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.


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.

Virginia’s new iPad


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.


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.


John Gruber regarding the insanity that is iWork syncing on the iPad. I was *very* hopeful 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.

Court Favors Comcast in F.C.C. ‘Net Neutrality’ Ruling –

But Tuesday’s court ruling has far larger implications than just the Comcast case.

The ruling would allow Comcast and other Internet service providers to restrict consumers’ ability to access certain kinds of Internet content, such as video sites like or Google’s YouTube service, or charge certain heavy users of their networks more money for access.