Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Authors Join Goodreads

by Emeli Warren, Spring 2013 Intern

With the advent of social media, online publicity for books and authors has gone viral. Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular locations for authors to spread the word about their current work, highlight their events and project development, and gain a following. But these aren’t the only two venues that can push an author into social media stardom. Goodreads, a company that debuted in 2007, has spread like wildfire in recent years, showcasing author profiles from the likes of Nicholas Sparks, Paulo Coelho and Kathryn Stockett. The site has attracted over 14 million members, making it a go-to hub for author and book promotion in an oversaturated market.

All users, both readers and authors, can post personal writing, catalog past reads, rate their book choices, join virtual book clubs and even track goals. One of the most alluring options is the “shelves” feature that adds books to a list of “read,” “currently reading” and “to-read” titles. Each time a user rates a book, the title is added to their “read” shelf containing books they’ve already read. If there are currently reading any titles, a user just need change the date of the “date read” and the list will automatically be updated, moving the book to the “currently reading” list. Type in a number of books to read this year, and Goodreads will track how many have been added to the “read” shelf since the goal start date. It will keep the reader informed of his or her progress, whether they are behind, on track or ahead of their goals.

While anyone can join the site for free, authors can also become members of the Goodreads Author Program, a page that can be merged with their “reader” profile. In a time where many authors are forced to handle much of their own event planning and media outreach, Goodreads makes the process just that much more enjoyable. The program opens up promotion through giveaways, the ability to post videos, the chance to host Q&A sessions, and the option to upload book cover images and bios. Any published or soon-to-be published author can join—including those who have self-published. The site also offers a Goodreads widget that can be placed on any personal website or blog to help display the reviews authors have on their current works. Because an author profile is linked to a reader profile, authors can connect with other readers on a personal level rather than purely through an author-to-reader relationship—it doesn’t have to be all self-promotion.

Goodreads has managed to create a site integrating the multi-tiered relationships to be made between authors and readers, making it a necessary addition to the social media ventures of any up-and-coming—or established—author. If it’s free to join and only takes minutes to create a profile, what’s the risk? Nothing, it seems, other than becoming addicted to another form of networking . . . but where’s the harm in that?

*Note: After this article was written, Amazon Inc. purchased Goodreads. Is this a tactic to keep Goodreads from becoming a competitive bookseller, allowing Amazon to retain their “monopoly” on the market? Or does this simply mean that more authors can reach a wider audience, as Amazon claims the merger is intended to do? Read more here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/apr/02/amazon-purchase-goodreads-stuns-book-industry

Further Reading:
"Read Any Good Web Sites Lately? Book Lovers Talk Online," New York Times, accessed April 3, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/13/books/goodreadscom-is-growing-as-a-popular-book-site.html?_r=0
"Author Program—Use Goodreads to Promote Yourself and Your Books," Goodreads.com, accessed April 3, 2013, http://www.goodreads.com/author/program

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Teaching Kids the Bottom Line

by Catherine Martin, Spring 2013 Intern

As long as money exists, people will continue to have problems with it. And as long as people continue to have problems with money, publishers of educational material will continue to try to help kids learn about being smart with it. As The Wall Street Journal mentioned back in 2008, publishers like Kidnexions and Educational Learning Games have tried to make financial responsibility fun by designing games around concepts like budgeting and monitoring savings. They have board games and bank account simulation games, where kids can confuse themselves for hours, trying to learn about interest percentages and savings allotments.

Now, I don’t doubt that the people at Kidnexions and Educational Learning Games know what they’re doing. I’m sure their games are well-designed and will teach kids at least the very basics about not spending more than you have, making budgets, and maybe even what a balance is. However, money is a concept that is nigh impossible to grasp until you start earning and spending it yourself. So I wonder if there is an untapped psychology about money that is better explored in other, more complicated media than merely in board games and the simplest of computer software.

I loved Super Mario Bros. when I was growing up. I especially loved hoarding extra lives. You start out with only a few lives, but there were ways to get more, and I would spend long stretches of time earning life after extra life until I hit 99, the maximum number of extra lives the game allowed you to have. After that, I would play as carefully as possible, so as not to lose a precious life. I couldn’t stand to let my balance go under 80 or 90, or sometimes, if I was feeling meticulous, 95.

Years later, when I was making money for the first time, I realized that I manage money with a similar mentality. I love watching the number in my bank account go up (who doesn’t?), and I try not to let it fall under a certain number until I get my next paycheck. Maintaining my bank account feels a lot like maintaining the number of lives I had stocked up in Mario in the sixth grade.

I know I’m not the only person who enjoys playing video games this way; “looting” is a style of video game playing where a player’s first priority is not to beat the game but to get as much stuff as possible. I wonder what would happen if game designers partnered with educators to connect the experience of earning and spending loot in video games more strongly with the basic principles of money management.

If they want to create a truly engaging, effective product, maybe educational publishers should think beyond board games and 2-D software. Kids are going to play video games anyway; why not make gaming a little more practical? Maybe, amidst all the fantasy monsters and high-tech weaponry of video games, there’s a financial lesson or two to be learned.

“Educational Games on Finances,” The Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121989192278778797.html#mod=2_1559_leftbox
accessed February 21, 2013.
“Are Video Games Educational?” Education.com http://www.education.com/magazine/article/Video_Games_Educational/, accessed February 21, 2013

“Financial Literacy through Video Games” CNN.com http://money.cnn.com/2009/05/12/smallbusiness/young_adult_financial_literacy.fsb/, accessed February 21, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Union: The Way Buying Things Should Be

by Emeli Warren, Spring 2013 Intern

At Azusa Pacific University, class projects in the business department encourage students to team up with existing companies to promote networking and field experience. But Mitch Ahlenius and Benjamin Juhlin have never done things like everyone else. Rather than teaming up with a “real” company, they thought they would create one themselves.

The idea for what would eventually be called The Union Co. started out as dream Ahlenius and Juhlin could entertain while working on their project, but it soon developed into a venture they wanted to seriously pursue outside of class. Originally wanting to provide a wide range of services to nonprofits that would include everything from design to marketing, the duo realized they could serve more people by narrowing their focus. The goal became to create a marketplace for products that support causes.

The co-founders wanted to maintain a business that is mutually beneficial: the customers get a quality product, and those providing the products get the return they deserve. Their website says, We want to engage people in the dignity of a business relationship, one where both sides win, because that is a more sustainable way to support a cause.” 

Epic Timepieces, the first company willing to become part of the venture, was signed on nearly a year ago and supports clean water initiatives; the purchase of one watch provides “clean water to someone in a developing country for an entire year through the distribution of water filters.”

The website, launched March 4 of this year, allows its users to search by product category (from home goods to electronics) or by cause (such as job creation by employing Kenyan mothers). They even offer products from five vendors that support education. OAK Lifestyle sells backpacks with a pouch intended for an ordinary act of kindness (or “OAK”; thus the acronym), encouraging the owners to carry around a granola bar or cash to give to someone in need. With each purchase, OAK provides a child with a backpack and school supplies. RePick sells guitar picks that are made from recycled gift cards, donating 100% of the proceeds to keeping music in Los Angeles school districts.

Their other products range from wooden iPhone cases by Vers, which plants 100 trees for every one used in production, to handmade soaps by Hand in Hand, which not only donates a bar of soap for each one purchased, but also saves 50 square feet of rain forest and ensures a donation to “help fund micro-credit loans to alleviate poverty in the U.S. and the developing world” per bar sold.
If there is a good way to approach shopping, this is it. Just by purchasing everyday products, lives can be changed forever—putting us one step closer to a better educated, healthier, and happier world.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Teachers Worry About Making the Grade

by Victoria Elliott, Spring 2013 Intern

South Carolina teachers are uneasy about a new grading system being introduced in public schools. The A–F letter grades are familiar, but the educators won’t be giving out the marks—they’ll be receiving them.

As a push to further improve the public school system in South Carolina, State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais has developed this new way of evaluating teachers. The program is in its first two years of pilot testing at twenty-two schools, and though it hasn’t yet been formally presented for a vote to the South Carolina State Board of Education, it is tentatively slated for statewide use in the 2014–2015 school year. After the current school year comes to a close, officials will review the pilot test’s results, making any needed changes before testing again for the 2013–2014 term.

Teachers have responded strongly against the proposal. They have stated that receiving letter grades would be offensive and demeaning, and they find it ludicrous that no teachers were consulted during the proposal development. Of course, teachers understand the need to be evaluated. They would simply prefer being evaluated in a more professional way, on a scale from exemplary to unsatisfactory.

Though these letter grades would not affect salary, teachers performing at D or F levels two years in a row would be terminated from their positions. Teachers’ grades would be based roughly two-thirds on observation by principals and peers and one-third on the statistical analysis of yearly student standardized test scores, comparing actual student growth against predictions. Teachers would be evaluated based on whether a student meets, fails to meet or exceeds expectations. Another one of the bigger issues teachers have taken with this plan is the way it plans to grade those who teach subject areas not included on current standardized tests, such as music, art, physical education, special education and so forth. For these teachers, 30 percent of their overall grade would be based on how the entire school does on standardized testing, even though the teachers’ subjects have no direct impact on students’ scores.

Fortunately, though Superintendent Zais states that he wants letter grades because they clearly communicate levels of performance, he also states that he is willing to negotiate and that his primary goal is to ensure quality teachers are teaching kids. For South Carolina’s sake, hopefully Zais, teachers and school administrators can come together to create an evaluation system that is fair, mutually agreed upon and serves to reward gifted teachers more than focusing on those who are underperforming.

Further Reading:
“South Carolina Teachers Worry as State Plans to Grade Them,” accessed February 21, 2013, http://www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/south-carolina-teachers-worry-as-state-plans-to-grade-them/.

“SC plan to grade teachers stirs protests,” The State: South Carolina’s Homepage, accessed February 21, 2013, http://www.thestate.com/2012/12/26/2568261/sc-plan-to-grade-teachers-stirs.html#.UNt7iG8Yu6W