Blog about Taking US History Online.
International Strategy and Decision-Making — Executive MBA lectures, Wisconsin School of Business (Jan 2010):
Teaching the History of the Cold War: Special issue of the Organization of American Historians Magazine of History 24 (October 2010)
History 102: America since 1865 (Spring 2010) — Download Syllabus as PDF
Article from MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL (22 September 2009)
by Nick Penzenstadler, Special to the Journal Sentinel
Instead of lugging around hundreds of dollars in books in strained backpacks, 20 students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have little more than a pound to keep with them this fall for one class.
They are part of the university’s $10,000 pilot program introducing online retailer Amazon.com’s electronic reader gadget, the Kindle.
The Kindle has students eager to save money and the environment but publishers on their heels as the $25 billion book market stands on the verge of a technological shake-up.
History professor Jeremi Suri joined the project funded by UW’s library to examine the possibility of eliminating paper, saving money and increasing collaborative learning.
“We thought of how we could take the wisdom of the ages and apply it to the crazy world we live in today,” Suri said of his history seminar that is the first to try out the gizmo this fall at UW.
Instead of having students purchase books, UW lent the Kindles with all eight required texts loaded and ready to read. Suri’s class will be highlighted by Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” infamous for its hefty 1,200 pages.
“We’re learning in this, too. Can you even read 1,200 pages on a Kindle?” Suri said.
Amazon rolled out the new 9.7-inch screen DX model of the Kindle in May. The company partnered with several other universities across the country, but UW decided it should invest in the technology now to get its own data.
Reviews are in
Students in the class already have decided what they like – and don’t like – about the reader, but overall it has been well-received.
“It’s a little unnerving at first because I’m reading this great military history on a small electronic platform,” UW junior Tim Greenfield said.
Greenfield, from Minnesota, usually spends around $700 a year on textbooks, and sees the $500 Kindle price tag as a long-range money-saver.
Many professors already distribute texts online to be read on computer screens or printed, but Greenfield said the Kindle discourages him from wandering to the Internet and getting distracted.
Stephanie Schmidt, another student in the class, said it took her some time to acclimate to the new reading style, and the Kindle needs some advancement before it completely replaces paper and print.
The DX model used at UW is in black and white and has limited note-taking capabilities, including digital highlighting.
“Because its not backlit, it’s really just like reading on paper,” said Schmidt, a senior from Delafield. “It doesn’t remind me of a computer screen at all; it doesn’t strain my eyes.”
Students also said a touch-screen would be helpful since the small keyboard is impractical.
In addition to saving money, students pointed out to university officials the green aspect of the Kindle.
Ken Frazier, director of UW libraries, said the energy-efficient machines could reduce the need for printing on campus. By UW’s estimates, students and instructors print off about 16 million individual pages on campus every year. That’s about 180 trees, not including the reduction in need for books themselves.
Frazier expects other manufacturers to jump into the digital reader market in the coming years. He envisions readers hosting textbooks with fully integrated audio, video and interaction with professors.
Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Aaron Brower said the digital age will not only force down the price for textbooks, but also provide teaching opportunities.
“Imagine a world where there is full multimedia interactivity,” he said. “Say you’re reading about a chemical molecule, and imbedded right in the text could be a 3-D model.”
Brower said textbooks are valuable since they aggregate and bundle targeted information for students. As more information is digitized and available to students, it is more important to help them sift through the important information, as opposed to pre-packaging everything.
The shift to $10 digital books is not making the publishing world happy, Frazier said.
“It’s very market disruptive and very controversial,” he said.
Frazier anticipates digital shift to fit hand-in-hand with UW’s partnership with Google to digitize books already in the public domain. That means books such as “War and Peace,” written in the 19th century, are already free for download.
“We could see millions of books become available, which could be a real boon for scholarship,” Frazier said.
The head of the U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Department of Justice have come out against a Google settlement that would grant rights to digitize millions of books no longer in print, but the Association of American Publishers has endorsed the Google project and says publishers are proactive in technological advancements.
“Publishers stay on the cutting edge of technology. People picture a textbook as a bound heavy book, but there are all types already available,” association spokeswoman Katie Test said.
Many of the largest textbook companies have partnered with CourseSmart, a digital course material provider, to keep up with the trend.
CourseSmart spokeswoman Gabrielle Zucker said eTextbooks can be purchased for an average of 50% less than print texts. The company currently doesn’t provide texts to the Kindle, but sells texts compatible with Apple’s iPhone.
Authors, too, are concerned the publishing model may change. Suri, an author himself, however, said most academics would just like to see their work read.
“If it makes books more available, let’s go for it,” Suri said. “If we’re creative, there are ways to make money off this.”
Greenfield said there will always be push-back with new technology.
“This is a sign of the times. People have made this argument about all sorts of things going back to the Gutenberg Bible,” Greenfield said. “If it encourages people to read, then publishers should really profit from that.”
“American foreign policy: A history of U.S. grand strategy from 1901 to the present.” UW JASONs network course outline. UW-Madison.
“New history course on U.S. ‘grand strategy’ reaches out to modern military leaders.” Brian Mattmiller. University of Wisconsin News. 24 February 2009.