Sunday, May 09, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 19: Book Jackets, Social Media in Education, For Profit Colleges, Mobile Media Forecast

From the Observer this morning an interview with a book designer about why covers have to change from country to country (Observer):
What possible discussions took place in Germany, for instance, when publishers first received the manuscript for Martin Amis's House of Meetings – a novel that describes the misery of life in a Russian gulag – and set to work on a cover that featured six figures body-popping in the windows of a modern apartment block? What prompted Italian book designers to give junior wizard Harry Potter a hat shaped like a mouse, and why did the French opt against the monochrome design that jacketed Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated in the UK and the US, concocting instead a watercolour of somebody fondling a woman's breasts?

"What you are trying to get across on a cover is the essence of a book, quite an ambiguous thing," says Nathan Burton, a British designer who created the striking cover for Ali Smith's The Accidental, based on an image of a dead woman. "Designers in different countries read and interpret the fiction in different ways." It doesn't quite explain how Germany arrived at silhouetted dancers for House of Meetings, but "the germ of an idea can come from anywhere," says Burton. He points to the Swedish cover of The Accidental, on the surface a starkly different treatment – "but there's a photograph of a girl, bold sans serif type... You could argue that they are born out of a similar thought process."

And at the end of that is an insult for the designer of the UK versions of the Stieg Larsson books.

Survey reveals wide differences in how technology and social tools can be integrated into education (e-School News):
Still, the latest Speak Up survey reveals significant gaps in how education technology is perceived among various groups of users. One of the most surprising disparities was how respondents view the importance of online tools for communicating and collaborating in the classroom.

When asked to describe their vision for the ultimate “school of the future,” 67 percent of district administrators and 51 percent of school principals said it should include the use of collaborative tools. But only 27 percent of teachers agreed—and teachers still are much more likely to communicate online with their peers or with students’ parents (90 percent) than with students themselves (34 percent).

Evans said there are a few factors that might explain this difference.

For one thing, many teachers “are not familiar with how to incorporate these collaboration tools into [their] instruction, and thus … they don’t have the personal familiarity that you need before adoption can take place,” she said.

“Second, we continue to hear from students that their teachers are very concerned about the potential dangers of internet use in the classroom—the student safety and personal liability issues.

So, in some ways, the ‘fear factor’ may be holding back their interest.” She continued: “Teachers also are still not fully buying into the concept that social networking sites can have educational value for students. They see the social components, but not necessarily how to leverage the tools for academic reasons.”

Interesting rebuttal to a PBS documentary on for profit colleges (and education). It is longish and there are some good quotes throughout (Link):

For instance, viewers are told that students from for-profit colleges have higher debt loads than those from non-profit or public institutions, but do not hear that for-profit colleges have exceptionally high rates of degree-completion, given the students they serve. We hear that Clifford, the former rock star and cocaine addict, admits he is under-qualified to manage a college, but never learn that most instructors at the largest for-profit colleges and universities have advanced degrees and are evaluated and promoted based on how well they educate their students. While Martin Smith tells us that regional accreditors are cracking down on the practice of "buying accreditation," he fails to explain how accreditation is a coarse and often ineffective quality control mechanism. Observers lament online education's lack of meaningful interpersonal interaction, but fail to cite high-profile research by the Department of Education which shows that online education is just as effective as in-person instruction, and that hybrid programs are superior to both.

The picture of for-profit institutions of higher education is neither all good nor all bad. Unfortunately for those institutions that are operating in good faith, zeroing in on the sector's blemishes is admittedly easy. As College, Inc. outlines, the story of fraud in the for-profit higher education world is almost as long as the story of the sector itself. In the 1990s, Congress embarked on a series of high-profile investigations of student aid fraud at proprietary colleges, and the revelations were not pretty: some for-profits enrolled anyone off the street, including the homeless, to capture student aid dollars. More recently, BusinessWeek reporter Daniel Golden (who appears repeatedly in the documentary) found that for-profit schools across the country were paying homeless individuals to enroll in courses, flush with loans from the federal government.
Second, the documentary seems to suggest that for-profit schools are subject to less accountability than traditional colleges and universities, and that these institutions should be subjected to additional regulatory burdens because of their profit motive. Barmak Nassirian, a lobbyist for the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers interviewed in College, Inc, is only half right when he argues that "one requirement for all of their practices to ensue is that billions of dollars of federal money flow with no accountability, no oversight, and minimal regulations." Many non-profit colleges and universities, some of which are of exceptionally low quality, also reap benefits from billions in federal aid; but, outside of the restrictions inherent in their tax status and some licensure requirements that vary across states, they are rarely subject to much more stringent accountability measures than these for-profit institutions. In order to receive federal student aid dollars, institutions must be accredited by the regional bodies, but accreditation is a sorry substitute for meaningful quality control (see here). The idea that the patchwork system of higher education accountability is only lax vis a vis for-profit institutions, but ensures quality and good faith among all public and non-profit colleges, is a fallacy. Surely, the profit motive can lead to severe problems when educational quality cannot be mandated, but the same goes for traditional schools that offer little by way of return on the federal investment.
Like most business ventures, for-profit colleges are filling a void that existing providers are leaving open. As Smith points out in the documentary, community colleges are unable, or perhaps unwilling, to fill this demand themselves. Clearly, these public schools are under incredible fiscal pressure, and many must often turn students away. However, these traditional institutions, and their four year brethren, have shown little inclination to search for innovative ways to serve more students and leverage their best faculty by harnessing technology. The for-profits have done so with gusto, and may provide lessons to these traditional institutions on how they might create and implement such practices.
Canada's National Post takes a look at economics in the e-Book age (NatPost):

Amazon currently gives authors 35% of the money made from each sale of a digital copy of their books, compared with the 7% to 15% royalty cut authors typically get for each hardcover sold. The publisher gets the same, and Amazon keeps the remaining 30%. But under the terms of a new deal effective June 30, authors that self publish can receive the publisher's cut as well, getting 70% of the revenue from each e-book sale.

It is a clear attempt to compete with the 60% fee authors make from e-books sold through Apple. Kobo is staying quiet on the details of their own agreements but Author Solutions, one of Kobo's suppliers, says it typically provides 50% royalties to authors.

"I did the math on [Amazon's] new deal," said Peter Nowak, Toronto-based author of Sex, Bombs & Burgers. "If I were to sell my book [on Amazon] for five bucks, I would make more per book than selling the book to a conventional publisher."

Stephen King showed the world just how profitable the e-book business can be. In 2000, his novella Riding the Bullet was the first book to be released in a solely digital format. After 400,000 downloads in the first 24 hours, the horror king netted himself US$450,000 after the third day. But self-publishing an e-book is not a sure-fire recipe for riches.

Morgan Stanley Analyst Mary Meeker: Mobile Internet Will Soon Overtake Fixed Internet (GigaOm):

And what does Meeker see in her crystal ball this year? Two overwhelming trends that will affect consumers, the hardware/infrastructure industry and the commercial potential of the web: mobile and social networking. Such a conclusion is hardly earth-shattering news to GigaOM readers, for we have been following these trends over the past year or two, but Meeker puts some pretty large numbers next to those trends, and looks at the shifts that will (or are likely to) take place in related industries such as communications hardware. She also compares where the rest of the developed world is in terms of mobile communications and social networking with Japan. Again, not a radically different approach to the one many tech forecasters take, but Meeker has the weight of some considerable research chops on her side.

From the twitter this week:

Former Lexcycle CEO Neelan Choksi Leaving Amazon - NYT

Court Says Internet Filtering in Public Libraries Not Censorship - NYT Determine it is collection development

White Pages May Go Way of Rotary-Dialed Phone - NYT

Hundreds of N.J. librarians protest $10.4M proposed budget cuts. Bad news in library funding for NJ. (

"The Sorter" from The New York Public Library. And snazzy music. (NYPL)

Off to Seoul Korea this week. Football ended as a dud. In cricket England beat SA in the Twenty20.

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