Sunday, October 10, 2010

iPad as classroom text reader: a thought experiment

As I've done more reading on the iPad, I've wondered what it might be like to use it in a literature classroom. I'm inspired partly by the posts over at Teaching, Learning, and Living with an iPad, a site that's chronicling a writing class in which all the students received iPads. Some thoughts:
  • Reading on the iPad is nice. It hasn't been hard on the eyes, and the page-turning capabilities are a lot faster than those on the Kindles I've seen. Like the Kindle, it has a dictionary function, a notes function, etc.
  • As it currently exists, the iPad has one advantage over a standard netbook or laptop if you use it in the classroom: no multitasking. Wait--that really is a feature and not a bug, since students wouldn't be able to Facebook while you're hoping they're following the text. That feature will disappear with the next system update, however.
  • The down side is that students wouldn't be able to keep a text open and write their notes beside the text, which in an ideal world they would be doing instead of Facebooking.
  • The book situation wouldn't work as it does for the tech writing class. First, in testing various e-textbooks over this past year, I learned you don't "buy" an e-textbook in the sense that you keep it permanently (or sell it back to the bookstore); you rent it for a specific period of time, usually one semester or maybe 6 months. This costs about 80% of what it would cost to buy the book. This isn't necessarily good or bad, but since lit students, unlike students in the sciences or tech writing, may want to keep their books for later reference, buying an e-textbook wouldn't make sense unless you're teaching a contemporary author whose works are under copyright.
  • The good part about an e-textbook is that it's designed for use in a class and has navigation features like a table of contents with links, which would make navigating to specific sections easier.
  • The good part about not using an e-textbook is that, if you're teaching a pre-1923 literature class, you'd have lots of public domain choices for texts. If you're using a text that doesn't have significant problems with/variations in editions, Project Gutenberg has lots of works formatted for Kindle, which would work on an iPad.
  • These books wouldn't have the navigation features of a purchased e-textbook, however, and here's where mcconeghy's response to a previous post might provide a solution. Imagine that you're in class. Maybe you'd usually say something like, "Turn to page 127. How has Dorothea Brooke's perspective changed since her comment on page 45?" and you'd expect the students to be able to flip back and forth between the two. Since it'd take a while to do that on an iPad, and there aren't any page numbers anyway, couldn't you say "search for 'red bows on blue dress'" or something like that to get students to find both instances of the phrase? Couldn't the search function replace the flipping pages function?
  • I'm a good typist, and I have small hands, but the iPad keyboard is still a challenge. It might be a challenge for students as well--any thoughts?
  • Also, as a sad testament to the increasing irrelevance of the apostrophe, the iPad has put it on the numbers keyboard, so you have shift to that keyboard if you want to use a contraction or a possessive form. It could be that students would get faster at shifting between keyboards, or it could be that we all will start using no contractions at all and talking like Mafia dons ("I do not think he would like to sleep with the fishes"), or--best guess--R.I.P. apostrophes.[Edited to add this: Emily says in the comments that an iPod touch automatically adds the apostrophe. I just checked, and the iPad does, too. Thanks, Emily!]

[Edited to add: I realize, too, that the whole thing would be easier just using a paper book. There should be a universal rule: whenever you have to use the concept of a workaround, the original method of using the tool/technology is probably better in the first place.]


Emily said...

I don't know what it's like on the iPad, but on my iPod touch the predictive text feature will automatically add apostrophes to contractions and possessives that ought to have them, so it doesn't matter quite so much that the apostrophe key is on the other screen. The real problem is when you want to use "its" as a possessive and the predictive text keeps correcting it to "it's."

undine said...

Emily, you are a genius! The iPad does this, but I never thought to check. Thank you!