Getting books into the hands of children is vital if kids are to learn to read. But there are many significant challenges facing those who wish to build a nation of story-readers and story-tellers. Five of these challenges are:
- Affordability – the average storybook in a book shop is expensive and many caregivers / parents find that children’s books are priced beyond their means.
- Diversity – storybooks often don’t reflect the multiple cultures, different family types and range of heritages.
- Home languages – when children learn to read, the should be doing so in their home languages but storybooks are not published in all the vernacular languages
- Distribution – making storybooks available, especially in remote areas, is a logistical challenge.
- Emerging writers – if we are to address some of the above challenges, then we also need to grow our own young authors..
Social Publishers are publishers who create reading materials for neglected audiences. Rather than operate on a profit basis, these publishers are driven by a mission. They see their books as a social goods, to be directed where they are most needed.
In South Africa, to make books affordable, accessible and available, social publishers like African Story Book, Bookdash, Fundza, Nal’i Bali and Vula Bula have adopted a range of innovative book production and distribution practices. 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.
The above mentioned challenges are being addressed by social publishers in different ways. Below are a few specific examples of how certain projects are working with highlighted issues.
- Fundza & the Author Challenge – Fundza are making it possible to become authors Their “Developing Young Writers” programme is intended to prompt young readers to become writers. Aspiring young voices can showcase their writing on the fundza.mobi site.
- Bookdash & the Funding Challenge – Bookdash have a different book creation model. They generate publishable story books very rapidly. They facilitate an event and challenge multiple story production teams to create a storybook in 12 hours. Groups of four creative professionals (illustrators, authors, editors and designer) voluntarily combine their skills to create a complete creative commons storybook in one day.
- Nalibali & the Distribution Challenge – Nal’ibali works to build a larger community of reading enablers across the country who are interested in storytelling, reading and writing with children. They distribute the message about reading by running high-visibility media campaigns (TV, Radio, Newspapers, Billboards), a network of reading clubs and also offer paprents and caregivers a library of multilingual stories and resources.
- African Story Books & the Diversity Challenge – African Story Books have taken an open education resources approach to book production. This alternative model involves books licenced as creative commons materials that can be re-used and remixed. Their platform has a facility for users to alter, translate or create new stories and select different images. This has meant that their books have been translated into 111 languages
- Vula Bula and the Language Challenge – Vula Bula is an African language graded reading series. Rather than translate books from English, they commission indigenous South African writers to write stories in their home language. These illustrated stories are contextualised to the young reader’s inner world and life experiences. The text within these books is based on the specific orthographical building blocks of each language.
The 6th Challenge – Obscurity
The one challenge that has not been mentioned is the inconspicuousness of these projects. Commercial publishing still holds most most of our attention, especially when it comes to storybooks. While these social publishing initiatives are as innovative as they are exciting, they need to also become sustainable. This is THE problem that requires immediate attention. If social publishing is to continue to offer new routes to entrench reading and writing habits in children’s daily lives, then broader uptake and ownership of such projects is necessary. Social publishing needs to become a mainstream player within the development of reading. Visible support, especially from those who access and use children’s books frequently, like librarians, teachers, social workers etc. Financial backing from the state, large multinational or corporates in required. Obscurity is their biggest challenge.
We toasted Eiffelcorp’s 20th birthday celebration at a function in Jo’burg a few weeks ago. I particularly enjoyed the “fire-side” chat with Andre and Gwen van der Merwe. Among ed techies like myself, Eiffelcorp is best known as the company behind Blackboard. I learned a bit more about the history of Eiffelcorp and its origins.
This “mom and pop” start-up was founded by two aspiring teachers. Gwen finished her teaching degree, Andre dropped out to start the business. He flew to Canada, connected with Murray Goldberg, an academic from the University of British Columbia who developed WebCT (Course Tools). They brought WebCT back to local universities like Wits, Pretoria and Free State. Later on Blackboard acquired WebCT. Eiffelcorp and Blackboard became synonymous, at least among ed techies.
By today’s standards, WebCT is clunky and unintuitive. Many LMS packages suffer from this malady. What Andre and Gwen “got” was that they were not only a software company, selling a platform. They recognized the need to create an ongoing partnership with their clients and provide a host of strategic and support services associated with the use of technology in an educational setting. Gwen did training and Andre support, many times over weekends and late at night. Their up-front sales and behind the scenes efforts added value and kept the business growing.
I prefer open systems to proprietary ones. I think that the costs associated with Blackboard are extremely high. The platform does have a tendency to wag the pedagogical dog. However, I also recognize that Andre & Gwen’s company (now with a staff of approximately 40), preceded “disruption” and the “future of learning” hype from Silicon Valley. They built up a loyal base of academic users who are typically very critical and often reluctant to expend effort in teaching,
This fact deserves celebration. Well done to Andre and Gwen. In the next decade, Eiffelcorp must contribute to the development of a community of African elearning practitioners. People, like Andre and Gwen, who were not only interested in sales but who are teachers, intent on the thoughtful and appropriate use of technologies in learning. In the next ten years, if Eiffelcorp can support a community of practice of “ed techies”, who want to enable learning via technology, then I’ll be very pleased to raise a 30 year celebratory toast.
[Disclosure: I am occasionally contracted by Eiffelcorp to assist with staff development and training.]
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 (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.
Social publishers are different from academic publishers in three main ways.
- A social mission (and not the academic project) is the main driver behind their book production.
- Instead of being found in academic spaces, they are at home in online networks, social media, word of mouth etc.
- They are not subsidized by subscriptions or academia but rely on social subsidies / donations / grants / goodwill etc to support their efforts
Story books, when bound as hard-copies, become expensive because of the volume of books required to make the printing cost effective. Social publishers steer away from large print runs. They place digital versions of their books on servers for readers to download. They are a “non rivalrous” good that can be copied endlessly without significant cost. Some might even claim that these books could be a part of the new economy.
If social publishing books are purchased, they are bought in a print format. If you see them on the shelves, they are more affordable than a book that was produced traditionally because the cost that usually go along with print based publishing have already been covered.
Traditionally, commercial publishers offer a quality reading experience. 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. 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. Neglected audiences depend on reading enablers in their communities who can show others how to access these stories and then prompt and promote reading. As we celebrate open access week, and the traditional focus on academic publishing, it might be appropriate to broaden the focus of our openness a bit wider and consider broader access issues.
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?
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.
Disclosure: I work in conjunction with the Goethe-Institut as a consultant.
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 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.
- Pretoria offers a B Ed, Masters and PhD in Computer Integrated Education
- The Indipendent Institute of Education offers a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education
- UCT offers a Pg Dip in Educational Technology and Masters’ in Education in Educational Technology
- Wits offers a PhD and MEd in the field of Educational Technology and a BEd Hons in the field of e-Learning
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.