Textbooks in a Digital Age: The History of Canada Online

Digital technologies are changing the way we read history. With the popularization of consumer electronic e-readers like Kindle, Sony Reader, Kobo, and (yes) iPad, many textbook publishers are trying to take advantage of this opportunity to reach digital reading audiences.

Unfortunately, the Kindle DX digital textbook pilot program at Princeton had a rocky start and further reviews haven’t been favourable. Some universities are now experimenting with Apple’s iPad as a digital reader for the classroom. Many of the complaints about these digital readers, however, tend to focus on the hardware and not the e-book software. Obviously the hardware plays a significant role in the digital reading experience, but it is on the software side where we are likely to see the most exciting innovation in the development of e-textbooks.

Northern Blue Publishing is a digital textbook publisher and e-learning company that seems to be making a genuine effort to harness the advantages of digital technologies for textbooks. Rather than simply replicating a print reading experience on screen, Northern Blue uses wiki-based publishing software to produce customizable textbook offerings for schools and libraries with print-on-demand, DVD or CD publishing options, and flexible licensing. This not only provides school boards and educators affordable textbooks but it uses the advantages of digital publishing over print publishing to produce a more customizable digital reading experience for teachers and students.

The History of Canada Online is one such project that illustrates many of the advantages of digital technologies for textbook publishing. Dr. Alastair Sweeny from Northern Blue answered a few questions about this project:

Sean Kheraj: What is The History of Canada Online project all about?

Alastair Sweeny: We are producing a line of digital textbooks as a business (and a passion).

SK: What are the origins of The History of Canada Online? How did this project start?

AS: It goes back to work we did in the late 1980s, specifically Canadisk, Canada’s first multimedia CD-ROM.  This contained a timeline of Canadian history plus a digital library and image base, all indexed.  We did it as a joint venture with Encyclopedia  Britannica, who were also selling Compton’s Multimedia CD-ROM at the time.

When Britannica flamed out, due to competition from MS Encarta, we bought out their interest, continued on our own, and when teacher and McGraw-Hill author Nick Brune approached us, we pulled together a full scale online textbook portal.

SK: Who is the main audience for HCO?

AS: Middle secondary to early college.  It could be used as supplement for a first year university survey course.  We are doing a junior version as well.  See our current line here:
http://www.northernblue.ca/products/index.php/Northern_Blue_Publishing_Portal_Index

SK: Can you explain how you are using the wiki technology for HCO?

AS: We use Mediawiki builds, but customize the software, page design and so on.  It is very good, robust open source software, and it automatically indexes new pages and changes, and sends changes out as RSS if people want to subscribe.

Wikitext is fairly easy to learn and our authors are soon comfortable with writing online. Students who use Wikipedia also find it very easy to use.  But under our licences, users can mix media.  The NWT government for example are creating CD’s with the chapters because some of the far north village schools don’t have Web access, but they do have computers with optical drives.

SK: Where might this work go in the future?

AS: The portals are flexible and easy to update.  We hope to get more and more teacher and student input in future. We are also producing ebook apps that will be free to subscribers.

Take a look at The History of Canada Online and let me know what you think. Is this a good model for textbook publishing? Do you know of other digital textbook projects doing similar work? Let me know in the comments section.

Canadian Environmental History on the Radio

You can now listen to Nature’s Past, the Canadian environmental history podcast, on the radio (in Prince George)! The kind folks at CFUR 88.7, the campus radio station at the University of Northern British Columbia will be broadcasting the full series of Nature’s Past this summer. This will be the first time that the podcast will make the jump to radio.

I’m obviously very pleased to have the podcast aired on CFUR and I’d love to get it out to more campus radio stations. If you are looking for content to air on your campus radio station, please get in touch with me and let me know. You can contact me through the Nature’s Past Twitter account @naturespast or via email.

If you happen to be in Prince George over the summer, tune in to 88.7 on your FM dial at noon on Wednesdays to catch Nature’s Past. Thanks CFUR!

Nature’s Past Canadian Environmental History Podcast Episode 15 Available

NiCHE_Podcast_Logo1smallEpisode 15 Forestry Education in Canada: May 26, 2010
[43:04]

In 1907, the University of Toronto opened Canada’s first forestry school to undergraduate students. This was the beginning of formal forestry education in Canada and great step forward for the profession. However, the history of the Faculty of Forestry reveals a troubled past filled with struggles to balance the interests of the provincial government, private industry, and the university administration. Mark Kuhlberg joins us for an extended interview about his new book One Hundred Rings and Counting: Forestry Education and Forestry in Toronto and Canada, 1907-2007 in which he chronicles the first century of this foundational institution and fills a significant gap in the literature on the history of the development of professional forestry.

Also, Lauren Wheeler, from the New Scholars in Canadian History and Environment Group discusses an upcoming virtual environmental history workshop for graduate students called Place and Placelessness.

Please be sure to take a moment and review this podcast on our iTunes page.

Visit the main page at http://niche-canada.org/naturespast

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Works Cited

Music Credits

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State of the Park: Report on the Ecological Integrity of Stanley Park

The Stanley Park Ecological Society (SPES) has released its 2010 State of the Park Report for the Ecological Integrity of Stanley Park. This project emerged following the 2006-07 windstorms. As the Park Board and other community stakeholders began to sort out how to respond to the freshly wind-torn landscape, they realized that there was very limited information on the ecological conditions of the peninsula.

SPES undertook this collaborative project to help fill in this knowledge gap. The report includes a bevy of scientific information about the ecology of Stanley Park, courtesy of a number of different research partners, including the Vancouver Park Board, UBC Forest Sciences Department, Parks Canada, and many others. I was pleased to have the opportunity to contribute some environmental history research to the report from my own work on Stanley Park.

Oxypoda stanleyi, a new species of beetle first discovered in Stanley Park.

The report constitutes the most comprehensive scientific study of the environment of Stanley Park and has vastly expanded our knowledge of this place. The extent of this inventorial scientific research is best illustrated by the discovery of two previously unknown species of beetles: Oxypoda stanleyi and Sonoma squashorum.

With this new knowledge, however, comes the challenge of applying the findings from this study to future park policy and planning. SPES hopes that the report will “serve as the sound basis for a future Stanley Park Master Plan and provide a step towards the long-term maintenance and restoration of the Park’s ecological health and biodiversity.” This is not the first time in the history of Stanley Park that scientific research has guided park policy, but hopefully this report provides a base of knowledge to help inform better decisions about how we can live, work, and play in this environment.

Click here to read the full report.

Moose Strolls Through Downtown Calgary

A moose on the run in downtown Calgary.

Unusual urban animal sightings abound in Canada this month. Last week I wrote about the grey whale that visited Vancouver’s False Creek, the first to be seen in the vicinity of the city in living memory. Canada’s increasingly complicated relationship with wild animals in urban environments continues this week in Calgary, Alberta where a wild moose took a stroll through the city yesterday afternoon.

According to the Calgary Sun the wayward moose made its way up from the Bow River and began to wander into the city. At one point, the moose walked down 9th Avenue against the traffic!

Thankfully, Fish and Wildlife officers safely tranquilized the beast and and released it back into the wild. These kind of encounters today are certainly not commonplace and they highlight the careful boundaries humans have erected between cities and nature, domestic space and wilderness space. Whales in False Creek in Vancouver and Moose on 9th Avenue in Calgary disrupt those intellectual boundaries and remind us that we share urban habitats with many other species.

Thanks to @theMapleTap for passing along this story.

Understanding Past Environments through Historical Photographs

David Brownstein from the Department of Geography at UBC has posted an excellent interview with Jill Delaney from the Library and Archives of Canada about the use of historical photography in scholarly research. Dr. Delaney is involved in the Mountain Legacy Project, an interdisciplinary repeat photography and archival research project that examines landscape and ecological change in the mountain ranges of Western Canada.

This kind of project highlights the significance of historical photographs to scholarly research in the humanities and sciences. It is one of best examples of the intersection between environmental history research and scientific research. Historical photographs, as demonstrated in repeat photography, can provide invaluable information to both humanists and scientists about ecological change that might not otherwise be known through other research methods. It underlines the limits of scientific research methodologies and the broader significance of historical research methodologies to understanding past environments. Professor Eric Higgs, one of the project leaders, recently published an essay detailing some of this work in repeat photography in Culturing Wilderness in Jasper National Park: Studies in Two Centuries of Human History in the Upper Athabasca River Watershed.

Dr. Delaney’s reflections on the importance of historical photography and the challenges of maintaining such archival collections are insightful and certainly worth a read.

Nature’s Past Canadian Environmental History Podcast Episode 14 Available

NiCHE_Podcast_Logo1smallEpisode 14 Management of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse: April 20, 2010.
[42:40]

North American environmental history is punctuated by notorious episodes of species extinctions, most notably the cases of the passenger pigeon and the bison. In both cases, humans exhausted what they believed were unlimited resources in the absence of any scientific management or regulations.

The collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery in the 1990s stands out from these previous events because of the industry’s dependence on scientific management. This month, we speak with Professor Dean Bavington from Nipissing University about his research and the publication of his new book Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse.

Also, Marco Armiero, a senior researcher from the Italian National Research Council, tells us more about EMiGR, the Environment and Migration Group of Research.

Please be sure to take a moment and review this podcast on our iTunes page.

Visit the main page at http://niche-canada.org/naturespast

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Works Cited

Sean Kheraj, Canadian History & Environment

https://seankheraj.wordpress.com

Bavington, Dean L.Y. Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010.

Crosby, Alfred. The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1973.

Crosby, Alfred W. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Environment and Migration Group of Research (EMiGR)

http://migration-environment.webnode.com/

Music Credits

“Test Drive” by Zapac

“Kids” by Pitx

“Baby Me” by Glenn Miller

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