Technology meets Education

For years now, publishers and content creators alike have watched as technology revolutionized their industry. From ebooks to digital printing, the way we create and consume written content has taken a massive step forward over the last 20 years.

In fact, one could argue that the digital and technological revolution of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries present the biggest change to publishing since the introduction of the Gutenberg Press in the fifteenth century. Despite limited improvements and modifications, the primary means of mass producing printed content remained the same – templates on a printing press.

Now thanks to digital means of processing and sharing data, files can be converted to printing commands, and digital printers can produce a book at the same or even greater quality to traditional offset printing. Following in the footsteps of digital printing came digitally readers, devices with easy to view screens that simulated a book. Ereaders like the Nook or Kindle are now commonplace, as are ebook applications for popular tablet computers like the iPad.

For academia, this has a myriad of implications. First and possibly most exciting is the means to store hundreds or even thousands of books in a small device easily stored in a backpack or case. Available as a simple file, the opportunity to make content available has never been so prominent. The first question is: how does academia take advantage of this without losing control and ownership of their content?

Fortunately, self-publishing has the answer to this concern. With software platforms like Glasstree, anyone can write and publish while retaining their copyright. And, thanks again to the power of digital technology, a self-published book can be made available through all manner of retail outlets, added to Open Access databases, and shared through ethical sharing methods just like traditionally published work.

The challenge that remains is facilitating this sharing across a wide range of hardware and software. This begs the second question: how can an academic ensure their content can be read by the widest range of students and peers?

The “EPUB” format was introduced with the intended purpose of solving this problem through a harmonized file type.  Despite providing a much-improved option for digital book files, EPUB is now into its third iteration (known as EPUB 3), and even this version excludes a range of existing book types such as pop-up books, tactile books, and books with a very large number of images.

These are the very challenges industry leaders aim to attack head-on. Members of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently sat down to discussion and develop a plan to face this very issue. The W3C, in February of this year, joined forces with International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) to approach the question of uniformity and consistency in digital publishing.

Now, in the second week of November, the combined team of W3C and IDPF members met for a Publishing Summit.

Among the prescient issues identified during this summit is the absolute need for digital standardization for all forms of digital books. Essentially, ebooks should all follow the same standards and guidelines, in much the same way current print books follow a variety of standard best practices.

Because of EPUBs, and in particular the current standard EPUB 3, are built as HTML 5 files, a new Ereader device or application functions in many ways like a web-browser. The EPUB uses HTML and CSS to define the look and layout of the book. The challenge is to create a simple, standard layout that is easily used on a variety of Ereaders, and easily converted to MOBI (the Amazon Kindle specific analogy for EPUB).

While the Publishing Summit does not bring any immediate answers, it does reinforce that those developing this code are aware of the needs of both content creators and disseminators. In the long run, this is good news for academics, educators, and students interested in offering their materials to as many potential readers as possible.

Alongside the developments in EPUB standardization comes the Open Access classification for academic content. At a time when technology is veritably invading education and changing the landscape of classrooms, digital publishing is taking the necessary steps to keep pace.

Learn more about the ideas W3C’s Publishing Summit looked at with this article from Publisher’s Weekly.

The important thing for content creators is to stay in the loop with these changes, to stay aware of the technology as it evolves, and most important of all, to keep creating content!


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