iPad Notes and Simple Pleasures

If you know me you know I use my iPad quite a bit and have really since the device came out a couple of years ago.  I even gave my laptop up for a month to just focus on understanding how the iPad could fit into my workflow.  I have written several times about what I’ve learned, but wanted to dive into how functional it has become for me all over again in the last few days.

I have stayed away from getting a stylus as I felt like I wasn’t going to go against the intended design of the device — remember Steve hated the idea, so naturally I listened to him.  But, I’ve been watching friends and colleagues switch to working with the iPad with a stylus and felt it might be time.  What pushed me over the edge was a post by my old friend (and still my goto edutech blogger and idea man), D’Arcy Norman who wrote about his own iPad note-taking workflow … and just like I have for nearly a decade, I listened.

My biggest challenge with the iPad has been around its utility as a note taking device.  I have tried to make Evernote my home as well as the built in Notes app.  Neither really worked.  I am not going to switch to one of those keyboard cases that so many people like — I already use an 11″ MacBook Air so I don’t need a setup that looks and works almost just like that.  I am good at typing on the onscreen keyboard, but I find typing to be only a very small part of what I need to do on my iPad.  I need to be able to grab screenshots and quickly annotate them, I need to draw interface ideas, I need to draw graphs and other representations of data, and I need to make sure I can find it at a later date. From D’Arcy’s post …

I had a bit of a holy crap moment the other day, in a vendor demo. I was taking notes, and wanted to capture a diagram that was on the screen. So I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a quick photo of the screen. I waited maybe 5 seconds, and then clicked the “insert image” icon in noteshelf. I went to my iCloud photostream, and there was the photo I had just taken on my phone. I selected it, and it was in my notes. Holy crap. Couldn’t do THAT with my old notebooks…

So when I read D’Arcy’s post I figured it was time to break down and try a new way of interacting with my iPad. Quite frankly, I have been floored by how well it supports a whole new level of my workflow. I bought a super cheap Pogo Sketch pen to see if I would like this approach … and while the “pen” isn’t up to my standards, it was an $11 investment into moving towards a new workflow.  I will probably quickly switch to the well liked Wacom Bamboo Stylus as I move forward.

Here is an example of how I was able to instantly take advantage of this new approach … I am teaching Disruptive Technologies graduate course again this semester with colleague Scott McDonald and we are engaged in a project that I really need to share more broadly called, “Occupy Learning.” The idea is that teams of students go to specific classrooms on campus and occupy them for a couple of weeks to document the overall affordances of the space — what kinds of practice does it support, what are the limitations, how do faculty use it, etc.  The idea is that they will produce an integrated artifact that is published on the web.  Well, yesterday the two teams shared their first efforts … they were good, but the students wanted more guidance on what the actual outcome or artifact should be.


Since the room we were using has a killer Steelcase Mediascape system in it, we can have a whole bunch of machines easily connected to a huge display at the same time. Switching from my laptop, to Scott’s laptop, to a student laptop, to my iPad is a matter of tapping the switching puck.  Well, with my new stylus I was able to show everyone in class what the artifact might look like … easily drawing and highlighting the difference between embedded media and original text.  Being able to effortlessly do that within the flow of sitting around and having a discussion was a serious “ah-ha” moment.  It was in that moment that I realized just how powerful these types of technologies can be to alter and support discourse, engagement, and workflow.

iPad Sketch


While the sketch itself isn’t much, it was an amazingly simple way to make the point in the moment in as natural a way as I could think of.  Moreover, the sketch and the simplicity in which it was produced created a framework for the right kind of conversation around the ideal way to present such dynamic content.  It also pushed us down the path of deeply considering the notions of audience (administration, faculty, students) and purpose (build awareness, help drive decisions, creation of a long term repository of outcomes) in ways that wouldn’t have emerged by trying to draw the picture in their minds with words alone. A simple example.

I have now gone full D’Arcy and started using Noteshelf for note taking and the combination of drawing directly to screen and the ability to insert any picture to annotate now gets me to where I need to be.  If I see something I want to describe I can snap a photo with the iPad and annotate it.  If I have an idea about something we are working on, I can do a quick screen capture and mark it up.  Then I can instantly push it to Evernote for longer term curation, post it to Twitter, or send the old fashioned way via email.  Really simple, but really very powerful and what a joy when our tools actually go beyond just supporting our workflow towards enhancing it.  Thanks, D’Arcy (again).

Thought on History … and Repeating Itself

From McLuhan (The Medium is the Massage, 128) … “The main cause for disappointment in and for criticism of television is the failure on the part of its critics view it as a totally new technology which demands different sensory responses. These critics insist on regarding television as merely a degraded form of print technology.”

consider that in the context of where we are now and do a little editing …

“The main cause for disappointment in and for criticism of is the failure on the part of its critics view it as a totally new technology which demands different sensory responses. These critics insist on regarding as merely a degraded form of [television].”

Do you find this as out of control as I do?

Getting Disruptive

My colleague Scott McDonald and I are getting set to embark on the second running of our Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning course this Spring. We attack this thing as a grand experiment, not really knowing what to expect fully but with hopes of high level activity. We know some things will work and some things will not, but at the core of our design philosophy we feel OK with that. We spent a couple of hours yesterday putting some more touches on what we hope will be an open and engaging learning opportunity. What is emerging is what we hope to be a very powerful mix of academic rigor and applied technology investigations.

So far we have solid numbers in this graduate only course and know we’ll find ways to push our students into unfamiliar and uncomfortable waters. Scott and I have big questions heading into this new semester — primarily what technologies will move the students into the same kind of round the clock learning community we saw emerge last time? We feel like we are better prepared to collect data from the get go and see how we can be more systematic about sharing the things we learn. The course is timely as Scott and I recently completed an article that focuses on the key trends and drivers we see as disrupting current classroom practice. The article should be available in the next month or so, but we will be using it as a kicking off point for the course this Spring.

For those of you who are interested I will be posting thoughts about the course here during the semester and you can also watch as the course will evolve in the open at the course site. We are taking a cue from another one of our PSU colleagues (and TLT Faculty Fellow) ,Dr. Christopher Long, who has been talking about the course site not as a blog per se, but as an ongoing text that is contributed to by all the members of the course. Our goal is to keep our course site going semester over semester so that current students can build on the work of the past. Another grand experiment I suppose!

Disruptive Technologies

Scott McDonald and I are getting set to once again teach our CI597 Disruptive Technologies in Teaching and Learning course again. I love the reaction people give us when they ask us the title of the course. I think so many people walk around with a really negative view of how technology can be used to support learning — way too many folks think we are just shoving technology at students. I don’t think that could be any further from the truth in our course. Our goal is always to help students work to understand the affordances of technologies within the context of designing learning environments. We will once again press our students to explore notions of community, identity, and design as we ask them to participate in lots of mini experiments along the way.

We want them to see not the specific technologies but what can be accomplished along the path of teaching and learning with technology — we want them to recognize how many of the new environments we are all participating in online can create and support a much richer learning experience. We want them to sit up and take some risks and explore. I’ll be sharing more thoughts about where we are and what we are doing as the spring semester gets rolling.

Constructed Meaning

Many of you who have spent anytime around me in the last six months or so know that I taught (what I thought to be) an interesting course with my friend and colleague Scott McDonald last spring. Our course was a graduate seminar offered in the College of Education’s Curriculum and Development department under the working title of Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning. Scott and I both felt the course was a bit of a grand experiment — one where we worked hard to mix the “down in the trenches” application of potentially disruptive social technologies with the best of the rigor associated with a graduate level course. We focused all of our activities, discussions, and readings around our three themes — community, identity, and design.

In many ways, we hoped that the design would emerge throughout the semester — we did quite a bit of planning, but didn’t prescribe everything. Scott and I had a really solid notion of what we were going to do and really understood what we wanted the students to come away with, but we did stop short of producing a full 15 week syllabus. Instead opting for a more flexible approach in which we broke the course into thirds — faculty driven, student exploration, student driven. Each third had about 5 weeks assigned to it. It worked fairly well.

The constructivist nature of the course was very comfortable to me, but I could tell that there were some students who were uncomfortable with it. I just got my SRTE (student rating of teaching effectiveness) results — nothing like timely feedback — and while solid, they express the fact that students were agitated/uncomfortable/uptight/confused with the open nature of the course. SRTE scores are out of 7 and I received a score lower than 6 on only 2 of the 15 items … both make me wonder about our approach and students’ readiness for it.

For the item, “Rate the organization of the course material” I received a 5.82 … while I believe this is still strong I would like to dig into that a little further. Scott and I did not organize the course in a traditional way at all — we did not use ANGEL (our course management system) to post assignemnts, instead opting to have a course blog that he and I could post to. The syllabus was there as were the links to the calendar, readings, and assignments. Much of the content of the course was created by the students in their own blogs and then aggregated together into a social ratings site we set up. So the question I have is related to student expectations with regard to material findability. Here’s the thing, are students so comfortable with the ability to log into ANGEL that they feel a course is disorganized if the majority of the material exist openly on the web? If this is the case, what does it say about our ability to move beyond the CMS and into the open web for course materials?

The other item I got tagged on was, “Rate the clarity of the syllabus in stating course objectives, course outline, and criteria for grades.” I got a 5.36 on that one … again, relatively high, but below the 6 level. This is another one that worries me a bit — but I am torn. As an instructional designer I am keenly aware of the need to clarify all expectations, but as someone who is interested in a more agile approach to teaching and learning I cringe at programmed instruction. The syllabus we posted went through the end of the 4th week … after that, the students were to help co-create the course. And they did! They kicked ass throughout the semester, but really came alive when much of the conversation was left up to them. It is tough to understand how one can be both clear with expectations via a course outline and maintain an open flow to the learning opportunities. So with this I am left wondering how comfortable our learners are with the ideas that they must be (at least) partially responsible for making the learning space come alive. Furthermore I am left wondering how this would play out in an undergraduate course — low structure, but big opportunities to adjust the flow of the course based on how the students are moving through the learning process?

At the end of the day there are things I would change and Scott and I have discussed some of them. We plan to teach the course again with a few minor tweaks to see what happens. But when, on the first day of class, you walk in and announce to the students that the next 15 weeks will be a grand experiment you have to be ready to deal with the unknown. I can’t think of a better compliment than to be dinged on the two items I discussed — they indicate we made the experience slightly uncomfortable and off-balance. That in and of itself in indicative of disruption.

Reading Thoughts

As I sit at my counter on a lazy Saturday morning with Jazz playing in the background I am struck at how nice it is to see the thoughts of my students streaming before my eyes. Now that I am finally home after what feels like weeks on the road, I am taking a little time to get caught up on my RSS feeds. The big difference is that I’m not reading my typical array of Apple news or Enterprise 2.0 stuff … I’m going through entries my students have made in their own blog spaces over the last few weeks. What I see are a lot of really insightful thoughts as they relate not only to the assigned readings, but to all sorts of things they are thinking about. What I am struck by is that none of my students in the past have taken the time to post thoughts unrelated to a course in an CMS/LMS such as ANGEL or BlackBoard. I wonder why that is …

This isn’t really news to me as I’ve used blogs in courses I’ve taught before, but the combination of our own PSU Blogging platform, an interesting course topic, and a more mature group of students is creating some interesting results already. I recall a few years ago in a small study I conducted with my colleague, Bart Pursel, we asked students if they were more motivated to post in the blog environment compared with ANGEL and they overwhelmingly reported that they were. I am very interested in seeing how these students continue down this path.

Google Reader CI597C Tag

What does this give me? I am already learning so much more about the way they think, write, and discuss. The fact that there are more artifacts for me to begin to build my impressions of them is amazing to me. One of the themes of the course we are teaching is identity … with that in mind I find it interesting that I am already able to create a stronger sense of who these students are by not only interacting with them in class, but by reading their blog posts. Makes for a stronger sense of community (which is another one of our primary themes).

So, as I sit here and read the thoughts of my students I know there is something important about giving students their own place to think out loud. I am also struck by the fact that I would rather read their thoughts than those typically clogging my google reader on a lazy Saturday morning. I’ve shared out a Meta-Blog of my students if you are interested in exploring with me … you can always check out what is happening in the class by visiting the Pligg site. We’ll also be posting our first class podcast as soon as I can get it edited. Until then I have some reading to do.

Social Ratings in Teaching and Learning

A while back we completed another Hot Team white paper related to social rating sites — think of digg.com as the big example. Essentially a space where content is either aggregated in or submitted by users and then voted on by the community to raise the opportunity for exposure to all readers. Lots of people find these types of spaces very important for helping them filter and discover the things that are interesting to them. We’ve talked about it on the ETS Talk podcast in the past and we are all agreeing there is something in this for education.

So, in a typically crazy move Scott McDonald and I made the decision to put a pligg (open source) site at the middle of our CI 597C course we are teaching this semester. At the start it confused students a bit, but I am starting to see content coming in from student blogs, with comments, and votes. It is really cool to see a community developing before my eyes. It fits the theme of the course — Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning — so it is a natural fit.


This week we will see if our vision of this will work. What we hope to see are students responding to the course readings in their own blogs (so they “own” the content) and they are aggregated automatically into the Pligg site. They are then given three votes to give to the top posts (and they must comment on the post as to why they voted for it). The top vote getters rise to the top and these then form the basis for the face to face discussion for the week. It feels like it is a solid way to bring lots of pieces of content together and give students a real voice in the organization of emerging conversation. It is worth watching. Anyone else exploring social rating sites for teaching and learning?


I have been as off the grid the last two weeks as much as possible while on vacation. It has been a wonderful (And even a little stressful) letting go. Things are starting to stack up a bit, but for the most part I have been able to stay out of it all. The only downside to the vacation has been the cold I have had for the past four days or so. Both my wife and I have the same thing and it makes paradise a little less than perfect. Sleeping has been very hard and getting out to do things hasn’t been easy either. Trust me, we’re still enjoying ourselves, but not nearly as much as we would if we were feeling 100%.

I think it has to have something to do with my work schedule taking me to Phoenix, AZ last week. While I was there I felt like I burned the candle from both ends — especially the first day when I did four talks. By the end of the day my voice was a whisper. I really enjoyed it though and felt like they were very well received. The second day I did a single 40 minute talk with abut 30-40 minutes of Q&A related to the Platform fr Innovation in Teaching and Learning stuff I have been working on. Again, I think it was relatively well received, but I did feel a little off my game … maybe it was b/c one of the really smart people in the World was there (Alan Levine), maybe it was b/c I am still working this talk up, or perhaps it was just a little too much the day before. No matter how you look at it, I enjoyed it and was honored to be invited. I have write ups of what I talked about over at my updates blog.

Speaking of Alan, it was sort of surreal to finally meet him (BTW, his words are too kind). We have talked on the phone, I’ve listened to hours of podcasts from him, responded to dozens of blog posts, and shared emails with him for the past several years — but up until last week we had never met face to face. The work he did while at Maricopa is legendary and the work he is doing now with the NMC is setting trends that we’ll be addressing for years to come. A real treat to meet the CogDog!

What else? Let’s see … we went to Disney and had fun, but I will say that spending a few hundred bucks on tickets should at least guarantee a ride on something. Classes began for the Spring semester at PSU this week … that means next Thursday (right before I head to San Antonio for ELI … anyone going and want to meet up?) we have our first face t oface session of our CI 597C class. It should be a lot of fun and it might be worth watching the class blog for updates and all of the activity going on around the course — there will be plenty.

And finally, speaking of blogs … the Blogs at Penn State made the jump to MT 4 this past weekend. A huge step forward for the blogging project and I have to send a huge thank you to the Blogs at PSU team — they made magic happen! More on all this in the coming days. Take care and enjoy the Macworld Keynote later today … I am actually close enough to an Apple Store that if Steve does something big I am going to get it. Maybe.