Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sending documents via Whispercast

So.  I just got off the phone with the Amazon business/education customer service.  First off, the customer service was very easy to reach.  I entered my phone number online through Whispercast and then my phone got a call and within 2 minutes I was speaking to a customer service representative.  The rep was very helpful.

The only platform that can view documents sent via Whispercast are actual Kindles.  The app and the cloud reader will not display documents.  I asked why, and got the answer I was expecting: if you are going to send a document to be viewed on a laptop, why not just email it or share it via Google Drive.  Good point, but I just liked the seemless ability to send a bunch of stuff at once, rather than separate email attachments, etc.  But, we are switching to Haiku course management next year, and I can just upload any documents there.  This is totally fine, it just requires log on, download and open.  I was hoping that you could just open the Kindle app and there it would all be.  I guess that would just be another program to deal with, which would complicate things a little.

Okay.  So, Whispercast could be used to send a course syllabus or an article to actual Kindles but not any other devices.  Perhaps links on Haiku are just as easy.  Would students like to receive these documents on their Kindles?  Must try it out on my test group and ask them.

That leaves sending and managing texts.  If you have more widespread, or complete, use of Kindles, then this would really great.  In my head, I am imagining that an independent school, could just include the price of books in the tuition, and then just purchase all the books centrally and send them via Whispercast to all the students' Kindles.  This could also just be partial.  Any students who want to just sign up, pay the school for the price of the books and then in the fall the books appear on their Kindle.

What you lose is the ability to buy a second hand or cheaper copy of the book.  Also, what happens if a student leaves the school.  Physical books can be returned.  E-books, to my knowledge can't be returned.

This exploration continues!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Beginning to play with Whispercast

I had a free moment so I decided to test the waters of Whispercast.   If you don't know, this is the new Kindle management system for schools and businesses.  You can send content to a large group of users from one central place.  Company or school owned Kindles can be managed (settings, security, content, etc.) from Whispercast.

I had only been playing around for a few minutes when I started recording (the videos are below), because I wanted you to see what I discovered as I discovered it.

Here are the highlights:

-You can create an invitation URL that can be shared with students so that they can choose to join my class account for Whispercast.  This is the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) option for a school or organization that did not purchase or does not own the Kindles that are being used.  This is what I am dealing with because students are bringing their own devices.  If you or your organization purchased the Kindles, then you can just add the devices from the order history when you purchased them.

-You can create user groups so that you can send different content to different users.

-You can send wi fi settings out to all the Kindles on your user list through Whispercast. That way a student never sees network passwords, and I don't have to walk them all through these settings.  (Sigh of relief.)

-If your organization owns the Kindles, you can create "policies" that will let you control usage and content.  You can designate these policies to apply to whichever devices you want.

-You can send books, apps or all sorts of document formats.

-I sent two public domain books and my course syllabus to my one user (me) and it worked fine on my Kindle, but only the books showed up on the App.  Why?  I don't know.  I am going to contact the Whispercast customer service to find out.

Here is the video of me playing around!

Here is what it looks like on a Kindle when the Whispercasted (is that a verb now?) books and document appear.

Summer workshop on using Kindles in the classroom

I was asked by the head of our school to teach a Kindle workshop for the Center for Innovative Educators, an annual summer program for teachers.  I am really excited about this!  The workshops are open, and we get teachers from across TN and beyond.

I am in the process of picking a date for my one day workshop that will cover Kindle basics, using the Kindle as a teacher, how best to use Kindles with students, social media and managing Kindles through Whispercast.

The recommendation is to pick a date on a Monday or Friday to ease any possible travel, and the first week in June was suggested.  I wasn't sure if I have any readers who have suggestions, questions, or think they might want to attend and have any input on dates.

Even if you can't come, if you were to attend a Kindles in the classroom workshop, what would you want to learn?  What would you want to walk away with at the end?

Thursday, January 10, 2013


At Harpeth Hall, the all-girls independent school where I teach, the 3 weeks after winter break are called "Winterim."  During this time, 9th and 10th graders get to take 4 classes offered by any faculty on a variety of topics.  I am teaching playwriting, but there is also a class on the Kennedy family, African Drumming, a class about using tools, book binding, the films of Alfred Hitchcock...and the list goes on!  To read more, click here.  Meanwhile, the 11th and 12th graders are doing internships around the city or travelling abroad.

Can I say that it is magical?  Does that sound silly?  I was on maternity leave last year, so this is my first Winterim and I am having so much fun.  I teach a class on playwriting to a small group of 4 students.  I am writing along with them and tomorrow we share our first full drafts.  It is thrilling and exciting.  I can't wait.

My other Winterim duty is to supervise, visit, and observe some of the 11th and 12th graders who are interning.  They write daily journals which I read and grade, I observe them, then I am responsible for their grade and comment for Winterim.  I have interns in all sorts of places, at an animal hospital, a bakery, and at the local Teach for America office, to name a few.  I have one student who is interning at WPLN, Nashville Public Radio.  I got an email from her today that she has published her first article for them.  You can read it here.

What an experience.  She is a published writer, and she hasn't even graduated from high school.  She had emailed me earlier this week that she had been sent out to gather audio.  I am so proud of her.

Next week begin the first rounds of observations.  I am excited to go see the students in action at the various sites.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

NPR story: E-Books Destroying Traditional Publishing? The Story's Not That Simple

I was driving to see family this holiday and I heard this great story on "All Things Considered" on NPR about e-books!

Listen to the story here 

I don't often think about the publisher's perspective on e-books, but it was interesting to here that:

"We've had an incredible year," says Sourcebooks President Dominique Raccah. "Last year was the best year in the company's history. This year we beat that, which I didn't think was even possible." Raccah adds that her company is doing well because of digital publishing, not in spite of it. 

The  spent a lot of time talking about discovery of new books.  The traditional way to discover a book is by wandering through Barnes and Noble to find a new title.  Now, the publishers are using price drops to help market a book.  This helps build discovery.  They compared it to listening to streaming music online to discover new artists.  I know that I have discovered many artists this way, and I went on to buy their albums on iTunes.

One interesting thing I heard that I disagreed with was:
"We actually don't have a good gifting tradition yet for e-books," says Sourcebooks' Raccah. Despite all the advances in reading technology, physical books are still the best Christmas presents. 

I might have agreed a month ago.  But I got this email in December.  I had thyroid surgery and a very kind friend sent me this to pass the time during my recovery.

I clicked the link and even had the option to "return" that book and use the money to buy myself a different title.  I liked what she had picked out for me, so I did indeed get the book she sent me.  This was my first interaction with a gifted e-book, but I thought it was great.  I think it will catch on. 

Another interesting continuation of the story came in an interview with Margaret Atwood, the Canadian author of the novel The Handmaid's Tale, talked about using e-publishing to publish a novel serially, a la Charles Dickens. 

She is writing a novel called Positron  about 50 pages at a time and she makes these pieces available online for $2.99.  Readers can then leave comments.  These comments influence her choices for where the story goes next.  She compares it to improv comedy with direct feedback as compared to a play that is scripted in advance.

How cool is that?  As a reader, you can have a say in where the story goes.  You are in the writing process with the writer, rather than reading the book after the editor and publisher have had their way with it.  This is very excitingly alive!  Margaret Atwood is 73 and has a big following on Twitter.  I commend her for her experiment into serial e-publishing.

The next big segment was on the new platform model in e-publishing.  Basically these are subscription sites where you can purchase and monitor a child or student's reading through these platforms.  It is a "power transfer" from the reader to the platform owner.  But, Mike Shatzkin argues that Barnes and Noble and drug stores are already making these selective choices for us in the same way these platforms do, so it is a new form of an old model.  The benefit of the platform is the control of content by parents and teachers and the ability to monitor and mine data about a child or student.  One of the platforms mentioned in the NPR interview is Storia by Scholastic.  This is basically an app that can be used on laptops and tablets (iPad and Android).  You download the app and then you have access to all the features of the app.  These include a dictionary, reading activities and reports for parents and teachers, among other things.

Storia cannot, however, be used with a Nook or Kindle.  As a teacher at a 1:1 laptop school, this isn't prohibitive, but I am a bit wary.  The app is free, but then you are a captive audience to Scholastic books.  Good for Scholastic, but not necessarily as open as it could be.  I am not rushing to jump on this bandwagon, but it deserves more attention.  I think it definitely provides some healthy reading app competition for Kindle.  The Kindle reading app is much overdue for some face lifts and updated features (X-ray, social media sharing, searching notes).  Let's hope this motivates Amazon to make those changes!