Every Kid a Publisher

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Originally published in the Dec 1999 / Jan 2000 of  Australia’s Hotsource online newsletter

Cable television, specialty publications and the Internet have seen the rise of narrowcasting. Narrowcasting succeeds because production and distribution is cheaper than ever before. Advertising may now be targeted to specific demographic groups. The proliferation of specialized cable TV channels: CNBC, Animal Planet and Bravo are good examples of narrowcasting. Media convergence now possible due to the Internet makes possible a multimedia “channel” where fans can listen to tune into their favorite radio or television show, discuss the shows with other fans while trading products and news about their favorite entertainer 24/7 anywhere on the globe.

A multimedia studio in every garage

All of this captures the promise of the 500-channel landscape. I would like to suggest that we are really on the verge of the billion channel universe.

In a recent article, WADIO, I explained how low-cost streaming media now makes it possible for kids of all ages to produce and broadcast (or narrowcast) their radio and television programs. Small groups of students have been producing school radio and television programs since the 1960s, but their audience has always been limited. The net produces a potentially limitless audience for their creative expression. Audience is an incredibly important motivational factor in the learning process.

School newspapers have gone global too. Highwired.Net (www.highwired.net) provides tools and free web space for any K-12 school newspaper. The best stories are selected each week for the National Edition. U-Wire (www.uwire.com) is a cooperative online wire service for college newspapers. Bolt (www.bolt.com) will publish articles banned by school newspapers and features all sorts of activities for communities of teens.

MP3 technology is reinventing the way music is sold and provides unprecedented opportunities for local musicians to find an audience. Every garage band and school ensemble has a record deal thanks to the net, inexpensive CD-burners and MP3 compression.

So, what does this have to do with school?

Fred D’Ignazio is fond of saying that “teachers are paper-trained.” Schools love text. The textbook industry views the Internet as a vehicle for delivering customizable textbooks to schools to print locally or “beam” to kids’ personal computers – thereby reducing the cost of distribution. This is a great example of how new technology is often used to perpetuate an older one.

Textbooks are a nineteenth and twentieth century innovation designed to make teaching and learning uniform. A premium was placed on every student in the land being taught exactly the same thing in similar ways at similar times. The one-to-many information delivery model employed by textbook publishing may be in for a challenge in the new millennium.

The Internet offers opportunities for learners of all ages to deal with primary sources, whether they are documents, multimedia clips, books or live experts. Research is no longer limited to predigested summaries created by anonymous experts. Synthesis and higher-order understanding are possible when kids make sense of timely and abundantly available information themselves.

Rather than asking kids to write dreaded book reports read by the teacher and student author alone, enterprising educators can have kids post reviews of books they have read on the web. These web pages may contain illustrations by the reader or streaming audio narrations of the books themselves. It only takes a few minutes for a teacher to sign-up to be an affiliate for Amazon.com (www.amazon.com) or Barnes and Noble (www.bn.com) and a class web site can sell the books reviewed the students. Now, not only is every first grader a literary critic, but every first grade classroom is a bookstore. The profits from your web site may be used to purchase additional books for the class library.

Online technical bookseller, Fatbrain.com, has just announced ematter. Ematter will publish anything by any author of any length on any topic. This was impossible for traditional publishers who had to worry about printing, marketing, warehousing and shipping costs. What you publish on ematter may be a book, technical manual or poetry anthology, but it doesn’t have to be a text at all. Ematter will publish a graphic image, recording of a speech or musical composition too. Any digital media will do.

Ematter stores the material, lists it in a searchable index and keeps track of downloads. You maintain your copyright and are not restricted from offering your creation in other forms elsewhere. Marketing is the responsibility of the author. Just tell people where they can find your work.

Oh, did I mention that the creator of the intellectual property is paid a fifty-percent royalty on every download and that ematter processes credit card payments? Say fifty-percent royalty to most authors and be prepared to resuscitate them. Best of all, the author may change, add to or update the work at any time. Not only is every person a potential publisher, but the work is no longer dead on the printed page. “Books” no longer have to sell for $25. They may cost a buck or two.

Back to school

School districts with terrific policy manuals or curriculum documents can now share them with other communities without the costs associated with filling orders, shipping and duplication. Teachers with imaginative classroom ideas can make those ideas available to other educators in ways never before possible. You no longer need a book contract or high production values to disseminate great ideas. Recordings of school concerts, plays and poetry readings can be made available to grandparents, friends and the wider community into perpetuity. This makes the business of school communication much more convenient.

And everyone gets paid for his or her efforts!

Every student paper, research project, painting and literary magazine now has an authentic audience. Folks across the globe may enjoy hearing stirring commencement addresses. Best of all, this work is archived for future retrieval. Don’t just share your work with a teacher and classmates when the world is waiting.

Perhaps students will have a digital portfolio maintained on the ematter site where they can add work as it’s created and improved over the course of their education.

Does this mean that students will be selling term papers online? You betcha! This practice might actually be encouraged some day soon if we shift away from a mindset relying on end-of-the-term live-or-die term papers towards an evolving cumulative body of individual and collaborative work. Ted Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools suggest that students prepare exhibitions of their knowledge. I suspect that many of you will help lead this exciting transition.

Let us know about your school’s online publishing ventures and we will feature them in a future HotSource article.

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