"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Next Generation in Digital Learning...iBooks From Providence eLearning

First of all, I apologize for my absence.  I've been busy with health things, family activities and a short-term job!

I feel blessed to have fallen into a consulting gig that seems too good to be true.  This consulting gig involves critiquing several great works of literature via an iBook format.  It's no secret I love using the iPad and iPod in our classroom, so this was a great opportunity for me. 

DISCLAMIER:  My employment with Providence eLearning was not contingent on marketing their books here on my blog.  I did ask permission to talk about their products after I review them and was given their go-ahead. My compensation is not dependent on a favorable review.

As you all know I love literature and base much of my homeschooling curriculum on Great Books and Good Books as well as Classics.  I run book clubs because I feel that children get the most out of reading great literature from discussing it and as a result learn more.  Socratic circles allow children an opportunity to not just discuss the book, but to explore other people's opinions and develop critical thinking skills.

Here are the titles I've reviewed so far and here is a link to what is available:

The company producing the iBooks is Providence eLearning.  This group is taking classical literature and enhancing it; making it accessible to all learners, regardless of whether they are in a classroom or not.  They will be tackling other subjects in the future.  So far, I am extremely impressed.  This is a boon for home educators as this makes difficult literature approachable to all and at a really, really reasonable price.  What is that price?  Only $9.99.  Amazing low price and there is so much content!

First, let me tell you about the advantages of using an iBook format.  The iBook format allows the publisher to include audio narration, audio foot notes, video, photo galleries, hyperlinks, the ability to take notes and mark up the book with highlighting.  So what happens when technology meets Classical Lit?  Amazing things!

The books offer features that our homeschooled kids might miss not going to a traditional school, to whom lecture and discussion are not readily available. Providence eLearning has done a great job providing a self-led approach for great literature.
  • They get a video lecture from a professor of Literature, specifically, William Lasseter, the English Chair at Providence Academy, a Roman Catholic K-12 College Prep school here in the Twin Cities.  He's not just a Lit Prof.  He also has experience as a Shakespearean actor, which means he's a dream to hear.  
  • There are many questions to "Check Your Understanding" along the way.  
  • They get audio narrations.  Can I just say hurray?  I have a kid with some visual difficulties.  One of the reason he loves the Kindle is that he can resize the text and/or turn on the Text-to-speech function.  However the nasty computer voice drives me up a tree, so he uses ear buds.  Now, the iBooks do not allow for easy text resizing.  That is an issue with the iBook format, not the Providence materials.  However, I would trade that for being able to listen to a Shakespearean actor read classical literature any time.
  • They have the ability to look words up on the fly by touching the word.  A definition pops up automatically, allowing the student to not lose their train of thought while in the text.  This is one of my favorite parts of all e-reading devices.
  • They get a hyperlinked table of contents that allows them to easily go to any section.
  • They get a glossary that is not only text based definition, but often a "Wikipedia-like" entry for each term.
  • They get photo galleries.  Providence eLearning does a nice job of using the photo galleries to show pictures of the authors, and classic works of art pertaining to the material.
  • They get introductory material that prepares the students for what they will learn before the learn it.
  • They can highlight text in a variety colors and make notes that can be translated to flash cards.  That's a feature available through iBooks.
I heartily recommend these for advanced middle school, high school, college and adult learners.  I picked up many things and was reminded that "Great Books" and great literature are timeless.  I hope they continue on this project.  The books are a wonderful value.

Being a picky homeschool mom, the only thing I wished they had was more questions.  Providence eLearning has informed me they have a Moodle site they are considering making available to iBook users for a fee.  Considering the cost of the iBooks from Providence, I have no beef with the smaller volume of questions than I would like.  There are questions often throughout the text.  I would just like to see more end-of-section questions.  However, to get those things, I would pay more.  The amount is more than adequate for the price.

On a personal  note,  when I had a free moment here or there, I was drawn back to working on my reviews of these books, not because of a time constraint, but rather because I enjoyed it so much.

Check back soon as I will give a review of each of the four books I've read so far.  My current read is Macbeth.  I will do that review last.  But in the mean time, check out Providence eLearning's web page for the books I'm reviewing and if you have an iPad, go download a sample of the iBooks.  They are available for free.  Just put Providence eLearning into the search tool in iBooks.