iPad as Tech Trojan Horse

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, many people bemoaned it as just a consumption toy aimed at dilettantes who were interested in gaming and viewing cat videos. No one would use the iPad for any meaningful creation, tweeted angry internet users. The hype built; zealous Apple fans slept outside stores to buy the first generation iPad. Personally, I wasn’t ready to spend the money or brave the crowds to purchase the device, but I was also unwilling to write it off. I read reviews and critiques, marveled at the iPads I encountered in the wilds of Yale’s libraries. The introduction of the iPad came at a point in my career when my technology confidence was at a low; I was trying to figure out what I needed to learn, where I needed to go to advance my young career. I knew something needed to change, I just did not know what quite yet.

I soon found my answer in that September when I broke down and bought an iPad. It was love at first swipe.

At first, I primarily used iPad as a reading device; I replaced paperbacks at home with ebooks and furtive reading breaks at work with saved articles in Instapaper to read at night. I wrote email and tweeted at conferences. It became my constant companion at work and on the couch. However, my first generation iPad wasn’t a device I used to do any meaningful writing beyond emails and social media updates. Was I a dilettante? However, I began experimenting with the iPad in classrooms and random office hacks where few other people in my places of employ necessarily were. I gained confidence and when I started my new job at Hampshire, I ran with mobile devices and pedagogy at warp speed.

Last year, I purchased a third generation iPad. The purchase coincided with me traveling and blogging frequently. My adventures in technology let me to work with Markdown and PlainText. Digital Humanities became a core part of my job. Writing took on renewed importance in my life. During the fall semester, I began writing exclusively in PlainText and publishing my blog in Markdown using the nifty iOS app, Poster. I began writing in the app Drafts. Slowly but surely, I found that I began using my iPad more frequently than my laptop and that I was using my iPad to write more than to read. I suppose the consumption palace was giving way to creation after all.

I became a more thoughtful creator with the iPad as I gained more confidence with technology, which might seem counterintutiive. Apps like Poster and Drafts helped me wade into Plaintext and Markdown. As I gained confidence and learned more, I became a more educated technologist. My writing benefited too; I love being able to follow up on fragments of ideas, or on a photograph. Writing in Drafts made that possible. I always hated writing in long-hand, my handwriting too awful to bear going back to, I loathe writing in Word with all of its buttons and foibles. I love the distraction free interface of writing in Plaintext. I love how flexible it is, moving from Drafts to my Plaintext editor on my Mac and then then into iOS apps like Poster to publish these missives on WordPress in Markdown.

What if the iPad is a trojan horse of sorts; a machine so simple and intuitive that it makes people comfortable enough to push themselves to use technology in different ways? To experiment with new ways of working, writing, thinking, and connecting? In classrooms across higher education, tablets are  en vogue. At ISIS, we often talk about the next big thing in educational technology or how we are using existing tools in resources in new ways. What if tablets are the conduit to more successful adventures in technology that can push our students (and us!) into new directions?

Teaching with technology has made me consider how to introduce students to new situations, how to learn about technology, how to use different tools. Borrowing from my own experience, it helps to start small, with discrete tasks and tools as opposed to unattainable goals like ‘build a photography repository.’ I find that working with iPads in my own technology practice gave me manageable goals and tasks to gain new competencies, but it also gave me the confidence to take new risks.
I think part of that stems from the fact that there were expectations already built into the laptop about how I could or couldn’t use it, assumptions that drive many women away from technology. I think students might have similar feelings regardless of gender. They think they know what to expect of themselves with their laptops, what if tablets are a clean start for them, too?

Step 1, take the iPad out of the box (Primer)

Technology is ubiquitous!

Tablets are so easy to use!

No one needs any advice about how to use digital tools and devices – ever!

Working in higher education debunked such myths. Recently, iPads have joined laptops as  standard college-issued productivity gear all throughout higher education. Through my own experiences and hearing from other colleagues and friends, handing iPads to employees can lead to a few scenarios (good and bad) that I put into three rough categories:

1. Early/eager adopters: Employees tear iPads out of boxes, download a suite of productivity apps, and begin using device as if it is a part of them. These folks experiment with new ways of using the devices at work. Other employees are envious of their newfound productivity. Others roll their eyes. These users can be spirited instructors for less advanced users, but sometimes they might be reluctant to share their knowledge.

2. Competent adopters: Employees take iPads out of the box, use some pre-installed apps, download others, fumble, and use the device in moderation.

3. Reluctant/Anxious adopters: iPads remain in box until further instruction or encouragement.  If these employees don’t receive instruction or encouragement, they may not use the device at all.

Bearing in mind that these are rough descriptions of groups of users, it’s worth noting there are many more users who fall into the latter two categories than you might expect. So, how do we help them?

  1. Peer learning. Sometimes, groups of peers get together to talk about new and neat apps.
  2. Organizations and departments can identify power users who can rove among coworkers,  dispensing advice about how to use the new devices. Having acted as a power user in a limited role in a previous position, it can be a neat way of getting to know other coworkers in a more relaxed setting.
  3. Giving informal, orientation slides or infographics to all users who get an iPad or other tablet so everyone can be on the same page, setting expectations for how employees should use devices. Better yet, add on some good tech resources for employees can learn about new apps and features on their own. How else would people know about new iOS upgrades or new features to apps like Mail?

Finally, 3 things every new iPad user should know:

  1. There’s a mute button! Minds have been blown before my eyes when learning that one can make the clicking and clacking noises stop.  Colleagues in meetings and who otherwise work in close corners will be happy for the silence.
  2. Calendars can sync to multiple calendars like Google and Exchange.
  3. You can read *and* watch videos on iPad

Summing up, it’s easy to make generalizations about different people’s proficiencies with technology. It’s convenient to apply a ‘one size fits all’ strategy for introducing workers to a new device or suite of technology, but we must try to find new ways of reaching all of our users and encourage our teams to collaborate on how to find enriching, productive, and meaningful ways to use technology in our work.