A Year with the iPad

It is hard to believe the iPad has been here for a year now. As the device turns one I thought I’d write a little bit about the past year that I’ve spent with It. I had one delivered to my door on this day last year and was immediately impressed with the iPad on lots of levels. When I first got it I committed to spending a full month with it as my primary mobile computing platform to really see what it was all about. After my hands and arms recovered from relearning typing I was very impressed. That month was as much about learning about the new device as it was about learning about what it could be in the future. What I learned was that I could in effect do close to everything I needed on it if I thought hard about the workflow associated with it. Having to think really hard about doing normal tasks seemed frustrating at times, but I have to say it was worth the stretch to build a deeper appreciation and understanding of the device.

At launch it did not multitask and that was limiting to a degree, but more so in a backward looking way — I didn’t much miss it as the best apps I used built the multitasking in. That was a huge deal for me as I got to see software being rethought for the first time in a long time. That little insight is what pushed me from forcing myself to be an iPad user to actually becoming an iPad user — things are different on it and it is pointless to build comparisons to a regular computer.

So many people look at the iPad as a purely consumption device and that just isn’t the case. I use mine for all sorts of things. I am writing this post on it and would have no problem doing a whole host of other production level tasks with it. I think that comes with practice and working with apps the way the designers envisioned. Sometimes that breaks your own workflow, but this is a new platform. As an example, this weekend I built a new 60 slide Keynote deck on my iPad — a first for me. I was scheduled to be heading to Cupertino to visit with Apple this morning when I had to cancel at the last minute to be home with my wife who got sick in the night. The crazy thing was that I was going to be on the west coast from Sunday to Thursday and I was only taking the iPad. That is huge given I was on the agenda to present tomorrow … I was doing it from the iPad. I am finding that a year after it’s arrival I am now 100% comfortable with the idea that this can really be my primary mobile production and consumption device.

I won’t ramble on about the iPad, but I will share seven notable thoughts from my first year with the iPad …

Number 1. No doubt it has limitations, but the affordances far outweigh the small annoyances. I rarely take my laptop back and forth from work and I almost always reach for my iPad well in advance of the MacBook Pro. Do I still love my laptop? Yep, but it just is too limiting in my new workflow … that sounds strange even for me as I read it back … the laptop is too limiting. I can’t for example easily move between reading, writing, controlling my cable box, cuing up content on my Mac in the other room, editing wikispaces, playing games, or writing a blog post. I just can’t … so many of those apps don’t exist for my laptop in the same way they do on my iPad. At the end of the day, it may actually be more powerful for doing all sorts of things, while my laptop is more powerful for doing very specific things.

Number 2. I visit with new Department Heads at the start of each Fall semester. I did 15 visits last Fall and nine of the folks I met with had iPads. What makes that so notable is that in the previous five years I’ve done this not a single person had a single piece of technology. Yep, only a few months after the introduction over half of the academic leaders I met had already added the iPad to their workflow. I spend a huge amount of time in meetings with lots of people and I am never in a room with fewer than three or four iPads. That is staggering to me — especially for a device that is derided as consumption only.

Number 3. The pilots we’ve done in English are proving to be successful in ways we didn’t anticipate. I think that is really at the core of my own delight with the iPad — I didn’t expect to like it this much. I thought I’d use it for a month and give it to someone else. In general the undergrad and graduate students are finding the device really capable for supporting their work and have found new ways to integrate into their lives. Same can be said for several of the faculty we’ve given them to — they are finding new ways to use apps and the device to change the way they write, organize their scholarship, communicate, assess, and connect. I find that very interesting — the device becomes what they need it be.

Number 4. The iPad still invites lots of stares from people even though it is showing up all over campus. When I sit and work with it in the student union people look and people stop and ask me questions about it. Given how many of these Apple sold in the first year it is surprising that it stills inspires curiosity. My children really still can’t keep their hands off the thing … even after a year it inspires curiosity with each new app.

Number 5. Speaking of new apps, the thing that I am most surprised about is how it seems to become a new object with each new app that I consume. The new iMovie and GaragBand are perfect examples of the iPad becoming new objects via the app interface. When I edit video in iMovie on the iPad I feel like I am sitting on some sort of futuristic version of an old school Grass Valley switcher. So many of the apps I use transform the iPad into something that feels like it was built specifically for that task — browsing the web, reading feeds in Reeder, playing Angry Birds, using Evernote, and almost everything else on my first screen feels like a different device each time I launch an app.

Number 6. Finally, the thing that has continued to surprise me is how it changes and challenges the traditional model of engagement in group settings. I am no longer the techie behind the laptop. I no longer have an aluminum barrier with a glowing Apple logo on it between my eyes and the room. The iPad is not an obtrusive object between myself and the other people in the room. I find that when I ask many of my colleagues they feel the same way — both about their own participation and that of others using the device. The iPad isn’t just a different platform to me, it elicits a very different type of practice. I am more engaged and less distracted.

Number 7. I can finally use a device all day long without worrying about needing to charge the thing. My MBP is good for a good four hours, but that is far short of all day. I spent nearly the entire day working today on my iPad and it is just now sitting at 7% battery … and unlike my MBP that 7% will last me another 45 minutes easily. That means that faculty and students can actually be mobile all day and not need me to install power outlets in every seat of a classroom. That is an important shift for technology use in education.

So at the one year mark I must say I am impressed. Is the iPad the best of what will become? Probably not, but if one continues to ignore the form factor and the affordances then I think you may be missing the point. Make whatever argument you want — it is closed, it is just a big iPhone, it is only a consumption device … it doesn’t really matter, in lots of ways it is the future. It might not be a bad idea to spend some time unpacking some of what makes it interesting for yourself.

2011 TLT Symposium Reflection

Last Saturday I attended the 2011 Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium here at Penn State. This event is my responsibility, so I will try to give an unbiased reflection on the day itself — if that is possible. My first Symposium that I attended was in 1998 and it was very different than what has been going on the last few years. We have really upped the expectations of the event on lots of levels — we now attract around 450 attendees, work to recruit the best keynote speakers available, and receive well over a 100 proposals. All of those things are really big changes. I am really proud of the people who work like mad (without “event planning” in their job descriptions) to make this thing happen at this scale every year.

For the last five years we have increased the use of technology in and around the event to try and build more buzz and excitement. Several years ago our hash tag (this year it was #tltsym11) was a twitter trending topic and the use of blogs and iPod Touches (for video capture) has steadily increased as ways to capture and share the event. In the last couple of years I have sensed a huge level of engagement from the staff and a small number of faculty, but this year it was pure energy from the word go across the board. I’m not sure if the community has caught up with the early adopters or if there was something different in the air. Our faculty presentations were without a doubt the best we’ve ever had. Several TLT Faculty Fellows presented their work and their rooms were over flowing. They were like visiting rock stars … so cool to see that kind of energy and change happening on my campus. I can only imagine what our new class of Fellows will bring to next year’s event.

One thing I’ll note is that it seems like the strategy of aligning keynote speakers to annual themes is paying off … the Symposium is now a celebration of the hard work faculty have done through the previous year and a call to arms for the year in advance. I have written about the notion of keynote alignment before, but it seemed evident that Wesch’s keynote last year made an impact on the kinds of talks our faculty gave this year. I am hopeful that our keynote’s talk this year is just as impactful. I will say that Clay Shirky was fantastic and he made several points that are still resonating in my head. His keyntoe is embedded below and well worth the hour. The other thing I think I should mention is that Clay came in early the day before and spent the Friday afternoon with myself and a group of faculty for a two hour conversation … it was an amazing opportunity to engage him in ways that one can’t at a more formal event. If you have the chance to sit down and have a conversation with him, take it! I can’t say enough about his willingness to participate and how gracious he was with his time. I think it made his keynote that much more meaningful to me.

I won’t go into details relative to the sessions I attended, but I will share two more thoughts related to the energy of the day. I have never (and I mean never) seen more people stay from 8 AM until the last bell at our event. The break areas were packed, the sessions were packed, even the halls were packed. The closing session was a panel I moderated on student and faculty expectations of educational technology. What I learned is worth a blog post all by itself, but it was so much fun to get to talk directly to students and compare their reactions to what we do with what we actually think we do. I loved it … It was a great day to be a member of the PSU’s teaching and learning community.

Photo Credit Brad Kozlek


If you live your life working to innovate inside the academy all you have to do is watch the first minute and a half of the above scene from the Hudsucker Proxy and you’ll find yourself in very familiar territory. I especially love that the same questions get asked over and over without even waiting to hear an answer. In my experience the questions are mostly a smoke screen to draw attention away from the real issue — fear. Want to know what I love about the people who will show up at the 2011 TLT Symposium this weekend? They ask questions not to divert attention, but to actually work to understand the potential answers. Bring your questions and your passion … it is on! My favorite time of the work year has arrived!

Being Better

I was shared an article in the NY Times yesterday morning titled, Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss. It is really an interesting read for lots of reasons, but some of the things buried in the article speak to me on many levels. It is no secret that managers and administrators are nearly always criticized for what those around us perceive as major shortcomings. I am not always above the critical voice, but I am also in a position where I am really trying to provide the kind of leadership my staff can be proud of. I know I don’t always pull that off.

A serious topic of conversation with my leadership team has been the notion of developing leadership from all areas of the organization. That isn’t an easy concept to grab ahold of for lots of reasons, but the bottom line is that so many people are so busy that asking them to take on more to learn how to manage better is really difficult. In higher education that is sometimes one of the few ways to grow — take on more. The last thing I want is for people to be in management situations before they are ready for it — the idea of a group of people being managed by someone not ready makes me uncomfortable. I think in a lot of IT organizations we think about how our IT managers needs to be the strongest technical people in our organizations. Google found something different as they dug through the data.

But Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”

I think this is a really big thing for us all to pay attention to. Too often we don’t promote people who don’t fit into our model of the seriously technical. What google is exposing is something we need to be aware of — technical expertise is really important for a technical manager, but less so than the ability to connect with staff. Sounds simple but in practice it is elusive. The data google is using to make this discovery is related to a trend that is evident in our field as we are all living in a world with a new reliance on data to make decisions in education technology. The annual Educause Learning Initiative meeting last month is evidence of that movement.

H.R. has long run on gut instincts more than hard data. But a growing number of companies are trying to apply a data-driven approach to the unpredictable world of human interactions.

While I don’t think we need to get utterly carried away with the notion of analytics for every decision, we do need to collect and pay attention to what our data is telling us. Using google’s results is a great start and leads us to a place where we can start to take a deeper look at how we are all doing our jobs. In our space it is so critical to be self reflective — to step back, look in the mirror, and try to get better through reflection. It isn’t always easy, but just knowing that sometimes it is better to simply listen and help then it is to solve is a start.

Update: here is a a link to all eight of google’s principles.

I’m Back.

“I’m back.”
–Michael Jordan, announcing on March 18, 1995 his return to the Chicago Bulls

Too dramatic? Yeah, probably, but it is almost March 18th. Over a year ago I had decided to move my entire blog existence from a self hosted WordPress platform to TypePad. I did this for quite a few reasons, the biggest two were to get out of the business of managing my own installation and to experience another platform altogether. I was so frustrated by a really slow host and what I considered a less than powerful writing environment. I really enjoyed using TypePad, but there were too many times I missed the advances happening in the WP space. I will say that in the year I was away, WP really grew and matured. In the end, there are just too many people on this bus.

So in light of all that progress and growth I’ve decided to come back. I spent a few hours yesterday migrating things back over here to my own installation of WordPress, writing under my own URL again, and am finding myself to be pleasantly surprised by the speed I am experiencing. What does this mean for other parts of my life where I’ve neglected WP? Not quite sure yet, but rest assured that the labs are cooking up something really good. We all have to stay tuned to how deep the energy flow can take our collective decision making across multiple spaces. In short, I am very excited about the potential moving forward on lots of fronts.

I’ll have to leave it at that for now. What I will say is that it was amazingly easy to make the migration. The other thing I will mention is that I learned quite a bit from using TypePad for an extended period of time … it does a few things so much better than WP. Some of those things are ideas I’ve pulled into conversations relative to how publishing platforms can better support faculty, staff, and student workflows, social connections, and participation. I am still searching for some of the more elusive pieces to integrate into my professional workflows, but by sampling a diversity of platforms I feel like I am getting closer to it. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for Jim to leave a taunting comment or tweet.

Well, we’ll see if it sticks … I mean it took Jordan until March 28th to really be back. Now that was a killer Birthday present!

Becoming a New Object

Good iPad apps can make the iPad feel not like a device running an app, but like an object that is the app. GarageBand isn’t a musical app running on an iPad. It turns an iPad into a musical instrument.

via daringfireball.net

This is John Gruber talking about GarageBand from the iPad 2 reveal earlier this week. This thought, that the best apps turn the iPad into a whole new device is something we discussed when it first arrived last year. Scott McDonlad and I took our iPads into our Disruptive Technology class a day after it shipped to share with our students … that single point was what many of the students marveled at — that a device like the iPad becomes something new each time you launch a new app, at least when you launch a good app.

I like that notion a lot. It is still what separates the iPad from my laptop — it is the app I am running.