ICT & Computing in Education

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Heard any good books lately?

I’ve been asked by the Load2Learn team to let people know about the Load2Learn seminars taking place at BETT in January 2013. Load2Learn is a partnership venture between Dyslexia Action and the RNIB. Rather than write what would amount to a page-long advertisement, I thought I’d write a more personal sort of article. I hope you enjoy reading this.

The Kindle Reader (A Young Girl Seated), after Renoir, By Mike Licht, Notions Capital, http://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/I know someone who has read more books in the last year than she had in the previous three years put together. It is no coincidence that a year ago she acquired a Kindle.  Unlike so-called “real” books, the Kindle and other ebook readers have features that can make the act of reading a more personalised experience.

One feature of the (original) Kindle, for example, is that the light from it doesn’t strain the eyes as much as a tablet, or even a paper book. You can adjust the size of the font, and you can adjust the contrast – things you simply cannot do with a printed book.

Indeed, when it comes to “personalised learning”, which has been the mantra of the educational world for as long as I can remember, paper books offer the least personalised experience of all.

There are also other features of some ebook readers, such as the facility to have the text read out to you. And if you’re not sure about the enjoyment value of listening to a machine-generated voice, there is always the audiobook option. These are books which, obviously, are spoken.

Quite often, they are read by famous actors, but not always, and I don’t think it matters anyway. I read a really interesting article in a writing magazine a few months ago, in which someone I’d never heard of was giving advice about how to break into the audio book-reading market, giving an insight into how the process of recording a book works, and the skills you need. It was fascinating -- and rather daunting. I was impressed by just how difficult it sounded, especially given that when you listen to an audio book it all sounds so easy.

There are also other obvious benefits of ebook readers and audiobooks. With the former, you can obtain books instantly, and carry around your entire library wherever you go. With the latter, you can enjoy a book with your eyes closed or while driving or sitting on a bus.

Although I was asked to write an article on this subject by Load2Learn, which is concerned with helping learners who struggle to read standard print, it strikes me that these days ebook readers and audiobooks are by far the most effective means of encouraging young people to read. Why? Because every young person you see is either wearing earbuds or staring at a screen – or both at the same time. People get hung up on the medium, with traditionalists talking about real, ie paper, books, when really the most important thing, in my opinion anyway, is the content. If you want someone to read a classic, like Great Expectations, who cares how they do so?

So far, everything I’ve said is personal, and anecdotal. But there has been research into the educational benefits of these alternatives to printed books. There are plenty of reasons to invest in these technologies, even if the pupils you teach do not, as far as you know, have difficulties in reading. Although I think you may wish to question that assumption given the statistic I quoted in my last article for Load2Learn, Typewriters? No thanks!, namely that up to 10% of the pupils in an average classroom may have reading difficulties of one kind or another.

If you think there is merit in my arguments, then you may wish to find out more from the Load2Learn seminars and workshops at BETT in January. They go into the features of ebooks to look for, the latest research findings, and other useful stuff like  an overview of the specialist reading methods (such as audio and braille) which can be achieved through conventional eBook readers, and guidance on converting other classroom documents so they can be read on eBook hardware and software.

To find out more, and to book your free place, go to Load2Learn’s BETT page.

I wrote this as a guest blogger on behalf of Dyslexia Action, but my opinions are my own.

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(c) Terry Freedman