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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Digital Books: What I Learned at IRA

I spent Sunday listening to and speaking at a preconference at IRA devoted to ebooks, apps, and their place in the classroom. Being immersed in one subject all day, in a sequence of related but quite distinct and ifferent talks, was wonderful. I got a good sense of what the audience (teachers) needed, and some new ideas for all of us (authors, editors, reviewers, as well as teachers and parents). First, nearly every talk began with categorization: what is an ebook, an enhanced ebook, an app. The audience needed to hear that. Indeed the most disturbing insight I left with was the chaos going on in our schools: one just gotten ipads, another Kindles, another Nooks, another has nothing and is not sure whether to jump in and buy something or wait, or rely on BYOD (bring your own devices), or what. It would be a great service if some organization such as ALA, or ALA in cooperation with IRA, NCTE, NCSS — would lay out a kind of sample road map: if you are a school of X size that serves Y grades with Z students here some good first steps (grants, donations, survey of what devices students have); here is where you should aim to be by the 12-13 school year, etc. This applies to devices, to what to put on the devices, and to connectivity — wireless access. Schools need guidance more than money — money can be found, but intelligent leardership needs to be made.

That first paragraph was the downside: schools overwhelmed and without guidance. The upside was creativity and possibility: what students are making with new tools, how teachers are facilitating that discovery, the possibilities for not only multimedia but connectivity. And on that front I have to thank Nick Glass of He spoke of his vision of melding the kinds of resources he provices: digital author interviews, trailers, with all ebooks. That of course relates to a strand I’ve discussed here: nonfiction authors talking about our research journeys. We do it in print in our books, sometimes in videos on our own websites. Nick was suggesting a cool way to weave those resources into books. And that gave me an idea: if a teacher could count on getting a research journey along with a book (in print or in digital), why not ask students to read them, and then, when the students write research papers, ask them to add a short narrative about their own research journeys. Not just citations and bibliography — those are the result. Rather a little story about what they did, the roadblocks they experienced, what helped, how they did their work. This could link author and reader, encourage readers to explore, and became a valuable part of the research report writing experience — the journey is the goal.

Many more ideas were shared in Chicago, thanks to Junko Yokota and Bill Teale for inviting me, and can see a need for many more conferences like this where we share ideas and instead of being the victims of a technological tsunami, we begin to take control, invent, and figure out how new products become new opportunities.


  1. Myra Zarnowski says:

    We do keep reinventing the wheel, don’t we? Remember the I-Search paper developed by Ken Macrorie. It is about documenting your very own research journey. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great idea. And connecting it to the journeys of others is good too. But the idea has roots.