If there is anything that I have learned in the course of using an iPad, it is how much I love my computer.
Two years ago I wrote a column for Inside Higher Ed entitled “The iPad for Academics.” Now, two years and two new models of iPad later, it seems time to revisit some of that original column: How well does it stand up, how did my predictions turn out, and what have I learned since then? The answers are, roughly, "good" "O.K." and "a lot."
When I wrote my column, no one was sure what the future held for the iPad, and there was serious skepticism about the more apocalyptic predictions. In fact, somewhat boringly, Apple's release of the iPad did what most Apple products do -- change the world, sell millions of units, and alter our information ecosystem irrevocably -- but it didn’t end the world.
In the two years that I’ve had the device, it has indeed become indispensable to me. It’s become my alarm clock, my radio, my television, my crossword puzzle, and above all (as I said in my original column) my reading device. I use it to read and read and read. It creates opportunities for reading I didn’t have before. In fact, I use it to read my own work -- the dreaded rush to print up conference papers finished moments before my panel has been replaced with a casual saunter to the podium, glowing digital copy of my paper in hand.
My iPad has excelled in forums where paper used to hold sway, and having it (or my iPod Touch) with me at all times means that I’ve discovered new times and places to do work. It’s great.
But it’s not a laptop, and it never will be.
As I and many other people have noted, the thing is for consumption, not production. I’ve tried using it to write and take notes -- using a Bluetooth keyboard with it, even using one of those cases with a keyboard built in, ridiculous little styluses, etc. There’s no way to get around the fact that the human body is not evolved to interact with a pane of glass. I can type faster than the keyboard can buffer, creating strings of illegible characters. At other times Apple’s pathetic spell checker stops me in my tracks.
And then there’s the interface. I suppose for some people the iPad’s interface works just fine. But once you’ve tasted the power of a multi-windowed environment with fully customizable keybindings, the iPad feels like a small, padded room. You can’t have two windows open at once in an iPad. Who can do serious academic work one window at a time? Not me, not any more -- and I’m not going back.
Perhaps I am one of the old generation who will someday be put to shame by nimble-fingered young’uns tapping expertly away on their nanometer-thick iPad 7s, but I don’t think so. People may get used to the limitations of the device, but that doesn’t mean that it’s better than what came before.
In fact, I see this as one of the dangers of the iPad. I see them everywhere on campus, and I wonder to myself: Are my students really getting through college without a laptop? Frankly, the idea seems horrifying to me. I don’t doubt that they can do it -- I worry what skills they are not learning because of the smallness (in every sense of that word) of the devices they learn on.
I don’t have a problem with students bringing their iPads to class, and there are times in some of my smaller seminars when we are all reading the text from our iPads. But even this consumption is starting to worry me. Does anyone really believe that digital textbooks are going to improve life for anyone except the textbook manufacturers? Like some mid-nineties wet dream of the content industry, digital textbooks have all of the DRM and none of the shareability of paper textbooks. And despite the potential of multimedia presentation, it’s not clear to me that they will prove to be anything more than a regular textbook with a few YouTube clips thrown in.
And the low prices? Remember when ATMs were first introduced and there was no fee for using them? Yeah, I don’t either -- it was so long ago the idea that improved service for free seems like a distant memory. The future the digital textbook market has planned for students is not, in my mind, a very bright one.
Two years down the road I’m glad that iPads exist, and I’m happy that most of the hype about them has been more or less borne out. It has a valuable place in our information ecosystem. The danger comes when the iPad becomes a replacement for other technologies that preceded our ubiquitous flat friend -- and still do their job better than it can.
Alex Golub is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has issued guidelines to help countries promote open access to research findings. While the guidelines are not binding on member nations, they suggest that countries take a consistent and broad approach to assuring free access to research findings. The report with the guidelines also rejects the idea that because partial access is available or even full access to some work in some countries, that these issues have been resolved. "There is a problem of accessibility to scientific information everywhere," the report says. "Levels of open access vary by discipline, and some disciplines lag behind considerably, making the effort to achieve open access even more urgent. Access problems are accentuated in developing, emerging and transition countries. There are some schemes to alleviate access problems in the poorest countries but although these provide access, they do not provide open access: they are not permanent, they provide access only to a proportion of the literature, and they do not make the literature open to all but only to specific institutions."
A day after Blackboard announced its acquisition of two prominent Moodle partners and the creation of an open-source services arm, various Web discussion boards were abuzz with chatter about the implications. At Moodle.org's official "Lounge" forum, some open-source advocates lamented what they read as a corporate intrusion on the open-source community -- prompting Martin Dougiamas, the founder and lead developer of Moodle, to defend his decision to lend moral support to Blackboard’s takeovers of Moodlerooms and NetSpot.
“Moodle itself has not, and will not, be purchased by anyone,” Dougiamas wrote to a discussion thread. “I am committed to keeping it independent with exactly the same model it has now.” While the new Blackboard subsidiaries and their clients have produced many helpful modifications to Moodle’s code, “it's always up to me to include [modifications] in core (after it gets heavily reviewed by our team),” Dougiamas said, “otherwise it goes into Moodle Plugins.” He added that Moodle still has dozens of other partner companies that are not owned by Blackboard.
Charles Severance, another big name in the open-source movement who not only endorsed the deal but has been hired to work with Blackboard’s new open-source services division, expanded on the implications of the move in a post on his own blog. “The notion that we will somehow find the ‘one true LMS’ that will solve all problems is simply crazy talk and has been for quite some time,” Severance wrote. “I am happy to be now working with a group of people at Blackboard that embrace the idea of multiple LMS systems aimed at different market segments.” The watchword of this era of multiple learning platforms per campus, he said, is interoperability, and that will be a priority for him in his new capacity with Blackboard. (This paragraph has been updated since publication.)
Severance assured the open-source community that contributions he makes to Sakai on Blackboard company time will remain open, and that he “[doesn’t] expect to become a developer of closed-source applications.”
When Datatel and SunGard Higher Education merged last year, the two companies said that the combined venture would have a new name, but one wasn't ready. So the merged company has been called Datatel + SGHE. On Monday, the entity announced a new name: Ellucian. Michelle Reed, chief marketing officer, said in a statement that "Ellucian evokes the clarity and light that learning brings to life, aspects that we aspire to share in our relationships with institutions of higher, further and vocational education around the world."
Sixty-eight percent of colleges allow students unlimited access to residential networks, and more than 62 percent do not monitor bandwidth consumption, according to the first annual survey of the issue by the Association for Information Communications Technology Professional in Higher Education. The survey also found that early 50 percent of IT departments do not recover the cost of supplying bandwidth to residential networks, and nearly 60 percent of institutions cite a total capacity below the 500 Mbps threshold.
Susan Aldridge is resigning as president of University of Maryland University College -- but isn't explaining (nor is the University System of Maryland) why she was placed on leave last month. UMUC is among the more successful distance education institutions in the country, so Aldridge's departure has prompted widespread curiosity. In an interview, William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the system, said that Maryland law barred him from discussing anything in any employee's personnel record. But Kirwan seemed anxious to rebut reports that her departure might be linked to a complaint filed with the legislative auditor, or due to frustrations of UMUC faculty members in Asia. Kirwan said that he hasn't even seen the complaint filed with the auditor, and that some changes were made a while ago to deal with some concerns of the professors in Asia.
He also said that he supported recent changes to move UMUC away from a traditional semester calendar, and that he did not see major changes ahead in the educational philosophy of the university. "I think it has a unique role to play, and it is much admired around the country," he said. "Most states would like to have an institution like it."