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?

Social Media: Inventory & Reflections (Updated)

Last week, I had the pleasure of teaching a research education section on social media for a Division I tutorial class. The class will contribute to a Tumblr that compiles theater reviews from around the Five College consortium. Collectively, the class will write critical reviews that demand the serious effort and rigorous analysis that one expects in scholarly communication in a venue where many of them write for ‘anyone who will read’ or ‘their friends and family.’ It was fun to interrogate ideas of audience in social media and think about norms for different regions of the internet. We did some concept mapping that was quite revealing:

Of course, thinking about social media, audience, and scholarly communication got me thinking about why I write what I write where I do on the internet. Do I write different in different places, do I share different things on different channels? Where am I on the internet?

Hence, I thought I’d offer a social media inventory loosely defined as the social places where I create and share content with people – friends, colleagues, students, family:

Facebook the social media platform we love to hate. This is for my friends, a good cross section of whom are also colleagues. I’ll share photos, wish friends a happy birthday, occasionally throw in an article I really liked from Instapaper. I keep my privacy settings pretty locked down so people not in my immediate network can’t see my activity. It’s strictly personal.

Twitter: the social network some people hate. I love Twitter. It’s professional with some personal stuff thrown in, too. Cat photos, beer reflections, New England sports agita. Again, many of my friends are also colleagues. I live-tweet relevant lectures and conferences I attend. I love participating in robust back channel conversations. I love the second screen experience during elections, sporting events, and cheesy award shows.

Tumblr: the social network of gif aficionados. I used to post there more regularly before I transitioned to this space on WordPress,but I still share photos, occasional musings, and reblogs from different voices I admire. I read my Tumblr stream religiously in Flipboard.

Instagram: The emo, hipster social network. With photos. Sometimes with hastags. I favor individuals who post photos of CATS or other cute animals. But mostly CATS. Some of what I photograph for Instragram will end up on Twitter or Facebook. But nearly everything I photograph comes from my iPhone and Instagram. I really enjoy social photography with my friends. (Note: I deleted my Instagram account in Jan 2013)

Spotify: Music. All the time. I am strangely guarded about what I listen to at work, at the gym, at home when I’m writing or when I’m on the bus to work. Music has been a constant in my life whether it was performing classical music in high school, hosting my own radio show in College (holla 919.9 WOZQ!), or blasting in it in my car. Music is personal, so it’s not open for the world to see and discover. I social network with myself.

Zotero:See my research, comment on my research, share your research. I evangelize about Zotero on the regular. And the group element is powerful. What better, more expedient way to share information with collaborators than in the bibliographic management system I use to do research?

WordPress:The blogging place. I follow some sites on WordPress and I get pretty psyched when I see certain blogs’ freshly pressed content in my inbox. It’s where this site lives and where my professional voice feels strongest.

In all of these channels or contexts, I have an audience in mind. Audience pervades conversations around social media as our concept map in the above image conveys. Where and when you create/consume/comment on the internet matters. And we all have to evaluate what we are doing and what we are saying on the internet so we are not just howling at the moon.
It’s not JUST about GUARDING against our reputations as the conversation so often goes, but social media is also an opportunity to explore our voices, tell our stories, cultivate a room of our own, so others may find us.