“Open in order to…access and read”

Social Publishers

Social Publishers offer readers an open access reading library in their pockets

Social Publishers (SP) are open access publishers. They create reading materials for neglected audiences. Rather than operate on a profit basis, social publishers are driven by a mission. They see their books as a social goods, to be directed where they are most needed.

To celebrate Open Access Week (October 23–29), I thought that I would shift my gaze from scholarly publishing (which normally gets most of the attention during this week) to social publishing.

Social publishers are different from commercial publishers in three main ways.

  • A social mission (and not profit) is the main driver behind their book production.
  • They use alternate mechanisms (networks, social media, word of mouth etc) to accomplish their mission.
  • They rely on social subsidies / donations / grants / goodwill etc to support their efforts

Books, when they become bound hard-copies, become expensive. Social publisher steer away from large print runs. they invest their efforts in digital activities (layout, design, editing etc). They place digital versions of their books for readers to download. If books are purchased, they are bought in print format, but still are more affordable than a book that was produced traditionally.

Publishers offer quality. They build their reputation on what they select and publish. Social publishers have adopted different mechanisms to ensure quality. Sometimes the book production process is crowd sourced, and professionals contribute their design, authoring, illustrating and editing skills for free. Other times, the book is editable on the platform, and corrections can be made to the digital text. Some social publishers only take popular digital texts to print.

Posting a book onto the web does not lead to reading. Social publishers invest their efforts in growing a digital footprint. Social networks are often used to draw attention to campaigns and then reading materials are linked to these campaigns. Followers within these networks tweet, like and share and thus amplify the possibility for discoverability.

Social publishers can produce reading books that are usually

  • Affordable – the average storybook in a book shop is expensive and many caregivers / parents find that children’s books are priced beyond their means. SP books are usually priced at a low cost or are free
  • Diverse – storybooks often don’t reflect the multiple cultures, different family types and range of heritages. Book shops often don’t stock such stories but SP books set out to meet the need for a disparate audience
  • Prepared to accommodate first language speakers’ needs – for profit publishers work on economies of scale and cannot accommodate all vernacular languages. SP allows is inclusive and vernacular languages and their readers are considered in the storybook production process
  • Distributed using innovative methods – getting storybooks them into the hands of readers is a logistical challenge. SP use a range of alternative channels to make stories available
  • Funded – traditional publishers are sustained when the market is profitable. Social publisher have alternate business models or funding arrangements.

South Africa has a number of social publishers like African Story Book, Bookdash, Fundza, Nal’i Bali and Vula Bula Almost all have digital editions of their books available, formatted in PDF, ePub or as a webpage. Some of these storybooks are published under a Creative Commons licences. Sometimes they also have apps available for mobile devices are associated with these projects. Caregivers can freely install these apps, download the different books and store and read them from their mobile devices.

A well rounded ed-techie

A good ed-techie must be comfortable wearing many hats. He or she sees the world through a variety of lenses. Whether the ed techie be in an administrator, support or L&D role, they have a broad understanding of the environment where they work. They can train, create and distribute “how to” recipes and explore “why do” explanations among coleagues.

An informed ed-techie must understand teaching, learning and assessment practices. He or she is comfortable interacting with subject matter experts (teachers, academics or professionals) and can guide them as they begin to apply their teaching practices to technology. They can suggest a range of different ways to enable/enhance digital learning activities and then support these activities

A knowledgeable ed-techie must be able to explain the rationale behind their work. He or she can use one or several perspectives to explain or defend their approach. They can draw on dominant paradigms, such as behaviorism, constructivism and connectivism, and use these perspectives to unpack their own and other people’s use ed tech. They are also able to identify some of the theorists behind these traditions (from Skinner to Pappert to Siemens) and have read their work.

A “well rounded” ed-techie should be fairly easy to identify. Does your local ed-techie meet the grade?

Library – Gamebox – Hub.

The library-gamebox-hub

My girls and I attended the opening of the Goethe Institut’s newly refurbished Library – Gamebox – Hub last Saturday (29 July). The space is as beautiful as it ever was with books, magazines, films, music and children’s literature in different languages. But as the name implies, the existing library has two new additions.

The first is a “Gamebox” This room allows visitors to try out the latest from the world of video games. Currently seven computer games that won a gaming prize in Germany, as well as a variety of gaming consoles, an ultra-high definition screen and Virtual Reality equipment are available. I tried the VR set and chose a shark attack experience that put me inside a shark cage with beautiful sea creatures swimming around and also a rather scary bar biting bit

The second major addition is the ‘hot desk’ hub. Situated above the issue desk and offices, on a gallery, this area has eight fully equipped workplaces for creative entrepreneurs, who are working on tech-driven creative start-ups, to work in. Until 31 August, interested individuals and collectives can apply to move into the hub for a defined period of six months. Applications for the hub can be handed in on Deadline is 31 August 2017.

My girls and I enjoyed the opening. This refurbishment is impressive. The library has been augmented.  None of the reading and information resources have been replaced. But a clever re-arrangement of structures and better use of space has introduced the new opportunities that patrons can take advantage of when visiting the Goethe library. We are looking forward to popping in again.

Our first mLiteracy Workshop

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Last week, I spent two days on the east rand, working with Ekurhuleni librarians and running a pilot workshop about mliteracy. We set out to explore the combination of free WiFi and mobile devices. We wanted librarians to become comfortable with these two technologies in a library setting. Our focus was on accessing early reading materials. We wanted to show them how digtitized and freely available story reading materials could be accessed via mobile devices.

Working alongside this group of people was very satisfying. They were very interested in using mobile devices within their libraries. Participants seemed to enjoy the experience. Comments about the workshop included “I’ve learned a lot of things I didn’t even know about”; “the Workshop was excellent”, “liked the informal and fun way the workshop was presented” and “this workshop should be done regularly to keep us updated.”

The workshop was about introducing early reading resources that social publishers are producing. We addressed the variety of issues associated with using using mobile devices in a library setting. A large part of the programme was focused on making librarians comfortable with change. While many welcome the introduction of new technologies into a library, there are some who are wary of the unintended consequences of a mobile friendly library space.

The workshop was designed to allow space for questions, opinion and doubt. Activities like “Emoji Tracker Cards” – an ongoing feedback exercise that offered participants to express their reactions,  “Hopes and Fears” – a process of articulating both positive and negative sentiments about technology and “Shades of opinions” – a set of opinions about changes in the library, allowed participants the opportunity to become comfortable with each other and the workshop programme*.

The workshop was a pilot. I’m hoping that senior management within library services will see the value in it and offer #mLiteracy learning opportunities to more librarians. If you are interested in keeping up with the project, please mail me at mlit3racy at gmail dot com, and I’ll put you on our mailing list. If you are interested in attending, please apply.


*A participants workbook will be available to all participants.

My sister-in-law and an ed tech qualification

ed tech graduate

Looking for an ed tech qualification.

My sister-in-law asked me to recommend a few post-graduate ed tech programmes. She’s in publishing, a director of a department that straddles continents, has over 20 years of solid educational experience and lives in Cape Town. Seeking to extend her education expertise in a digital direction, she asked me for advice.

Many South Africans are doing interesting things within the digital and education space. I try to keep up-to-date with their efforts via their Tweets, blog posts, Facebook entries, conference presentations and papers. I find myself inspired by their practices, thoughts and innovations. But when it comes to tertiary ed-tech courses, I hit a blank wall.

I posted a request for assistance about ed-tech options on the Learning, Facilitation & Technology Facebook page and many replied (thanks particularly to Gerrit). Much as I thought, there are local universities that offer post graduate courses options that pertain to ed tech. Here are a few of their official pages on their university websites.

On a computer education course, there must (I assume) be online learning activities that pertain to the creation, use and re-purposing of  educational resources. Or there would be students reflecting on their own teaching practices or responding to fellow students. I don’t know. I can’t really see whats going on, check out their digital activities or examine student or recent graduates work.

Many colleagues and peers are involved in these courses. But I can’t make an informed comment about the suitability of a course because they are closed.  I’m not so bold to suggest what should go into their various courses or insist on complete open education practice. But I do think that student learning will be enriched if they are encouraged to engage with other parties beyond a course and reflect in open spaces to the challenges that they have encountered. Ed tech pedagogies and practices become better when you know that others are looking. Open courses inspire, they encourage others to experiment and innovate. Open courses also allow students / graduates to be connected with established professionals and lurk/contribute towards a COP. Post graduate ed techies should be encouraged to walk their talk and adopt elements of the read/write web to “deliver” and “share” their digital education experience.

Multimedia. Cognitive tools. Online assessment. Post graduate ed tech courses offers scope for learning by doing. Creation, collaboration, reflection. It’s probably happening within some of the course modules. A computer based course makes it possible for you to show others that you can use computers and do new things (or innovate). But you do have to be brave enough to do this out in the open. Good ed tech programmes and courses need to be more open and be brave enough to accept some scrutiny.  Ideally, I would like to see students responses, reflections, demonstrations etc. appear in a domain of ones own or an eportfolio. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Lectures, create a course hashtag, open up an embedded YouTube page or encourage students to create a curated set of resources. I’m not asking for complete access all the time. But it would be nice to see a little more than I can see at present.

I emailed my sister-in-law a few local links to programmes. I also sent her a few international leads. She connected with graduates from an international course, she checked out their work, liked what she observed, saw that it could meet her needs and enrolled in a course. Without open pedagogies and open practices here in South African courses, ed techies (like myself) remain fairly clueless and unable to sign up or recommend programmes that will meet their (and their sister-in-laws) ed tech professional development needs. It’s time for ed tech courses to become a bit more open.

Shades of Opinion

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Free Wi-Fi is no longer a novelty. Across South Africa it’s becoming easier to turn off your data in restaurants, malls, banks and petrol stations. Local governments in Gauteng still remain the most generous provider.  At 300 MB of free data per day, a committed data guzzler can save 9GB worth of data bundles every month.

In libraries, the “no phone signs” are disappearing as many realize that the combination of Wi-Fi and mobile phones are attracting new patrons. Greater visitor numbers are not the only benefit. Members of library communities, equipped with their own feature or smart phone, can learn how to make productive use of information. Many librarians recognize the need to support their local communities technology aspirations. Access to data also offers a library community a new opportunity to develop digital capacity and a route to digital inclusion.

E-books on mobile devices can be positioned as a threat to reading. My perspective is that the two compliment each other. They enable a digital reading experience. Over the last year (with generous support from the Goethe Institut), I’ve been working on a programme to enable librarians become more comfortable with working in a data rich and phone friendly library. Together, we are asking how librarians and their patrons can they take advantage of a data surplus and their own mobile devices to access e-books, audio-books, newspapers, social publishing projects and other forms of digital information.

To stimulate discussion around the changing roles of librarians and to unpack how a library user feels about these changes in a library, I’ve created a collection of cards 10 called “shades of opinion”. Numbered 1 to 10, each card highlights a common opinion about change in a Gauteng library.  The cards offer a librarian the opportunity to gauge their colleagues or library patrons opinions. The “shades of opinion” cards can be used as the basis for engagement or discussion. There’s no right or wrong answer. If you want to take this conversation online, please do, The cards are also available on Instagram. I’d be interested to hear what the various responses are.

Free Wi-Fi in libraries , in conjunction with various local content initiatives, offer a librarian a golden opportunity to work in partnership with a ubiquitous tech – the mobile phone. Check out our #mliteracy hashtag. You’ll soon be hearing much more about this topic.

Book Dash Jozi

Book Dash aims to gather creative teams together to write, illustrate, edit and produce a children’s story, in 12 hours. These stories are licensed as creative commons works, which means that anyone can print and distribute these beautiful children’s books, for free. The intention is that the books get into the hands of those who need to access reading materials, but can’t afford to buy a children’s book.

What was I doing there? I can’t claim any great story-making skills, but I can do a bit of stuff with computers, so I got to be the tech director and made sure that scanners, printers, Wi-Fi, power and other technologies worked as they should of. Producing a book is not for the faint of heart. There were many exhausted illustrators at the end of the day. I think that they’ve almost recovered from this book creation sprint – or was it a marathon? Whatever! All enjoyed the day thoroughly. To let you get a sense of the event, I’ve created a Bookdash Storify as a record of the day.