30 September 2013

Textbook piracy in FE

Publishers are missing on income by not making their textbooks as easily downloadable ebooks via college libraries. I hear from learners and tutors that they download illegal copies of textbooks and share information where to get them from. Tutors boast they have collections of textbooks on their computers. Why do they do it? - For the same reason why people use pirated music: it's easier than getting the same content legally. Not just cheaper, but easier too. What makes the situation worse is ever decreasing funding of further education. Tutors are complaining their managers refuse to buy copies of the core textbooks for tutors' use... And many of our learners or their parents are on benefits, in serious financial difficulties. JISC is doing a good job with its E-books in FE programme, but the list of the titles is extremely limited and the ebrary platform usability is really bad. The environment for textbook piracy in FE is perfect.

27 September 2013

On information skills, facts and opinions

At library skills sessions, when asked why colleges and universities encourage use of books, Access students often repeat: because we have to rely on facts, not opinions. If this was said only once, it’d be ok as a somewhat limited interpretation of what, perhaps, the student heard in the classroom.
Unfortunately, this is repeated again and again without qualifying: reliable facts, unfounded opinions. It appears learners hear in our classrooms that facts are in opposition to opinions.

It is not true, of course, that facts are in opposition to or better than opinions. Facts themselves are interpreted knowledge: what we regarded true a century ago may not be true for us now. Knowledge develops; at the same time we, individually and collectively, develop biases or get rid of them and so on. Opinions not resting on sound knowledge are useless. At the same time, it is not difficult to see that what we call facts, at large extend are underpinned by values and opinions; at the same time, facts inform those values and opinions.

By giving simplistic answers to students, we confuse them: they can’t make sense why what is found on the internet may be less reliable than what is found in books (do we, educators, really believe that either?); they can’t explain the value of blogs, they remain suspicious and sceptical about us, educators, and about their own abilities to make sense.