I’ve found a few patterns. Two points in particular are often brought up and used as the focus for the argument of “Why Choose Linux.” Linux is free and Linux works on old hardware.

These points aren’t wrong, but shouldn’t be the focus of the argument. They leave Linux to be interpreted as a free/lesser alternative to Windows or OSX. An option for cash strapped schools that need to run anything on old hardware. When the comparison becomes just about saving money, you cheapen the perception of Linux.

What points should you bring up instead?  Continue reading The Argument for Linux in Education

Why Amazon Is Winnng the Ebook War

In one word, Software.  More specifically, Whispernet and Whispersync.  Amazon’s own ways of keeping all your ebooks organized and accessible.

Accessibility

Amazon has created a quality and consistent user experience across multiple devices. Once you buy a book it travels with you, not you having to travel with the book.  What do I mean by that?  When you buy an ebook from Amazon, you are free to read that ebook on just about any device thanks to Whispersync technology.  All of your bookmarks and notes will carry across multiple devices.  Start reading on your Kindle, switch to you iPad, then to your desktop, and the entire time never lose your place.  You are not limited by the device.

Compare that to Apple’s iBook Store.  Anything purchased is confined to Apple’s closed network.  You can read on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.  That’s it.

It’s about more than just the device.  When you get an ebook it should be accessible by any device you happen to be on.  Formats should never be restricted by the device.  Look at the entire music and movie industry with the DRM controversy.  You’re buying a book to read, not a license to that book.

Management

Book management gets very important as you look at ebooks replacing traditional library collection in education.  Students have to  keep track of textbooks and research materials.  Schools and Universities manage thousands of books for entire student populations.

Everything is manageable on the Amazon website.  You can purchase books, push books to certain devices, push to multiple devices, and see every book in your digital library.  This is ideal for the classroom, and the method the RETC used during the ‘Kindles in the Classroom’ experiment.

The RETC was able to purchase books from one master account and send a book to each Kindle device (18 devices in total).  When the kids turned on their Kindle the next morning the book was ready to read.  No handing out materials or keeping track of what students got what.  Everything is done online in an easy to manage system.

Simplicity is what makes this management great.  Amazon only wants to manage your books.  It’s not trying to sync in with any other media or features.  You can’t shop amazon.com, you aren’t streaming movies, and you aren’t syncing your music collection.  It’s dealing with books and reading, that’s all.

Price

First, I’m going to speak from my personal experience.  I have accounts with Amazon, iBook, and Barnes&Noble ebook stores.  I’ve downloaded free books from all of them, but when it comes to paid books I always download from Amazon.  Why? It’s always cheaper.  The past five ebooks I’ve read have been purchased from Amazon.  I searched the books on all three stores, and Amazon came up cheaper or equal every time.  In one case, Amazon was the only store to even carry the book.  This is by no means scientific data, but it’s a good observation.

Criteria for selecting the book prices in the chart below: Prices were taken from the websites of each respective store.  The lowest price found was used.  Prices were taking from September 15, 2010 – October 15, 2010.  The list of books was compiled as a general representation of what a high school student would read.  This chart and comparison should act as a rough guide, not hard facts to build your budget.  For books to be included they had to be downloadable from the site, able to sync with all supported devices, and be formatted for each device, being able to use all the softwares features (i.e. searching, font-size, highlighting, notes, etc…).

*A note on Google Books:  They are scanned copies of the original text.  These books are free and are simply images of the original book on your device.  They are not usually formatted e-books.  Meaning you cannot change fonts, text-size, or manipulate the text in the normal way you would.  Because of these limitations I can only recommend using Google Books for your personal reading, but not in a classroom or library setting.

Small Features, Big Impact

All the little things that Amazon adds to the software amounts to big functionality.

Book Recommendations – The system that helped make Amazon.com a success.  Amazon has taken the same principles and applied it to the Kindle Store.  Users are given recommendation for further reading on the same topic or genre.  This is a plus for students who may have trouble finding books they enjoy reading.  Once they find one, they will be able to find more through kindle recommendations.

Reading Lists – Being able to download samples of a book is a great way to keep a reading list right on your kindle software.  You download the free sample of a book you want but aren’t ready to buy/read yet. Download as many samples as you want to create your list.  When you finish your book you open the next sample you want to read.  Read it, if you like it, you can download the entire book from within the software and continue reading.  A tiny feature that can save you time, and save you from trying to remember all the books you wanted to read.

*I use this functionality constantly.  If someone suggests a book to me, I’ll just download the sample right from the Kindle App on my iPhone.  It’ll be on all my other devices next time I’m ready to read.

Lending books –  Amazon recently announced that they will be adding the ability to lend ebooks to other kindle users.  Once you buy a book, you can send a full copy of the book to another kindle user to read.  Details are still scarce on how long the lending period will be or how many times you can lend a book, but this will certainly be a good addition to the Kindle functionality.

10 (more) iPad Apps for the Classroom

The first installment of ‘10 iPad Apps for the Classroom’ was popular enough, I decided to do a follow up.  A lot more time and a lot more Apps have been developed for the iPad since the last article.  I’ll highlight some of my favorites and most useful ones.

Frog Dissection ($4.99) – A digital interpretation of a classroom classic.  I’ve covered this App once in an earlier review here.  A recent update has added more information and data for students to explore.  The App is nicely put together, very east to use and graphically sharp.  Notes: no internet connection required.

EMD PTE – Periodic Table (Free) – In the previous article I noted Elements (14.99) as a great periodic table/science App.  EMD PTE isn’t as feature rich but the price is right, free.  This App provides good information on each element in a clean interface.  The information doesn’t go much beyond what you would find in a typical classroom poster.  Notes: universal app, no internet connection required.

Continue reading 10 (more) iPad Apps for the Classroom

10 iPad Apps for the Classroom

A follow up to The iPad and Education post.  This is a quick list of 10 apps on the iPad that you can use with your students, most of which are free.  The list is broken up into subjects; Math, English, Science, Social Studies, and Note Taking. If you have any app suggestions of your own, please leave a note in the comments.

Math

Quick Graph (free) – A complete graphic calculator application. Able to handle both 2D and 3D graphs. Input as many formulas as you want. A custom keyboard makes inputting easier. No need to go through the tedious Apple keyboard sub-menus to get to math functions (great for writing, not for math).

Continue reading 10 iPad Apps for the Classroom

iPad and Education

Since the iPad was first announced there has been a lot of talk about its uses for education. Specifically, the focus has been on college and university students. I would like to take a look at younger grades, elementary and middle school students. Students in these grades have not yet developed the way they take in data or their own study habits. These students would be more open to learning with new technologies and get a greater benefit. A student that grew up learning with technology will be more prepared in the future, rather than just giving them technology in college at the latter end of their academic career.

Continue reading iPad and Education