Tag: ebooks

An Unreasonable Man writes his Damn Book

The above image* was taken by Ian Usher at a co-design event just before I joined Mozilla in May 2012. It shows me in conversation with Oliver Quinlan (left) and John Bevan (right) both of whom are now at Nesta.

* Apologies for those reading this by email, you’ll need to click through!)

About Oliver’s book

Oliver’s written a book called The Thinking Teacher which I began reading this week. It’s a really clear and well thought-out approach for those who want to take a step back and think what it is that we’re actually doing when teaching others. For a limited time his book’s on special offer via Kindle for the bargain price of 99p. You should buy it.

Here’s a few things that I’ve highlighted already:

There are few other careers than teaching where everyone entering already has thirteen years of experience in the workplace.

Great observation. This is why (some) parents seem to think it’s OK to tell you how to do your job – and why edtech entrepreneurs think they know how to ‘fix education’. Of course, spending time somewhere as a ‘consumer’ is not the same as working there. It’s an imperfect analogy, but anyone who’s ever worked in a shop that they’ve also bought things from will know the difference between front and back of store.

If we are in the business of teaching and learning we have to believe that most things are learnable. All things being equal, it is possible to make significant changes in yourself and to learn. Of course, many things are situational: I am never going to be an Olympic gymnast – I am too old and my body is past it already. However, with enough time, dedication and practice I could certainly learn some gymnastic skills and improve.

I think the important insight here is that you don’t have to have the capacity to be the best in the world at something to derive use and satisfaction from getting better at it. Our world all too often tells us differently and it’s up to us as educators to push back on the holistic value of learning.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. (George Bernard Shaw)

Although I’ve heard this paraphrased before, I never knew it was a quotation from George Bernard Shaw until Oliver used it to introduce one of his sections! Such a great and widely-applicable way of looking at the world.

Great teachers are immersed in their field, not as a syllabus but as a changing, developing entity, with new areas to discover and new questions to ask.

This is one of the things I miss about teaching. My field was History, but even that was an ever-changing landscape based on discoveries (‘out there’ and my own) as well as different intepretations and ways of visualising the past. We can apply this mindset to any area, though – for example I’m trying to ask new questions about what it means to be ‘literate’ on the web.

You should definitely snap up Oliver’s book while it’s on special offer. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it! Check out his blog and Twitter account too. 🙂

About YOUR book

Great though Oliver’s book is, my main point in writing this post is to encourage you to Write Your Damn Book. That’s the name of a course I received via email over the past year from Paul Jarvis. He’s now ended it – packaging everything up and making it available as a free PDF (5.2MB)**

You should write your book this year. Seriously. People are waiting to hear your unique take on life. They want to find out more: what do you wake up every day thinking about? For those of you who blog regularly, why not select your best posts and self-publish? Curate your stuff and put it out there for people to read! Books help you reach out of your echo chamber.

You can create a book using your favourite word processing software, export it to PDF and sell it on Gumroad. Or do as I’m doing for the two books I’m writing this year and try out Leanpub as a total solution. If you want a physical copy, I’ve had success using Lulu. There’s something about having a physical copy in your hands but, either way, it’s the intentional curation that counts.

You know, I bought myself a cheap bit of wall art before Christmas. It’s ironic given the title of Oliver’s book, as it says THINK LESS. DO MORE. Some of us need to do less doing and more thinking. But for me, my motto for 2015 revolves around less thinking and more doing. What’s yours?

** If that link doesn’t work, try this one (archive.org)!

Announcing TWO new e-books: #uppingyourgame v2.0 and an Essential Elements of Digital Literacies workbook

Update: I abandoned (and refunded) those who bought these ebooks. Instead, I’ve turned #uppingyourgame v2.0 into an audiobook. Check it out here!


TL;DR: In 2015 I’m going to write #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity and The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook. You can buy each one for $0.99 + tax (~£0.79) right now and you’ll get every update to v1.0.


I’m excited to announce that I’ll be writing not one, but TWO e-books this year! Many thanks to those who took the time to respond to my call to ‘vote’ on what I should write next. Some people commented on the post, some direct messaged me, and some emailed. The outcome of all this was that, somewhat surprisingly, the Open Badges e-book I’d proposed wasn’t as popular as the other two.

It was neck-and-neck between #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity and The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook. So, instead of choosing one, I’ve decided to write both of them concurrently. I’ll spend the most time on that ebook that has the most backers. Whatever happens, I’m planning to finish both of them by the end of the year.

While I’ve been very happy with Gumroad as a platform for selling the finished version of The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, I’m going to try LeanPub for these two new ebooks. I like to write (and sell) ebooks iteratively as it allows me to get feedback from those invested in the content. For previous books following the OpenBeta process I used a manual, system I strung together myself. I’m hoping LeanPub makes this a lot more streamlined.

You can buy #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity and The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook in their current form today. That is to say, you’ll get an indicative overview of what the books will cover for the princely sum of $0.99 + tax (~£0.79). The reason you might want to buy now rather than later is that at each milestone I’ll be increasing the price of the ebooks until they’re finished. You also get to help shape the finished version by giving me feedback.

Click on the images below to be taken to the respective LeanPub landing page for each ebook! Thanks in advance for your support and interest in my work. 🙂

#uppingyourgame v2.0

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook

Image CC BY Robert Couse-Baker

My next e-book: three options for you to vote on

Thanks for the feedback! I’ve closed comments on this post now and announced the books I’m writing over here.

Update: something went horribly wrong in the process of using (the otherwise excellent) Gumroad for voting. I’ve transferred the overview of each one to this post, so please just leave a comment to indicate which e-book you’d prefer me write!


Last year I published The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. I’ve recently reduced it in line with my pricing strategy.

I want to get started writing my next e-book, and I need your help in deciding what to focus on. Here’s my thoughts:

  • The Essential Elements of Open Badges
  • The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook
  • #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity v2

Which would you choose? Add a comment below! 🙂

The Essential Elements of Open Badges

This book will cover everything from the promise of alternative credentialing to practical steps in getting started. We’ll delve into:

  • telling the difference between digital badges and open badges
  • how to create your first open badge
  • designing learning pathways
  • creating a meaningful and rigorous badge system
  • some of the technical side of things

Want me to write The Essential Elements of Open Badges? Leave a comment below!


The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies - workbook

This workbook builds on the success of The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. It will provide activities to help learners at all levels improve their skills.

Things that will be covered in the workbook will include:

  • an overview of the 8C’s of digital literacies
  • suggested activities for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners
  • teacher notes
  • a glossary of terms

Want me to write The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook? Leave a comment below!


#uppingyourgame v2

Updating the original #uppingyourgame e-book, this new version will cover everything you need to be more productive on a personal level. It will include:

  • reasons for being more productive
  • workflow creation
  • useful tools and apps
  • automating parts of your workflow
  • helping others be more productive

Want me to write #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity v2.0? Leave a comment below!


I’m really interested in writing all of these e-books, but I can’t focus on all three simultaneously! Could you help me choose? I’ll be following the same iterative OpenBeta process I’ve followed with previous ebooks.

Got other ideas? Comments? Suggestions? Leave a comment below!

Header image CC BY-NC-SA Mykl Roventine

What I got up to during #BelshawBlackOps12 (and what 2013 has in store)

TL;DR version: Best of Belshaw 2012 is now available as an ebook, I felt a little lonely working from home without interaction via social networks, and I’m trying to travel less in 2013.


The difference between working in an office or classroom versus working from home is fairly obvious. When I was in the former I had constant, relevant co-located conversations about work and related areas; in the latter the only occasional interactions I get are not work related. Of course, this is mitigated to a great degree by social networks and the calls I have as part of my working day.

What happens, though, when you consciously try to minimise your use of social networks – as I did last month? You get a bit lonely when you’re at work, that’s what. I really missed the continual partial attention and wealth of information that comes down the tubes, especially via Twitter.

Happily, though, when I wasn’t working I also wasn’t using social networks and therefore spent a lot more time being both physically and mindfully ‘present’ with my family. Which was nice. I played a lot of games, especially FIFA12 (with my son) and OLO (with anyone within my general proximity). I went down to the wonderful beach at Druridge Bay more times in December than I did in the rest of 2012, I reckon. Most of that was down to investing in Scandanavian waterproofs for the children.

I read a lot. Whilst I didn’t quite make it to 10 non-fiction books, I did manage to read seven, which isn’t too bad. I also succumbed and re-invested in the Amazon Kindle ecosystem both for myself and my wife. I feel a bit guilty given the vendor lock-in but, honestly, it makes reading on an ereader a stress-free experience. In addition to the fiction books I read or re-read (including Crime & Punishment and a Jack Reacher novel), I read the following. I’ve ordered them from best to worst:

  1. The Connected Family – Seymour Papert
  2. Society of the Spectacle – Guy Debord
  3. Reality is Broken – Jane McGonigal
  4. The Signal and the Noise – Nate Silver
  5. The Bed of Procrustes – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  6. A Whack on the Side of the Head – Roger von Oech
  7. Slow Reading – John Miedena

The book I was looking forward to reading most, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, I didn’t get a chance to read due to the Norovirus paying a visit.

What I didn’t do in December was write any more of my ebook The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. I’ll be prioritising that in the first months of this year. What was I doing instead? Putting together my Best of Belshaw 2012! You can download it for free:

So what’s in store for me in 2013? Well, hopefully a lot less travel for one thing. I followed a similar strategy in my first six months at Mozilla as I did with my first year at JISC infoNet – getting out and meeting as many people as possible. Now, though, over and above the things I’ve already committed to, some essential travelling, and the inevitable really interesting stuff, I’ll be focusing on my work around Web Literacies and Webmaker badges.

Of course, 2013 will also be the year of world domination for Open Badges. Oh, and the year of Linux on the desktop. 😉

What are you up to in 2013?

5 things I can do with my Kindle that you can’t with your dead-tree books.

1. Read things I save for later using Instapaper.

2. Sync highlights and comments to Evernote.

3. Search for a quotation or section in a book.

4. Look up a word in the built-in dictionary or a concept at Wikipedia.

5. Use the built-in 3G to navigate Google Maps via the browser.

Your anti-ebook rhetoric is like a broken record.

To be honest, I’m not particularly bothered whether you, on a personal level, decide that you don’t like ebooks and you prefer dead trees.

That’s fine.

actively prefer the former over the latter, so I do mind your Luddite-style arguments attempting to castigate others whilst appealing to some kind of external, objective value. If you’re in a position of influence within an organization, then your reactionary stance on ebooks makes you a barrier.

These are the 3 types arguments I hear most often:

1. I like sharing books

That’s great! Good for you. My liking ebooks obviously makes me A Bad Person.

2. There’s just something about…

…the smell, the cracking of the spine, etc. Erm, that’s a fetish.

3. Ebooks strain my eyes

I completely take onboard your point about reading anything of any length on a backlit screen. But that argument just doesn’t stand up with e-ink screens as featured on the Amazon Kindle.

Got a different anti-ebook argument? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

***Update*** Many thanks to ‘atw’ in the comments below who adds a fourth argument I hear often:

I like paper books because I can stick them in my purse and they never run out of batteries!

10 reasons I like reading ebooks more than paper books.

There’s 5 big reasons and 5 smaller reasons I enjoy reading books on my Amazon Kindle* than standard paper books. Blog posts like this are usually prefaced by claims by the author to have a huge paper book collection/voracious appetite for reading/capability to use big words. Assume all of the above. :-p

5 big reasons

1. I can carry hundreds – if not thousands of books around with me. Which means reference library everywhere I go, and the ability to have several books (e.g. novel/business/academic) on the go at once.

2. Finding out the meaning of an obscure word takes about two seconds.

3. I’ve got instant access to pretty much any book I want.

4. Highlighting is portable, either via the Amazon website (if one of their titles) or a text file (if one you put on the device).

5. Weight. Many of the books I read for work, pleasure and study would be fairly weighty tomes. It’s easier on my arms – and my luggage!

5 small reasons

1. It’s virtually impossible to ‘lose your place’ in an ebook.

2. No-one can see the cover of the book you’re reading (and therefore make implicit judgements)

3. You can change the font size – or even the font type in some cases. Some paper books are set in tiny, horrible fonts.

4. I love 19th-century fiction (especially Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Gogol) which means many books I want to read are completely free.

5. Speed. It’s only anecdotal, but I’m positive I can read faster on my Kindle.

Bonus 11th reason

Audiobooks. I love being able to decide to listen to a book instead of reading it when my eyes are tired from work.

* I’ve got the previous generation, but with a cool, limited-edition Moleskine cover. Awesome.

Academic reading on the Amazon Kindle

I decided last week to sell my Sony Reader PRS-600 Touch and replace it with an Amazon Kindle. Why would I do that? After all, you can do things with the Sony that you can’t with the Kindle: ‘reflow’ PDFs, write notes using a stylus, add extra memory with the minimum of fuss? I’ll perhaps compare and contrast the Sony Reader and the Kindle in more depth another time, but suffice to say that the things that the Kindle can do – namely wirelessly sync, have access to other people’s annotations, and make notes using a keyboard – slightly edge out the Sony Reader for me.

But that’s not the point of this post.
Read more →

Why I bought a Sony Reader ebook reader today.


Introduction
I learned today that the best gadget purchases are those that solve a problem. Whilst it’s wonderful to have the latest and greatest (I’ll be getting a free iPad via my attendance at the Handheld Learning Conference later this year) it’s very satisfying when something plugs a gap.

The Problem
Briefly stated:

  • I’ve got lots (probably hundreds) of journal articles to read for my Ed.D. thesis.
  • I use a computer screen for my work much more than I used to, meaning on-screen PDFs is problematic.
  • I get the train (c.30 minutes each way) and then walk to work. I don’t want to have to carry around anything heavy.

The Solution
Today I bought (or should I say my parents, who are extremely supportive of my studies, bought me) a Sony Reader PRS-600. It’s the one with the touch screen for highlighting and annotation. It’s got an e-ink screen meaning it appears like a physical book instead of a flickering screen.

What I’ve tried previously:

  • Printing out articles (cumbersome, expensive and not environmentally-friendly)
  • Dropbox iPhone app (doesn’t ‘reflow’ PDFs meaning horizontal scrolling which isn’t very user-friendly)
  • GoodReader iPhone app (iPhone screen too small for annotation)

I considered an Amazon Kindle, but after seeing and handling the Sony Reader at the JISC Conference earlier this week, I was sold on it. JISC had funded a project where the Sony Readers were used by previously technophobic academic staff to mark student essays. They loved them and if they’re good enough for that purpose, it’s good enough for me!

It’s still (very) early days. I’ll let you know how I get on! 🙂

Some considerations regarding ebook readers for academics.

CC BY edans

I’m at the stage of my thesis where I’m having to spend a lot of time reading lots of journal articles in depth. Of course, in this day-and-age, and researching a topic such as ‘digital literacy’ we’re talking PDFs sourced via Google Scholar rather than dusty tomes.

The trouble is that all this is on top of my usual screen time. I remember reading about a guy a couple of years back – I forget who it was now – who went to the opticians and was asked how much time he spent in front of screens.

Oh, about 13 hours.

Per week?

No, per day

I’m not quite up to those levels yet, but I can empathise.

Given this situation, I’m trying to make sure I don’t go blind in my old-age. I try to remember to take breaks, close my eyes for extended periods, and so on. I’m also using one of the best screens available for a laptop in my Macbook Pro. But it’s still not enough. I’m beginning to suffer from glare and I’m concerned about the strain I’m putting on my eyes.

That’s why I’ve started to look at e-readers. To clarify, an e-reader is “an electronic device that is designed primarily for the purpose of reading digital books and periodicals and uses e-ink technology to display content to readers” (Wikipedia). Screens using e-ink use virtually no power when ‘on’, drawing electricity only when ‘turning the page’ or navigating menu functions.

Not only does a TFT screen constantly refresh, but it has a lower pixel density (measured in Pixels Per Inch – or PPI) than a screen using e-ink. As this page on Wikipedia shows, the PPI of my 15.4″ Macbook Pro is 110, whereas e-ink screens are anywhere from 167 up to 200 PPI. A standard 1024×768 monitor could be as low as 75 PPI.

This is what that looks like in practice (courtesy of this blog post on The Reader):

So, given that all e-reader screens that use e-ink have spectacular PPIs the academic looking for the perfect e-reader is left with the following considerations:

  1. PDF support
  2. Large enough screen to prevent having to ‘reflow’ every article manually*
  3. Ability to annotate/make notes
  4. Portability
  5. Cost

Things I (and probably most academics) don’t care about:

  • MP3 playback
  • 3G access to app/ebook stores
  • Secondary colour screen

In the UK we don’t have the luxury of having a multitude of e-readers available to us. In fact, it pretty much comes down to a choice between ordering an Amazon Kindle from Amazon US or walking into somewhere like Waterstone’s or WH Smith and buying either a Sony Reader or an Elonex E-Reader. I did also find the iRiver Story on the Play.com and WH Smith websites. The iPad, needless to say, is a non-starter as it has a TFT screen…

But then, from left-field, comes the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO machine. It has an innovative ‘transreflective’ screen with a PPI of over 200. In colour. Whilst this E-Book Reader Matrix is useful (as is this review of the Kindle by an academic), sometimes you need to create your own checklist:

E-Reader comparison

It’s a difficult choice. I love Sony stuff, and iRiver things are usually very innovative. The Kindle’s had rave reviews. However, I’ve very kindly been offered the loan of an OLPC XO for a while. It should arrive soon. I shall post a follow-up when I’ve given it a try! 😀

* “Being able to rearrange the text is called reflowing the document and permits a PDF designed for a full sized piece of paper to be easily read on a small devices.” (wiki.mobileread.com)

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