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).

Interesting Functionality

Ever notice how when you are reading a NYT article on the web as you approach a certain part of the scroll a little slide out panel presents itself with a recommendation on what to read next? I’d seen it but never really jumped on it in any way. I was thinking about it this morning and find the functionality very interesting and could see it put into place in eLearning design, web-based game design, and even on service pages to prompt you to get started.

I think more than anything I am just trying to get my mind working again after Holiday break.

The Power of Video

More and more of what I engage with online comes in the form of video. As a simple example, most of the new music I am discovering comes from YouTube, not iTunes. That is a shift for me. Last year a third of our faculty here at PSU reported using YouTube as a teaching tool in our classrooms. I talk about that when I give presentations and usually say that these faculty are using YouTube much like they did films a few years ago. The difference? They have access to nearly everything at any moment. And what they have access to has the power to teach, the power to connect, and the power to enlighten. Is it too much to say that vast communities of practice are now easily able to spin up because of a YouTube video?

I watched the TED Talk from Chris Anderson I embedded below and felt as though much of what I am thinking about as it relates to video was really well stated. As you might expect from the TED Curator, he feels the open nature of online video is providing a critical spark in the ability to connect and change the World. At first I thought it was a bit overstated, but watching all 18 minutes of the video made me feel otherwise. The closing example is worth watching in and of itself.

“What Gutenberg did for writing, online video can do for face to face communication” — Chris Anderson

It is exciting for me to see the rise of personal and professional video online that can build new forms of educational experiences. I remember being an undergraduate at WVU back in the early 1990’s when I discovered QuickTime … at that time QT video was amazing, but also amazingly small and of terrible quality. My first video project was something I cooked up on the side after a killer lecture by my favorite teacher, Phil Comer, gave. I used QT and Apple’s Open Doc technology to capture pieces of lectures and embed them in text-based class notes that I could share on the Psych lab Macs. Dr. Comer had this one great lecture he did on this notion of what he called “the eclectic solid.” It was all about the need to be able to see issues through the lens of multiple perspectives. This solid had different psychological perspectives printed on all the sides. He would toss it in the air, catch it, and whatever was facing up was the lens we had to look at the issue through. If it lands on “cognitive” and we all had to dissect the issue from that perspective … same for “behavioral” and so on. It was so visually powerful that you could never get it by reading notes. By integrating the video of him tossing it in the air with the text of the notes I felt like I nailed something new and exciting. That was the first mash-up I created to support learning.

“Video is high bandwidth for a reason.” — Chris Anderson

Fast forward to today and I don’t need any overwhelming set of skills or technology to make far more compelling learning materials quickly and easily. With something as simple as my phone I can record, edit, and share a story that can connect me to communities on a global basis. When I contribute it in the open, the World can see and engage with it. This is one of the reasons why we’ve decided to add Kaltura video editing to the Blogs at Penn State. We’ve always thought of Blogs at PSU toolset as a simple platform to create, share, and engage in multiple forms … and now it is a platform for text, images, audio, and video.


Watching the video by Chris Anderson reminded me of my own first engagement with video and text mash-ups for learning. With our new toolset rolling out I wonder how some other crazy undergraduate will use it to change and challenge the status quo. I wonder how much more interesting I could have made my own eclectic solid presentation had I had these tools? The bigger thing is that I could have instantly shared it with the world and introduced them to Phil Comer’s brilliant mind and teaching. I bet he would have gotten a boat load of views.

The Hallway

Sometimes I love the things that my Google Reader shares with me from down the hall … this afternoon I jumped into my feeds for the first time since very early this morning. One of my favorite things to see is the little new article indicator next to my ETS folder. I love to see fresh content from those in my own team … just warms the heart. There were a couple new ones today, but the one that caught my attention was from my colleague, Elizabeth Pyatt. Elizabeth is an Instructional Designer in our group who brings great insights into literally everything we do. Elizabeth was instrumental in starting and executing our blogging community hub so she gets the community thing in a big way. Her post today really made me step back and think.

What is funny about it is that her post is about a whiteboard. You see, about a month and a half ago the whiteboard we ordered for the Cafe ETS space showed up and it was way too big. Instead of sending it back I asked that it be installed in our hallway so it could be used for ad hoc conversations, announcements, or really anything else people wanted to use it for — within reason I suppose … my general rule for anything around the office is to not spew hate (a good rule to live by). I’ve watched the whiteboard since it went up and it has been used for all sorts of things — pictures of me, polls, announcements, and more. I’ve liked it all and haven’t given it too much thought. I did notice when we first had it installed that someone asked (via the whiteboard) what the policies governing it are. I didn’t respond, but did put a fictitious item on our all staff meeting agenda to address that. We didn’t.

The Whiteboard

The Whiteboard

Elizabeth notes some things that only now am I growing aware of — people want to know what it is there for. The funny thing is that I really don’t have a concrete answer. It is there to be there … if that is too abstract then so be it. Chalk it up as another grand experiment.

The other thing she notes is the Twitter stream running on a display in the same hallway. We all tweet with our personal accounts and they end up showing up in our hallway. I usually always enjoy reading them when I get off the elevator and I do feel like it provides an interesting insight into our organizational DNA. But as Elizabeth points out, some of the tweets are probably not aligned with our organizational perspective (maybe … not sure about that). Again, it is an interesting look at social interaction … another grand experiment. I am honestly intrigued by the way we are all navigating both online and physical social platforms — and yes, I just called the whiteboard a social platform.

The Twitter Stream

The Twitter Stream

So what the hell is this post about? Well it has a little to do with who we are as a group and the kinds of things we are all thinking about individually — and really how they add up to form an organizational identity. It is also about how we are walking in the open without the old rules — whatever they were. The new school technology of Twitter has brought a strange view into the collective (even if not everyone contributes to it), while the whiteboard seems to have caused more questions. I’m not sure if we are more forgiving with our use of the new school stuff or not. I do know one thing I can answer with certainty for those who are wondering — I am not the one erasing stuff. I am leaving that to the community to deal with … if I erased I would violating one of the things I believe in — communities self correct. Even on whiteboards.

On Changing Roles

As the First Annual Learning Design Summer Camp approaches I am struck by how different the list of participants looks than a more “traditional” ID meeting has in the past. I am amazed by how many people there are attending that a more conservative view of ID would deem too far outside the path … that there are people attending that are librarians, marketing people, programers, developers, faculty, students and others who impact learning design in a team environment, but who have traditionally been left on the outside looking in when it comes to these kinds of events. Let me say one thing about it all — I love it.

I have always looked at the design process as one that is so much more powerful when we are inclusive of people with many perspectives. I think we are all being asked to rethink our roles as we find new ground to populate in the academy. We are no longer being asked questions about what tool to use, how to write an objective, test items, or add resources to a CMS powered course space. I see something else happening — we are being asked to help extend the reach of classrooms to connect communities. Even if the ask isn’t overt, the notion of openness and connectedness is living just under the surface of nearly all the questions I am asked. I like this on a lot of levels, but I especially like that it is forcing us all to rethink where we add value to the bigger picture.

I really like the idea that everyone coming to the LD Summer Camp can have an impact on the design of learning — they can impact small pieces or entire learning opportunities. This is not meant to be a call to arms for more traditional instructional designers (I may actually be one), but it is a call for the entire Learning Design community to see this change coming and to embrace it — to level the playing field and to participate openly with colleagues as we explore this new territory. It is a truly exciting time to be in the Learning Design field — unprecedented access to content, knowledge, peers, teachers, learners, and all the others in our space has made our jobs that much more interesting and critical. We need to understand that our value will be finding new ways to connect learners to teachers, classrooms to larger communities, and education to 21st century skills that can take students into the next three decades in a holistic fashion. I am working on changing my thinking and I am inviting those around me to do the same.

Did I mention I am excited? Thoughts?

Open Design Questions without Answers

I am beginning to think that “May is Think Open Month” for me … obviously thinking about openness is something that has been in the middle of my head for the last several weeks. The trip to the Berkman@10 event pushed me very hard to evaluate the things I feel are important to me as I do my work — as an administrator, teacher, and person. I have be reevaluating many of the descions I’ve made over the last few years in my work and I think for the most part I’ve been consistent in my push for openness … I’m not always able to be moving in that direction, but for the most part I have spent the last few years thinking very critically about the interplay between identity, community, and deisgn as it realtes to openness. The events of the last month have only served to push me further down the path to look even more critically at how I can impact change at my Institution and beyond to embrace a collective voice as it relates to moving to a more open perspective.

I’m not thinking about open courseware, open (unfiltered) ranting, or other more disruptive concepts … no, I am thinking more about how openness should be built into the design process. Not really instructional design per say, but design in general … in my mind learning design is looking at the notion of building learning opportunities in a more broad sense than more strict instructional systems design. I am interested in what happens when we (designers) give up a majority of the control and let our communities come in and particpate in a more holistic sense. Would chaos emerge if we didn’t control the learning design process, just enabled it through new governance models (unfortunate term as it feels very controlling), new methodologies for encouraging open participation, and open access to tools? I am thinking seriously about what it would look like to convince a department that we should embark on a new approach to knowledge capture … a wikipedia approach that places the emphasis on the community to create the reification of knowledge as they see fit. What would that look like?

I am seriously considering proposing to teach a new course this Fall (I know it sounds crazy) with a focus on exploring open design … maybe doing it in the context of creating discipline specific knowledge by the community. I don’t know what College this works in, but clearly the College of Education or the College of Information Sciences and Technology would be prime targets for this. This is not fully baked (as I thought of it about an hour ago as I mowed the lawn), but my goal would be to turn over the design of the articulation of knowledge to the community. Let the students work to determine what we should capture and how to do it — furthermore, let them explore how to encourage a larger community involvement in that task as well. I see a wiki sitting in the middle with a discipline specific outline in it … each major item in the outline is an article stub that teams of students would work to complete. I wonder if they could create articles that could stand up to the scrutiny of a group of faculty reviewers? I wonder if the illustration of a project like this would tip the scales towards a more bottom up curricular knowledge creation perspective? I wonder if it would produce any interesting outcomes?

Lots of questions, but as with most new half-baked concepts questions often are the only things to guide us. I have no idea if any of this would work, but after reading about some great examples of faculty pushing students to craft complete knowledge destined for wikipedia, I am fairly certain the mechanics could work. So at the end of the day I am interested in seeing if a few of my questions could be answered:

  • Can you ask a loosely joined group to work together in a distributed way to construct a concrete example of expressed discipline specific material?
  • Would the work of a small class encourage participation from outside the class?
  • Could the resulting articles be valuable enough that they could form the basis for some other curricular activities? In other words, would they hold up to the standard set forth by more traditional eLearning content creation approaches?
  • Would Colleges or Departments invest the time of the expertise at the top (faculty) to form some sort of domain specific governance (oversight) committee to help ensure quality content from the community?
  • Would studnets participating in a course like this gain enough through the creation of small pieces of content? In other words, the course would have to be about open design, not a specific curricular goal.

With my las bullet I think I captured what I really want — I want to spend 15 weeks with a small group of smart students investigating what open design means and how we could all learn to apply what we learn to novel challenges. Should I do it? Who wants to help?