Playing with Technology

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ~Arthur C. Clarke

Digital Scholarship and Interactive Publishing

Digital Scholarship and Open Access Publishing are two trends that have been emerging for several years, and at this point have probably arrived. The advent of platforms such as Blogger and WordPress have made it extremely easy for faculty to share their research and “publish”. I like tools such as these because they are free and very easy to learn and put the control in the hands of the faculty member. Of course there are thorny issues about how such self-published work should figure into the tenure decision. I’m sure many institutions are developing policies to help their faculty understand how blogging, tweeting, etc. figure into the tenure process and hopefully Wooster is one of them.

Being very interested in this issue, I was happy to see a session on Digital Scholarship and Interactive Publishing at the NMC conference held this past June. It turns out the session was not what I expected. This session focused on the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. This is the set of tools used to create magazines such as Martha Stewart’s Living for the iPad. I was a little disappointed but then I remembered that Instructional Technology had been asked to find a method for creating digital abstracts for the Independent Study projects completed by Wooster Seniors.

You can get a sense of how the suite is being used in education by taking a look at a post on Adobe’s site about Case Western Reserve University. Wendy was at the session and demonstrated a prototype for a scientific journal. The demonstration included interactive animations of one of the author’s experiments and video clips of the author explaining or demonstrating aspects of the article in more detail. It was a very interesting example of what exactly could be done with the digital publishing suite. The downside is that it requires students to use Illustrator which is not something most of our students have been trained to use and of which we only have about 20 licenses for on campus. In addition, it might require the college to use Adobe’s service for delivering the final products.

Fast forward to April and Apple’s announcement of iBooks Author. This is again a proprietary format and delivery system, but it is so much easier to use than Adobe’s digital publishing suite. Students also have much more access to iBooks Author since it is free to download and about 40-50% of students have some form of Apple computer. iBooks Author also has the ability to export to formats other than iBook format. While it is not perfect, I see it as a better solution for Wooster at this time.

This also seemed to be the view of a group of faculty and staff that attended a brown bag lunch in April on the state of digital publishing. The group considered Adobe’s solution to be too complicated for a first time user and thought significant training would be required. In contrast they thought someone could create a simple iBook in under an hour, but also noted that users were locked in to the templates supplied with iBooks Author. At least one faculty member left saying they will have two or three of their IS students create iBooks as part of their IS experience this spring.

I would say that there still isn’t a killer app for digital publishing, but developers are getting closer.