I won an iPad mini

I never win prizes after taking surveys, but there is a first time for everything, right?

Towards the end of my time at Hampshire College, I took a survey about sexual harassment and entered a contest to win an iPad mini. To my surprise, I won!

I’ve documented my love of the iPad on the blog earlier this year, so I figured I would revisit an iPad review in light of the new addition to my gadget arsenal. Spoiler alert: I love it, but not without reservations.

Size: The third generation iPad is light and thin, but the iPad mini is miraculously light and thin. It’s a noticeable difference. I can hold the mini in one hand while reading in bed or on the couch. It’s a breeze to cart around during the day and I hardly noticed its weight in my bag shuffling between work and home. Typing on it is also a welcome change. No stranger to live-tweeting conferences on my iPhone (too small) or iPad (okay), the iPad mini is just right, as my live-tweeting of the Five College All-Staff Round-Up proved.

Performance: The mini is just as fast and responsive as its third generation cousin. Apps download quickly, webpages open quickly, and I am very pleased.

Display:  :( The retina display on the third generation iPad is awesome, and I definitely miss it on the mini. However, I keep myself reaching for the mini because the size is so perfect for my needs, which include writing, editing, email, note taking, web browsing, and heavy reading. As much as I love the mini, I still find myself saying, “CURSES, THERE ISN’T RETINA DISPLAY.”

Conclusion: Had I not won the mini, I would not have purchased one of my own. I have an iPad that I love already. and the lack of retina display makes me sad. However, if/when Apple releases an iPad mini with retina display, I would definitely buy one. The smaller tablet size is fantastic; I love the flat back of the mini, the light weight, and ease of use.

The iPad mini, shown here next to a book for scale.

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?

Haiku Deck Makes IPad Awesome Presos (review)

For me, dragging my laptop from office to classroom to teach is can be a pain. As you can see, my laptop lives on a stand, connected to a second monitor, complete with a wireless mouse and keyboard. Chuf, chuf, chuf to the classroom.

My desk in the Hampshire College Library

Inconvenience aside, when I am teaching with visual aids, I feel like my laptop is a barrier between the class and myself. The laptop obscures my face and in order to do demonstrations from the internet, I feel like I am tied to the seat where the laptop is living during the class. To that end, I made it a goal for myself to use my iPad more in teaching this year, especially since some of our classrooms have Apple TV which allows users to beam images and texts from iPads directly to screens. Fortunately, I found a new, neat, free presentation app for the iPad called Haiku Deck.

Michael Rose over at TUAW wrote a neat little review that provides a strong overview of the app’s features, but I want to talk about using this app in the context of teaching.

The Good

  1. Clean text that is easy to read on a screen.
  2. Timesaving, instant access to Creative Commons images. It’s a pleasure to build presentations in this app.
  3. Ability to easily swipe through slides while presenting.
  4. Easy export and sharing. I like the idea of tweeting some of my presentations.
  5. Free on iOS, a major plus since I was about to buy Keynote for iOS.

The Not-So-Good

  1. Paying for additional layout options.
  2. An app that only works in landscape mode whether presenting or editing.
  3. To my knowledge, you can’t repurpose slides between presentations. This is a disappointment since I sometimes like to repurpose slides across presentations I do. I wish there was a way of keeping a cache of slides in the app that could be recycled across presentations.
  4. Not as easy to embed URLs into presentations, which can be a help sometimes when doing more technical demonstrations.

I road tested my first presentation during several of my classes last week. It looked good on the screen. The image quality wowed my students. Overall, I really enjoyed teaching from the iPad, especially now that I can be cord free with Apple TV. The pad sat on my lap and I felt like Mr. Rogers, in a good way.

Best of all, I made eye contact with everyone in way that was not possible when doing presentations with the laptop. I had a blast and I think my students did, too. Thanks, Haiku Deck, I think this is the start of a beautiful relationship.