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.

My Simple iPhone App Wish

I’ve been very happy with my iPhone since I got it last year … I like it so much I haven’t yet felt compelled to pony up for the new one. With the 2.0 software update I am thrilled with how easily I can extend the functionality of the device — and the “fake” GPS works fine for me at the moment. I am betting there will be a killer app for the real GPS integration that will get me thinking, but for now the location based hooks in software are good enough for me.

Why can\'t I have at least a podcast option?

There is one thing I want though … I would really like an app that made it easy to acquire content from the iTunes Store that is in the iTunes U area. I know how it all works behind the scenes (for the most part) so I know it isn’t a simple task, but having the ability to integrate SMS notifications to students that new content is available in their iTunes U course spaces would really kick ass. I fully get the challenges with authentication, storing credentials, and the like but having an app that would at least let me point students directly to (even a public) course in iTunes U would be outstanding. I could easily write a half dozen case studies where this could be put to amazing use — and I am betting it would drive adoption of both the new 3G powered network device and the wifi enabled iPod Touch on campuses.

Real content on the go would be great. Total integration across the iTunes/iPod/iPhone eco-system would be an ideal situation for us all. Thoughts?

The iTunes U Ecosystem

I have spent the last week in Seattle at Educause. During the week I have had several chances to meet and talk to colleagues at other institutions and from the companies I work with. It has been a fun, rewarding, and thought provoking week — total exhaustion aside, I think it was one of my more productive trips. I’ll save my overall Educause thoughts for a different post … this one is about the emerging opportunities I see on the horizon for content delivery to mobile devices for teaching and learning.

One of the short demos I went to at the Apple Booth was given by one of my good friends at Apple … he shared some amazing stories of how different Universities are using iTunes U for content, outreach, and campus news. Some really good stuff — although ETS Talk didn’t make the cut. The second half of the presentation focused on the mobile side of the equation … how the iPod (in its various forms) create an ecosystem of sorts for managing and delivering mobile content … it got me thinking about it more.

One of the neat things you can do in Seattle with an iPod Touch or iPhone is walk into a Starbucks (you may have heard of those things … coffee shops I think) and get instantly connected to what seems like a location aware network. Once connected a new opportunity on the device emerges — a commerce opportunity. In this case the fact that my device knows I am in a certain place, the network lets me in, and I am presented with an opportunity to acquire content is a very cool thing. I am not one to frequent the old Starbucks at home, opting instead for the local shops but this is an interesting model for us to consider in the delivery of podcasted material.


Another very cool feature to mention is when I am in an open WIFI zone my iPhone gives me the opportunity to purchase content from the Apple Music Store. They even let me look at what is hot, the top 10, and other ways to browse music in multiple genres. Again, this is great but for this to be valuable to me in an academic sense I need to authenticate into my Universities’ iTunes U space. Think of the potential — as these devices hit our campuses students can gain access to learning materials in a true anytime, anywhere fashion. Imagine being a faculty member and creating a podcast two hours before class on a relevant (late-breaking) topic and publishing it to your iTunes U space. What if when you do that you could instantly send an SMS, eMail, and an update to your FaceBook entry that new content is available … students receive the update and can (with their Touch or iPhone) grab that content out of the air. Just in time mobile content delivery is only one option … there are dozens of scenarios — tours, travel updates, and so much more — especially if you can rely on some sort of location aware technologies.

It all seems to rely on the fact that your device knows your identity and can make that connection. Well, guess what? When you buy an iPod or iPhone the first thing you have to do is sync it with iTunes … when this happens, why not use the local iTunes U space to create a connection? Let the iTunes U space on your campus take part in the activation process … when you log in with our school identity all sorts of great things can happen — auto-synced University bookmarks, account information, University wide calendar events, and more. One of those things is a pairing of the device with your iTunes U access. Seems easy enough to me and it paints a really powerful end-to-end picture of the way iTunes U could sit in the middle of so much more than content management.

The iPod Touch and Tipping Points

As an Apple fanboy — man I hate labels (or is that a tag) — I was interested in the release of the new iPods last week. It seems strange to me that the new stuff hasn’t made waves with people like some of the other iPod updates in the past … especially given that at least one of these new devices has stepped into all new territory as it relates to features and usability. Lots of people got jacked up when Apple released the iPhone and were crying that the iPod didn’t do the things the iPhone did — full screen, wifi, touch controls, and more. Well, with the release of the Touch, it is all there. I think it represents a change that in the next 12-24 months will signify a radical change in the whole portable space for teaching and learning.

I was hanging out in my office for the 30 minutes I had there today and one of my students (who happens to work in ETS now) stopped in to tell me he had purchased a new Touch. I asked him if he thought it would be big on campus. He immediately told me that most students wouldn’t get it … I can see that, today. He went on to tell me until it could connect to universal wireless and posses massive storage it wouldn’t be a hot device on campus. I begged to differ — now keep in mind that I value his opinion and I certainly feel like he has the pulse of the student population much more within his reach, but there are some factors at play here that may make this device something to prepare for.


First of all the Touch is expensive, but not all that more than other devices that let you get online to work your FaceBook profile, check your email, respond to questions in ANGEL, browse ESPN, and just about everything else you can do in a browser — did I mention it fits in a pocket? See we know some stuff about our students … they do very specific things with technology. Here is a brief summary of what we know … somewhere around 80% of them own laptops and nearly all of them have wireless access … we also know that under 20% actually carry them to campus and the number one reason they tell us they don’t is because they report they are too big! Sure the VPN on our campus is not yet compatible with the Apple offering of the iPhone, but honestly how long can that last? With the price drop on the iPhone we will see all sorts of new touch sensitive devices show up this year (even before the Holiday season) in the hands of faculty, staff, and students. That in and of itself could provide a tipping point. What will happen over the next 12 months will change the game — the iPod Touch v1 will give way to a faster more powerful V2 device with a lot more storage, better VPN, and more tools than ever to access all the stuff they do. Did I mention that close to 85% of our students are on the FB and that 25% of them spend more than 5 hours a week there? Having access to all that in the palm of their hands will drive change.

We’ve been thinking and looking at the role mobility plays in education for quite some time now … I was the PI on an HP grant several years ago (maybe 5) that asked us to look at this exact topic. The tools were lame then and didn’t allow us to do the things we envisioned — they aren’t now. Couple that with the close to 250 sections of courses with an iTunes U space and it is easy to see that the time is right for a portable access device to an ever-increasing sea of digital academic content. I am going to argue that the iPod Touch will be the first mobile device that will actually make it to classrooms and live with students like only their iPods and cell phones do now … wait a second, they already carry this stuff. Jeez, I wonder how many of them own iPods now? Let’s call it about 50% of the PSU student population (and the number of MP3 ownership is at about 87%) … I wonder if they’ll refresh and buy new ones? I wonder if the new students showing up will come with them (did I mention our freshman own MP3 players at a higher percentage than our seniors)? But they don’t own cell phones do they? Yeah, 93% of them do … again, imagine if the devices they carry let them hit the network to do the things they stop into our labs for. Another little insight — most of them spend less than 10 minutes on our machines … know what they do? Yep check email, update profiles on FB, and check ANGEL. What the hell did Bob Dylan sing?

I wonder if the WIFI enabled iPods will change the way students do stuff? I’ll let someone else answer that. Thoughts?

Being an Apple Developer These Days Must be Hard

I know lots of people were bent out of shape when Steve Jobs told the crowd at WWDC that they can develop for the iPhone as long as it is in the browser. The whole idea of providing access to build applications for a platform is typically at the heart of that platform’s success … when I think about Apple’s business models (or product segments) for a second I see things in an interesting way. Apple seems to have a few core areas of focus these days in the hardware space — the Mac, the iPod, the Apple TV, and the iPhone. Each one does some amazing things — and to tell you the truth it occurs to me that only the iPod isn’t running OSX … they’ll fix that. This is from a company who “ignited the personal computing revolution …” Things are shifting.

The Mac has always been a platform where developers have been invited to play. You want to make some software for it? Go ahead … Apple even has a whole developer relations group and associated services. WWDC is a developer’s conference — a developer’s conference for the Mac. With that in mind I can see why the masses were irritated when Jobs told them to build web apps to support the phone. These are real developers who write real code. Not that web apps aren’t real apps, but I think we all get the notion. I am quite honestly excited by the web apps I am seeing being revised to work really well on the iPhone. The Ta-Da List port is one that makes a whole lot of sense in the browser — I am now testing it with my administrative assistant as an ad-hoc calendar tool.

The iPod is a closed platform from what I can tell. There isn’t an open SDK for the iPod that I know of. I could be wrong about this one, but I don’t know of one — at least on the software side. I tell a story about a time I visited Apple right after the iPod was released … I actually told an product manager that if they really wanted to make this product successful they’d release an SDK and let computer science departments use it as a platform. I guess my brilliant idea wasn’t needed. Sure, Nike and a few other select feew companies have been able to release software that extends the functionality of the iPod, but for the most part it is a closed party. The Apple TV is being hacked all the time, but again, from what I can tell it is a closed platform. Yes, the Apple TV runs some sort of OSX, but it isn’t a true Mac.

The iPhone is in the same boat … it runs OSX, but it isn’t a Mac. Apple has created a website that gives us the info we need to create the right kinds of web apps, but that is as far as they’ll go with it. The funny thing is that the fact this thing has a browser opens up nearly unlimited possibilities — at least from my perspective. It has to be hard for real developers though.

The whole paradigm shift happening at Apple is interesting to watch — a computer company that is no longer just a computer company. How will this change developer relations? How will WWDC need to change to integrate the other three product lines? I have no idea, but I doubt Steve and Co. are done in the space that isn’t occupied by the Mac. Imagine being a developer and being tempted by these other products … just dreaming about what could be done. It must be so hard to step outside the Apple developer mindset.

More Apple TV Thoughts

I am now a full on Apple TV user … I know that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those of you who know me as an Apple FanBoy. What has surprised me is how the device has really changed the way I use my iPod. For the last 4 years or so I have taken my iPod to work with me everyday and instantly dropped it in the cradle upon returning home so it could drive music throughout our house. I killed the CD collection years ago and have been living in a digital music ecosystem since my iPods’ storage capacities started to match my old analog collection. The routine still includes me taking my iPod to work everyday, but I now walk in to music already playing throughout the house via the Apple TV … it is easy to use and everyone seems to like it.

I do have an issue though … my iPod is 80 GB and it stores all my stuff — Music, TV Shows, Movies, Podcasts, and Pictures without issue. Last night I was syncing the Apple TV after purchasing some new content from Apple and noticed things getting a little tight.


As new podcasts, movies and shows that I buy come in daily the thing is syncing a lot in the background getting filled to the brim with content.


The thing that has me very frustrated isn’t so much the ridiculously small 40 GB drive (which I am now considering upgrading via this kit) it is the poorly designed syncing limitations. I know simplicity is the goal, but what if I want all the episodes of the Office, but only the last 5 of another show? With the built in tools I don’t get the kind of granular control that I need to make the most of the 40 GB drive. There’s stuff I watch over and over — like episodes of the Office — and there is stuff I only want to watch once. One of the things my daughter loves is having all her Disney Channel shows at her fingertips … but if I set it for all episodes just for that reason, I put my hard drive in a serious crunch time situation.


How about giving me the ability set a different sync schedule for each show? That way, the little lady can have all the episodes of Kim Possible ready to rock and roll, while I don’t need to have every episode of Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia (great show BTW) taking up HD space? All I want is a little more control … I shouldn’t have to feel like I need to hack my device or void the warranty to use it the way I need to.

Nike + iPod

I am going to preface this post with the fact that I am pathetically out of shape. I know that now b/c I went out running yesterday and I hurt today — when I say I hurt, I mean I really hurt. OK, on with the post.

Even though I am thinking my iPod is a little old skool now that the iPhone is out, I did start using my Nike + iPod yesterday. I got the thing for Christmas and have just now gotten around to trying it … when in the world would I have left a piece of technology sitting around for a few weeks? Must be the exercise part … I have to say that my first impressions are very positive … here’s a quick recap of my experiences with it:

  • It worked so well with my iPod Nano … really just plugged it into the bottom of the Nano, slid the fob into the sole of my Nike sneakers and it connected and communicated right away. Starting a run was as easy as selecting to start workout. It asked me to pick a playlist and I was off. Every five minutes a voice came over the iPod to tell me my progress … very cool.
  • It actually motivated me to exercise … something that nothing has been able to do in the last year or so. I’ve used my recumbent stationary bike on occasion, but this blend of technology and music/podcast listening is something I may be able to get into. The web interface is so slick and actually encourages you to set goals for yourself. I’ve set four unique goals using the Nike + site … to run 20 miles in 4 weeks, burn 2000 calories, run 10 times over that period, and do at least 5 miles under 10 minutes. I know at this point it is mighty pathetic, but I have to tell you it is time I start somewhere.
  • In high school I had to be able to do 2 miles in under 12 minutes every season for varsity soccer … my senior year I was able to do the two in eleven minutes and eleven seconds. During my run yesterday I did my first mile in eleven minutes. I am seriously out of shape. Maybe connecting the dots with technology and exercise will help me get it back together.
  • Once I get myself together a bit I think I will invite some other people to some running challenges. This whole site has the ability for you to create events and challenge friends from all over the world to compete against you. Again, I am seriously out of shape and it will take me time to get to that point, but I am sort of looking forward to it. This whole thing feels a hell of a lot like a massively multiplayer online game … not Warcraft or anything, but something that might motivate me further.


So other than the fact that I am so out of shape the Nike + iPod deal is really a great product. Now, can I continue to go after my goals? Only time and my online profile will tell.

My iPod is Dead to Me

Well, not really but after Tuesday’s announcement of the new iPhone I am feeling a little less than thrilled with what I am left holding. We all drooled over the iPhone and its ability to make calls and access the Internet, but the iPod-like features are crazy. All of a sudden the device that on Tuesday morning was a state of the art digital media player with its iconic click wheel and sleek exterior now looks a little dated and outmoded. I find myself thinking, “using a click wheel to scroll through list of music sucks … I want to touch my music.” I am left asking a few questions.

When will the iPod line be refreshed with similar functionality? I love the iPhone, but not everyone needs the total package. Will Apple make us buy that device just to get the iPod features many of us have craved for quite some time — namely wide screen with both horizontal and vertical orientations? I can say that the iPhone gets me close to eliminating a device, but not really. My iPod is 80 GB and it manages a lot of data (as the image below shows). The iPhone is Nano in storage capacity and I am not going to give up the ability to store and access all my music, podcasts, TV shows, and movies when I am going away for a week. I will still need my old-skool iPod to handle those tasks. But for everyday use the iPhone seems to be perfect. What I really want to know is when can I expect a 40, 60, 80, or 100 GB iPod that has iPhone iPod features? You know touch screen and those dual viewing orientations. I would have dropped down cash on the spot Tuesday for that — just to touch my music!


I am also sort of wondering why Apple went with iPhone as the name … this thing seems to be so much more than a phone … almost in an all new category.  At the same time, it sorts of fits the philosophy of hte iPod naming convention.  I always sort of got the feeling the iPod was named the iPod because it could evolve over time into whatever the market (or Steve told us) wanted.  This iPhone is an iPod to me — just the logical next step in its evolution.  When I say logical, it is only logical now that Apple has shown it to us.  I wouldn’t have dreamed those features on Monday could be real.  At any rate, this thing is my new iPod.

New iPod

I think one reason it will be a while until we see an iPod that looks and works like the iPhone has to do with Cingular.  Now I don’t pretend to understand how the cell phone industry works, but it seems to me that the carriers subsidize the cost of the phones they carry.  I just have to wonder what the true cost of the iPhone is without the contract?  Anyone know?  I imagine that to pack the advanced OS, larger hard drive, big screen, and all that touch stuff into an iPod would have to cost $500.00 on its own.  At any rate I am left holding the 5G iPod and all I can think about is that Apple has turned their own device into an also ran — sort of like the Rio I sold way back in the day to get an original 5 GB iPod.  Is it greedy to hope I can have all the iPod features of the iPhone without the phone?  Is that silly and where can Apple take us next with their music/video player platform?  There is a brand there that must grow — can it grow next to a revolutionary product or is it now the ugly step-sister?  Anyone …