Monthly Archives: February 2016
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- Know what eBook readers are. An eBook reader is a device for browsing electronic files representing books. An eBook reader typically has a low-resolution but low-glare black-and-white screen, often not backlit, the size of a paperback book page. Compared to a general-purpose computer or smartphone which is often backlit, an eBook reader will be thin and light and have a long battery life. eBook readers typically read one or more of several proprietary “eBook” file formats. Some eBook readers are also capable of reading documents in other forms, such as open-standard “ePub” eBooks, plain text files, PDFs, Word documents, and so forth, and some will also allow you to take notes, sync with other devices, etc. eBook readers don’t have the “feel” of books, which some enjoy. But they have a few advantages such as being lightweight and portable, and being able to hold a lot more than a single paperback ever could. This makes them ideal for taking away on vacation, for reading in a favorite outdoor nook, or for reading on-the-go.
- A dedicated eBook reader may be the most convenient way to read eBook files, but it is not the only way. PC and smartphone software is available free of charge to read ePub  and various proprietary eBook formats such as those for Nook and Kindle. It would be good for infrequent use, for back lighting, for a big screen which props itself up (on a computer, perfect for complicated material that requires glancing forward and back repeatedly), or for sampling the eBook concept before buying a reader device.
- An eBook reader can make a great gift for someone who is both a technology enthusiast and a reader of long books. Because there are many specialized kinds, make sure the recipient can easily return it if it turns out not to suit his or her needs.
- Not all eBook readers can handle the same formats. In addition to certain seller-specific proprietary formats, many readers support HTML, plain text, and JPG but not all support the open standard ePub. This is an important distinction if you want to check out ebooks from your library, or to read the vast library of copyright-free (in the United States at least) ebooks at Project Gutenberg with nicer formatting than plain text files can provide.
- Be aware that some eBook readers handle PDFs better than others; this is important if you intend to use PDFs a lot.
- Some of the most common dedicated eBook readers include Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobo eReader, Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader, etc., with each electronic reader having its own features, feel, and capacity. Non-dedicated eBook readers (that is, items that are used for other purposes as well) include your computer, smartphone (with relevant apps installed), and the iPad.
Know what to look for in an eBook reader. There are numerous things that you need to consider when choosing an eBook reader. One important thing to keep in mind is that choosing an eBook reader is fairly much like choosing many other electronic gadgets and even cars in on key respect – it all depends on what you want to do with it, and there is no one right eBook reader for every person, and different features can make all the difference to your choice. Since the features count for everything, the following features are currently the ones to pay attention to:
- Memory: How many eBooks or other documents does the eBook reader have the capacity for? Can this memory capacity be increased?
- Format type: Can the eBook reader handle a variety of file types or only one type (see previous step)? Is this ability (or lack of it) reflected in the price?
- Connectivity: Does the eBook reader have 3G and WiFi connectivity? Most of the recent ones should by now.
- Screen friendliness: Here you need to be concerned about viewability, color, size, and reflectiveness (glare).
- Viewability: Is it easy to read? Which eBook readers seem most like the pages of a book? Some have more of this feel than others.
- Color: Black and white or color? Both have advantages and drawbacks. Black and white is easy on the eye for novels and sun reading (see “Viewability” below), while books and other items such as magazines or comics which need color to transfer their beauty and photos (such as art books, cookbooks, graphic novels, etc.), won’t appear so well on plain black and white eBook readers and should be experienced in color.
- Size: Compare the eBook reader screen with the screen of non-dedicated eBook readers such as an iPad or your laptop to see which you prefer, and if you’re happy to downsize your screen reading experience.
- Reflectiveness: One of the advantages of black and white eBook readers (using E-ink technology) is that they can be read in full sun without reflecting, glaring, or loss of image, unlike a laptop, color eBook, or an iPad. If you’re planning on reading outdoors a lot, keep this consideration at the forefront.
- Weight and comfort: Each person’s impression of weight and feel is rightly different but there are some things to assess:
- Does it weigh less than your usual paperback? It should.
- Is it easy to carry and hold? You don’t want something that’s bulky, awkward, or hard to hold. In particular, be sure to hold the eBook reader in the store to check its weight and to ascertain whether the weight is comfortable for you personally.
- You might spend hundreds of hours with your electronic book reader, and it is important that relationship on a physical level is comfortable. For example, one eBook reader might have buttons and screen that are easy to use for paging through content, but after five minutes you notice some eye strain. That product wouldn’t work for you because you are going to need to be able to look at it for long periods without eye strain or headaches.
- Battery life: What’s the battery life promised by the blurb? You don’t want an eBook reader that runs out after an hour of sitting on your hammock at the beach. You could have taken a paper novel along in that case! Can the battery be replaced by you or do you need to send the eReader to a technician for replacement?
- Ease of downloading: Is it easy to download eBooks? Do you have to connect to the computer or can it be done without a computer as the intermediary? This can be important when choosing an eBook reader as a gift for an older person who isn’t that keen on “fiddling” with technology.
- Share ability: The ability to transfer eBooks to another eBook reader is important, especially if you need to remove purchased books from an old eBook reader to a new one; if you can’t do this, you may lose the purchase when the eBook reader dies. Does the eBook reader allow sharing with friends or not?
- Other features: What other features does the eBook reader have? For example, does it allow you to add notes? How easy is the process? Some readers have keyboards that work well. Others are difficult to use and can distract you from your reading. How easy is it to “page back” and find something? Are there dictionaries and is it possible to upload new ones?
Read online product reviews. Although this is a time-consuming activity, it’s the most important part of choosing an expensive product, especially one liable to fast changes and updates. You want to be sure that you’re getting the best value product for its kind at the time, as well as knowing that it will do absolutely everything you want it to do. The best research will be a combination of reading both professional reviews and user-submitted content because this provides a balance of viewpoints. Where technology reviewers might be paid to focus on about certain features, the consumer points of view should help to inject some realism into the worth or otherwise of the eBook reader.
- Ask others about their eBook experiences. Friends and family members may have insights about what is important to know before buying one. For example, some readers only allow you to read down loadable books, but others provide Internet access so you can also read blogs and websites. Asking people who already have used eBook devices is faster than researching the information and most people are generally interested in ensuring you don’t encounter the same pitfalls that they did!
Be careful about the ability to find eBooks and download them to your eBook reader. While it may be tempting to purchase an eBook reader from overseas, double and triple check the compatibility for your home area. The problem may be that you cannot download books for it because you live in a different region from where you purchased the eBook reader and that would leave you with a less-than-bargain priced eBook reader! Moreover, check the method by which your eBook reader allows downloads. Some provide WiFi download compatibility and USB download, others only have USB download. What will be most convenient for you?
- Look into the breadth of options for getting eBooks that comes with your eBook reader. Some eBook readers enable free reading with a bookstore and loan of items. If that appeals to you, realize that the extent of free reads and loans might be highly dependent on the particular bookstore.
- Check your local library’s provision of eBooks. Many libraries are now adding eBooks to their lending systems. Talk to your local librarian about eBook reader compatibility issues, especially if you intend on relying a great deal on your library.
Check the eBook provider’s breadth of published content access. Some eBook readers are able to access more content than others, and the ideal is to get an eBook reader that has the largest content availability possible, to ensure that you can access eBooks that are relevant to your interests. However, the extent of access is changing rapidly and is becoming less of an issue. What is important is to check that the eBook reader that interests you can access the content that interests you. Ask the retailer for more information if your research hasn’t made this clear.
Visit the store to try the eBook reader. Once you’ve done the research, make a list of the features you want (see the suggested things to consider above) and take this list along to the store. You may need to visit a variety of stores to cover each eBook reader you’re keen to trial. Take a bit of time to play with the eBook readers and to ask the assistants questions about them. It’s important to do this manual checking because it gives you the opportunity to hold the item, page through the content, see how the screen appears to you, and to simply get a feel for each type of reader in your own hands.
- Try to read at least one chapter of a book to see how the reading feels on each reader. As you’re doing so, think about the ease of seeing the text, the ease of turning pages, the ease of finding the information, etc.
Don’t rush your decision. It’s a good idea to go home after your trialing expedition and to think through the purchase. You’ve done the research and the testing, now allow a few days for the right one to surface in your thinking. Don’t be swayed by boredom, loneliness, stress, or the urgency of trends; these gadgets are new and therefore subject to a lot of change and if you’re going to fork out a lot of money for one, it needs to be the right one for now.
- While some eBook readers might have more bells and whistles than others, if you just want the basics at this stage, a cheaper, less fancy version could be a good initial solution, allowing you to upgrade to a fancier eBook reader as new versions are released down the track. Note that in the short time since eBooks have been released, the prices have been dropping dramatically, so waiting does no harm.
- Consider purchasing a reconditioned or used eBook reader. Older models are often just as functional as those which replaced them and can be found for much lower prices.
- Be sure to check the warranty information. New products can bring unknown problems with them and it’s reassuring to know you can return it without hassle if something goes wrong, as well as finding out what happens if you lose any eBooks due to technical malfunctions.
Advancements in technology have literally put higher education at students’ fingertips in the form of distance learning. As more institutions embrace and offer online courses, the number of students tapping into the option is expanding exponentially. And while the online learning concept is straightforward enough, everything from time constraints to lack of oversight to poor motivation tend to get in the way when students sign up for self-directed, online courses.
The 2012 National Survey for Student Engagement singles out students’ time use, programs of study, and co-curricular activities as elements that hamper their ability to engage with online coursework. An absence of collaborative activities can also play a role in a student’s ability to successfully complete distance education commitments. “Online leaders were more challenged in their coursework,” the NSSE reports, “but engaged less often in active and collaborative learning activities.”
Jessica Viecelli-Stimpson, an adjunct faculty member at American International College (AIC) in Springfield, MA, said a lack of instructor guidance could make distance learning particularly difficult for college students. “Students feel a lack of guidance,” said Viecelli-Stimpson, “when there’s no face-to-face time to ask questions or stop at the instructor’s desk on the way out of the classroom.”
In many cases, that lack of guidance leads to procrastination on the student’s part and, eventually, dropped or failed courses. “They know that they can get the work done this week, but they’ll put it off until next week and wind up having to cram it all in,” said Viecelli-Stimpson. To offset that lack of face time, she said online instructors must acknowledge the problem, create timetables (and ensure that they are adhered to), and always keep the lines of communication open.
At AIC, for example, Viecelli-Stimpson and other professors check in with students at least once a week to ensure that they are on track for course completion and to address any issues or concerns that pupils may have. She also alerts students about what’s “coming up” and sends them work and materials to review. “This helps keep the pupils interested, engaged, and on track,” said Viecelli-Stimpson, “even though I’m not standing in front of them at a classroom podium.”
Tapping into Technology
Technology can be a great facilitator for instructors that want to keep their online learners on task. Viecelli-Stimpson said AIC professors use tools like Jing screencast software, Snagit screen capture tool, Audacity’s free podcasting platform, and VoiceThread’s online discussion software to augment online courses and engage students in the experience. Podcasts, for example, can be easily downloaded and then played back on a student’s MP3 player at a later date. “That results in a more universal learning experience,” said Viecelli-Stimpson, “and not just one that’s tied to a computer.”
Using screencast software, AIC’s instructors can capture a specific area of their computer screens, save it as an image, and/or create a video from the content. Viecelli-Stimpson uses Snagit to post mini-lectures on YouTube and then points her students there to watch the 5-minute snippets. To get difficult details across to her computer applications students, she’ll use PowerPoint slides or Excel spreadsheets combined with voice recordings (made by using Snagit) that help students work through lectures, key points, and test reviews.
Viecelli-Stimpson said the screencasts – which are well received by students, who often comment on them in their course evaluations – are particularly useful in helping pupils who might otherwise become confused or frustrated by the online course content. “I get a lot of positive feedback about the various features and tools that my distance learners are using,” she said, “and how well these elements help to get the points across.”