Diverse reading

A number of authors and librarians began to advocate for more diverse books to be published and promoted last year through the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hash tag. You can learn more about this campaign by taking a look at the We Need Diverse Books website.  I admit that I didn’t do a whole lot of reflection or thinking at the time about my own personal reading habits. I have read a variety of authors over the years that reflect a wide spectrum of diversity. However, I could see that I was stuck in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian rut after reviewing my GoodReads read bookshelf. I decided that 2015 would be the year that I expand my reading universe.

BooksI discovered Janet Ursel’s post, We Read Diverse Books, over Christmas break. Janet does a nice summary of the need for more diverse books and takes the idea one step further by challenging her blog readers to start reading more diverse books themselves. She is posting a diverse reading challenge every month during 2015. Her first challenge is to read “one book…about or by someone of a race different than yours.”

My reading blind spot is African authors. I took the required and even a few elective English courses during my undergraduate studies at Ohio State. I don’t recall reading many (if any) African authors beyond those that were part of a course required anthology textbook. MPOW does not have a huge African literature collection. We did have a copy of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which I finished last week. I am waiting for a copy of One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir by Binyavanga Wainaina to arrive sometime this next week from another Ohio academic library.

Have you thought much about your reading habits? Are you reading a diverse set of authors? If not, I highly encourage you to join those of us who are intentionally diversifying the authors and topics read during 2015. Please share the books you are reading on Twitter by using the #WeReadDiverseBooks hash tag.

We bought a SMART kapp

SMART kapp capture boardYou may have heard that SMART Technologies has a new capture board on the market. It’s called the SMART kapp. We bought one at MPOW to install in the learning commons in October. It arrived on campus after Thanksgiving, but we waited until after Christmas break to install it.

The current version of the board available measures 42.25″ by 25″. SMART will be selling a larger version of the board in the future. You can use any type of dry erase marker with this version of the board. It comes with three standard dry erase markers and a round eraser. The eraser is magnetic and sticks to the board (you can see in the picture) when not in use.

Using the SMART kapp is mostly intuitive. It is designed to be used with either an iOS or Android mobile device via a Bluetooth connection. Alternatively, it can be used with just a USB drive plugged into the side of the board. The use of Bluetooth to make the connection between the board and the mobile device means that you don’t have to get the capture board itself connected to your campus or office wireless network.

SMART kapp appOnly one person can connect to the capture board at a time. This person then uses the SMART kapp app for iOS or Android to either email a URL to others to view a live session in a web browser or capture what is written/drawn on the board. It is not necessary to install the SMART kapp app before using the board. A person can scan the QR code first, which will launch their mobile device’s app store and go to the SMART kapp app. The next time the person wants to use the board they can either scan the QR code, open the SMART kapp app, or hold their NFC capable and enabled Android device near the lower left side of the board. The least intuitive aspect of using the board is knowing that Bluetooth must be enabled on your device before you attempt to use it.

The collaboration aspect may hold the most value for this device. The person connected to the board can share (Invite) others to join them for a live session. Those invited will receive a URL (via email or other method chosen by the person inviting). Clicking the link makes a web browser connection to a real-time session where invitees can view what is being written (and erased) on the board.  I am not certain that many (or any) of our students will use the collaboration feature. I suspect this function is more useful in a corporate setting (see the promotion video below).

Saving what is written on the board is straightforward. An illuminated Capture (camera icon) on the board itself that can be touched to initiate a capture in the app. Alternatively, the person connected to the board using the SMART kapp app can touch the Capture icon in the app itself. Images captured in the app persist after the person is done using the board and ends the connection. The images captured in the app can be exported as either JPEG or PDF files. The text or drawing captured from the board only displays as black and white in the saved images. A colleague read that a future version of the board will support the use of colors. I suspect that means that special dry erase markers would be required for that version of the board.

As mentioned earlier, the board also supports direct capture to a USB drive. I think this is a good alternative, especially for students who have a mobile device that doesn’t have a lot of charge left on the battery.  Once a USB drive is plugged into the board, the USB icon will illuminate. The person just needs to touch that icon or the Capture (camera icon) to save what is written on the board as a PDF to the USB drive. I do find it an interesting decision by SMART to have the save format for the USB drive to be a PDF and not a JPEG.

It is too soon to share student reactions to the capture board. We are just starting to promote that it exists. We installed it in a visible part of the learning commons. The board doesn’t come with anything that we could hang for basic instructions. I created a brief document, with a URL to a LibGuide for more information, that describes how to use the capture board in three steps.

Is the SMART kapp worth the cost? It would seem that there is student interest in capturing what they write or draw on a white board. I have observed students taking pictures of white boards in the learning commons and other parts of the library. I have no idea if or how they use those images later on.

We are viewing our deployment of the SMART kapp as an experiment. One of our goals for the learning commons is to offer students a variety of collaborative technology options. I don’t know if we will buy any more for use in the learning commons or library. My IT collaborators may decide that it is a good collaboration tool and install more in meeting rooms on campus. I’ll do a follow-up post towards the end of the semester after we have more feedback from students and faculty.