RSS Apps on iPad

A while ago, when I wrote about organizing your news feeds in Google Reader, I mentioned a couple news reading apps for the iPad.  Finally, I’ve made the time to really compare the apps I’ve been using and explain why I use the ones that I do.  To see a chart of the features I look for, and the apps I considered, see this Google Spreadsheet for RSS Apps.   Please feel free to add your comparisons, too!

Flipboard, Pulse, etc.

In case you’re wondering why the pretty magazine-style apps are not here, let me just say that they simply don’t mesh with my news reading workflow.  I do appreciate Flipboard and have shown it to several other people, but I take a more methodical approach to my news feeds.  I haven’t yet seen a way to incorporate such a workflow into something like Flipboard, though I still try it out once in a while.

First Place: Mr. Reader ($3.99)

I started using Mr. Reader just a couple months ago.  Two big reasons I switched to it:  1) my other favorite RSS app, MobileRSS HD, kept crashing… a LOT.  I was over it.  2) I started using Diigo for all my bookmarking and Mr. Reader lets me send links directly to Diigo with tags and description.  If there was some way to also highlight text in an article, Diigo-style, I would be the happiest camper ever.

Likes:  At first the interface appeared a little cluttered, but once I started using it, I found it helped me go through my news feeds more quickly since I didn’t have to open every article to take action on it. I love the little sound effects that are sprinkled into basic functions of the app, but have no fear – you can turn those off.  I also appreciate having the favicons next to the feed titles and thumbnail images from each post.  A wonderful bonus feature is the ability to add new blog subscriptions within the app. But it would be nice if we could then put the new feed into a folder, as is done in MobileRSS HD.  One of the best features is having 4 different view options for your feeds: RSS (just the blog post), Web (view the original, with comments), Mobilizer (like Web but simplified), and Readability (full post).  The ability to easily and consistently bring in the full post on those super annoying blog feeds that only send out truncated articles is the stuff of rainbows, my friends. And finally, a bonus feature that has become one of my “must have” tools is the ability to open links in non-Safari browsers such as Atomic Web, Mercury, or iCab.  Those three are the only alternative browsers available in the app so far, but it also gives the option of using Send2Mac, which I have not played with yet.

Dislikes: Seriously, how can this be a Google Reader app and NOT have a “Share with Note” option?  I’m hoping this gets added in an update soon. It’s one of the biggest features that keeps Mr. Reader from being my one-and-only RSS app.  It has had 5 updates since it came out in April, so the developer appears to be fixing things on a monthly basis.  I also wish there was a way to get back to the original blog post after following links – as in, a back button?  One little thing that would be nice but isn’t crucial, would be a setting to choose between scrolling a post up to see the next post, or scrolling sideways to see more posts.  I prefer sideways but the default right now is up/down, which causes a problem sometimes when it’s not obvious that I’m at the end of a long post.

Second Place:  MobileRSS HD ($4.99 or free)

I have a love / hate relationship with MobileRSS.  They have some great features and a nice interface, but the app crashes so often I have deleted it off my iPad at least twice.  And yet, it can do a couple things other apps can’t do (like Comment View and adding new feeds), so then I end up putting it back on.  But I can only use those features when it’s not crashing, of course.

Likes:  The interface is similar to Reeder in using swipes between posts, but it doesn’t mess around with the goofy pinching piles of paper metaphor that Reeder uses.  Going through posts in portrait mode is lovely – the text fills the screen but with good margins on the sides, and you can simply swipe to the next post like you’re turning a page.  Using the book metaphor for news reading appeals to me, but for longer text I prefer this style of seeing one post at a time over the Flipboard style of showing several at once. On another note, MobileRSS seems to be one of the few apps that can display a subscription to another Google Reader user’s starred items – not shared items, mind you, but starred items.  A couple people have shared their starred item feeds with me so we can discuss more posts without cluttering up each other’s shared items.  But only MobileRSS and Feeddler will display them.  Argh.

Dislikes:  The crashing.  And have I mentioned the crashing?  If they could fix that problem, and add Diigo integration, MobileRSS HD would win back its crown as “Sara’s only RSS app” away from Mr. Reader.

Honorable Mention: Reeder ($4.99)

If you go back through the reviews in the App Store of MobileRSS HD you will see many disgruntled customers accusing them of stealing their design from Reeder. Reeder and Flipboard set precedents when it came to designing an interface for the iPad, not just for doing computer-like things on an iPad.  I used Reeder for quite a while alongside MobileRSS HD, but as you’ll see from the Google Spreadsheet comparison – there is quite a bit that Reeder can’t do… for my purposes, anyway.

Likes:  Clean interface, swiping between posts, holding on a link brings up the full action menu so you can send it to Instapaper without opening it.

Dislikes: It has no free version to try out and it’s never been cheaper than $4.99.  It has no “Night” theme so if you try to read in a dark room, the screen is blindingly bright, even with the iPad’s brightness turned down all the way.  Many apps are starting to incorporate their own brightness settings now, which can get darker than the iPad’s settings, thus avoiding some strain and headaches for night readers.  But then, Reeder is guilty of one of my all-time greatest pet peeves in iOS apps — putting the settings in the iPad Settings app.  I hate this.  If I want to change something about your app, I’m only going to think of it when I’m using your app.  Why should I have to switch to something else entirely in order to change your app?

The biggest reason I don’t like using Reeder much is the way it displays people I follow in Google Reader.  I prefer to see each person’s shared items separately, but Reeder only shows them in a big muddle and it’s hard to tell who shared what.  Both Mr. Reader and MobileRSS HD separate the shared items by person sharing.  This makes much more sense to me, for whatever reason.

Looking ahead

The beauty of using Google Reader for my news feeds is that I can switch apps on a whim and all my stuff is synced. There is the little set-up time when you have to log into Instapaper, Evernote, and so forth again but that usually doesn’t take long.  Some RSS apps that I’m keeping an eye on, in case they get upgrades and improve are:

Readict ($4.99)  –  This is the app I’m most excited about.  It was made by Diigo for Diigo, but works with Google Reader and Twitter favorites.  However, it has not had many reviews yet in the App Store – only 7.  It came out in early July but has only had one update so far.  I like to see regular update activity on apps, because there is almost always something to fix, and I want to know that the developer is committed to their apps.  I have it on my wishlist at AppShopper in case anything changes.

River of News ($3.99)  –  I picked up this app when it went on sale briefly several months ago.  It has an interface very similar to Reeder and MobileRSS HD, but with a lighter touch and little letterpress-style details in the design.  However, it also has many of the same problems as Reeder.  One interesting addition that keeps River of News in the running is the ability to add customizable gesture commands for shortcut taps.  I’m watching to see where this app goes, but it hasn’t had an update since February.

Perfect RSS Reader ($.99)  –  This has some similarities to River of News, including gesture options, but the interface and design give the app a style of its own with very thin lines and sandstone coloring. It definitely has potential but there are little things that keep me from using it regularly, such as only displaying the feed list in a pop-out window, and not having a night-reading theme.

What’s your favorite way to read news and RSS feeds?  I’d love to get more suggestions!

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Not Your Normal Librarian

It’s been an amazing year at Briar Cliff. I started here in July 2010 as the Reference and Instruction Librarian, and in July 2011 became the Director of Educational Technology. This is due in large part to having a wonderful library director and incredibly good timing. A quick rundown of things that have happened over the past several months:

Fall 2010

  • the library started checking out iPads
  • started the casual discussion series Let’s Talk

Spring 2011

  • launched an iPad Pilot with 30 faculty member volunteers
  • trained Education and Nursing students in using WordPress as an online portfolio
  • created a task force for staff and faculty to start evaluating LMS alternatives to replace Angel

Summer 2011

  • trained 25 more faculty on the iPad

Fall 2011

  • deployed over 400 iPads to students
  • led a Faculty In-Service on technology training topics, with mini-sessions from our early adopter faculty members

A lot has happened in one short year. We have a new Reference and Instruction Librarian now who brings a whole wonderful set of mad skills into the mix. We have a coffee shop in the library’s lobby for the first time. The campus has switched to a semester calendar rather than terms, and we have students from the Writing Center doing their evening hours in the Library – which has been a goal for the library for a long time.

When I think about how much everyone has accomplished in the last 14 months, I am astounded. When I think about how much my own job has changed I’m downright dizzy.

This semester started out a little strange since Mark and I had to be out of the country when classes started. I’m also trying out a very different schedule: I’m working Mondays to Thursdays from about 10 am to 8 pm. “About” means I actually arrive much earlier but the upside to these long days is that I don’t come in at all on Fridays. I wanted to try out a schedule like this in hopes of being available for the widest range of people on campus. I set my “office hours” as 4pm to 8pm – a time when anyone with iPad or classroom tech questions can come find me and get some answers. The 4pm to 8pm window straddles the time from faculty getting out of their last classes to the evening students arriving for their night classes and the on-campus students start pouring into the library for their late night study time. If I had the stamina to stay up later, I would probably get far more questions between 9pm and midnight, but 8pm is already pushing my bedtime.

I have to admit, the evening hours have been more productive than I expected. I often have a regular stream of questions from both students and faculty, and when I don’t have a visitor I can get more catch-up work done because most staff and faculty go home by 6. Most of my daytime hours are spent answering questions on the phone, in email or going to people’s offices to show them how to do something. I love all this. It feels like That Thing I’m good at. But there is always more to do, too, and it’s very easy to feel very behind. I’m also seeing an unexpected benefit in having more morning hours at home. I’m starting to set a routine of waking up, writing for at least half an hour, reading some RSS articles and with the arrival of our brand new treadmill, I’m even able to squeeze in a work out, which I am absolutely ecstatic about. These things never happened after work even when I was leaving at 4:30. Typical work days leave me wiped out by the end of the day so why not make it the true end of the day? So far, being personally productive in the morning is far more successful than it ever was in the evening.

Next up – I want to set up some specific workshops (the persistent challenge – when will people come?) and find a way to reach out to more students. I’m hoping we can have a couple longer faculty workshops during the J-Term. In the spring it would be great if we could start beta testing a couple learning management system options and Google Apps.

The biggest change I want to make is creating a culture of ongoing professional development across the campus. One of the long workshops I would love to do would cover Getting Things Done and the most basic elements of project management wrapped up in a package to help employees with time management, productivity, and communication. That’s a huge goal and I have to keep reminding myself that it won’t happen with one workshop. I have to figure out a way to incorporate these elements a little bit at a time until they seem second nature. If you have some ideas, I’d love to hear about them!

iPad Pilot Programs

At the end of March, we started an iPad Pilot for faculty at my university.  We had 20 devices to give out, but ended up having 30 people involved because other faculty and staff who had purchased their own iPads wanted to be a part of the group, too.  Our virtual discussions have been documented at the BCU iPad Pilot Blog, but we also met in person once a week to demonstrate and share apps that we discovered.

At the end of this post I included links to other iPad pilots from a variety of universities.  Each one is a little different, from who is included, how much training they received, to how much freedom the participants have with their devices.  In our iPad Pilot, the participants used their own iTunes accounts and synced to their own computers so they could add whatever apps or content they wished.  Pilot members were given a small iTunes gift card to help them get started with apps.

The first three weekly meetings were used as training sessions to get the group acquainted with iTunes, the App Store, the iPad, and set up access to their campus mail and calendars.  You can see very brief summary outlines of these sessions under the Training link on the Pilot Blog.

What would I do differently if I could do it over?  The biggest change I would make is in the assessment department — I wish there had been time to create some sort of “Before and After” survey instrument to give participants before the Pilot started and then again six weeks later when the Pilot ended for the summer.  Without that, the only real assessment tool we have is the blog, which did have contributions from about 60% of the group, but not consistent information.

The nice surprise benefit of the Pilot was the social interaction and networking that came about thanks to the weekly meetings.  These sessions were casual and open to suggestions from the whole group, which resulted in a lot of peer-to-peer teaching and learning.  Several of the participants have asked for such a group to continue in the Fall, even though the Pilot will be over.

Some outcomes of the Pilot:  lots of local media coverage for the university, classroom ideas for the iPads from several faculty members involved, more e-textbooks are being considered for upcoming classes, video interviews with Pilot members were shown to the university’s Board of Trustees, and many of the Pilot members will be involved in leading a professional development workshop for faculty at the end of the summer.  Given the very limited time, planning, and resources we had to put the Pilot together, I consider it a wonderful success.

My only advice for other universities or institutions considering a similar program would be:

1. Don’t underestimate the need for some training.  Basic tips and tricks can go a long way toward alleviating early frustration with this new device, especially for users who have no experience with the iOS interface.

2. Find at least 3 to 4 different ways to evaluate or document the progress and accomplishments of the Pilot participants, using both qualitative and quantitative methods.  Our main goal when we started the Pilot was to give faculty exposure to the iPad in order to start finding ways to implement it in the classroom, but we only have anecdotal information to show how things went.  I would suggest having some more concrete objectives in mind, if you can.

Have you started something similar?  I would love to hear about it in the comments or by email.  Thank you!

Some Helpful Resources: 

Apple AcademiX Webinar:  http://education.apple.com/academix/ 

Lafayette College – http://sites.lafayette.edu/ipad/

I especially like the assignments under “Pilot Tasks”

Reed College – iPad Pilot Overview     http://www.reed.edu/cis/about/ipad_pilot/index.html

Oberlin College iPad Pilot    https://sites.google.com/a/oberlin.edu/ipad-pilot-program/

Oberlin iPad Pilot Blog     http://octet1.csr.oberlin.edu/wp/ipad/

Trinity College     http://ipadpilot.wordpress.com/

Mobile Educause – Seton Hill University     http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume46/iMobilePerspectivesOniPadsibrW/226163

Faculty iPad Study at North Carolina State University — with individual blog posts from the participants:
http://fit.itecs.ncsu.edu/category/ipad-study/

Death to e-classics. Long live e-classics!

By the silly word “e-classics” I mean ebook versions of dearly beloved public domain works by authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Shakespeare, and so on.  The first ebooks I read were in fact e-classics –  the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, found for free on FeedBooks.

Two years ago, I thought the upswell in ebook interest would mean a revival for these classics.  They were, after all, the easiest ebooks to get.  You can find many different copies of these books for free online as riffs on Project Gutenberg files.  In Amazon’s Kindle Store, you’ll see a whole slew of these public domain ebooks for sale from swindlers for anywhere from $.99 to $5.  I say swindlers because these are public domain texts and the “sellers” usually haven’t added any value whatsoever from what I’ve seen in sample chapters.  Added value to me would include at the very least a linked table of contents (which Amazon should be adding by default but they don’t), or a map, a timeline, something to help readers make sense of the content of the book itself.

But now that we’re past the year of the ebook (or on it’s third year, depending who you ask), I see I was wrong.  If anything, these free ebook versions of the classics are just mucking things up royally.  Please don’t take my word for it.  Do your own investigations and see what you come up with.  Here are three anecdotal pieces of evidence that I can offer:

1. Lady Chatterly’s Lover

Last year I started reading D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel as a free ebook from FeedBooks, which was using an edition from Project Gutenberg.  From the very beginning of the book, the formatting of the text itself was a little distracting — words were run together, the chapter headings were spaced out awkwardly, and there were obvious typos from the ebook conversion process.  I was using the Stanza app on my iPhone.  I ignored these little aesthetic drawbacks and enjoyed the story anyway.  I wouldn’t have known there was anything missing form the copy I was reading if Mark and I hadn’t wandered into a used bookstore one day where they had a copy of the book in their front room.  I happened to be at a place in the ebook with some particularly muddled text near the end of a chapter so I flipped through the paper copy in the store till I found that section and what do I discover?  Why, the paper copy has an additional page of dialogue in this chapter that my ebook doesn’t have at all!  It turns out I was reading one of the “censored” versions of the text.  So I bought a *paper* copy of the Penguin Classics edition of Lady Chatterly’s Lover and gave up on the ebook version right then and there.  Besides actually having the complete book (!) the Penguin edition also provided me with a map of the English Midlands, a glossary of dialect forms spoken by the characters, and a wonderful appendix of explanatory notes to the text.  I would have gladly paid for an ebook version that had all these great features, but from what I can tell, Lady Chatterly’s Lover is not among the select few to be a Penguin ebook.

2. Jane Eyre

Lots of reasons to read Jane Eyre of late.  A) Mark is reading it for a class he’s taking and I enjoy reading and discussing books with him, plus B) there is a new movie version coming out in, oh, a week.  Since Mark is reading it for a class, he had a specific edition to look for – namely, the Oxford World’s Classics.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this as an ebook for class discussions?  See all your notes and questions in one place, quickly find the paragraph or section in question by just doing a search, annotating passages as new themes are brought up in class. Have in-text links to the explanatory notes and back. But no, sorry. Not possible with the Oxford editions.  From what I can tell, Oxford is only making their reference and medical titles into ebooks so far. I would dearly love to be wrong about this.  Please tell me I’m wrong.

3. The Maltese Falcon

This is a classic but not yet public domain.  Our local public library selected it as the Siouxland book of the year and they have some great programming planned for it, including a free viewing and discussion of the film based on the book.  I was prepared to pay for an ebook version of The Maltese Falcon, but Holy Cow what a mess.

First of all, no ebook version comes up on a search in Amazon except, bizarrely enough, the script by John Huston.  Lucky me, knowing the author is Dashiell Hammett.  How would someone like a high school student even know what they were getting with goofiness like this?

Second, I do a generic Google search for it and get all the suspicious looking ebook torrent sites along with – oh! – Random House.  Really?  Do I have to know the publisher of the book I want in order to find it?  Fine, whatever.  So I go to Random House’s page for The Maltese Falcon and I click on the little ebook link.  From there, I click on the button for “Buy Now” … which gives me a string of links to choose from, including a dead Amazon link and “More…” which gives me 13 links to individual stores.  Just give me an ePub or PDF already and let me get on with reading!

Conclusion

So I’m not reading or enjoying Jane Eyre or The Maltese Falcon at the moment.  Instead, I’m continuing this Educause book I started reading for work.  An ebook that was freely available online, as a DRM-free PDF, which I am annotating with abandon and I’m even going to share it with my boss and colleagues when I’m done, which means even more people will be reading it.  I can keep it in Dropbox, read it with apps like GoodReader or PDF Expert or even something else, if I want!

And here’s something else to think about:  I actually prefer to read on the iPad.  Over my laptop, over paper.  I would rather curl up on the couch with the iPad in it’s clever little stand and both of my hands wrapped around a hot mug of tea.  I could read my RSS feeds on my spiffy MacBook Pro, but the design and interface of apps like MoblileRSS make RSS reading on the iPad a beautiful, relaxing experience.  The stats in my Google Reader Trends can attest to that.  And I would like to carry this experience over to my book reading, too, but for the moment it is still too hard to find the books I want to read in a format I can use.

In the meantime, I both grieve for and look forward to the day when publishers have rendered themselves obsolete to readers.  I will sorely miss the excellent supplemental content provided by publishers like Penguin and Oxford, but I will not miss for one second the headaches that publishers are causing their readers.

Handwriting on the iPad

I have written before about my love affair with paper, and even though a lot of my paper life has already transitioned into a digital counterpart, I still enjoy the paper experience of taking notes — writing things out by hand, scribbling around the ideas, sketching a diagram for illustration.  But at the same time, I want to be able to search these scribblings just like I search my online calendar for my last dentist appointment.  The Catch-22 for me is meetings — it feels rude to be typing during a small meeting, and yet I want to be able to get back to the notes I make.  Handwriting notes on the iPad is silent, unobtrusive, and I can immediately email the notes as a PDF or image during or after the meeting.  Send them to Evernote and – voila – you can search them, too!

For people like me who are in transition between paper notebooks and digital notes, there are wonderful handwriting apps for the iPad, so we get some of the experience of jotting notes on paper with some of the function of digital records.  I’m going to compare two of these apps:  Notes Plus and Noteshelf.  A lot of hype has also been made of the app Penultimate, but I find that one SO limited in functionality I’m not even going to bother with it. I’m primarily considering these two because they at least offer zoomed writing —  giving you a little “zoom” box in which you can write big and sloppy, but your handwriting will appear neat and not-so-big on the page.  Penultimate does not offer this, last I checked.

The perfect app would be a mix of Notes Plus and Noteshelf, but until that happens I find myself going back and forth between the two.  You can see screenshot examples at the Flickr set.  Here are some pros for each one.

Pros for Notes Plus (… or things it can do that Noteshelf cannot):

–  AMAZING –  you draw a circle around something you’ve written and then you can drag that selected chunk to some other part of the page. This is *wonderful* for brainstorming and it was probably the first big feature that really pulled me away from paper notebooks.  Rearrange your own handwritten notes! Love it.

–  AUTO-ADVANCE – when you’re writing in the Zoom Box, Notes Plus will automatically move forward as you write, creating a very smooth experience. Noteshelf has a different way of handling this and maybe I’m just not used to it yet.

–  TYPING – if you get tired of writing by hand, you can also add text by typing, which means you can copy text from a web page or email and paste it into your notebook. It also has many, many fonts to choose from if you do decide to type.

–  SOUND – you can record audio, say for a lecture or a meeting, and that audio will be included with your written notes.  I haven’t tried getting sound out of the app yet, but it looks like it just syncs to iTunes.

–  GOOGLE DOCS – if you live in Google, you’ll be happy to see that Notes Plus can directly export a PDF version of your notes into your Docs account.

Pros for Noteshelf (… or things it can do that Notes Plus cannot):

–  NOTEBOOKS – I really, really like how Noteshelf uses the iBooks-style wooden bookcase motif and lets you make several different notebooks. Notes Plus lets you make different notes, too, but the visual organization is not nearly as nice as it is here.

–  PAPERS –  for simulating the experience of using a paper notebook, Noteshelf wins hands down.  Whereas Notes Plus only has 4 paper templates — blank, lined, grid and small grid — Noteshelf has dozens!  Including day planner, meeting notes, shopping list, music score, and Cornell-style note paper.

– ZOOM CONTROL – although it doesn’t auto-advance the way Notes Plus does, Noteshelf does offer some fine-tuning for the Zoom Box, such as amount of zoom, size, and line spacing.

– SMOOTHING – both apps do a certain amount of “smoothing” to your handwriting so it will look more natural and less jerky; Noteshelf seems to somehow do this a bit better than Notes Plus.

– COLORS – far more colors to choose from for the pen, and a simple slider to set pen radius.  Notes Plus only has 12 colors and 6 sizes.

– ERASER – there is a dedicated eraser tool, whereas Notes Plus just has an option to change the pen to a white color.

– IMAGES –  insert a photo or screenshot from the iPad Photo Album, resize it, spin it around, and then write over it, around it and include it with your PDF export.  Very Snazzy.

– DROPBOX & EVERNOTE – This is big for me, since these are the two places where I store almost everything I use on a regular basis. Export has been very fast so far.

Export options:

… in Notes Plus:  Photo Album, iTunes, Email, Google Docs

… in Noteshelf:  Photo Album, iTunes, Email, Dropbox, Evernote, Print

A Word about a Stylus:

“You get what you pay for” is the rule here.  My library tried out the super cheap path and found that kind of stylus to be completely useless.  For my own use, I invested a little more for the Boxwave stylus and LOVE it — extremely smooth and nice to hold.  If you’re looking for something cheaper than the Boxwave but more functional than the super cheap stuff, you can try Pogo, which is definitely in the middle – for both quality and price.  But I HIGHLY recommend you splurge a bit and get the Boxwave.  You will be much happier going that direction.  If you plan on doing any handwriting or even drawing on the iPad, you will definitely want a stylus.

iPad as Social Creature

The iPad is a social device.  In some truly amazing case studies – the Pompeii team, this school in Scotland – the iPad is successful because everyone involved has one.  In a solitary use, it can also help the user do amazing things such as David Hockney’s artwork, but an educational setting calls for more collaboration. This is where the iPad shines.

You might think, “Of course the iPad is social. It has all kinds of apps for Twitter and Facebook and chat and what not.” While that’s true, it is not exactly what I mean by social. I had a different kind of social in mind that I had not been able to see in action up until last night. Two of us from the library were invited to give an iPad demonstration to a group of students in one of the residence halls. There were about twelve students in attendance. According to a quick show-of-hands survey, three had seen our iPad demo before and over half had some other iOS device. I talked for a couple minutes about the iPad lending program at the library, about the difficulty in choosing apps, asking them to give us ideas (immediate response: Angry Birds), and then asking for questions.

One of the students said she had heard there were some schools giving out ereaders to all their students and wanted to hear more about that. (By the way, reader, if you’re interested – I have a collection of links to such examples in my Delicious bookmarks.) I said there were some folks on campus who were throwing around the idea of getting iPads for the next incoming class, and there were other folks on campus who wanted all the students to have a choice of device. The benefit of letting students choose their own ereader is that there would be a healthy mix of experiences for comparison. The benefit of having the same device for everyone is consistency and easier collaboration.

To illustrate, I brought up an app we’ve only had installed on the iPads for a couple days: Share Board. I started the board, and then the students clustered around the other three iPads and joined my board. I started drawing, they saw it on their iPads. They started drawing and within seconds everyone was completely focused on one of the iPads, reaching over to tap on the screen and see the colors flying around. We pre-load the iPads with old library photos, which the students were able to easily insert into the whiteboard and sketch over. As an observer, it was fascinating to me to see how much this simple thing could captivate their attention. I kept expecting them to start getting bored with it since there really is not much you can do with Share Board other than, well, share. But students not holding an iPad were shouting instructions to the 3 students holding a device, which would then make the students in the other groups start laughing. They even asked me to make a blank board for them so they could start over again. Eventually we pulled ourselves free of the white board, and they started exploring other apps. Now that they were in clusters around the iPads, any other app they opened became a social experience, too. One group started using the Anatomy Lite quiz and turned it into a game, pointing and tapping together. This inspired another group to do the same thing and soon there was a competition going to see which group could get to the highest level. Not Angry Birds, mind you. Anatomy. Pointing at bones and muscle groups. And they seemed to enjoy it!

I have high hopes for other interactive screen-sharing apps, such as Fuze Meeting and Meeting Mngr Pro but have yet to try them out in a meeting setting.  I am very surprised that more apps don’t offer this feature. For example, I would LOVE to see interactive screen sharing in my favorite note-taking app Notes Plus, which allows for handwriting, typing, and drawing – handling all this input in beautiful ways.  Or imagine what an academic writing group could do if everyone could share comments in real time on an app like GoodReader?  The more potential I see in the iPad, the more frustrated I am that we aren’t there yet.

 

 

Update on Library iPad Program

My library has been checking out iPads to students, staff and faculty for about two weeks now.  On the circulation side of things, there isn’t much to report yet — the iPads have checked out about 20 times between the two of them.  Next semester, we will definitely increase the loan period to at least 1 or 2 days.  Right now, the loan period has been just four hours, in anticipation of high demand.  The demand, however, has not been nearly as much as we expected and we think our patrons would get more out of the iPad if they were able to spend more time with it.

We have been getting excellent responses on our little surveys that are included in the iPad bags.  Most people don’t have any apps to suggest, the few suggestions we do get have been for games.  Overall, patrons have enjoyed just having the opportunity to try out this new gadget they’ve heard so much about. It appears that the folks on campus who are *really* interested in the iPads have already ordered one for themselves, which means we actually get a lot of questions about which apps they should download and how to use the apps they have.

Which brings me to the … “curation” side of things — the library has spent almost $100 on apps for the iPads, which is our limit for now.  Since both iPads are syncing to the same iTunes account, we only have to buy apps once for them to appear on both devices.  Would this still be true if we had 20 devices?  That I don’t know.  Of the amount we’ve spent on apps, over half was for productivity / document creation.  These include QuickOffice, the Apple trinity of iWork apps, a to do list app, and a PDF annotating app.

Unfortunately, this means that by the time we started getting feedback from patrons, we did not have app-purchasing funds left for games.  So I have been adding any free games I can find that don’t appear to require in-app purchases in order to play.  We also have the values of the college to consider – being a Franciscan university – apps that promote shooting people are not quite within our purview.  Have you found free games for the iPad that would work for this kind of setting?  Please share in the comments!

And I cannot say enough good things about the content available out on iTunes U.  Sure, some of it is dorky and some might be lower quality, but overall there are some excellent videos and audio recordings to be had for the taking.  Our library iPads have several gigabytes of just iTunes content alone.  We have short videos from the early 1900’s thanks to the Library of Congress, we have lectures on social marketing thanks to MIT, and lessons on creative writing thanks to Open University.  Amazing.

Our next step is finding out how to use these devices in the classroom.  I have a running list of bookmarks about the iPad being used for educational purposes, but the challenge we keep running into is the whole temporary problem I mentioned before.  For example, we had a really big class in the library’s computer lab for an instruction session last week.  Every computer was taken, so the late arriving students were handed the iPads from the Circulation Desk in order to follow along with our database how-to.  They were able to do all the browsing and searching just fine, but when it came time to email their results to themselves, the iPad wanted an email account already set up, which would not have been efficient at all in light of the one hour these students had with the device.  The students on the PCs were able to just copy/paste their results into a Word document and save it to their campus network space.

I am optimistic about the operating system upgrade that should be coming next month (hopefully) for at least the multi-tasking activities.  But getting files on and off the iPad is still a challenge and probably will continue to be.

This weekend I will get to use the iPad in the very setting I’ve wanted it for all along — conferences!  I will be at the Iowa Library Association Conference, taking notes one way or another on the iPad.  In fact, I won’t even bring my laptop with me on the trip.  My challenge to myself is to take notes and write a blog post all from within the iPad’s apps.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Is the iPad useful when temporary? A Library Loan Experiment

We’ve started checking out iPads for two days now, and we’ve had volunteers trying them out for over a week.  The question coming to my mind after talking with our tester group and the few people who have already tried the iPads this week is:  what can you do with an iPad when it isn’t yours to personalize?

I’m thinking about the apps that I use a lot, though, and that might be the problem.  I use Evernote, Twitter apps, email, calendar, Todo, Reeder, Read It Later, Pandora, WordPress, the Kindle app, and a whole lot of apps dependent on a Dropbox account, which I use heavily.  All of these apps require a log in – usually a different log in – and a very personal log in.  After each patron returns an iPad, we “Erase All Content and Settings” which completely wipes out the apps, the app history, and any accounts or files that have been added to the iPad.  This, we hope, removes any personal information left behind by the patron.

We also have restrictions turned on (under Settings > General) so that the iTunes Store doesn’t appear as an app.  Yes, it would be wonderful if patrons could add their own apps (and we do hand  them a survey asking for app suggestions) but we don’t want them to log in with their own iTunes account, pay for an app, and then find that it’s not there the next time they check out an iPad.  Also, this prevents the patron’s iTunes account from showing up for the next patron in case we somehow forget or unsuccessfully wipe out the iPad between uses.

That’s the method we’ve come up with, but if anyone can think of a better or easier way, we would LOVE to hear about it.

Back to the whole short-timers problem… these iPads are going out for maybe a day at the longest.  If you had such a device for only a day, would you want to log into all your assorted online presences in order to be productive?  Would it be worth that investment in time for you?  Even if it means doing it all over again the next time you use this same device?

Perhaps I’m projecting too much.  For me personally, I do a lot of tweaking and fixing and logging in when I have to use a new computer – but I do that knowing that I’ll be using the computer for a long while and I want it to feel like “home”.  My work laptop, for example, is all spruced up the way I like it — keyboard shortcuts, clean desktop, a few favorite widgets, and, most importantly, my Dropbox files.  When faculty have purchased their own iPads and come in to the library for help setting them up, one of the first things they want to do is get their campus email and calendar on the device.  The next thing they want to know is how to get to files they need to read and edit.

But other folks might have a workflow that is completely different and does not require having access to so many personal sites or spaces.

But.

Then what are they doing?   That is what I need to know in order to make these iPads useful for the temporary user.

So far, the app suggestions we’ve had include Music Studio – a $15 app that offers 27 different instruments and a multi-track sequencer, a physics app for studying, and a better anatomy app for our nursing students.  Excellent — these are all things that can be used independently, without a personal account.  Another very useful feature for the iPad is all the amazing content available in iTunes U.  We have the iPads loaded with audiobooks, lectures, videos, and demonstrations that were all free out on iTunes U.  Patrons can access all this without logging into anything. Examples like these are helping to convince me that the iPad will be beneficial to students, even with the short time period that they get.

However. … It’s still hard for me to shake this nagging feeling that there could be So Much More.

By the way, as far as ebook readers go:

Apple’s iBooks app uses the iTunes Store account that is used with the iPad overall.  One of the restrictions we set disables in-app purchases, though, so iBooks won’t be all that useful for folks looking to add their own books.  We have included in iBooks a lot of study guides and a few pieces of classic literature as examples.

Amazon’s Kindle app uses an Amazon account and Safari for the purchases, so it doesn’t get blocked by the restriction we set.  This is great!  And yet another reason that we do the complete wipe-out between patrons.

Barnes and Noble’s Nook app functions very similar to the Kindle — users are redirected to Safari in order to make purchases, which requires their B&N account.

Stanza – the original iPhone ebook reader – is still wonderfully easy to use, even without any account at all.  By using the Gutenberg and FeedBooks catalogs, users can download all sorts of free books without logging into a thing.  In my mind, this is the best option for folks who are only using the iPad for a short time.

Libraries Loaning iPads

I’ve been doing some searching to see what other libraries are doing with their loanable iPads.  Here are a few helpful examples:

  • Lewis Library @ MIT
    • This page has 2 useful PDFs on it – an “agreement” users have to sign for check out, and the Policies & Procedures that give library rules AND how student employees handle the iPad check-in process.
    • http://libstaff.mit.edu/lewis/circ.html#iPad
  • Wake Forest University
  • Virginia Tech University

This is me brain-dumping:

Here at BCU, we have a very small but very excited population — about 1,200 students and roughly 60 faculty.   People are ready to check these puppies out *now*.  To my mind, a wait list would be a disaster as would first-come-first-serve.  So I’m thinking we should do this as a reservation system — that way our patrons know when they’ll be able to check out the iPad. We’ll set steep late fines up front and reinforce the whole “someone is waiting on this just like YOU waited on this” concept to discourage late returns.

I would like to also make this an opportunity to get people on the shared calendars bandwagon (we all have Outlook but hardly anyone uses the calendar feature to set appointments – instead, sending out a dozen emails and waiting for a dozen responses, then sending out a dozen more with an alternative time… you know the drill).   There might be a problem with folks setting their own appointments —  that would make it hard for the library to keep a 1-hour window between each reservation so we can wipe out the last person’s personal information.

So I guess they’ll still have to come to the desk to make a reservation?  Maybe we could keep the reservations in some sort of online calendar so that faculty and students alike (students are not on Outlook) can see when the iPads are available.   I’m concerned about both the patron experience and the workflow logistics for our student employees who bravely cover the front lines for us.   What are your thoughts on this whole thing?

Beginning iPad Apps for Higher Ed

The list of apps below are sort of a “basic package” that the library is using to show instructors what the iPad can do for the classroom. To that end, we have several e-book reader apps listed, as well as a work-in-progress textbook app (Inkling … has a long way to go).

To me, the best examples of what the iPad can do for education are demonstrated in 2 apps:  (1) Elements: the visual exploration and (2) Star Walk.  Both apps take advantage of the iPad’s screen and touch controls to showcase their respective content.

What’s still missing — well, the e-book reader apps are great and all, what with annotating and dictionary look-up, but I’d like to see a literature app that takes this idea from the Open University and multiplies it by genre, geography, and time period.

Of the 21 apps mentioned below, only 4 were not free.

Word Processing, Presentations & Spreadsheets:

QuickOffice Connect ($14.99)

Textbooks & Reference:

Inkling (app: $0, content: $varies)

  • download the app for free, then search within the Inkling store for available textbooks
  • textbooks include multimedia, sharing annotations with classmates & instructor
  • limited textbooks available but more being added; purchase by individual chapter or whole book
  • http://www.inkling.com/

Star Walk ($4.99)

  • get detailed information about planets, galaxies, stars
  • navigate through star maps and constellations, zoom in for details
  • see gorgeous full-color telescope and satellite photos
  • http://vitotechnology.com/star-walk.html

The Elements: A Visual Exploration ($13.99)

  • animated and illustrated periodic table of elements with details for each element
  • get close up, 3D views of element examples
  • based on the book by Theodore Gray; produced by top research company Wolfram Alpha
  • http://periodictable.com/ipad/

3D Cell Simulation and Stain Tool ($0)

Mendeley ($0)

Location, Location, Location:

The Weather Channel ($0)

Google Earth ($0)

Fotopedia ($0)

History Maps ($0)

Reading News:

Flipboard ($0)

  • choose from pre-selected news feeds, flip through articles like a beautiful glossy magazine
  • hopefully a coming update will have ability to add custom RSS feeds and mark articles as read; noticeably lacking right now
  • send articles via email
  • http://www.flipboard.com/

NPR for iPad ($0)

Reeder for iPad ($4.99)

  • uses the news feeds (or RSS feeds) that you subscribe to in Google Reader
  • catch up on news stories, journal issues, or blogs from your friends in a clean, organized interface
  • save articles as bookmarks, email, twitter, or “Read It Later” services
  • http://reederapp.com/ipad/

Reading Books:

iBooks (app: $0; content: varies)

  • Apple’s ereader; books will be charged to your iTunes account
  • public domain books (usually classics and self-published works) are sometimes free
  • keep bookmarks, annotations, and highlighting
  • books take up a fraction of iPad’s memory, so you can have hundreds
  • import PDF files such as articles into iBook from your desktop computer
  • http://www.apple.com/ipad/features/ibooks.html

Kindle (app: $0; content: varies)

  • Amazon’s ereader; just like iBooks, the app is free but books might cost
  • syncs your reading progress with Desktop Kindle and Kindle devices on the same account
  • can also include newspapers, magazines
  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/kindle/ipad

Stanza (app: $0; content: varies)

  • the original iPhone ereader app, updated for iPad
  • easier to get free books in Stanza from sources like Project Gutenberg and FeedBooks.com
  • also keeps bookmarks, annotations
  • import PDF files from your desktop computer or a website
  • http://www.lexcycle.com/

Note Taking:

Dragon Dictation ($0)

Evernote ($0)

  • get a free account and keep notes or to do lists on your iPad, computer, and the Evernote website
  • automatically syncs your notes across all your devices whenever you’re online
  • keep separate notebooks and easily search
  • http://www.evernote.com/

iCardSort ($0)

  • create index cards and sort them into groups for visual brainstorming and outlining
  • have 5 different “decks” for different projects
  • email your cards to yourself or other people as a nicely formatted text outline
  • http://www.e-string.com/icardsort

iPad with Hands:

Adobe Ideas ($0)

Use Your Handwriting ($0)