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.