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Case Study – Gillian Cowell

September 15th, 2010 by frederiklesage

This week’s eBook case study involves the work of researcher and community education worker Gillian Cowell. Gillian first encountered the eBooks online while doing research for her masters degree. She was interested in finding online tools help her to “capture data in a more interesting way for local people.” She was also hoping to turn the results of her research into something more unique than a regular research report. Although she had initially been attracted to the StoryCubes on the Proboscis website, she eventually received a version of the eBook after ordering a few things from Proboscis.

Sample project: Greenhill Digital Storytelling Guide

Her first project with the eBooks involved exploring how community residents talked about and engaged with the place they lived in from a historical and contemporary perspective. The eBooks were developed as a part of the process of collecting and disseminating information about what residents of the community of Greenhill – a historical village within Bonnybridge in Scotland. Gillian was able to recruit participants for the project either through the Greenhill Community Resource Centre or through her everyday encounters with local residents.

The eBooks served as a kind of “end point” to the project. They were used to summarise all of the information provided by the participants and subsequently presented to these same participants as a way for them to see their contributions to the research. You can find some examples of these eBooks here. Because of the limited resources available, she usually limits herself to printing batches of approximately 25 or 50 at a time.

“I think, for community work, it’s really important that you engage in much more unique and creative and interesting ways as a way of trying to spur some kind of interest and excitement in community work […] The eBooks are such a lovely way for that to actually fit with that kind of notion.”

Gillian doesn’t see her use of the eBooks as something collaborative in the sense that she is the one doing most of the work of actually making the eBook with the Bookleteer platform. This is partly because she has found that information technologies can be a barrier to their engagement in these types of projects. She is, however, exploring ways to use the eBooks to collect information from participants as part of the research process. Nevertheless, she feels the eBooks are particularly well suited as a means of presenting research to people including stakeholders:

“As a community worker you obviously have to evaluate projects and you have to write long boring audit reports for management. For me the eBook is just my way of doing that. And I provide management – and always have done – with a printed-out eBook for them to put together themselves. They’re probably quite annoyed! [laughs]”

In fact, Gillian claims to have gotten some very positive responses from stakeholders on the eBooks, even though it seems they would prefer not to have to fold the eBooks themselves. Nevertheless, Gillian still finds it somewhat challenging to get more then anecdotal feedback from people who read the eBooks.

Challenges, recommendations and suggestions

One of the main strengths of the eBooks for Gillian are the Bookleteer and Diffusion websites. She finds that eBook’s simple and effective templates work well with images and she enjoys perusing the website for new and unique ways of  using the eBooks. Another key strength for Gillian is the fact that it allows her to produce printed material that isn’t too involved or complicated.

Besides the challenge of feedback and the learning curve for people who are not familiar with digital platforms like Bookleteer, Gillian suggested in our conversation that she still had trouble with some of the formatting. Although she found that the new Bookleteer system’s way of enabling her to produce a PDF was quite useful, she still found that she had to go through five or six versions of the PDF before she had generated a version she was happy with.

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