Assessing iPad Ed

My college is buying iPads for faculty to use in the classroom. We aren’t the first college to do this. We won’t be the last. Our goal is to help faculty explore tools and techniques to connect students more powerfully with their own learning. We call this connection engagement.

iPads aren’t magic. They can’t make unprepared or disinterested students learn. They can, however, offer a toolkit for teachers to design learning experiences that are more personalized, tangible, contextual, and collaborative.

We now have tools to dispel the false belief that learning happens only in the classroom. Most learning happens outside the classroom. Nothing new. That’s how learning happens. Great teachers are able to connect what happens during a student’s few hours inside the classroom with what happens to that student in the many more hours spent outside the classroom. Mobile technologies, particularly tablets, appear to be good tools for making abstract concepts more tactile and, thus, more easily incorporated into a student’s experience of everyday life.

We are at the beginning of our Mobile Engage campaign. A lot of faculty are about to receive and use an iPad for the first time. There will be a lot excitement about the device and learning how it works. There will be a lot of interest in apps — finding apps, getting apps, and using apps. There will be a lot of fun conversations and sharing new discoveries.

I hope there is also a great conversation about assessment. Our faculty are going to try a lot of new ideas in their classrooms. Some of these ideas are going to work brilliantly. Some ideas are going to fail. How will we help each other figure out what works and recognize what doesn’t? How will we celebrate our successes while also making ourselves comfortable with sharing our failures? The ability to share failures quickly is going to make everyone stronger faster.

There will be lots of ideas on how to recognize and track the success of our Mobile Engage campaign. Like everything else, our ability to assess will improve with our experience.

I am excited about what’s happening at my college and am glad I can be a part of supporting faculty as they try new things. We are about to issue a lot of new iPads. For me, success won’t be measured by how many new iPads we deliver. For me, success will be counted in how many new conversations I have with faculty that begin “How can I..”or “What would happen if…”

Hyperbole kills: Tech advertising limits ability to solve problems

Random juxtaposition of ideas is often, for me, the Web’s most useful gift. Consider this: last night I watched this satirical video about Apple’s iPad mini:

and then 20 minutes later read this really insightful article from MIT Technology Review about “Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems”.

You should enjoy both for yourself. The idea that sparked for me was the false expectation that each generation of Apple stuff be revolutionary, innovative or game-changing. We should place a moratorium on these words when talking about technology.

A faster processor is not revolutionary unless it allows us to do something we couldn’t even think about before.

Better screen resolution isn’t innovative unless it makes things visible that were not visible before. It just makes things look prettier. Prettier is good. Prettier is worth paying for. Prettier isn’t necessarily innovative.

If I were a person who carried things in a purse, I might be tempted to consider a smaller iPad as being game-changing. But only if it meant I could use my iPad in novel situations where I could not previously use it.

I love my iStuff. Desperately and truly. I just happen to believe that Apple is guilty of the kind of advertising hyperbole that diminishes our collective ability to imagine the ways great technology might help actually solve huge, intractable problems.

I’m am so glad to have smartphones, Twitter and streaming video service enriching my daily life. Where are we with world hunger, climate change and space exploration?

Why Mobile Matters: Take 2

The iPad is not a disruptive influence on our current system of education. The iPad is really only a symptom of the actual disruption, which happened several years ago while no one was paying attention. The Web matured, and that changed everything. The iPad and other touch screen tablets are more or less natural outcomes of a simple, powerful truth: information is no longer scarce.

I have been thinking a lot about mobile internet technologies, like tablets and smartphones, and imagining how they might best be used in our libraries, classrooms and personal lives to facilitate communication, idea sharing and learning.

I took a pass at a Mobile Learning manifesto several months ago (see Why Mobile Matters: Take 1). Here I go again.

I don’t necessarily believe or grasp everything I say here. I am testing ideas to see how they fit. Please improve these ideas with your comments.

Information is no longer scarce. Information is easy, sometimes almost effortless, to get. People don’t have to visit libraries to begin finding out things they are curious to learn. People don’t have to visit classrooms in order to hear lectures and be told things by content experts. People can Google, Wikipedia, and Bing. People can use Facebook and Twitter to crowd source answers to basic questions. You Tube and eHow offer a rich trove of “how to” videos on most any topic that are much more useful than any product manual.

More and more books (though certainly not all) are available either in part or in whole online through Google Books, Project Gutenberg and various eBook sellers. Many of the most useful of these books are not free and are not easy to get unless you buy them, but they are increasingly out there in some form or fashion.

People don’t read magazines and journals. They read collections of magazine and journal articles filtered, curated and reassembled into interest packets by RSS feeds, blog posts, Tweets and article aggregators.

We don’t go to information anymore. Information comes to us.

Information isn’t scarce but context and authority are. We are  buried alive by our personal media collections and information sources. We can instantly access terabytes of saved data, articles, opinions, document and other artifacts but often have difficulty seeing how these interrelate. We know everything yet understand nothing. Learning is the process of making sense out of nonsense (or not sense), like Rumpelstilskin spinning gold out of straw. Making sense from not sense is not an easy skill. It takes practice and patience. Making sense from not sense requires mindful attention and focus.

Information is common but context and authority are uncommon.  Just because information is easy to discover does not make it useful. Just because information is factual does not necessarily make it true. We need authorities to help establish facts we can trust and turn into knowledge. We need authorities who can help us see how ideas interrelate and how we can use information to create useful knowledge.

Okay, enough of that for now.

Here’s the short take:

We live in a world where information is easy to find. A person no longer needs to be an expert to find things out. The 19th century schoolhouse, or “factory”, model of teaching is over. We don’t always need to spend time sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture to find things out. We can now listen to the lecture on our own time, where we want and when we want through video, podcast or other Web-mediated information transfer. Sitting in a seat and receiving information is not always the best use of our time.

We do need the help of experts to teach us how to use this information, how to assimilate and make sense of the information we have found.

That’s why some teachers are experimenting with flipping their class — lecture at home and activity-based learning in the classroom.

People learn best by doing things. People learn by making things. People learn by synthesizing and connecting ideas. People learn by sharing ideas and having those ideas explored, critiqued and improved. People learn by exploring on their own and by exploring together.

Tablet computers can be useful in the classroom to help accelerate this process. iPads can let students search for relevant information and report. iPads can help students share their ideas easily and have those ideas critiqued and improved. iPads can help students offer feedback on how well they have understood key concepts and synthesized new ideas. iPads can help students gather textbooks, lectures, notes and other resources together in one place to be used and understood.

The iPad hasn’t changed the world. The world changed and made the iPad necessary.

Would the Buddha use an iPad?

Interesting fact about me: I follow dozens of blogs about iPad, iOS and other Apple accouterments and yet remain relatively uninformed about the actual workplace conditions of the factory workers in China who assemble these miracle devices. There have been many recent stories, of varying credibility, about the work conditions in Apple’s Chinese manufacturing units.

I hear stories about dust explosions, blindness and suicide nets. And yet, somehow, I never can find my way to read the entire story. I hear a whisper of something ill afoot and my mind grays out.

I don’t have this problem when reading about the latest iOS upgrade features, the comparison points of new iPad vs. iPad2 or keeping track of the best new free apps.

This is called practiced avoidance. Some call it compassion fatigue. It is, undoubtedly, a kind of moral disconnect.

And yet, I feel oddly relieved to read that the recent “This American Life” story about the deplorable conditions at FoxConn were made up. As if, somehow, I can simultaneously credit myself for being more informed about the working conditions of the people who make iStuff and yet also feel absolved of some of my own complicity in the horror since this one story wasn’t properly fact-checked.

I think Erik Sherman has this one right:

Too many people will use This American’s retraction to smooth over their momentary discomfort at using products that require harsh working conditions to maintain cheaper prices and corporate margins. But the problems remain — not just for iPads and iPhones, but also for all those Android devices, many TV sets, radios, GPS units, just about every other electronic wonder of modern life. Daisey’s reporting may be phony, but when you look at the bigger picture of most consumer electronics manufacturing, he was right. The biggest shame will be if people use this episode as an excuse to go happily back to dreamland.

He’s right. I’m not throwing away my iStuff, but I’ve got to sit with this one for a while. Everything and everyone is interconnected. That’s a Noble Truth. Suffering is inescapable and happens to everyone. That’s another Noble Truth. Attachments (like to iStuff) create suffering. Yet another Noble Truth.

I’m going to continue using my iStuff knowing that the creation process harms others and probably harms the environment. Where’s the mindfulness in that?

Would the Buddha use an iPad? I don’t know. Probably not. But if he did, he wouldn’t let himself pretend that his iPad appeared magically on a lotus petal one morning. That iPhone came from somewhere. Somebody made it. Making it might have cost them something. It might have cost them a lot. It almost certainly cost them more to make it than it does for me to use it.

Sit with that. That’s mindfulness for you.


The Kindle is magic (too)

I got a Kindle for Christmas. Not the Kindle Fire. The other one. The one that people get when they actually want to read on it.

For those keeping score, yes, you are correct. I got an iPad last Christmas. There are certainly more important things to honor and celebrate at Christmas than the acquisition of new technologies. This blog isn’t about those things. Still with me? Read on.

For the past year, I have been loving the iPad as an eReader. I have mostly used the BlueFire app and only occasionally the Kindle app. The Blue Fire app is quite versatile and allows easy import of ePub and PDF titles. BlueFire works brilliantly with our library’s eBrary eBook collection allowing the reader to leapfrog over the need to download Adobe Content Server to the personal computer. All that’s needed is a college issued account to access the eBrary database, a personal eBrary account to register your checkouts and an Adobe account to manager the DRM. Headache, right? Much easier than it sounds once you’ve done it a time or two.

My major complaint with Blue Fire is the inability to organize your library. Books all land in one tank and stay that way until you delete them. Also, you can’t easily rename files dropped into your Blue Fire tank. So if the PDF article comes over with a crazy title like ASDAFASDFLKWJERJWERFSADFSDF124244545.PDF, you are pretty much stuck with having to remember what that is. Not cool. Still, I have enjoyed the iPad eReading experience very much.

Reading on the iPad is very easy and enjoyable. I like the size and shape of the “book” in my hand. My major problem has been that I can’t seem to find time to read because every time I pull the tablet out during the day, my daughter wants to grab it from me to play games. Every parent knows, the only time you get to read during the day is when your child is sufficiently distracted doing something else.

Enter Kindle.

Several of my friends have been Kindle readers as long as I’ve been an iPad reader. Setting aside the whole iOS vs. Android thing, most of my Kindle pals say that the iPad is a fine and magical thing but that reading on a tablet isn’t really the same thing as a reading on a dedicated eReading device. General impressions hold that reading on a tablet is more distracting, nerve-racking or just somehow more awkward. I didn’t get it. I thought this was a silly distinction. That reading was reading and it didn’t really matter if it was on a color, touch screen tablet, a gray scale e-ink device or paper.

I was wrong. The iPad still has heavy magic, but the Kindle has a simple, totemic kind of magic that gets closer to what I really love about books. The basic Kindle does one thing and does it really, really well — it gets you reading. There aren’t many whistles or bells. That’s wrong actually. There are millions of whistles and bells. They are just all hidden under the hood. They are built into the framework where you don’t have to see them if you don’t want to. The magic:

  • I register my Kindle to my Amazon account and every eBook I have ever purchased is immediately available.
  • My books follow my progress across every device. I can read on my Kindle, my iPhone and iPad without every losing my place.
  • Not only can I highlight passages and make notes. I can share my notes and quotes through Facebook and Twitter. This is the kind of social reading I keep expecting to find from GoodReads.
  • I haven’t tried the public notes yet, but the idea of crowdsourced text glossing is pretty interesting, yes?
  • The Kindle fits in my jacket pocket.
  • My daughter doesn’t want to grab the Kindle away from me because it is just words on a screen. Nothing special to see here. This device doesn’t play Angry Birds.

I’ve been reading with the Kindle for less than 12 hours now, so there will be more to say on this. For now, I just want to tell my Kindle loving friends: “You were right and I was (a little bit) wrong.”

The trouble with iStuff

A few days ago, I wrote about my quite quotidian problem with iOS5. “My iOS5 Dilemna” was my most read to date, but I feel little embarrassed by it. I was already feeling embarrassed while I was writing it.

The word dilemna sounds like I can’t figure out how to solve this fairly mundane problem. I am grateful to my several friends who helpfully pointed out that I might resolve this entire situation with a second, bigger external hard drive. This is good, practical advice and I am grateful for their product recommendations.

As usual, my friend Daryl knew what I was writing about even before I did. Daryl pointed out that the trouble with iStuff is the need to sync them to a “real computer”. That’s what it comes down to. I love my iStuff: iPod, iPhone, iPad. I don’t mind playing around with iTunes and shoving files around from device to device.

I just don’t like having to maintain my laptop. Upgrading software, backing things up. There’s the weak link with iStuff. My iPod, iPhone and iPad are only as useful as my ability to keep my “real computer” up-to-date and performing well.

Writing and syncing my iStuff are pretty much the only two things I do with my laptop these days. Still, when my laptop runs up against a performance wall, my iStuff suffers.

That’s annoying.