ETS Talk is Back!

For the second week in a row we have produced an ETS Talk. After several weeks of talking about it we decided it was time to get back on the podcasting bus … that and the fact that we are close to crossing over the 50,000 downloads to ETS Talk from our iTunes U space sort of motivated us.

Last week we had my 13 year old niece in the studio asking about teen use of technology … it really blew our minds listening to her. A good show. So good in fact that it pushed us to go back into the studio (my office) and deliver ETS Talk 57 this week. We spent lots of time talking about all sorts of things, but one thing we really focused on was how to think about measuring new IT services for success. It seems like with the kinds of things we are doing, simply counting people isn’t enough. More and more we struggle to rethink what it means to illustrate success. At any rate, you can go to our iTunes U space and give number 57 a listen. I’d love to hear any thoughts.

Game Platform or Platform for Games

I am not a huge gamer … I play a bit of Wii and have been known to kick some ass in Desktop Tower Defense, but beyond that I have not been able to catch the console game addiction. At the end of the day the controls have always limited my ability to really get into them — too many buttons and too much cinematic flourishes to really engage me. Back in the day I could play a mean Ninetendo, but that was when the controls were super simple and the games were about the game play and not the cinematic elements.

With all that said, last year I borrowed a PS3 and Little Big Planet based on the recommendations of friends and colleagues Bart Pursel and Allan Gyorke. It was an instant hit with my daughter and I. We nearly completed all the levels — eventually getting to a spot that I could not beat and gave up. We did pour lots of hours into it and learned to love the user generated levels as much as the ones that ship with the game. It felt like we were hanging out exploring YouTube, but interacting with peoples’ creations. It was as engaging as it gets. I wonder how the idea of game publishing will move into the mainstream as the tools to build games and levels become increasingly easy. I am wondering if we’ll see mashups emerge in the game space that become viral hits like so often happens in the digital video universe of YouTube?

This morning, Bart sent me a link to the LBP2 trailer and it got me excited about these questions and I started thinking about how I was going to save up for it and a PS3 to explore some of them … the kids will love it ;-)

A Month with an iPad

Since April 6 I have attempted to live almost entirely on an iPad as my only mobile computer — I still carry my iPhone with me everywhere and did use it to do routine things like mobile email, updating Twitter, and the like. During that time I have learned quite a bit about the device and how I interact with my computing platforms. I’ll try to sum up most of what I learned although I am still coming to grips with some of my experiences. Here’s the thing, the iPad is a little difficult to sum up — it isn’t a laptop and it certainly isn’t an iPhone. It lives somewhere along the path of computing, but fits much more into the lifestyle support category than strictly in the computing space. It is both really easy and radically complex — easy in that it is simple as hell to use and complex in that where it fails it makes things so much harder. Let me try to address a little of both.

Work

Overall if I am honest, I can do about 85% of my work from the iPad itself. If I describe my work life it gets added up like this — I do email, I go to a lot of meetings, I browse the web for information, I create information on the web, I read a ton, I design and give a lot of talks, and I create and edit a ton of documents. That pretty much makes up what I do aside from talking to people and doing day-to-day management.

It is without a doubt the best email experience I have ever dealt with. The way the built in iPad Mail app works is amazing. I deal with a ton of email and the ability to quickly filter things is a stunning UI breakthrough. Using my fingers to get rid of stuff is so much faster than using a mouse to check little boxes — speed counts when dealing with something as mind numbing as email. The faster I can get into my inbox, make sense of things, and get out the better.

The iPad is superior at meetings for several reasons … I’ve already written about how much it stays out of the way of interacting with others and after a full month I still feel that way. It is a natural in meetings unless you are taking a lot of notes and then I find it falls down a bit. I have learned to type on it very fast so it has gotten better, but the lack of google doc editing is killer. As a matter of fact this is the reason why I can’t really do all areas of my job on it — I am just too embedded in the google docs World. I have had a harder time dealing with that than when I switched away from Office for a year. Until I have a good way to edit those documents it is destined to not be a primary machine.

Consuming anything on it has been a pleasure. Browsing the web, watching TV shows and movies, and reading are all first class activities. As a matter of fact I much prefer it to my laptop for reading online. Navigating makes more sense and I can still pinch and zoom pages to get a closer look. I miss not being able to do that with my laptop. Creating text content for the web is easy and natural as well. Where things fall down is when you need to multi task — grabbing a Flickr picture to put into a blog post is a complex task that requires a good deal of thought. I can do things like that, but I have had to relearn the steps and have had to understand how the machine multi-tasks from within apps instead of switching from window to window. It isn’t bad because I think there are some things that just work better this way. The other thing I’ll mention here is that not being able to bounce from window to window has pushed me to focus a little more on doing tasks one at a time.

The iPad falls down when dealing with non-web content. Keynote works really well and I can create presentations with relative ease — something I do quite a bit of. The problem lies in the restrictive way content gets to the device. I get that Apple wants us to travel through a USB cord to iTunes, but not taking better advantage of iwork.com or even Mobile Me seems very last decade to me. They insist on making us email files or using a crazy move interface to get stuff on it … and then once it is there it is a copy, not a truly synchronized version. Why not let me use a folder on Mobile Me that I can keep a single in sync file? This is something that I hope Apple changes — copies of files being emailed around is plain old stupid. Without this limitation and the ability to edit google docs this thing would be close to perfect. Without them, you better have a computer around.

One other thing we are learning is how nice these can be as loaner machines for staff. Our IT group can manage a couple that can be simply handed to a staff member and synced from their own Mac for a trip. It isn’t without some details to deal with, but we are planning to keep a few 3G iPads ready to go for people who need Internet access while traveling — it is actually much more reasonable than buying USB cell modems for staff.

Life

The iPad is a joy to use at home. I mean that. It is the best device for work/life balance … it is fast as hell as tasks such as email, looking something up, checking my calendar, and showing pictures. So much faster than going to get a laptop, opening it up, waiting for it to connect to wifi, and launching applications. In the time it used to take to do all that I am already back to the conversation I was having that spawned the need to look something up in the first place. I no longer need to take my laptop home and that has been a very positive change for me.

My wife and kids love to use it for all sorts of things. The App Store may piss a lot of people off, but to easily discover kids apps and games it is killer. Before this I would have never purchased Dr. Seuss books or Scrabble … I honestly wouldn’t even know where to go to buy that software. Yes the apps cost money, but that is what I would expect. My three year old can use with such ease it is mind bending. My wife wants to use it to play Scrabble and surf the web. My daughter wants to use it to read books. And I just want to be able to use it.

Exploring the iPad

This leads me to another observation and that is it really needs to have some sort of user account environment. I trust handing it to anyone in my family, but I do get a bit nervous demoing the iPad with other people. When I pass it around a room it is fully logged in and that means my email, Evernote, and other apps are ripe for browsing. The thing is that people, when they touch the iPad, want to use it. It would be nice if I could have a guest account on it that would allow me to hand it around a room without worrying about it.

Consuming media is a first rate experience. I’ve gotten back into video and audio podcasts so I always have fresh content on the device. The screen is beautiful and all of the media capabilities are really nice to work with. When you combine that with the battery life, you have a device that you nearly never worry about charging. It is truly the first device I can take with me for the day and not worry about it running out of juice — ever. I can actually go multiple days without plugging it in.

Apps

I already mentioned that I am not as upset about the App Store model as some people, so I’ll just share some of the Apps that I actually use. I thought I would use the iWork suite more, but have only really extensively used Keynote. I’ve done a few documents with Pages and it works well, but getting files on and off of the iPad doesn’t support that kind of work in my opinion. Below are the Apps that I use the most … beyond those, I live mostly in Safari and use my browser to access news, social networks, and stuff that on my iPhone I use apps for. At any rate, here are the top Apps for me:

  • Safari is very fast and I’ve found I like browsing on it more than I do on my Mac.
  • I’ve already sung Mail’s praises, so I’ll leave it at that.
  • GoodReader is a must for managing access to files across cloud based storage environments. It takes the place of the Dropbox app and the iDisk app.
  • YouTube, the built in iPod/Video app, and Netflix app are simple genius for consuming content. The YouTube interface is easier to use than the website.
  • 1Password is a must and there are easy ways to integrate it with Safari.
  • NetNewsWire is a strong RSS reader, but what makes it so well designed is the Instapaper, Twitter, and Email integration. It allows for strong multi-tasking from within the same application.
  • Evernote has become my full on outboard brain and the syncing with my Mac is killer.
  • Twitterific is my Twitter client of choice and I do use Twitter quite a bit on the iPad.
Evernote for iPad

Conclusions

Again, it seems like the iPad is a very capable machine that does support a vast amount of tasks that one must do to keep it going at work. It is a joy to use at home and I can still easily keep up with things I need to do in the evenings and on weekends. Until google docs cannot be created and edited (either in the browser or in some sort of app) I cannot use it full time. It hasn’t pushed me to retire my laptop to the corner, but one thing it has pushed me to do is switch from a 15″ machine to a smaller 13″. The small form factor of the iPad is unreal and it made my MBP look like a tank.

The other thing that I believe needs more work is Apple’s model for keeping files in iWork synced. Passing around versions is something that is simply crippling. I can see myself traveling with just an iPad, but I’ll have to be very thoughtful of what I will need before I go. One thing I have started to do more of is take advantage of my iDisk and Dropbox storage spaces so the contents are always available via GoodReader. If Apple gets serious about cloud services I can see this thing supporting upwards of 95% of the work I need to get done while traveling.

The machine needs a way to lock people out of certain apps so it can be passed around a room. I doubt they’ll add accounts, but perhaps a way to authenticate apps on an individual basis? I am really interested to see how students respond to the device and if it can actually be used to support their workflow. I think you actually have to spend quite a bit of time with one to start to understand how it can be used in partnership with your desktop machine. I have made changes to the ways I do things based on what I have learned and most of it has been positive. Will I continue to use the iPad as my only mobile device? No, but I will continue to use it heavily.

My Big iPad Complaint

The big thing that is keeping me from really using the ipad to it's fullest is the lack of google doc editing in Safari. I figured by now there would be an app that would allow for an elegant solution, but either that hasn't yet happened or I just don't know about it. With all that said, I was just running through tweets using Twitterific when I saw a tweet that linked to an open google doc. I was curious so I clicked it and Twitterific opened it in within its own browser. To my absolute shock, it remained editable. I couldn't invoke the onscreen keyboard, but was able to change formatting and see comments happening in real time … So much more than can be done in mobile safari. It gives me hope and makes me wonder if I had my keyboard connected would it allow me to edit the document? When I can live edit google docs the iPad will be a much more viable solution for me.

Baiting the Hook

This is a wonderful short presentation by Dan Meyer at TedxNYED (I’d love to do one of those events here at PSU). There is so much packed into 12 short minutes just screaming to be discussed and explored. One of his main points is the potential problems of practice related to teaching from and relying strictly on textbooks — not that he doesn’t say textbooks are evil or anything, shows how to better take advantage of them in a 21st century world. Watch it and see if it moves you to take the time to react. I’d love to hear ideas and reactions.


Sounds Familiar

For the next 30 days I will use my iPad instead of my MacBook Pro in every
scenario that a common college student would use a laptop. From taking notes
in class, to researching information, to studying for tests, and even
Facebook creeping, my iPad will be there every step of the way. I will put
this new device to the test.

via theothermacblog.com

Very much like my own experiment, but from the perspective of a college student. I'm following along.

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.

Clickity Clack

One of the things that keeps my energized is knowing that the work we do here in higher education almost always impacts students somewhere along the line. Even though we mostly work with faculty, the fact of the matter is that when we work with faculty to rethink their practice the resulting design ultimately happens to their students. Knowing that leads to a very positive sense as I do my work, but I do wish I had more time to talk directly to students … and I need to figure out how to do that.

Case in point — I had a really interesting morning where I got to spend about 90 minutes in a Communications class with 30 students who want to be journalists talking about the iPad. I was invited by Steven Sampsell to come and answer questions on a relevant technology issue in education while all 30 of the students role-played Collegian writers. Getting a chance like that is at the top of my list of things to do. I always leave feeling amazingly positive and the same thing happened today. One thing I will mention is the sound of 60 hands typing feverishly on keyboards is really disconcerting at first — imagine the silence as a student asks a question and then all 30 of them spring into action clickity-clacking on really loud PC style keyboards. I hadn’t heard that since I was in high school typing class.

One thing that was interesting was how much I had to think about what I’ve thought about the iPad as a tool to support my workflow the last two weeks and how that might relate to a college student. I was a little surprised that I struggled to answer questions like, “why would a college student want to buy this?” or, “would you buy one of these for your kids?” Those are tough questions that I had to really stop and think about. I was looking at skeptics and I didn’t have answers immediately to address them.

It wasn’t until after the 20 minute interview session was over and we just started talking did it start to become clear why one might want one … and the answers are a bit surprising to me even now. They are the simple things — a really long battery life, the size, and the ability to get on and off the device with a swipe of a finger seemed to really resonate. When the iPad was introduced so many people said this was the killer device and it was going to save newspapers, magezines, television, radio, movies, textbooks, music, and of course education. From where I sit much of those things don’t really need saving and the ones that do maybe they don’t deserve to be. Not a single student asked me about digital textbooks. What finally got the students’ attention were the conversations about those simple things — and the idea that you can actually use the iPad with an iPhone to flip Scrabble letters through the air.

In my own work the past two weeks I have found the iPad to be a smart and very serviceable device for doing much of my work. Is it as killer for my work as my MacBook Pro? No. Can I go for really long stretches without needing to use my MBP now that I have this device? Yes. Simply put, this thing is different from a laptop and it does support a similar set of work tasks well but it is doing it in way that has challenged my traditional patterns of interaction. I do the bulk of my work moving between apps, but they enter and leave so quickly it is a heck of a lot like expose on the MBP. I am struggling with some things because I am learning how to compute all over again — I am still unconvinced that rethinking all of it is a bad thing. Let’s revisit this after tomorrow morning when I give an hour keynote using nothing more than my iPad (I am terrified of that).

As an example, the students were honestly blown away that “documents” don’t go in a folder or on the desktop. They are instead embedded in the application that you would expect them to be accessible from. That made a heck of a lot of sense to them — they are used to just putting pictures “in” facebook and not worrying about where they end up. They don’t need to care where there stuff is “physically” located because it is part of the application that created it. I think this is a fundamental change that bothers a lot of us in the tech space, but thrills those outside it. I want to look at pictures, I open the Photo app. I want to work on a spreadsheet, I open Numbers. I want to work on a presentation, I open Keynote and all of my existing stacks are sitting there. I know lots of people who recreate content over and over again because they have no idea where it is. And let’s get real, more and more of the stuff we create is in the cloud and if that is your workflow an app like Good Reader gives you access to all of it.

I hope you aren’t reading this as a fanboy post, but one that is made after really struggling to find a place for this device over the last two weeks. Have I found a place for it yet? In a word, yes. I’m not sure if that place will be the same in another two weeks, but so far this fits not only my work workflow, but it is now part of my life workflow. It moves more elegantly from my early morning email and feed reading to full day work back to evening browsing and play with the family. When the students and I started to explore their workflow I saw them think about what a device like this could mean for them and when I passed it around I did notice the looks of wonder on many of their faces. They started to see it in a light that wasn’t a distorted reflection of a laptop or a phone — they started to talk about how they work and live and where this could support much of it. And when I showed them Scrabble it was all over.