Capricious Actions That Cross the Line

From Publishing Perspectives:

[A] digital annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) “would hardly be a meeting of publishers,” said AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante, “if we didn’t address the First Amendment.

“As we all know, across the country, thousands of books are being questioned with a scrutiny that’s newly chilling,” she said, “from novels to math books. This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do. But that roll has constitutional limits. It does not extend to capricious actions that cross the line and amount to censorship. In fact, the line is important.”

Indeed it is. And the association shines most brightly when it operates with such outspoken clarity in public policy and political channels to protect and promote the place of the book industry and its freedom to publish.

“And so last month, in Missouri,” Pallante said, “we were proud to join with the booksellers, Authors Guild, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to file a brief in support of the NAACP—a case involving the removal of books from school libraries, including award-winning books addressing race and sexuality, such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

“In our filing, we highlighted the constitutional rights of minors to receive intellectual information as well as the deep flaws in the school district’s assertion that the banned books were obscene and therefore removable.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that Ms. Pallante needs a bit more understanding about public education and the constitution.

“This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do.”

To PG’s sensitive ears, this statement sounds amazingly condescending. Public education is, by and large, funded by state and local taxes. To the best of PG’s knowledge, public school boards are elected in local elections by “parents and communities.”

Generally speaking, the public schools where most students are educated are determined by what geographical school district where the students reside. PG is aware that at least some states allow students in one school district to attend schools in a different district, usually, one adjoining the district where they reside. PG is not familiar with the state of vouchers across the United States but believes vouchers aren’t available to the large majority of children in public schools.

PG was raised in rural, sometimes very rural areas where getting to public school involved a school bus ride that lasted 20-30 minutes or more in some cases. Attending a more distant school would have required his parents to transport him there because public transportation was not available in any form. The only practical choice for his education was the local public school so even if “school choice” had existed, it would not have been practically exercisable.

Many states provide “educational vouchers” that allow families to fund attendance at private schools. Typically, private schools that accept vouchers (PG doesn’t think all do) receive an amount per student that is roughly equivalent to the money a public school would receive from local and state funds for a student’s education for a year.

Ultimately, educators receiving state and local funds for their salaries select textbooks for children to read in class, spending state and local funds to purchase those books. School principals and district superintendents are also paid from those funds.

PG suggests that parents have a right to pressure public school officials if they believe their tax money is being used to provide access to books they reasonably believe will cause harm to their children. When a large group of parents supports such objections, public school officials should realize that their concerns should be carefully considered and, in virtually every circumstance, be reflected in the school’s libraries and textbooks.

The Association of American Publishers is located in Washington, DC. Virtually all major trade publishers are located in New York City. PG suggests that these two cities, their inhabitants, and their values, priorities, and interests are quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

As PG has written previously, publishers of all sorts are controlled and managed by a group of people who are quite homogenous in their values and experiences and are atypical of American families with children who attend public school. These people ultimately control the content of traditionally-published books, school books, and a wide range of other media. He suggests that their values are also quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

If you would like to read the American Association of Publishers’ brief filed with the Federal District Court, it should be embedded below.

The Power, and Freedom, to Publish and Curate

From Publishers Weekly:

I have seen the word curated used more and more on bookstores’ websites. As a verb, it indicates that something has been thoughtfully chosen and organized. Does that mean if bookstore buyers disagree with what is published in a book, they should not carry it? Is that not a violation of their customers’ right to choose which books they buy on their own? Shouldn’t the titles they carry on their shelves provide as many different points of views as possible, no matter what the subject?

Let’s consider the following. Has there ever been a time when any independent bookstore or chain did not select the books it wanted to carry? Are we as publishers required to publish every manuscript submitted to us? Are bookstores required to stock every book available? Furthermore, has there ever been a period when a commercial publisher didn’t curate the titles that it was going to publish? The answer is no. The freedom to select books that one either agrees with or not has always been the right of every bookstore and publishing entrepreneur.

At Square One, we publish a number of health books. These titles normally balance traditional medicine with complementary self-care approaches. We believe that people should take some responsibility for their own health. We know that not every bookstore and library is going to buy all of our health titles because of our approach, but what we publish is our choice, just as it is our buyers’ choice to order these titles or to pass on them.

The argument becomes louder and much more confrontational when the questions focus on titles dealing with politics, sexual orientation, religion, and race—but our philosophy remains the same. As publishers, we select the books we want to make available. Does this mean we are somehow violating the First Amendment by virtue of our business practices? Absolutely not.

The industry finally has a growing and more diverse group of publishers and bookstores willing to provide any controversial title to their own markets. We all have the right to select, or curate. Our ability to freely select the books we wish to publish, or as bookstores to carry, is not likely to change—or is it? Decades of efforts by publishers. booksellers, and others has expanded the protections provided by the First Amendment, but now it seems that the concept of book selection may be going in a different, yet all-too-familiar direction with state governments’ eagerness to ban books in schools.

For years, publishers have gone to court to overturn the censorship laws that had existed since the 19th century. Starting in the 1920s, our industry watched as James Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness masterpiece Ulysses was deemed obscene by a court. In the mid-1950s, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was initially rejected by scores of American publishers because of concerns about its content, and other so-called obscene works like D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer were eventually published in the U.S. despite serious opposition. In other words, generations of publishers fought for and won our right to be treated like grown-ups and allowed to make decisions about our reading tastes for ourselves.

Today, state governments are once again banning books and even certain words in schools and libraries. These actions prevent readers from making their own choices. There are no alternative school libraries for students to visit. Instead, there is a list of titles assembled by special interests and politicians to be banned from schools. For those teachers and school librarians who do not follow these laws, there is a fine and possible loss of employment. This is the real threat to the First Amendment, not accusing private businesses of selecting one book over another.

If publishers and bookstores keep making the wrong choices in the titles they select, they lose money and possibly their business. That is their right—just as it is to be profitable when making the right choices. What these state governments are doing is taking away our rights under the convenient camouflage of “protecting our children.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that one person’s curation can be another person’s banning. Public schools are ultimately responsible to the public and the government officials the public elects.

Choosing books for school curricula always entails selecting a small number of books and excluding a larger number. When politics, left, right and/or center, enters the choosing, there is likely to be conflict.

Over his lifetime, PG has seen a substantial expansion of the number of questions and issues about which vocal minorities and majorities disagree with other minorities and majorities.

“Everything is political,” is not, in PG’s humble opinion, a recipe for comity and compromise. Sometimes a book is just a book, not a life or death choice between opposing social, political, religious, etc., values. Children have been ignoring things their teachers tell them or that they read in school books for decades, if not centuries.

Two years ago schools shut down around the world. These are the biggest impacts

From National Public Radio:

Two years ago this month, schools closed their doors in 185 countries. According to UNESCO, roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren worldwide were out of school. It would soon be the biggest, longest interruption in schooling since formal education became the norm in wealthier countries in the late 19th century.

At the time, I spoke with several experts in the field of research known as “education in emergencies.” They gave their predictions for the long-term implications of school closures in the United States based on the research on previous school interruptions caused by war, refugee crises, natural disasters and previous epidemics.

Two years on, schools are open and masks are coming off in most places, restoring a feeling of normalcy.

So, how have these predictions played out? Let’s take a look.

Prediction: Student learning will suffer. Vulnerable and marginalized students will be most affected.

Verdict: TRUE

In the United States, compared with wealthy countries in Western Europe and East Asia, schools were typically closed longer. A majority of Black, Hispanic and Asian students stayed remote through early 2021. In the fall of 2020, enrollment dropped, driven by families who sat out pre-K and kindergarten.

All the data we have to date shows students falling behind where they would have been without the interruption. As predicted, these gaps are consistently bigger for low-income, Black and Latino children. This study from November found these gaps were bigger at schools that had less in-person learning in the 2020-2021 school year.

Some of the latest research focuses on students learning to read. One recent study in Virginia found early reading skills at a 20-year low this past fall.

In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, schools were closed for a few months, and student learning recovered to its previous trajectory after two full school years – and then improved from there. Post-COVID recovery could take even longer.

Prediction: A spike in the high school dropout rate and a fall in college enrollment.

Verdict: MOSTLY TRUE

For the class of 2020, districts relaxed graduation requirements, and students graduated in similar or even improved numbers compared with previous years. For 2021, it was a different story. Data is incomplete, but Chalkbeat reported recently that high school graduation rates were trending down in most states for which they had data. And district superintendents have told NPR they are missing older students who have traded schooling for paid work.

Federal data, meanwhile, show college enrollment is down more than 1 million students over the past two years. This is an international phenomenon that could reduce earnings around the world by a total of $17 trillion if not addressed, the UN predicts.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

The COVID shutdowns were, among many other things, a huge sociology and psychology experiment for the world. Different nations responded in different ways, but most acted quickly and for most people, a lack of normalcy continued over an extended period of time.

PG suggests that the consequences/results of the COVID period will continue to be analyzed for quite a number of years into the future.

PG remembers reading about/talking about other similar shared shocks in somewhat recent history.

  1. Everyone in the United States who alive and cognizant of world affairs remembered where they were and what they were doing when they learned that the Japanese had attacked Peral Harbor.
  2. Everyone in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) (alive and cognizant) remembers where they were when they learned that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
  3. Everyone in a much more media connected world remembers where they were when they heard that the World Trade Center in New York City was destroyed by hijacked airliners and recalls the experience of watching replays of that event over and over again on television.

These were shared events that shocked nearly everyone, traumatized more than a few and left lasting memories and, for more than a few, consequences thereafter.

Each event was different in significant ways, but the communal disruption and group emotional impact had some similar emotional impacts, short-term and long-term and certainly resulted in a more consequential communal impact than other memories during the relevant time period. PG suggests that COVID will be another such disruptive and traumatizing event, different in some ways from earlier events/periods, but similar in others.

Psychiatrists and psychologists will be picking up the pieces for a long period of time. Millions of news stories and think-pieces and masters/doctoral theses will result. Urban legends will proliferate.

Will Paper Books Be Replaced by E-books Soon? This Will Surprise You

From LifeHack:

E-books were supposed to be preferred over textbooks by now. For a variety of reasons; however, printed versions of books still prevail. For decades, researchers have been focusing their studies on how people utilize, comprehend, and process digital and paper reading material.

In recent years, researchers continued their investigation of the effectiveness and efficiency of paper text compared to digital text (such as e-books, tablets, personal computers, and laptops).  Some of their conclusions are surprising.

From Hieroglyphics to E-Books

Our brains were not designed for reading. Human beings don’t have pre-programmed genes for reading, like there are for vision and language.

Thanks to Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Phoenician alphabet, Chinese paper, and the Gutenberg press we’ve adapted and created new circuits in our brains in order to understand texts and letters.

Prior to the emergence of the Internet, our brains read predominately in linear ways, reading one page at a time before moving on to the next page. Distractions were minimal.

When we read text using e-book devices, tablets, laptops or desktop computers we must juggle multiple distractions (hypertext, e-mails, videos, and pop-up advertisements). In addition, a simple movement like swiping a finger on the screen or readjusting the mouse leads to moving our attention away from what’s being read. These interruptions may seem minor, but they nonetheless adversely affect our comprehension, reading speed, and accuracy.

Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor who studies reading, had the following comment to say to the WASHINGTON POST:

“We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scrolling, and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you. We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.”

Some of the consequences consist of how e-books, computers, and tablets reduce our reading speed and comprehension. Researchers found people comprehend the material they read on paper better than they do on e-books.

The need to comprehend is very important; especially, regarding work and school. Even though today’s children and college students are computer savvy, the majority of them prefer printed versions of text over e-books.

Moreover, Cornell University researchers found that both users and non-users of e-books generally preferred using printed versions of textbooks, since they plan to use them continuously.

Variations in How We Read

There are several different variations to reading. For instance, there are no measurable differences between e-books and paper text when it comes to reading short passages. However, studies show students remember more when reading from paper rather than a screen.

Anne Mangen, literacy professor at Norway’s University of Stavenger, explained more about reading to WIRED:

“Reading is human-technology interaction. Perhaps the tactility and physical permanence of paper yields a different cognitive and emotional experience; reading that can’t be done in snippets, scanning here and there, but requires sustained attention.”

For example, it seems that feeling pages and smelling the book awakens something in the human subconscious. Marilyn Jager-Adams, literacy expert and cognitive psychologist at Brown University, offers this explanation:

“All those cues like what the page looks like, what the book felt like, all those little pieces help you put together the whole thing. And they are just impoverished on a Kindle or tablet.”

E-books do not allow the readers a variety of annotations (like scribbling in the margins, dog-earing, and underlining), which for many people is essential to deep reading. There’s nothing tangible to engage our other senses.

Link to the rest at LifeHack

As PG mentioned before, he has gone almost entirely ebook in his personal reading, definitely for fiction and almost always for non-fiction.

One thing he’ll note is that PG always does his long-form ebook reading on a Kindle Paperwhite. He started that seven or eight years ago because he didn’t want the interruptions that come with a standard tablet. Nothing ever pops up on his Kindle other than the next page when he taps the screen with his thumb.

One part of the OP that was relevant to PG was the comment that for books PG expects to fill with sticky notes or underlines, he does tend to purchase pbooks. However, when someone does a decent job of integrating a rich slate of annotation tools for ebooks, he’ll move away from those types of physical books as well.

Academic journal fingerprints PDFs to prevent free use of its materials

From Document Journal:

In public libraries, information is truly free. And private. In many ways, libraries are the forefathers of privacy, and perhaps the greatest remaining champions of it. The books you check out are exclusively your business unless you choose to post a picture of the final pages of Infinite Jest to prove you actually did read it, recommend the latest Sally Rooney to your book club for single women, or accessorize with a vintage copy of Dune as a mark that your sci-fi interests expand beyond the screen. Librarians live under the same code of confidentiality as doctors and lawyers: if you check out a self-help tape on how to jumpstart your love life, that’s between you and the guy behind the counter (who will pass it over without judgement). But in an age where information is largely digital, free public library cards are replaced by tempting academic studies with paywalls and hyperlinked research to even more paywalls.

It seems that digitally-hosted information not only often comes with a price, but also compromises privacy for those who choose to pay said price. After being exposed on Twitter by an independent researcher, Elsevier, one of the world’s largest publishers of academic papers, admitted to adding a unique fingerprint to every PDF its users downloaded. Elsevier told Vice, “The identifier in the PDF helps to prevent cybersecurity risks to our systems and to those of our customers—there is no metadata, PII [Personal Identifying Information], or personal data captured by these. Fingerprinting in PDFs allows us to identify potential sources of threats so we can inform our customers for them to act upon. This approach is commonly used across the academic publishing industry.”

Elsevier’s history of legal pursuit against those who pirate and share paywalled articles suggests that this outward commitment to the cybersecurity of their users may actually be a mask for surveillance. Perhaps instead of pursuing gross legal fees to sue those trying to equalize access to primary sources (which has led to universities boycotting Elsevier, who then loses even more money), the publisher would be better off fundraising to subsidize subscriber fees or developing a free-access program for low income users.

The information we consume now is largely filtered through media conglomerates and so-called expert commentators. When a news giant shares what might be fake news that references a paywalled source, a reader with access to the hyperlinked study is able to form their own take on it. If that access is restricted, they put their faith in the giant. I can say with fair certainty that people are more likely to fact-check their news sources if they don’t have to pay to fact-check them. Secondhand accounts can be useful in breaking down academic jargon and giving the busy reader a highlight reel, but equalizing access to information produces stronger bases for debate and dilutes the power of algorithmically powerful secondary sources.

It seems almost nonsensical that much paywalled content is produced by universities who then pay to get that paywall down for students whose tuition then goes up for such subscriptions. (Yes, this is a gross oversimplification of what is happening, but you get what I mean.) How can we keep complaining about the complete idiocy of our country when there are obvious solutions? Free community college! Free trade schools! Add financial literacy and how to navigate government resources to high school curriculums! At the very least, make information free and accessible.

Link to the rest at Document Journal

PG spent almost three unhappy years working at a large subsidiary of Elsevier catering to lawyers a long time ago.

It was truly amazing to observe the possessive attitude the company had toward documents it had not authored and, in many cases, documents that, as a matter of public policy, should have been widely distributed at no charge in PG’s irrefutably humble opinion because they were created by employees of state and federal governments.

PG’s employer during those ancient times earned a substantial amount of money for providing these documents to lawyers via one or more computer networks.

PG suggests that colleges and universities should provide substantial incentives for their employees to publish in journals that don’t live behind a paywall.

Given that the overwhelming majority of articles that appear in academic journals are written by employees of public universities or tax-exempt private universities and colleges and that the expert editorial review of these articles prior to publication is virtually always provided by other employees of the same sorts of people, it’s grossly unfair for those same educational institutions to pay exorbitant fees to access those journals.

This is one of those sort of traditional practices that “works” but which is seriously harmed by the nature and greed of the very profitable companies who have managed to set themselves up as gate-keepers for knowledge created by others who don’t require any compensation for the use of their creations.

PG hasn’t seen a publishing agreement from an academic publisher of this type for a very long time. If any of the visitors to TPV have a copy of a recent academic publishing contract, PG would love to see it. Feel free to black out your name and identifying information before sending it or PG will do it for you after he receives it.

Paper beats pixels on most picture books, research finds

From The Hechinger Report:

Digital picture books have been a godsend during the pandemic. With libraries shuttered and bookstores a nonessential trip, many parents have downloaded book after book on tablets and smartphones to keep their little ones reading. The technology allowed my daughter to read the Berenstain Bears, a classic picture book series, to a younger cousin over Zoom when a family trip was canceled. Despite my wistful sentiments for paper and colored ink, I marveled at the bond that could be sustained over screens and pixels. 

But when the pandemic is over, many parents will face a dilemma. Should they revert back to print or stick with e-books? Do kids absorb and learn to read more from one format versus the other?

A new analysis of all the research on digital picture books, published in March 2021, helps to answer this question. The answer isn’t clear cut: paper generally has an edge over digital but there are exceptions. Digital books can be a better option with nonfiction texts and for building vocabulary. Some digital storybooks were better; researchers found that certain types of story-related extras seemed to boost a child’s comprehension but they were rare. 

In large part, the research on digital picture books for children echoes what we’ve seen in studies of e-books for adults. Reading comprehension is superior on paper but the benefit of paper appears to be stronger for adults and smaller for children. Scholars think the reasons behind the brain’s preference for paper may be different for the two groups. In the case of adults, it may be a lack of effort that we’re putting into reading on screens. In the case of children, it may be that many of the bells and whistles that are commonly added to digital picture books — buttons to click on, pop ups, games and sounds — are distracting.

Digital picture books have been around since the 1980s but there’s surprisingly little research that directly compares how much young children absorb in digital and in print and measures learning in a reliable way.

. . . .

Children up to age eight were included in the studies. Some were old enough to read independently but listened to an audio narration of a digital book with headphones. In a study of the youngest children, under two years old, parents held their children in their laps for both formats. In the digital version, a recorded voice read a book about animals aloud as a parent tapped the screen to turn the digital pages. In the print format, the child heard her own parent’s voice reading the names of the animals that were pictured on the pages, such as a horse or a koala.

By chance, this toddler study showed stronger learning outcomes for the digital picture book. Gabrielle Strouse, an educational psychologist at the University of South Dakota who ran this experiment, told me many of the children in her study had never seen a digital book and the novelty of it may have been mesmerizing, causing the children to pay more attention.

In most of the other studies, children were able to navigate the digital books themselves. Sometimes the digital texts were static just like the printed page. Other times, the text moved or changed to a bold font as the child heard the words.

Children were attracted to the many types of interactive buttons, pop ups and games that are embedded in digital books. A tap in the right place might play a noise. Children could seek treasures hidden on the screen. A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood might ask the child to color the character in with a virtual paintbrush or drag the character to perform an action. “It’s fun and enjoyable but it has nothing to do with the story,” said Natalia Kucirkova, a professor of early childhood development at the University of Stavanger in Norway.

Kucirkova, one of the authors of the March 2021 picture book meta-analysis, explained that her team wanted to learn which digital enhancements were working and which weren’t. They categorized all the add-ons as either story related or not story related. They found that the more unrelated bells and whistles, the worse a child’s comprehension was after reading the digital version of the story, compared to the print version.

Kucirkova believes that many digital books are overstimulating children and the unrelated add-ons are overtaxing a child’s “cognitive load.”

“With digital books, children get a lot of stimulation from the different senses,” Kucirkova explained, as they take in letters and pictures with their eyes, sounds with their ears and tap the screen with their fingers. “The amount of information that an individual needs to process is bigger if you have a lot of stimulation. The feedback they get from the digital device overwhelms children.”

By contrast, the researchers found that story-related enhancements reinforced the narrative and improved comprehension. Repetition of new vocabulary words that were central to the story helped. One book prompted children to use the story characters in the digital book to build their own story. “Those creativity games are very conducive to story recall,” said Kucirkova.

Another digital book asked the child to share the story with someone else. Other effective digital prompts were directed at a parent, telling her or him what to point out or ask while reading a digital book with a child. In a book about a little frog, a parent could point and ask a question, “Could the frog be here?” simultaneously connecting with the child and the story line. In other words, actively reading a digital version of a picture book with your child is good for comprehension.

“Even small digital enhancements actually make a lot of difference both ways, they can work well, or they can distract the child,” said Kucirkova.

. . . .

Indeed, when the authors looked at the books in the 39 studies by genre, the digital version was generally better for nonfiction, where there often isn’t a narrative story line to follow. Fiction, by contrast, was generally better on paper.  

I talked with Virginia Clinton-Lisell, a reading specialist at the University of North Dakota who has studied digital books. She pointed out that the slight harm to reading comprehension may be worth it if the digital books are so engaging that your child reads more books. None of these 39 studies looked at whether children read more when they had access to digital books. 

“A parent shouldn’t be overly concerned about a small difference in comprehension for a particular book,” said Clinton-Lisell. “Bottom line, if it’s a digital book that gets your kid to read, that’s great.”

Link to the rest at The Hechinger Report

PG notes that the title of the OP doesn’t take some of the material in the OP into consideration.

Additionally, he will note that the technology and design of modern printed books has been honed and improved for hundreds of years, generally speaking to maximize commercial success (which is not a bad thing at all). Most children’s ebooks with which PG is familiar are adapted from printed books as opposed to being born digital.

The iPad was introduced 11 years ago. The first Kindle was introduced 14 years ago. If you were to pick up the latest iPad or the latest Kindle and compare it to the first version, PG suggests that the first version would seem very outdated. Screen technology, interface design, size and weight have all evolved at a very rapid pace. That evolution is far from over.

As the OP implies, publishers of ebooks for children are all over the place with the technology they build into their content. PG would remind one and all that the trade publishers of books for children are, by and large, owned by the same people who own and run trade publishers focused on adults. Scholastic is the exception with both trade titles (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Goosebumps, Magic School Bus) and titles marketed through school book clubs, book fairs, etc.

PG can’t speak to Scholastic (also headquartered in New York City), but the other big trade publishers are not noted for their technology accomplishments and willingness to pay the salaries necessary to hire really good tech types.

PG’s bottom line on ebooks v. print for children is that the ebooks, including both the content and the device components, are a long way from reaching their full potential. He has nothing against printed books for either children or adults (and still owns a lot of printed books for children and adults, some of which are regularly used by various offspring), but he wouldn’t bet against ebooks for children over the long run.

This College Degree Is Brought To You By Amazon

From The Wall Street Journal:

Oakland University didn’t top Matthew Henry’s list when he started hunting for colleges in Michigan to attend. But one visit to the spacious campus, situated on a serene 1,400-acre estate donated by the heiress to the Dodge auto-making fortune, sold him on the school.

Four years after making that decision, the 21-year-old senior is capping an education made possible, in significant part, by a corporate behemoth from another part of the world. German industrial giant Siemens AG provided software, instruction, curriculum, technical support and sophisticated gadgetry to make Mr. Henry and his fellow Industrial and Systems Engineering classmates fluent in some of the most used tools in the profession they aim to pursue.

“Siemens has no doubt played a bigger role than I gave much thought to before starting,” Mr. Henry says. He came to find out that his chosen focus would require learning what is equivalent to a software language. Siemens’ “Tecnomatix” digital manufacturing programs are a fixture in Oakland’s department.

Robert Van Til, director of Oakland’s Industrial and Systems Engineering program, says experiences like Mr. Henry’s are a meaningful template for future students of design, engineering and other sciences. While companies have long provided grants, engaged in joint research, funded scholarships, and offered internships or apprenticeships, an era of close-knit working relationships between companies and undergraduates in classrooms at four-year universities is now getting under way.

. . . .

Tim Sands, the president of Virginia Tech, says that student experience with real-world corporate problems will become table stakes in the job market in years to come. Students “really need to be embedded within an employer that has real-life problems, and to look at how they solve those problems,” he says.

Mr. Sands has welcomed several corporate partners to Virginia Tech’s campus in Blacksburg, including Qualcomm Inc., Caterpillar Inc. and General Electric Co. New initiatives require students to spend extensive time working on the actual riddles companies are trying to solve to get a degree.

Partnerships like this remain somewhat rare, Mr. Van Til says, but they are a hot subject at education conferences. “There’s a real push to get academic programs to actually take the tools like these and integrate them.”

Elizabeth Popp Berman, a University of Michigan professor of organizational studies and author of “Creating the Market University,” says there have long been critics of corporate meddling in four-year universities. Often, funding from companies for research or other academic pursuits comes with strings attached, she says.

Corporate involvement in curriculum may also narrow the skills that students pursue, ignoring information or career pathways that may not apply to a company’s business.

But colleges are more open to corporate partnerships as budgets are squeezed and student debt loads rise, Ms. Berman says. “The tighter the budget the institution has, the more open they are going to be,” she says. “It’s hard to reject this support outright because of the position the students are in.” Companies also offer deep-pocketed support for a “practical applied model” that doesn’t break the bank, she says.

The Siemens partnership, partially funded by the company, has been on Oakland’s campus for a decade and serves hundreds of students. They have used the partnership to complete projects at hospitals, banks and aerospace companies. To set up a facility like the Siemens lab where Mr. Henry studies would cost a university hundreds of thousands of dollars, not including steep licensing fees for software and tech support.

“We’re not asking them to create a factory or our employees for the future,” says Barbara Humpton, the CEO of Siemens’ U.S. operations. Siemens isn’t necessarily hiring all the students who use its tools in class, she says, but it expects those students could work for Siemens customers or suppliers.

Caterpillar, International Business Machines Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. have implemented similar efforts. A company’s branding on curriculum and classroom instruction is often unmistakable.

Students at Cal Poly University’s Digital Transformation Hub walk through a door proclaiming the department is “powered by AWS,” short for the Amazon Web Services cloud-computing product. Here, students participate in the AWS Cloud Innovation Center, about a dozen of which are embedded at schools around the country.

Instead of being a classic sponsorship, like an advertising deal at the university’s football stadium, programs like the Cloud Innovation Center are staffed by Amazon employees, bringing Amazon business principles into formal education. In this case, students interested in solving public-sector problems learn how to think like an Amazon employee; the company’s leadership principles, such as “customer obsession,” are taught in college workshops.

Paul Jurasin, director of the Hub, says the partnership is designed “to provide our students with learn-by-doing activities.” Amazon funds the operation but knows that most who go through it will use Amazon Web Services as clients or in outside organizations instead of as Amazon employees, a spokeswoman says.

. . . .

A task force assembled by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities found in 2017 that such relationships are becoming more attractive as institutions look “to attract the resources, relationships and recognition necessary for these institutions to be competitive in an environment marked by declining state funding and continued questions on the value proposition of public higher education.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Nothing exactly to do with books, but PG thinks these sort of educational activities would have been much less boring than most of his college classes were.

In Praise of Textbooks

From Slate:

When schools closed this spring, many parents, including me, felt overwhelmed and underwater trying to help our children participate in distance learning. Every day seemed to usher in a new way for my husband and me to fail at reading emails, managing logins, printing worksheets, troubleshooting tech problems, photographing assignments, and keeping track of class Zooms. Being an educator as well as a parent gave my experience a particularly nightmarish quality, as if I were somehow both the driver and pedestrian in this collision. As a teacher, I participated in a flurry of trainings on using various apps to make videos, find e-books, host meetings, use data, and share student work, but as a parent, I could not keep up.

It doesn’t have to be this hard. School closures brought a cascade of serious problems, from declining maternal workforce participation to child hunger, many of which will require broader government intervention to solve—but streamlining remote instruction is well within schools’ institutional capabilities. A viral video of an Israeli mom venting about the nonstop barrage of communications her kids were receiving from their school spoke to the frustrations many families felt trying to keep their heads above water in a fast-moving stream of assignments and online resources. That’s not a problem that is going to be solved by adding another app to the mix, but there is a tool that can help, one that works even if the internet cuts out and isn’t full of distractions a click away. It’s not new, and it won’t disrupt education as we know it, but in a time of upheaval, steep learning curves, and decision fatigue, there’s a lot to be said for the familiar. As districts invest millions in distributing Chromebooks and helping families secure internet access—a necessity for keeping kids connected to their teachers and to school—they should also make plans to invest in and distribute another essential learning tool: the textbook.

. . . .

For 150 years, the textbook was a mainstay of American classrooms. Their progenitor was the McGuffey Readers, of which an estimated 120 million copies were sold between 1836 and 1960. Written by frontier teacher and scholar William Holmes McGuffey, the original Readers contained literary selections that promoted Calvinist ideas about salvation and piety, while later editions were secularized in keeping with the nation’s changing mores. These days, the Readers are better known for their role in shaping American identity and culture than for how they changed teaching and learning. But although they seem stuffy and moralistic to contemporary eyes, the Readers represented an important pedagogical step forward in their time and spoke to the real needs of students McGuffey witnessed, first as a roving teacher who began working in schoolhouses at age 14 and later when he tested his textbooks with groups of neighborhood children in Ohio. The Readers were organized into levels across which students would progress over time, from phonics, through basal stories, all the way up to selections from Milton. Vocabulary was taught gradually by repeated exposure to words in context instead of being doled out in a list for memorization. Unlike their predecessor the New England Primer, which was designed to put the fear of God into children, the Readers were designed to be appealing to children, and incorporated helpful, clear illustrations.

Crucially, the McGuffey Readers also guided teachers, who at the time were often poorly prepared, educated only a year or two beyond their pupils, and working with large, mixed-age groups of students. The Readers embedded good pedagogy on the page by including questions for teachers to ask their students, and numbered passages so students could take turns reading aloud. Imagine—a year’s worth of assignments, compiled in an appealing edition, accompanied by instructions for what the poorly prepared adult in the room can say to help. Sure sounds like something that I, a woman who misled a 5-year-old on number bonds for three whole months, could have used this spring.

At their core, textbooks are a way to distribute the essential content of a class to a massive group of students in a way that is standardized and economical. A good textbook is clear, appealing, and organized in a predictable way. It’s not just paragraphs of text, but it also includes extratextual features such as reference materials, answer keys, sidebars, and key terms to aid students in their comprehension.

. . . .

For cash-strapped districts, cheap Chromebooks and software licenses are often less expensive in the short term than purchasing sets of hardcover books. It isn’t just wealthy districts that are making these investments in technology. But the phasing out of print textbooks in favor of online texts and learning software has been driven by ideology, too. Since 2015, textbook sales have declined year over year while the EdTech sector has ballooned into a $252 billion business. In 2019, Pearson sold off its textbook arm in order to focus on its more lucrative educational software business. In a 2012 article (which in hindsight reads as overly optimistic not only about online textbooks but about algorithms, the internet, and the future in general, but was very much in line with the zeitgeist in education at the time) Megan Garber writes of Apple’s e-textbooks, “They create a kind of kaleidoscopic experience: video, text, audio, all whirring and whirling into each other in a self-guided tour of history or chemistry or biology.” To my tech-fried pandemic brain, that seems like a bit much. In 2020, I’d like to pass on teaching sixth grade language arts—or helping my child understand second grade math for that matter—through a widening gyre of multimedia experiences.

Link to the rest at Slate

PG suggests that kids who are digital natives do just fine with ebook versions of textbooks.

He’s also skeptical about paper vs. screen comprehension studies that have been conducted using children who are not digital natives.

FWIW, PG’s own experience is that his comprehension for long-form texts is somewhat better with a Kindle Paperwhite screen than an iPad screen. However, he doubts his comprehension of textbook-style pages would vary in the same way.

Longest running conservation journal goes Open Access

From The Bookseller:

Oryx, the international journal of conservation published by Cambridge University Press, is to become Open Access from January next year, in a move made possible by a grant from The Rufford Foundation.

From January 2021, the journal–which is the world’s longest running conservation journal–will be free to anyone with an internet connection. Past content dating as far back as 1950 will be made freely available, as well as all new research which will be published Open Access from next year. Meanwhile unfunded authors will benefit from a new APC (article processing charge) waiver policy, also thanks to The Rufford Foundation, dedicated to nature conservation.

CUP publishes the journal on behalf of wildlife conservation charity Fauna & Flora International, and it is billed as the “go-to publication for anyone interested in biodiversity conservation, conservation policy and related social, economic and political issues”.

Editor Dr Martin Fisher, who has overseen Oryx for almost 20 years, said: “This is the most significant development in the journal’s eminent history. Thanks to the support of the Rufford Foundation and Cambridge University Press’ commitment to Open Access publishing, the research published in Oryx will be freely accessible to all readers, no matter where they live or work.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller