Interacting with Texts

I see the consummate iPad reading experience to be one that is, on the surface, traditional: heavily textual, quiet, hand-held. But lurking beneath the words is the whole Internet, ready to be questioned — “Find other works that quoted this,” “Where was the Marshalsea prison?”, “Which of my friends is also reading this?”, “What is that attractive person across from me reading?”

None of that requires a publisher to “enhance” the e-book prior to publication. A truly modern e-reader is one that is intimately connected to the Web and allows a user to make queries as a series of asides, while reading or after immersive reading has ended … No e-reader software fulfills this vision just yet, but the stage is set.

via roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com

I saw the above quote in an aggregate opinion piece at the New York Times today and thought I’d share some thoughts and reflect on the tension at play in the notion of a potentially forthcoming interactive reading opportunity. Let me start by saying that I have not read a full book on my iPad yet — I have read a few on the Kindle, but other than a children’s book I have not consumed one for myself on the iPad. I have browsed through pages of content and have appreciated some of the subtle touches … most notably the built in dictionary that is really quite useful. But that’s not where we need to end up.

The quote above suggests that we start to consider the potential for social actions associated with reading that have yet to be introduced. I think it is easy to imagine a way to touch a paragraph and find out what others may have said about it, passages like it, or (as the quoted author suggests) to share it with the world. I think we all assume the notion of the eBook is flawed for education because of limitations not present in the real world — a notable example is an easy and elegant way to annotate a book quickly and easily while reading it. The author above hints at things that are well beyond what might make reading a digital text really useful and interesting.

Imagine being able to not only tap a paragraph of text in a digital textbook to flip it over to add annotations, but to then be able to instantly send those annotations into a cloud based service where they could be shared for all sorts of reasons. Imagine being an instructor being able to easily collect reading notes from students in one location that are flowing in from the text itself … or to be part of a literature class all building a shared reflective text … or being a humanities scholar working with collaborators across the globe analyzing a digitized text.

All of these scenarios require the most basic of functions — the ability to bookmark, highlight, and annotate texts — but they also push us to envision how the best of social tools could be integrated into the reading experience in new ways. I would personally love to be able to see what my students would do in the construction of a dynamic, discipline specific knowledge base with tools like that. Having the ability to do things like this from within the workflow is what will help set a device like the iPad apart in education. If students are forced to leave their workflow to take notes (dump out of a book and open Evernote) then we are taking a step back from the physical world. But, if you instead come at this as an interesting feature — not only stay in the context of the book to take notes, but also have the ability to push those notes live into a non-device specific space on the Internet that others can take advantage of I think you’d be making a real step towards enhancing the teaching and learning experience.

I’m not much for interactive texts in the way we’ve come to expect — text with Flash (or whatever) objects embedded, but I would be very excited to see a text that I and my research group could use to interact with each other through.

Virginia’s new iPad

via www.youtube.com

This was shared to me by a new friend and colleague from Reed College that I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and working with over two days at Apple a month or so ago. At the time he introduced himself as the person in the room who was going to be the contrarian in a room full of fanboys as it relates to the iPad. I’m not sure if he is convinced, but this video says a lot about the place this new machine can occupy.

A Little Ironic

Stumbled onto this interactive piece in the NYTimes online this morning that promised to do an exploded view of the iPad. That sounded interesting enough so I visited the link. When I got there I was told I couldn’t view the iPad on my iPad. This is honestly the only time the lack of Flash has disappointed me.


Somewhere in the Middle

The iPad is much less intrusive in collaborative contexts than either a laptop, which tends to come between members of the group, or an iPhone, which isolates individuals, severing each from the dynamics of the whole.

via www.personal.psu.edu

Chris nails it IMO with this statement about the iPad. I tried to articulate that in the Chronicle piece that came out yesterday but didn't say it quite as well. What I have noticed over the last week is this thing changes both my own in meeting behavior and the perceptions of my attention. I tend to lay it flat, flip it on and off as needed, keeping it from standing between myself and the rest of the room. Doing this tends to keep my eyes up more and (I think) more fully engaged.

If the iPad can alter the dynamics in a meeting what can it do in the classroom? Until these types of devices become more widely adopted we can only wait and I am not quite sure we can generalize classroom dynamics from the way we view them in our administrative patterns of interaction.

What Year is it?

There is, however, a severe shortcoming inherent to the iWork suite of iPad apps: document syncing between Mac and iPad. It’s a convoluted mess. In short, the only way to edit a document on your iPad that was created on your Mac, or vice versa, is to go through a convoluted multi-step process of exporting, copying, syncing or downloading, and importing.

Ted Landau has copiously documented the entire situation in this article at The Mac Observer. Read it and weep.

via daringfireball.net

John Gruber regarding the insanity that is iWork syncing on the iPad. I was *very* hopeful iWork.com might provide something more akin to a WebDAV style sync instead of a silly 1999 style upload/download service. At the moment dealing with versions is a disaster waiting to happen for me. I am very confident that apple will address this with some serious upgrades to either iWork or Mobile Me, but until then I am really disappointed. Couple that with the inability to edit a google doc in mobile safari and I am looking at a cramped workflow. I want to feel like I live in 2010 with my tools, not a decade ago.

Only for Consumption?

Much has been made about the idea that the ipad is strictly a consumption device. While I agree with that to a degree I am starting to see much more potential for creating content — especially the kind of content I produce the most, text supported by images.

This morning I was struck by the fact that of the 26 icons on my iPad’s home screen, 11 were for creating content. That may simply show my own bias towards making stuff, but it could also be looked as a sign that the iPad is also about creating. Some of those apps are free and some cost money, but for the most part they are similar to the apps I use on my laptop to do my work … iWork is a go to suite on my MacBook, it costs money, and it is here. I can’t yet create/edit video, but at this point that isn’t impacting me. I can obviously do screenshots and even edit them using other apps.

I think part of this is getting to know what is important on a personal level all over again. I am only a few days into this and it has impacted my workflow, but not necessarily in a negative way … I am relearning how I do things and am enjoying that. I know throughout this month that I will continue to bang my head on things, but that’s what we do as we are learning — as long as the head banging isn’t constantly against the wall.

I don’t want to make too much of these two points as it is early, but a new app has been released each day since Saturday that has positively impacted my overall experience on the ipad and I am beginning to see the ability to create content (at least this kind of content) as an emergent feature. Again, take all this with a grain of salt, but I thought I’d capture those initial thoughts to see how they hold up over the long haul.

A Month with an iPad?

I know at the end of the day what I am proposing will be very difficult to pull off. I’ve been using my new iPad since Saturday and while it is quite a remarkable device I am not sure it can really take the place of my trusty MacBook for all my mobile needs, but I am going to see. Starting today I am committing myself to the idea that I will only use my iPad when I am not at my desk. Crazy? Yep.

I have already bumped my head against some issues with this whole experiment but I think if I am going to be able to really understand the affordances of this platform I need to really live with it. I have some rules that I am going to try and live by:

  • I will only use the iPad when I am away from my desk. That means when I am heading to meetings (most of my days) I can only use the iPad. When I am at my desk, the MacBook is fair game.
  • What will this mean for my every day work I have no idea. So far the App Store is delivering new and useful apps to support workflow so I am relatively confident that it will get better as the month progresses. I will make sure I share thoughts on what might be making this possible.
  • I’m not really sure what this means for me at home, but I’ve honestly not touched anything other than the iPad since it showed up on Saturday so I am confident I can live on it at home as well. I am going to try and do all my mobile computing on the ipad as well. That means I will still sync my photos with my Mac Mini and use it for managing the iPad, my iPhone, and run media in my family room. I’ll make sure I report on that as I go forward.
  • When I travel it will be only with the iPad.

As of tonight that’s it … I will say if something at work explodes and I need to use the MacBook to deal with a fire then I will. I’ll also try and share thoughts along the way and report on apps that are supporting my ability to do my work. So we shall see if, at the end of April, if I can live a month on the iPad as my only mo lie computing device. If anyone else is doing something similar I’d love to hear about it.