Forgive me for a departure from the medieval for this post. My university is doing an iPad pilot to test out the possibility of using them in our classrooms. I am a member of this pilot. I have had several concerns about this initiative, and I was asked to do a few guest posts for a blog that is documenting the project. Below is a copy of the text of my first post, originally published here. I would be interested in hearing thoughts and responses from anyone.
- “[E]vidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension.”
- “Although e-readers like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad re-create pagination—sometimes complete with page numbers, headers and illustrations—the screen only displays a single virtual page: it is there and then it is gone. Instead of hiking the trail yourself, the trees, rocks and moss move past you in flashes with no trace of what came before and no way to see what lies ahead.”
2) Writing. Much the same argument applies to writing (for my purposes as an instructor in higher education, academic/college-level writing) on a mobile device. It is different. And I would argue even more so if e-(text)books are used in conjunction with it. As a literary scholar, I think about how I write – with several books open in front of me, or PDF’s open on parallel screens, with a document/notepad available for notes, and then another document for the actual writing. Such a process necessarily changes on a mobile device. Multiple screens might be possible, but in a much more limited way. I will not pretend that my undergraduates have the same process that I do, although getting closer to something in that ballpark is one of the goals of their education. Still, even having an e-(text)book open as well as the word processor is awkward on that platform. Then, of course, there is the physical act of typing a long paper on a small device – keyboard or not. Put simply, it’s different.
3) Research and information literacy. After mulling about how I write, I think about how I research. How often I focus on footnotes or endnotes. How often I have several different portions of a book open at the same time, ready to be compared, analyzed, and cross-referenced. I think about how I line up passages next to each other. Then I turn to how I engage with sources – not as isolated, individual entities, but as a cog in a network of connections: the books next to the one I went to find in the library, the rest of the articles in the same issue, the sources found in notes and bibliographies. I again am not arguing that I think this is impossible on a digital (especially mobile) device (indeed, we have gained much in terms of resources), but I think the process is different. While our students struggle with the traditional ways to research, they also struggle with the new, burgeoning ways to research, particularly in how to access that network of connections and follow it down the rabbit hole. We should consider carefully how and when we are going to teach both; there is every possibility that they can eventually complement each other, but curriculum will need to be developed deliberately.
In case you missed it, I have a theme in my concerns: namely, that teaching on a mobile device such as the iPad is different in multiple ways. These differences are my focus as I prepare for this experiment.