What World of Warcraft Can Teach Yearbook Advisers and Staffs

A screenshot from World of Warcraft

A screenshot from World of Warcraft

Bringing Warcraft to the Yearbook

It is no secret to anyone who knows me—students, family, friends, colleagues—that I am an avid video-gamer.  I grew up playing them—going all the way back to Pong—and I really see no need to stop because it is no sillier or serious as walking around a field whacking a ball with a crooked stick. As an English teacher, I often spend a great deal of time talking about some of the fascinating tricks writers do with language like symbolism or analogies. In my role as a yearbook adviser I spend a great deal of time and energy looking for inspiration–both for myself and my staff members.

What does any of this have to do with anything that is even mildly important? Well, in my search for inspiration for a blog post I thought I would use my gamer background to make an allusion or analogy. That line of thinking led to the idea for this post. So, if you are already wondering what a video game can teach you about yearbook, hold on to your mouse…

5 Things Yearbook Advisers and Staffs Can Learn from World of Warcraft

  1. Know Your Role: You often hear this piece of advice given to new players in WoW. When you are part of a group you have to know what your responsibilities are and that your role can change from situation to situation. You might be the healer for a group one run and then a DPSer (damage) on the next run so you have to know how to do those different tasks. This definitely applies to the yearbook. Staff members need to know their responsibilities for a given situation and then they need to make sure they handle those responsibilities. You might be responsible for the photographs for a particular spread one week and the article for a different spread next week–know what you have to do to accomplish those different assignments. One noteworthy consequence about “Knowing Your Role” is that by knowing how to perform more roles–you become more valuable to your group. The lesson advisers can take from this is that they are the “Adviser”. That means let the students do the work as much as possible–easier said than done sometimes.
  2. Grind it Out: In Warcraft if you want to make it to the maximum level with your characters, or if you want the best gear, or if you want a lot of gold, or if you want a cool reward, you have to “Grind It Out”. You have to put in some serious time to reach some goals by doing some things over and over and over and over. There are very few things that happen on the first time attempt at anything. And you can bet that anything that will get you noticed will take some serious effort. I frequently tell my students that “cool” takes time. If you want your spread to look “cool”, it is going to take some serious time and real effort to make that happen. So, just like trying to get the 300 tokens to get some awesome mount in Warcraft–creating an award worthy spread or yearbook is going to take work where you may only see small steps forward each day, but may add up in the end to something greater.
  3. Gear Up!: In Warcraft if you want to participate in certain events or activities, you have to meet certain gear requirements. This is even scalable and more applicable when in a group situation; if you want to be of any real value to your group, you better have good gear. When you don’t have good gear–you die. A LOT. No one enjoys that. To apply this to a yearbook situation, try thinking of it in terms of what you bring to the table. What can you offer to the other staff members? What can you do that will help make things better for those around you? If you want to be the photographer for the group, it helps if you have a camera–and more importantly you know how to properly use it. If you want to design all the spreads, if helps to have creative ideas–or know places you can find some inspiration.  Most importantly, and this really is the heart of the “Gear Up!” call, you have to find ways to improve. Get better gear. Learn new skills. Master skills you already have. Just get better.
  4. Have a Plan: Going into a Warcraft Raid or boss encounter usually entails having a plan if you do not want to die repeatedly. When there is no plan bad things are guaranteed to happen. Groups get angry. Tempers flair. Nerves fray. No one has any fun. Those things happen to yearbook staffs as well when there is no plan. A strategic course of action saves a lot of grief down the road. Individuals also benefit from planning: whether it is plotting some way to get that new piece of gear for your rogue, or what you want to do with your Homecoming spread, a plan makes these tasks manageable and easier to accomplish.
  5. Don’t Freak Out: So, you ground out a bunch of repeatable quests so that you could gear up. You know your role and are in a good group that has a solid plan. You and your buddies are ready to take on some top-tier, end-game content. You are dreaming of all the great gear, titles, and rewards that await. Then, on the first attempt downing the first boss everyone dies within 30 seconds. Don’t Freak Out. No matter how good everyone’s gear, no matter how prepared they are, no matter how sound the plan, some times things go wrong. Unexpected events will happen and mess everything up. Just stay focused and take another run at it. You might have to tweak the plan. Being able to adapt and overcome the unexpected is crucial–whether it is Warcraft or yearbook.

There you have it: some lessons World of Warcraft can teach advisers and students about yearbook. I hope you were able to take away something useful from that.

And just in case you were wondering, the picture at the top of the post is an actual screenshot I took while playing. This particular shot shows a group of guild-mates  going into a raid area for the first time. As an added note I should point out that you cannot actually see my character in this shot–I know that makes you sad.

What advice would you offer to yearbook students or advisers? What games have taught you some lessons, or created some insight to other areas of your life?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Some of My Other Yearbook Posts:

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Shaking Up Student Presentations

Ipad with glare

My Ipad with some glare

Searching for an Alternative to Horrible Slideshows

Recently my colleague over at awritablelife posted about a project her students were doing. While describing the project she mentioned a specific type of presentation called PechaKucha and said that any sort of blog post about it was mine to do since I introduced it to her.  So, this is going to be that post.

A couple of years ago I came to a realization: Student presentations made me want to gouge out my eyes…or at least cry. They were all the same. When it came time for students to stand up in front of the class, the presentations seemed to boil down to putting as much information as possible on a set of slides and then reading those slides to the class. No matter how I phrased the instructions for presentation assignments, they never changed.

Such began my desire to find something different for my students to do when it came to presentations for my classes. Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long. A former student dropped by one day and was telling me about a college communications class he was taking that turned out to be very challenging. We were mainly talking about photography and how the instructor was really pushing them when it came to the images they used in Powerpoint or Keynote. When we finished talking the former student offered to lend me the book he was using for that class.

The book turned out to be Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. One possible answer to my frustration with student presentations was inside. This is where I first learned about PechaKucha and it struck me as having potential to really shake up how my students handle presentation projects.

My Typical PechaKucha Assignment

When I give this particular assignment the rules are pretty simple:

  • 2o slides
  • Each slide automatically advances after 20 seconds
  • No more than 6 words per slide
  • Must provide a handout
  • Must turn in your notes

A word of warning is probably needed here–the first time you give this to a class, the whining and complaining will be deafening. By the time they have done this 2 or 3 times the complaining will vanish and they’ll actually be pretty good at it.

The way I look at the overall assignment is that is consists of 3 components: 1) the slideshow, 2) the handout, and 3) what they say during the presentation. What I really like about this approach is that is puts the focus on #3–what they say during the presentation. And isn’t that what a really good presentation is supposed to be about? The presenter and what they have to say.

What Works With this Format

I try to explain to my students that when they are putting all of this together they really have to think about their information and the best place for it to be. We talk about how the slides are acting as visual reminders, or bookmarks, that correspond to what they are talking about at that specific time. If the student really gets it and chooses powerful, fitting images, the slides will serve as memory aids. I tell them the handout should contain information that is important–but that they knew they would not have time to cover during the actual presentation. I encourage them to create handouts they contain some reminders of key elements while pointing the way for the audience members to learn more later.

It is in that process of evaluating and ranking the various bits of information students want to bring to their presentation that the true value of this format shines. Students can’t just copy and paste text or images on a slide if they want to create a good presentation. They also quickly realize that they cannot just get up in front of the class and just wing it. They may have to actually–gasp!!–practice what they are going to say. No single student or group dominates the amount of time in front of the class. If they really want to stand out, they just can’t be in front of the class longer than anyone else–what they say. and how they say it, becomes the most important element.

While having a 1-1 Ipad program makes certain aspects of this assignment easier, the first year I did this was before our school’s Ipad program. That group of students handled things just fine with only being able to do everything at home of in the computer lab.

If I can find a way to make my students think a little more, I am always for it. So far assigning this type of presentation has done just that whether it is an individual project or a group assignment.  Plus, I no longer feel the need to hurt myself during every single student presentation.

How do your students handle presentations? What do you do differently when it comes time to use Powerpoint or Keynote?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Link of the Week: TodaysMeet

My Ipad

My Ipad

Online Discussion in the Classroom

For this week’s link of the week I thought I would suggest a site that my colleague over at AWritableLife introduced me to over the summer: TodaysMeet. After having used this a few times this year with different classes and grade levels, I can honestly say that this is a great resource for the classroom.

TodaysMeet allows the teacher to create a room for online discussions. It honestly only takes a few seconds to set up a room and get the ball rolling. When you create the room, the site gives you an address as todaysmeet.com/your_room_name that you share with your students. Once the students go to that address, they just sign in with a name and can begin contributing to the discussion. No one has to sign up for any sort of account or even give an email address. You just think of a name you want to use for the room, tell the site how long the room needs to be up, and that is that. Plus, the site will work on Ipads. If you are lucky enough to be part of a 1-1 program this is a great benefit.

If you happen to teach at a school where Twitter is blocked, like mine, then TodaysMeet is a great alternative. The comments are limited to the same number of characters as Twitter, so students get the Twitter experience with having to choose their words carefully. When I have used this in my classes, we have even used hashtags to make things easier to follow. So, if you have ever wanted to host a tweetup for a class, this is an easy way to do that if you are blocked.

My 2 Favorite Aspects

The aspect I like the most about using TodaysMeet is that I have been able to get input from students who I never hear from during a traditional class discussion. I have noticed students who I would have thought were clueless about what we were reading had some really great insights to offer. That is a priceless thing and has reminded me to not judge students so hastily. Along with this, I have gotten more discussion about texts compared to times when we discussed things outloud.

The second aspect of TodaysMeet that I really like is that once we have finished the discussion I can save the entire transcript of the meeting. I usually save it as a PDF file and email it to all the students when we are preparing for discussion or essays questions at test time. When my senior, college credit class was discussing The Crucible the transcript for that session was 40 pages long. That is a pretty hefty study resource.

I really recommend you check out the site. I know I plan on using it even more next year and will devote time this summer trying to dream up some different ways to use it.

How have you used online discussion in your classroom? If you have tried TodaysMeet, what are your thoughts about it?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Using the Ipad as a Personal Response System in the Classroom: A Look at 2 Apps

Ipad and Laptop

TechGeekTeacher's Ipad and Laptop

Putting eClicker and Socrative Through a Workout

As I have mentioned before, one of the things I immediately wanted to do in my classroom when we started our 1-1 Ipad pr0gram this past fall was find a way to have my students take quizzes and tests using their Ipads that gave them some immediate feedback and save me some time grading. While I still haven’t found that magical app that will do absolutely everything I want for absolutely free–or at least really cheap–I was presented an opportunity to take another stab at this particular wish this week.

An administrator at my school recently asked me if I was familiar with the eClicker app. I said that I had installed it back during the summer, but I hadn’t really tried to use it that much, but would be willing to give it a try because I wanted to try out another app that was similar and pretty new to the app scene.  So, I decided that I would put both Socrative and eClicker through a trial by fire in all of my English classes. My plan of attack was to administer 2 quizzes to each class where they would use each app for one of the quizzes. While the quizzes weren’t the same, they did cover the same material.

Before administering the quizzes, I decided that the most crucial criteria was stability/reliability, ease-of-use (for the students and teacher), and flexibility (in terms of options). Here is the break down of what I noticed about eClicker and Socrative before I had my students take the quizzes and then after all my classes had used them:

What eClicker and Socrative have in Common

  • Both are Personal Response Systems/Smart Clickers: Students can use them to enter responses to questions which can be projected onto a screen
  • Both Require a Student App and a Teacher App: The student app for both only allow for responses to questions. The teacher apps allow for the creation, editing, and management of quizzes. I will say that when it comes to making the actual quizzes, it is much easier to do on a laptop.
  • Both Utilize a Website: The websites for both apps store the quizzes and allow editing, creating, and managing. Both apps sync with the website so that the individual questions and question sets are consistent.
  • Neither App Requires a “Server” Type App: This is pretty straight forward; once you have the teacher app and the students have their app, you are good-to-go–no need to install a server app on a laptop to act as a go-between since both apps work on your local wi-fi network.
  • Both Allow for Categories and Tags: Being able to put quizzes into categories is pretty handy, but being able to put tags on individual questions is really helpful because you could build up a large question collection over time and use that to change things up on old quizzes or make new ones.
  • Quizzes Can be Taken Using a Browser: Both systems allow students to take any quiz using a web browser–that is nice to have if a student doesn’t have his Ipad for some reason.

Some Differences between eClicker and Socrative

  • Cost: While the student app for both is free, the eClicker teacher app costs $9.99. Socrative’s teacher app is free.
  • Types of Questions: Both apps allow multiple choice questions. Socrative offers open-ended questions and eClicker does not. eClicker can put photos and drawings into questions which Socrative doesn’t.  Socrative features a team game mode and exit ticket mode and eClicker doesn’t have either of these.
  • Quiz Reports: eClicker reports can be emailed–but they are plain text files. Socrative will email reports that are in a spreadsheet and much easier to read.
  • Running the Quiz: While both systems have a student and teacher app, Socrative will allow a quiz to be started from the website while eClicker’s quizzes have to be started from the teacher’s Ipad. This may be a factor in what I noticed about stability/reliability which id discussed below.
  • Pacing: Quizzes on Socrative can progress according to a student’s own pace or by the teacher tapping the button to go to the next question. In eClicker the quiz questions change at a predetermined interval (which can be changed). Because the quiz had to be pushed from my Ipad, everyone had to be logged in and ready to go before the quiz could begin. With Socrative students didn’t have to wait on their classmates to login before they started.
  • Stability/Reliability: This is easily the most important piece of the puzzle for me. If I am going to use any kind of system, it has to be dependable and rock-solid in terms of reliability. Socrative was clearly better in this category. eClicker was a problem in every single class because students would disconnect or the app would freeze. In one class we never got to the point where the students got to actually take the quiz with eClicker. Before everyone could get logged in and I could launch the quiz, half the class would disconnect. And when they reconnected, the other half would drop out. In the other 3 classes which actually started taking the quiz, 3 or 4 students would freeze or disconnect in the middle of the quiz. This was never a problem with Socrative. When I asked each class which app they liked better, they all chose Socrative–probably because of this one problem area.

The Bottom Line

For what I want to do in my classroom, Socrative is the clear choice at this point. While it may not have absolutely everything I wished, it does enough that I can feel comfortable using it for some of the quizzes I give. Since it is a fairly new app, I hope that a future update will introduce the ability to include images with questions. I also really like the fact that it is totally free–I hope it stays that way.

I also wish that eClicker was more reliable and that I didn’t run into so many problems with maintaining connectivity with the students’ Ipads. I really like having that picture option. But with so many students getting disconnected it presents too many headaches at this time for me to use it. I hope they fix that in the future.

What Personal Response Systems or Smart Clickers do you use in your classroom? What system would you recommend? If you have used eClicker or Socrative what has your experience been?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Link of the Week: Hack Education

Pile o' Paperclips

Pile o' Paperclips

A Blog for Teachers and Tech

I suppose I should start this week’s first post with an apology for last week. I only created one post last week because I was overcome by spring-break, the end of the grading period, and our final yearbook deadline. So please forgive my dear readers.

Since my first two post for Link of the week featured the authors Neil Gaiman and Orson Scott Card, I thought I would offer up something a little different this week. So, with that in mind, I thought I would provide a link to a blog I find very useful for information relating to technology use in education: Hack Education

Hack Education is a blog by Audrey Watters who, among other things, is a tech journalist and freelance writer. The blog provides very good insight into technology-in-the-classroom issues as well as looks at new technology that may be useful to students or teachers. I first ran across the blog because it sometimes pops up in my list of articles in Zite. After reading a couple of the articles, I bookmarked the site, subscribes to the RSS feed so that I wouldn’t miss a thing.

Hack Education also offers a weekly podcast–but at this point in time I haven’t listened to any of those because podcasts aren’t my thing usually–just to be honest.

Anyway, I enjoy the blog and hope you will as well.

 

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Classroom Technology: What the Students Say

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

An Informal Survey

In a previous post I wrote about an informal survey where I planned to ask my students their thoughts about technology in the classroom. So, I decided this post would be about the students’ responses to my question. I didn’t conduct this as a formal essay where they could score things on a Likert Scale or choose from an array of responses to a number of questions; so, there won’t be any spiffy-looking pie charts or bar diagrams. I basically just asked the students to write a journal entry in response to the following:

How would you like to use technology in your education? Think about daily tasks as well as larger projects. What other technology–software, apps, hardware, devices–is out there that could be used? What technology do we already have that may be underutilized?

I tried to keep the question as wide-open as possible just so I could see what kinds of responses the students would give. As I said in the post where I discussed my plan to do this, I was hoping for some ideas that I could immediately us–but I wasn’t expecting that. I think what the students wrote did just that; I didn’t get any ideas or suggestions that I can immediately put into action. But, I did get some that provide some food- for-thought when it comes to planning for the future.

So, here is a run-down of their summarized responses separated into some basic categories.

Devices/Hardware They Wanted to Use

  • Phones-especially iPhones: The students who mentioned using phones said they wanted to use them to access information since they already use them for that outside of school. They also mentioned that they have their phones with them at all times.
  • Kindle: A lot of the students said they wanted digital textbooks in some form or another; but only a small number mentioned using a Kindle specifically
  • Video Cameras/Digital Cameras: This was another commonly mentioned item(s) among the students.
  • Ipads: Our school already has a 1-1 program using Ipads but they all wrote about their use of them. Almost all of the students said they liked using them. They also said 1 or 2 other things about the Ipad that I will discuss later in the post.
  • Laptops: A large number of students said they would like to use laptops–especially Macbooks. Several of the students who said they like using Ipads also said they would prefer using laptops. One student said that Ipads seem more “game oriented” and laptops had more of a “work feeling.” I thought that was in interesting view.
  • Console Gaming Systems: While only a few students mentioned using specific games systems, those that did said they could be used for educational purposes. But, none of them provided any specific examples or ideas of how to do that. I tend to agree with the thought that games–and even video games–can be used for educational purposes. For instance, I can imagine an assignment that has students write about how the world presented in a game like Assassin’s Creed compares with historical information. English teachers have an advantage in areas like this–we can easily adapt just about any topic into some sort of writing assignment.

Activities Wish List

I wasn’t really certain what to call this category but the idea or items listed here have to do with what my students said they wanted to start doing, or doing more frequently with technology and their schoolwork.

  • Photo Editing: Several students wrote that they would like the ability to do photo editing tasks as part of projects–or even have classes dedicated to photography and photo editing with Photoshop or similar programs.
  • Video Conference: Some students thought it would be educational to use Skype to talk to students in other schools or countries. Some students also mentioned using Skype for sick, or absent students.
  • Videos instead of Lectures: I found it interesting that some of my students were proposing a “flipped classroom” approach without using the actual term that is so hot and trending right now in education circles. A few of the students who mentioned video said the video would let them get a lecture at their own pace.
  • More research: Some students said that they wished they had more assignments that required them to conduct research on the internet now that they had the Ipads in class.
  • eTextboks: Almost every student who gave some kind of serious answer in their response mentioned that they wanted to use digital textbooks.
  • Apps for Grades: Some students wanted apps that would let them check their grades from their Ipads. I believe this is offered by some grading systems, but the service we use at our school only offers an app for faculty to use.
  • Interactive Whiteboards: The students who mentioned Promethean Boards or Smart Boards–any kind of IWB really–said that THEY wanted to use them instead of the teachers mainly using them.
  • Assessments: Another frequent “wish” students discussed in their responses is that they wanted to use the Ipad to take more tests and quizzes. This is also something I want to do as well.
  • Social Media: One student who wrote about this summed it up by saying they should use the websites they use every day in their life outside of school. Another student suggested using Twitter to discuss different topics in English class. Other students mentioned site like Reddit and 4chan.
  • Blogs: Some students proposed using blogs to turn in their assignments instead of paper or email. They thought this would make it easier for them to keep track of  and be aware of the assignments they had completed.
  • Virtual Dissections: A few students said they would prefer to do virtual dissections as opposed to the real thing.
  • Connectivity/Collaboration: One of the things that some students felt was underutilized in terms of their Ipads at my school is the ability to connect to other Ipads in order to do some group projects.

What Students Like about the Ipad in Class

  • Allows for more ways to take notes: Some students said they took photos of notes and others recorded audio as alternatives to the traditional writing.
  • Better ways to organize all their work for different classes
  • Having everything in one place–notes, assignments, planners, presentations, their work, etc.
  • Their grades improved: While this certainly isn’t the case for every students, there were some who felt that their grades improved from using the Ipad. I will hazard a guess and say that it is due to the organizational aspect many students liked.

Some Surprises

This last list is for some of the things students said, admitted, or suggested that surprised me in one way or another.

  • Powerpoints are overdone: Some students felt these are used too often and a few even said they felt like they weren’t very good at using them when giving a presentation.
  • The Good and the Bad of Technology and the Ipad: Several students said that technology made education less boring; and just as many would often go on to write that it could also be a distraction.
  • Real World Applications: One student wrote that however we use technology in the class its use should be geared towards real world applications they will face in their future. I thought this was pretty forward-looking for a teenage student to write about.
  • Tools don’t benefit the student: Another student wrote that is didn’t really matter if they used a laptop, or Ipad, or some other gadget. What really mattered was the software, apps, and services they had access to and what they were asked to do with it that really benefited them. I was really blown away when I read that.
  • Use the Ipad for the traditional school-wide announcements: Probably the most unexpected suggestion on how to use the Ipad came from one student who said the administration should use the built-in Messages app in iOS5 to make the announcements that usually come over the PA system. I just thought this was a really good idea that I like a lot–it might be a bit tricky to pull off though.

So, those are some of the things students mentioned in response to my question about how they want to use technology in their education. It certainly isn’t the most scientific approach, but it does give me some things to think about.

What do your students think about technology in the classroom? What types of tech do they want to use? What types do they use?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Textbooks on the Ipad: McGraw Hill Physics

My iPad 2

Taking a Looking at One of the New iBooks Textbooks

A couple of weeks ago a colleague came to me and said that the administration at our school wanted us to take a look at some of the new digital textbooks offers through iBooks. I’m sure both of us would have preferred being able to play around with some really slick, cool, feature-laden digital Literature textbook. But that isn’t an option at this stage of Apple’s push into the textbook world. So, we decided to look at a couple of the science offerings. Because she also has a degree in Biology, she decided to look at McGraw Hill‘s Biology textbook. You can read her thoughts on that book at her blog awritablelife. You really should check it out; she is far more eloquent than your’s truly.

I opted to check out McGraw Hill’s Physics Principles and Problems because I was a physics major in a former life.

First Impressions

Once I had the book installed on the Ipad, it just took a few swipes and taps to learn how to navigate through this new form textbook. The first major thing I noticed is that there are some differences when looking at the book in landscape (horizontal) mode vs portrait (vertical mode). In portrait mode I would get a table-of-contents when I performed  pinching gesture on the screen. The sections within a chapter could be viewed by tapping the arrow for a drop-down menu.

Using the same pinching gesture used in landscape brings up a side-scrolling, thumbnail view of the pages for a chapter. You can also side-scroll through the chapters in this orientation and vertically scroll through a list of topics for each of the chapters as you come to it. As I played around with the book for awhile I realized that I preferred the landscape view better because there are images that only appear when the book is oriented this way. Additionally, the other graphics used throughout the book seemed more prominent and part of the text as opposed to their smaller, thumbnail versions in the margins when using the vertical orientation.

Interactive Features

Perhaps one of the biggest promises, or selling points, advocates of digital textbooks point out is that the new era of textbooks will offer features not possible with traditional print textbooks. The McGraw Hill Physics book offers lots of images that you can enlarge for a better view along with interactive images that are usually used to animate some physics principle. Some images are actually slideshows. I frequently found myself tapping on every image I ran across just to see if it did something else. Just having the possibility of something extra existing beyond the surface invited exploration and engagement. The book also has embedded videos throughout the book. Entering the term “video” into the search tool returned 25 results labeled as enrichment videos.

Another feature in the book is that each chapter has a set of built-in study cards covering essential terms. What makes this function even better is that when a student highlights text, it automatically gets saved into the study cards for that chapter. The highlighting function is very easy to use and appears to be the same as with other books in iBooks: if you tap and hold on a word, you can select some options from a menu which allows for the highlight color to be changed and/or adding a note linked to the highlighted text. If you hold on a word and just slide you finger across the words, you automatically highlight, or underline,  them with the last color used–I found this to be easier than highlighting on a Kindle.

The search function for the textbook works just like it does for any book on the major ereaders–it allows you to search the web or Wikipedia for your search term.

The interactivity of the book is also seen at the end of each chapter section where students can take a section self-check quiz consisting of 5 questions. An 8 question assessment practice can be found at the end of each chapter along with a standardized test practice. In addition to these self-grading checks, there are traditional static assessments at the end of each chapter.

Some Basic Info

While interactivity and video in a textbook are the flashy, shiny items that we look for when first navigating through a digital textbook, it is the content that is the really the heart of any textbook. The McGraw Hill Physics book does have this as well. The book is divided into 30 chapters as follows:

  • A Physics Toolkit
  • Representing Motion
  • Accelerated Motion
  • Forces in One Dimension
  • Displacement and Forces in Two Dimensions
  • Motion in Two Dimensions
  • Gravitation
  • Rotational Motion
  • Momentum and Its Conservation
  • Work, Energy, and Machines
  • Energy and Its Conservation
  • Thermal Energy
  • States of Matter
  • Vibrations and Waves
  • Sound
  • Fundamentals of Light
  • Reflections and Mirrors
  • Refraction and Lenses
  • Interference and Diffraction
  • Static Electricity
  • Electric Current
  • Series and Parallel Circuits
  • Electromagnetic Induction
  • Electromagnetism
  • Quantum Theory
  • The Atom
  • Sold-State Electronics
  • Nuclear and Particle Physics

Admittedly, it has been a long time since I have looked at a Physics book, but these topics do seem to cover the basics I would expect in a high school physics text.  Each chapter also has the lab experiments and practice problems you would find in a traditional print textbook. I wish I had access to a current print copy of the McGraw Hill Physics textbook to see if both versions were the same in terms of organization, experiments, and practice problems.

Some Cautions–and 1 Curiosity

While there are many good, or even great, aspects to the textbook, I think I should mention a few things I noticed that did give me pause (these are in no particular order):

  • It took some time to download. It took me about an hour to download; whether that was due to its large file size, or traffic, I can’t be sure.
  • The file size of the book is big. 1.22 GB to be precise. Some of the other new textbooks in iBooks are over 2.5 GB. A student with 4 or 5 textbooks in their iBooks library may find themselves running low on available space on the Ipad. I would think the file sizes will increase as publishers optimize their offerings for the higher resolution screen of the new Ipad.
  • There are typos. While I gave up hope of ever finding a completely error-free book of any type a long time ago, I thought I should point out that I did find some typos.
  • Some reviewers say they found errors in the section self-check quizzes. I didn’t notice any errors in any of the quizzes I tried, but since I did not try every single self-check quiz in the book, I thought I should mention this also.
  • Missing Video. One of the first experiments in the book gives instruction to watch a video–but there is no video provided. That seems like a pretty serious error or oversight.
  • Teacher Edition? One question that kept coming to mind as I looked through the book is “What does a teacher do about a teacher’s edition of thetextbook?” There isn’t one in the iBooks store and I haven’t been able to find an answer online so far.
  • Why is Everyone in the Videos British? This isn’t so much a caution, but a question born of curiosity. Given that McGraw Hill’s corporate headquarters and office for the education division are in New York, along with the fact that the textbook incorporates US National Standards in the book, I just found it odd that everyone in the videos were British. There isn’t really anything wrong with that, it is just something I wasn’t expecting.

Final Impressions

Overall I would have to say that I liked the textbook. The portability, ease of navigation, tools, and interactive features sold me on this 21st century textbook. Even with the cautions I mentioned above, this seems like a pretty good textbook to me–especially for a first attempt at a tablet friendly version of a textbook. I can only imagine that better versions of digital textbooks will be developed as publishers push into digital platforms. The one thing that will lead to the inevitable adoption and spread of digital textbooks will be the price. I would imagine that it would be hard for an administrator to pass up a $15 science textbook.

Yes, for schools that do not have a 1-1 iPad program getting an iPad for every student and then buying a digital textbook would be more expensive than just buying new, traditional, print textbooks. But for schools planning on starting a 1-1 program, why would they get the iPads and stick with a print version of a textbook? That would mean they are spending more money. As for schools that already have a 1-1 iPad program, it would seem pretty hard for them to pass up a digital version when it comes time to adopt new textbooks for a subject.

What are you thoughts about digital textbooks? What are your impressions of the textbooks for the iPad?

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