The future of the eBook

Steve Lay HeadshotPosted by Steve Lay

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will be aware that I recently attended two events concerning the future of eBooks and how they relate to learning, education and training.

The first session was organized by CETIS which is a sort of think-tank concerning itself with the use of technology in education and, in particular, technical standards to promote it.  The second event was organized in conjunction with the International Digital Publishing Forum IDPF, the IMS Global Learning Consortium and SC36, which is a Sub-Committee of ISO/IEC, the international organization for standards.

The  topic of discussion was the future of the eBook. From the point of view of publishers, e-Books — and in particular e-Textbooks — are missing one thing: formative quizzes at the end of each chapter. From the point of view of the education sector, e-Books are missing pretty much everything that we’ve come to know and love about the web, such as social interaction and collaboration, pick and mix of individual resources and so on.  Somewhere between these two visions may lie a technical standard around which the industry can organize itself.

One recurring theme in the world of education, and particularly in higher education, is the constant reinvention of the idea of virtual learning.  Each time a new technology comes along the community pounces on the opportunity to start again and design new, more interesting versions of the worldwide web. Many of the ideas are not new but simply elements of systems that were alternatives to the web in the 1990s but which were thrown away or fell into disuse as modern web browsers took off.

Mercifully, although history is only ever written by the winners, you can still find information about many of these systems on the web itself.  For example, some of the papers on Hyper-G/Harmony and Microcosm are worth a look if you are interested in the subject. Interestingly, Microcosm was developed at Southampton University, where Tim Berners-Lee is now a professor, Open Hypermedia and the Web is a good starting point if you want to do a deeper dive.

So what is a book?  Is it any different from a website? In an always- connected world, do we even need textbooks?  The victory of the worldwide web over the other more complex systems around at the time might still contain a lesson for the developers of e-Books.

You can learn more about the session from a blog post by CETIS’ Wilbert Kraan.

Assessment Standards Part Three: ISO 23988

john_smallPosted by John Kleeman

This is the third of a series of blog posts on standards that impact assessment. I’ve participated in many standards projects over the years, but there’s only one standard which I can be pretty sure would never have happened without my involvement.

Around the turn of the millennium I had a significant birthday, and rather than do the usual work tasks, I decided to use the day for something more creative. It was just around the formation of a brand new International Standards (ISO) working group on learning technology (SC36) and I was part of a newly formed British Standards Committee that shadowed the ISO committee. We were looking for new standards to develop and it was about the time that using computers and the Internet for delivering assessments was really coming of age. Lots of people were using Questionmark software or other software to deliver assessments and as people learned, they made mistakes which could cause unfairness and pain.

I thought it would be great to have a Code of Practice on how to use computers to deliver assessments.  If this could be a standard, it would encourage everyone to follow good practice and would make things fairer and better for everyone using assessments.  I would also allow everyone to benefit from the experience of the best practitioners.

So I proposed the idea to the UK committee and after a while I led a panel of many experts in assessment to come up with what was then called BS 7988 – Code of Practice for the use of Information Technology (IT) in the Delivery of Assessments. Many wiser people than I contributed to the standard: assessment experts, technology experts and educational experts.  BS 7988 was published in 2002, and in due course it was taken by the BSI to ISO to become (after some editing) an international standard ISO 23988.

The standard contains guidance and context for using IT to deliver assessments. Due to the vagaries of international standards economics, you have to pay to buy the standard so I’m limited in how I can quote from it.  However, I hope that ISO won’t mind me quoting one illustrative clause, which applies to assessments that are invigilated or proctored:

    At least one invigilator should be present in the room throughout the assessment
    session. If there is a single invigilator, he/she should be able to summon help (including
    technical help) quickly if needed. Unless there is only one candidate, the invigilator should
    not be distracted from invigilation duties by having to provide technical help.

Not rocket science, but useful common sense. And there are 45 pages of useful material in the standard with lots of sensible guidelines.

As the saying goes, “What’s the difference between theory and practice?  In theory there is none, but in practice there is!” ISO 23988 encapsulates a lot of good practice in delivering assessments and puts it in a standard code of practice for everyone to pick from or follow.