eBooks and Education

So I made a pseudo-cameo in Joshua Tallent and Co.’s eBook Ninjas podcast! I had asked a question about how to prepare to enter the field of ebook conversions – I pretty much inquired about what to read, what to practice, etc. Joshua, Tobias, and Chris were kind enough to share their thoughts and advice. (To hear it, listen to the most recent episode, episode 41, about 10 minutes in. Needless to say, I was pretty giddy when they mentioned me, this blog, and my Twitter account!)

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they mentioned two things:

A) The date for the eBook Production Workshop(!) – September 19-21! If you’re interested in learning about eBook conversion and the like, check out this workshop. When I first learned about it, I knew I had to go – despite the $600 price tag. I’ll be booking my flight and hotel stay once more details are announced. I think what’s even cooler about this workshop involves who’ll be attending. I can’t wait to meet these professionals and learn about their work.

B) Near the end of the podcast, Joshua mentioned an interesting topic he and the fellow ninjas wanted to discuss within the next few podcasts: ebooks and education. While I’m mildly interested in the realm of digital textbooks, I’m more concerned about how ebook creation is being taught in schools.

With the number of times I’m asked about my current academic program by strangers and family members alike, I’m starting to feel like a poster child for the electronic publishing track at Emerson. I’m immensely proud of the track and believe it’s a fantastic avenue for students to get into the nitty gritty of online publishing. Emerson has taken an initiative in addressing the shift to digital among publishers; after all, it’s now required for incoming graduate publishing students to take an overview course in electronic publishing in the fall.

I have one year left at Emerson, and so far I’m looking to have taken at least four electronic publishing courses. These include the aforementioned overview, my thesis project (a forthcoming illustrated graphic novel I wrote/drew that I’ll be digitizing for view on the NookColor), a focused course on creating content for the web and e-readers (essentially, basic HTML and EPUB work) and a possible web development course. As a result of the web/e-readers class I took this past spring, I not only know how to create an EPUB file, but I understand how it works and know the limitations it can bring to certain texts.

The New York Times ran a piece about the famed Columbia Publishing Course, an intense program for students to learn the ins and outs of publishing. Inaugurated in Cambridge, Mass. at Radcliffe College, the course allows students to network with editors and learn about the trade; aside from attending lectures, students complete complex projects and proposals and present them to real editors for review.

Now, as ebooks have gained footing, the course has had to address their presence, ensuring its students to have the edge in the shifting industry.

But is the Columbia Publishing course teaching anything about EPUB? As far as I can tell, not really*, according to the second segment of the course, which involves digital media:

During the magazine and digital media workshop, student groups develop proposals for new magazines or Web sites, researching possible audiences, establishing editorial mission statements, designing layouts and wireframes, assessing competitors, determining potential advertisers and developing a Web strategy. By the end of the six weeks, course graduates have a greater understanding of book, magazine and digital media publishing than many people now working in the field. – CPC Course Description

Of course, my view of this course is limited because, hey, I’m not attending it. For all I know, I’m sure the word “epub” has been uttered a few times during a lecture or three. But I’m sure they’re not going into the details Emerson has begun to dig into with its epublishing track. There’s a difference between learning about ebooks and making ebooks.

Now, I don’t want to knock Columbia’s course; after all, I’m sure it’s an amazing opportunity for future publishing professionals. And let’s face it, you can only do so much within a few weeks! But while it’s very nice to gain an understanding of what ebooks are doing in the greater scope of the industry, I don’t think a future editor can genuinely understand what an ebook is until they catch at least a glimpse of how one is produced. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really work if you just read about it. There is a chemistry – a physiology, even – within an ebook, making it tricky to pin and analyze. Coupled with the nature of the ebook’s evolving culture and economy, many can find themselves at a loss to understand how it all fits together.

At Emerson, I’ve been able to learn about ebooks through three lenses: in one, I’m the programmer, dealing with cold code and troubleshooting the issues that plague text when read on a device. In another, I’m the editor examining ebooks as a platform for marketing a product; and thirdly, I’m the reader, trying to understand what I want from my own user experience as I consume books. I think future publishing professionals need to take to a three-pronged view in order fully comprehend what ebooks are doing. Print books aren’t going anywhere, but ebooks are indeed here to stay.

Aside from this, The New York Times article also bothered me because of the dismissive approach it took to Cambridge/Boston in general:

Since it moved to Manhattan, students have been able to plug directly into the industry and mingle with editors at book parties in the evening, a far cry from the cozy isolation of Cambridge.

“Cozy isolation”? Did The New York Times miss a memo about how many publishers are in Boston, including

  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Bedford/St. Martin’s
  • Beacon Press
  • Pearson Education (Custom Publishing)
  • MIT Press
  • Candlewick Press
  • Shambhala Publications
  • Cheng & Tsui

and many, many others. Yes, they’re not the Big Six, and they’re not in the middle of the busiest city in the world, but the publishers located in Boston and the greater Massachusetts area offer valid experience and opportunities for students to become involved in work they want to do by supplementing their learning experience with hands-on work. And certainly, when it comes to digital publishing, it  goes way beyond the Big Apple to, well, almost any place with an Internet connection.

I used to believe I had to force myself to live in NYC in order to “make it” in publishing. Based on my experience at Emerson so far, that is no longer the case.

* If any CPC students want to let me know what the program has covered in terms of ebook production, please feel free to comment.

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About Iris Amelia

Graduate student at Emerson College. Likes the color purple.

Posted on July 25, 2011, in ebooks, epublishing, news, publishing, reaction. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Way to rep Emerson pride guuuurl. I’m taking Digital overview this semester! Hope I can get more digital-based classes come Spring. Great points!

  2. Ha. I thought this was going to be about digital textbooks/ebooks & educational publishing.

    It seems to me that publishing programs really have to move beyond, “Ebooks! What do they mean?” and more toward having professionals in the classroom to really teach, well, all the things you discuss: what ebooks are, how they work, and all their technical and business nuances.

  3. “Emerson has taken an initiative in addressing the shift to digital among publishers; after all, it’s now required for incoming graduate publishing students to take an overview course in electronic publishing in the fall.”

    I want our 1st years to learn HTML ASAP. =)

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