Huge News from the Michigan Department of Education: No Funding for CCSS, at Least for Now

From MLive:

Michigan Department of Education website to be shut down today
Lori Higgins,
October 1, 2013

The Michigan Department of Education’s website is expected to go dark today because the Legislature has failed to act on allowing the department to spend money to implement the Common Core State Standards, which are integrated throughout the site.

In a memo that went out to school administrators statewide Monday, MDE officials said the site — www.michigan.gov/mde — has to be taken down.

The budget bill the Legislature approved earlier this year — which went into effect today — bars the MDE from spending any money on implementing the standards or an exam that would be based on the standards until the Legislature weighs in on whether the state should move forward.

The House on Thursday approved a resolution allowing the MDE to move forward with implementation, but the Senate hasn’t taken it up. A joint meeting of the Senate Education Committee and the Senate subcommittee on K-12 committee funding is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the Common Core. It’s unclear when the full Senate might take up the resolution.

“If we cannot expend funds on any information, or support and assistance to local schools, then we have to scrub our entire website and restore pages as they are deemed fit,” State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said in the Monday memo.

The MDE website isn’t the only thing impacted by the lack of legislative action. MDE is now in violation of a waiver it received from the U.S. Department of Education last year — a waiver that allows the state to bypass some of the strict rules of the federal No Child Left Behind law. One of the conditions of the waiver was that states adopt college and career readiness standards, which the Common Core standards are considered to be.

For more detail, see this email from the Michigan Department of Education’s Leah Breen:

Dear Colleagues,
Due to the Michigan Senate not providing an “affirmative action” to allow the Michigan Department of Education to continue implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by the beginning of the October 1, 2013-14 state fiscal year, the Department is prohibited by state law from providing information, support and assistance on either the CCSS or the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAs).

Because so much of that information is integrated throughout the MDE website, the website will be taken down while any and all CCSS and SBA information is identified and removed. We will be restoring unaffected information as it is cleared.

Additionally, the following work within the Office of Professional
Preparation Institution will be temporarily suspended at 11:59 p.m. tonight, September 30, 2013.

1. Recommendation of candidates within MOECS
2. Approval of applications within MOECS
3. Educator Preparation Institution Performance Score
4. Program approval
5. Standards revision
6. Title II, Part B grant support
7. Accreditation visits
8. Technical assistance related to State Standards or activities affiliated
with those standards
9. Other, not yet identified activities

Each component of our work will be reviewed carefully. As we determine that those activities are not in violation of the current restrictions, we will communicate this information to our constituents and restore the services.

We appreciate your understanding while we work through this situation, especially as it pertains to the prohibition for staff to communicate and provide technical assistance to you on affected issues. We look forward to resolution so that we can go back to providing the support you expect and deserve.

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Big News Event

lajm1 Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

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Brainstorm: Educational Uses of Flipboard

Flipboard_Logotype_Square_flat_300dpi Flipboard is one of the coolest new readers for media tablets. It is, in essence, a replacement for web-based RSS aggregators such as Google Reader, now defunct. Flipboard lets you subscribe to a range of digital content, including Twitter and blog feeds, Facebook news feeds, media outlets that export to Flipboard format (such as the Atlantic), and most interestingly, “magazines” created by other Flipboard users. Web users can also install a browser tool to add content via the web.

Start by getting the the app for your iPad, iPhone, Droid, or Galaxy. You’ll see that you can 1) create a magazine with your favorite individual articles or 2) subscribe to content for your “cover stories.” This distinction is a little confusing at first, but basically the difference is that individual magazines allow you to scrapbook your good finds (static content), and cover stories offer dynamic content based on your subscriptions. You can share your individual magazines via a range of social media outlets and, of course, email.

Theoretically, then an educator could set up a magazine for his/her class, using content from around the web, including YouTube videos, images, and all matters of texts. I just added the ebook version of the Great Gatsby and a Groovshark playlist to my Flipboard magazine currently (and creatively) titled Rob.

I can’t quite wrap my head around this yet, though: can the magazine I create also have dynamic content that updates automatically? Do I create a new magazine for a different class (or different content)? Can I convert a boring old PDF text into a Flipboard text? And what, besides beauty, does Flipboard offer that a WordPress blog does not offer?

Stay tuned.

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Is Blogging Still Relevant?

My posts here have become infrequent, to say the least. After a record-low number of posts this academic year, I’m thinking about pulling the plug on this blog, which has been in existence since 2005. But is blogging still relevant? Google recently terminated Google Reader, the RSS aggregator that fed my blog (and many others). In the heyday of blogging and RSS (2005 or 2006), blogging meant reading, commenting, and linking to other blogs, using RSS to find interesting feeds. The success and explosive growth of Facebook and the iPhone pretty much spelled the end of this kind of particular way of reading/writing.

For its part, Facebook has has essentially fenced in the web, sucking in a huge proportion of web traffic. I suspect many people never leave Facebook, or if they do, they only follow links that are posted in their news feed or, more rarely, appear in the tailored sidebar ads.

Smartphones, too, have contributed to the death of blogging. More and more users access the web with these devices instead of laptops, and as they do so, they are constrained to communicate with short texts or tweets rather than longer blog posts. Instead of RSS readers that grab free syndicated content (though there are a few out there still), apps monetize content via subscription.

So, does the lowly personal blog live on, or is it time to abandon what was once the vehicle of the 2.0 web revolution?

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Bent Not Broken–Reflections on the End

I just received word from iTunes that my third and final version of Bent Not Broken has just been approved. This marks the end of a long, long journey with the text, beginning in 2009 with the concept of the project, which was originally intended for print. After a year of writing and research, I began seeking out publishers in 2011. The next two years were spent mostly waiting for rejection letters from a host of big and small publishers, most of whom never looked at the manuscript.

And while I wouldn’t say no if,say, Scholastic came along and offered to publish the text, I have also discovered how well the book works in the digital, multimedia domain. I’ve been able to add a ton of rich content and make my own research process a little more transparent. Along the way, I also learned a ton about epublishing, and particularly the ins-and-outs of both Adobe InDesign (a good program) and the Apple store. In the future, software like Indesign will get easier to use and more accessible, much like web design software did in the late 1990s.

I am also excited to say that I just got a small GVSU grant and purchased six iPads for the Secondary English Education program at GVSU. I will be working with our newest faculty member, Bailey Herrmann, to develop iPad-based writing and reading projects beginning next semester. My hope is that students will produce ebooks somewhat like mine, taking classic, public domain literary texts such as Heart of Darkness and enriching them with images, video, and other kinds of interactivity.

There are other examples of this new, interactive classic already out there. If you have an iPad, I strongly recommend downloading the amazing Inkle version of Frankenstein which is a sort of choose-your-own adventure retelling of the classic text, this time set during the French Revolution. Inkle itself looks like a cool free tool that allows you to write interactive, reader-directed novels. I am also interested in the latest version of The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchanan, which NPR recently reviewed. It too bends genre, combining some game-like features with the text from the original novel, albeit abridged.

So, can students take a classic literary text and re-situate it in a rich multimedia environment, even adding interactivity that borders on gameplay? I have really high hopes, though I know that all that talk about “new forms” of books or reading in the 1990s ended up producing, well, awful hypertext novels that no one really reads or cares about.

Going to keep thinking about this. For now, just download Bent Not Broken and tell me what you think.

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Update: Bent Not Broken, Version 1.1, Now Available Free

Photo Apr 13, 3 11 12 PMOver the past ten days or so, my interactive ebook Bent Not Broken has been downloaded at the App store over 100 times. The number of downloads increased dramatically (and not surprisingly) when I decided to make the app free.
This new version is relatively smaller than the original. I also fixed some embarrassing typos, redesigned a couple of ugly pages that had been bugging me, and increased the leading for greater readability.

In short, if you haven’t downloaded it yet, please give it a try. There’s really nothing to lose. Except just a little space (okay, 1 GB) on your iPad. But the story is unforgettable.

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Bent Not Broken Now Available at App Store

Bent Not BrokenI am very pleased to announce that my interactive ebook, Bent Not Broken, is now available for the iPad (1st or 2nd generation) at the App Store.

This interactive story follows the life of a family trying to survive a brutal war in West Africa. The war took place in in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the 1990s. All wars are cruel, but this one was particularly brutal—fought by warlords and their death squads of child soldiers, the war saw the deliberate targeting of civilians. Murder, rape, torture, and abduction were common tactics used by all factions, and the signature atrocity of the war, amputation, left thousands without hands and legs.

Through a rich multimedia presentation that includes personal testimonies, images, maps, found artifacts, video, audio, and animations, Bent Not Broken shows how one family survived the war and came to America in 2005. More than just an ebook, this highly interactive and compelling account of human endurance and cultural adaptation will appeal to young adult and adult readers who are willing to enter into the life of a family under the extreme duress of war.

Teachers

  • If you teach multigenre writing and have a iPad, this text can serve as an example of a research-based multigenre project. It contains poetry, prose testimonials, excerpts from official documents, interviews, photographs, hand-drawn maps, and more. Collectively, these genres work together to tell a highly engaging story of human survival.
  • If you are interested in composing ebooks with your students, Bent Not Broken can serve as an example of a new kind of interactive story-telling. This narrative technique will become increasingly available to your students as software such as iBooks Author makes composing multimedia books easier and easier.
  • If you teach African literature or other literature concerned with the plight of refugees, this Bent Not Broken can add to these works.
  • If you have an iPad but not the $2.99, please email me (rozemar@gvsu.edu) for a promotional code to download the text for free.
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Mightybell Looks Promising for Educators

Mightybell

Mightybell is a new social space created by Ning co-found Gina Bianchini. In my ongoing search to find a suitable replacement for the now-costly Ning, I have found few spaces that really appeal to me. Mightybell may just be one.

Think of Mightybell as a combination of Pinterest and Ning (or any other social network). You create a space, customize its look, and then invite participants via email. Participants can pin notes, documents, images, videos, or links using a dead-simple interface. Your space becomes a kind of archive of all of these posts, which can be searched or read chronologically. Users can also comment on all of the items. There is no nonsense about friending, either: all invited users have access to the same content. A mobile Mightybell app is promised soon.

For now, Mightybell is free, and seems to be designed specifically for educators looking to get outside of Blackboard or Moodle. Your Mightybell space can be public or private, easing the anxiety that some educators still feel about leaving the home server.

Check out Mightybell–while it’s still free!

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And the Winners are: Adobe InDesign CS6 and iPad 2

To update the post below, I’ve decided on both ebook hardware, software, and format. This was no easy task–there are dozens of hardware options out there, nearly as many software programs, and at least a handful of possible publishing locales, each with its own proprietary format. For converting my print manuscript to a digital format, though, I have decided that the industry standard, Adobe InDesign CS6, is the best option. A few reasons:

  • The cost is not so bad with a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. Somewhere under $300 per year, but you get all that Adobe goodness, which includes Photoshop and Media Encoder.
  • Unlike iBooks Author, the tool that comes for free with Mountain Lion, InDesign lets you design every document from scratch. Not having to work with someone else’s pre-existing template, even if they are pretty, is a plus for me.
  • Easy audio and video integration makes this software even more appealing. So, if the print edition of my text never gets published, at least this version will have video clips, audio files, and beautiful hand-drawn maps (hat tip: artist extraordinaire Holly Hoover) that can be zoomed and panned within the digital document. No print edition can do that, right? InDesign even lets you published three-dimensional models within your digital text.
  • InDesign lets you create multiple versions of the same text with relative ease. Why would I want multiple digital versions? Simple: just as web developers struggle to make their pages look good on multiple monitors, ebook publishers need to accomodate a huge range of devices, each with its own screen size and resolution. With InDesign, I can create multiple formats, allowing the device to pick the version best for its hardware and software.

The primary device I’m publishing for is the iPad 2, since this seems to be the most popular tablet in schools. The iPad 3 has the retina display and a much larger resolution, making it a tempting choice for rich visuals, but for now, I am sticking with the 1028 x 768 pixels of the iPad 2.

I’ll be publishing the text, eventually, to the App store, not as a book per se, but as an application with a book wrapped inside of it. While I could publish a fairly interactive PDF, the app version allows me to draw on all of the interactivity of the digital medium, while marketing the text in a very popular venue.

In all of this thinking, I have been helped immensely by the work of Pariah Burke, and specifically, ePublishing with InDesign CS6: Design and produce digital publications for tablets, ereaders, smartphones, and more by Pariah S. Burke. If you are at all interesting in ePublishing, this is a terrific resource, written in very clear language. I recommend the Kindle version, of course, if you are really interesting in epublishing.

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Still Waiting for the Killer E-Book Publisher

Since the fall of 2012, I have been working on a book about a family of refugees from Sierra Leone. The book is finished and has been shipped off to at least eight or nine publishers now. No one, to date, has been interested in publishing it, though I am keeping up the effort.

With a little time on my hands over Christmas break, I am taking a big step: turning the book into an e-book and publishing it. There are a few things to consider, of course, and the first is whether or not I lose all credibility by self-publishing the work. At this point, I have to say I no longer care. That was easy enough. I don’t need the publication for my CV; tenure is behind me; and I am growing weary of rejections from print publishers.

The next big question is which e-book platform to use. A quick review of some major options:

  • Apple iBooks Author is newly updated and free for Mountain Lion users. I upgraded to ML, in fact, just for this tool, which is getting pretty good reviews. It has a series of very sharp design templates that should accomodate just about every e-author. And in true Apple fashion, the tool itself is easy-to-use and relatively intuitive. Better still, you can embed video (not Flash, of course) into your e-book. My book is based on video interviews that would fit nicely into this format. Some issues: again, like most Apple software, you have to work to get inside it. It is frustrating to be limited to the templates provided by the software, and for some reason, it is impossible to create a simple blank page. As for publishing, the software exports only to Apple’s proprietary e-book format (.iba), limiting your book to the Apple store. Hardly a surprise.
  • Adobe Creative Suite is a much more powerful design program made for professionals. I have the older version of this software (CS5). Its successors Adobe CS5.5 and 6 both support e-publication even more so than CS5. But even inn CS5, you can export to the open-source e-pub format, making your book marketable anywhere that accepts this format (such as the Google Play Store). The design possibilities are nearly endless. The software offers sophisticated tools that go well beyond anything in iBooks Author. If you can imagine it, you can probably design it in CS5. The problem is the price tag–somewhere around $1,300 for the newest Creative Suite Standard. For $29.99/month, you can subscriben to the Creative Cloud, a cloud-based version of the software that I have yet to try.
  • Create Space by Kindle isn’t really full-fledged e-publishing software. It’s more like a set of guidelines and some cloud-based tools that help you publish your e-book to Amazon. Just become a member of Create Space–it’s free–and get started. Here, the problem is that there are no robust tools like Creative Suite or built-in templates like iBooks author. You’re pretty much on your own. The advantage is that Amazon owns the e-book industry right now, and you immediately have a huge audience.
  • Google Play Store is the least proprietary of the e-book vendors: it publishes a range of formats, including the open-source e-pub format. That is good. But like Create Space, it doesn’t really assist with the design of the books, and I’m not sure it can handle an e-pub with embedded video.

To end what is becoming a long post, I am going with iBooks Author for now, hacking its templates whenever necessary. I may also use the powerful e-book manager Calibre to convert my ebook. I am excited, however, about the way the e-book format can enrich my text . . . more on this later.

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