Thursday, March 17, 2011

Our eReader Adventure Part 4: Taking the Plunge - AGAIN!

Today we took a big step in our journey with eReaders as a tool for impacting student learning - we purchased 35 more! 

This time, we went with the Sony PRS 350SC Touch.  To be honest, we've been very happy with our Nooks.  Almost a whole school year in and we haven't had one technical glitch.  Not one.   Don't get me wrong, we've had our fair share of bumps in the road, but none of them have been the result of the devices themselves.  Rather, we've experienced growing pains - the kind that always accompany having to adapt policies and procedures that have been in place for a long, long time.  In the end, we'll be better for all the teeth gnashing, but getting there can be messy.

That said, turning the page on a new chapter of this journey reminded me that there's still plenty of reflecting and adapting left to do when it comes to our Nook program.  

In the beginning, I was most fussed about the fact that we couldn’t send our new toys home with students.   Since that time, I’ve done some research on our policy, asked a few questions to smart people know more than I do and decided it wasn’t a battle I was going to win – so I didn't fight it.

Even so, despite having to readjust my thinking regarding how we would use them, the Nooks have proven to be an incredibly impactful device for students at my school.  What’s more, the way they’ve been integrated, almost seamlessly, into classroom instruction has made not being able to send them home seem like a small obstacle.  Besides, I’ve been busy figuring a million other things out. 
 
So far, I’d have to say that the two biggest lessons that I have learned in regard to eReaders are:

  1.  We (schools) are not Amazon/Barnes&Noble’s target audience.  Their purchasing systems are NOT set up for libraries and they will not adjust their policies for us.
  2. It’s vital to work with your finance department to set up purchasing policies BEFORE you start buying eBooks.  You will need the bean counters to be on your side, so you might as well talk to them before you hit a wall – believe me, I learned this the hard way! 

The bottom line is that depending on your system’s finance rules, you have 3 choices when purchasing eBooks:

  1.  Credit card:  This is the vendor’s preferred method.  Our system is allowing me to set up a separate library e-procurement card specifically for eBooks next year, but this has disadvantages too as, typically, the cards are only good for a set amount of time and are deactivated in early spring, so if you want to make purchases after that, you need a back up plan.
  2. Gift cards:  This also has disadvantages.  Our system does not allow us to purchase gift cards with state monies, however, we received some gift cards as well, gifts and were able to purchase others with money from fundraisers, grants, etc.  Unfortunately, vendors require that you a) have a credit card on file when using gift cards online for eBook purchases AND b) that your credit card has enough money available to pay for the amount you are spending on the gift card, or they will not let you use the gift card online.  I know, that seems crazy, but it’s true and believe me, I fought it all the way to the top. (See lesson one from above).  So… once your school credit card is out of $$$ or has expired for the year, you cannot make eBook purchases - even if you have a million dollars in gift cards.  (Oi.  Just reliving this makes my brain hurt!)
  3. Purchase Orders:   This is tricky too.  Because eBooks are purchased as individual titles and some vendors bill each book as a separate sale, it’s tough to use a PO unless it’s open.  To be honest, I haven’t had a lot of success in using POs to purchase eBooks, but I’m working with our finance department to clear these waters for next year.  Baby steps, right?

Of course, while the pure commerce aspect of purchasing eBooks has proven challenging, in the end it’s kind of the least important part of the purchasing process.  In the beginning, I thought about how to purchase eBooks in the same way I do print titles, but that soon proved to be, frankly, inappropriate.  Sure, it’s important to look at reviews and think about how a title fits in with your overall collection, but there’s more to consider when working with this digital content.  

One of the great joys of putting eReaders into little hands has been the ability to customize the reading experience specifically for that student. Because ebooks are relatively inexpensive, it’s possible to make the emotional, social and academic needs of the individual student your primary concern when purchasing titles.  Even as I type that out, I’m touched by how powerful it is.   It's like being able to give each child their own library.  Amazing.

Anyway, one of my goals for this summer is to finalize some collection development policies for our eReaders, but for now I’m thinking far less about how a title fits into my collection or how it impacts my stats and am instead spending much, much more time thinking about the student who will be reading it.  

It’s funny.  But in addition to today’s eReader purchase, this seems to have been the week for eReader questions and discussion around my school, district and state.  These discussions are incredibly helpful to me as they force me to consider (and reconsider) the hows and whys of the decisions I make.  With that, I’ll close with my response to a question from my good friend John Downs who is working on a grant to bring eReaders to his school.  After discussing many of the things I’ve mentioned in this post, he simply asked: “was it worth it?”  To my way of thinking, the fact that I didn’t pause to consider my answer before sharing it says a lot. Maybe even more than the answer itself.    

The fact is, in many ways this is uncharted territory, so there’s bound to be bumps in the road. However, I love the way students can interact w/text via the eReader (highlighting/annotating/etc – those things simply cannot be done via a print book that the school owns).  More importantly, I’ve come to value the ability to create customized reading experiences, that not only combine fiction and non-fiction texts, but that also (and more significantly) are tailored to the individual student needs.  To me, these benefits far outweigh the challenges.

So… what’s next for us?   

Because our new Sony eReaders don’t have internet access, we’re going to be able to circulate them through our library as I originally intended with our Nooks.  This is exciting and scary because, frankly, it means starting over and rethinking some of our new (and yet somehow now old) procedures. On the eve of our first eReader pilot I was anxious and eager to see how these new devices would impact the young readers I work with every day.  It's nice to have those same nervous butterflies in my stomach again - especially now that their accompanied by the comfort of having a little experience under my belt.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hooked on eBooks: Presentation for NCTIES 2011

Yay!  What a thrill to be able to present what we've learned from our eReader pilot program this year at the North Carolina Technology in Education Society's annual conference. It's been a wonderful experience to learn and share with such an extraordinary group of educators.

The following is the prezi that I (and my fabulous co presenter and partner in crime Christy James) will use during our presentation.  Links to the documents mentioned in the presentation can also be found here, here and here.

This presentation is just one in a series of personal and professional opportunities for reflection related to our eReader program.  I'm looking forward to seeing how a live conversation with some really, really smart educators informs how our eReader program grows and changes.