Technology worming its way into my heart

I think I’m going to refer to Dr. Fowler as my “dealer” from now on.

She’s the one who introduced me to the iPad.

“Sure!” I thought to myself, “I’ll check out an iPad…I’m curious what all the fuss is about.”  Little did I realize the thrill, fascination and decidedly different experience it would be.  Little did I know how attached I might become, but it’s only a loaner!  Return it at the end of the semester?  Just hand it back, like nothing?  The words of Charlton Heston ring in my ears “…from my cold, dead hands.”

All kidding aside, I have been surprised by the iPad.  My only previous tablet experience was with a color Nook eReader.  It has some internet and app functionality, but it’s clearly meant primarily as an eReader and that’s all I’ve generally used it for.  My iPad epiphanies may or may not translate to other tablets.

First, I finally get Twitter.  I’ve been a twitter stalker for a while now, following some of my favorite science authors and sources (AAAS, BBC science, Neil deGrasse Tyson, etc.) but I never found using it on my laptop seamless or engaging.  On the iPad, it just “works”.  There’s probably an interesting psychological study somewhere in this about tactile interaction with media, but there is something profoundly different about being able to scroll through a list of tweets with the fingers, and reading the instantaneous article popups (since I primarily look at tweets which link to articles).  I think there is synergistic effect between the tactile interaction combined with app layout (which I prefer greatly over how it looks on my computer) and getting to read all of this on  eReader style object.

That last part, about being an eReader, probably plays a larger role in my love for the iPad than I realize.  So much of what I do, both professionally and personally, is read.  Scientific articles, news, blogs, and that’s not including videos (Dr. Fowler also got me addicted to vlog brothers!).  I can only torque my neck around my laptop so much before it gets old.  I’ve always hated reading articles on my computer – I can’t help but print them out.  It’s not just craning my neck though, there’s something else that I can’t quite put  my finger on…but I can with an eReader! (Sorry, I can’t resist a good pun opportunity.)  I love reading on my iPad, the screen is so clear and responsive, the size is just right for me, and it’s wickedly fast bouncing around on the net, something my Nook is not.  I’ve found myself downloading the pdfs for class and reading them on the iPad quite happily.

I have to admit that I’ve only scratched the surface – I looked at some of the educational apps in the app store, but it seemed like most of them were geared towards K-12, not higher ed.  I did download an app for the CN, but it’s really for iPhone, not the iPad, and even with that there’s much that could be improved (linking, layout, menus…pretty much everything!).  I’m excited to see what apps Dr. Fowler is going to introduce us to.  Her point about the keyboard in the last class I completely agreed with – I tried taking notes on my iPad during a symposium and found it a bit challenging.

That brings up another point – the use of styluses and note taking in a class setting.  I had a classmate who had a third party stylus and some sort of app to take notes on powerpoint and pdf presentations with her iPad.  She could zoom way in on images to draw things and scribble in her thoughts.  That really caught my attention because I’m always printing out presentations to take notes on.  I know many people type notes on computers, but that doesn’t work well for me when I have a diagram or data graph that I want to write on to keep my notes in context.  In addition, research has shown that handwriting has a dramatic effect on recall/recognition that typing doesn’t have (here are some interesting articles about the subject).  Combining the versatility of the iPad with the cognitive power of handwriting is really exciting!  With Apple’s record of intelligent and effective design, I really hope they consider incorporating a stylus and handwriting into their iOS – I imagine having it built in as a native function would be better than running a third party app, and I’ve heard mixed reviews of the third party stylus options out there.  I’d love to hear from other folks what their favorite apps are and whether they’ve used styluses or other writing methods with their tablets.

While I’m not a computer programer, I can see how there could be great potential for using the tablet and app format for creating case studies that incorporate multi-media as part of the case but also require students to use multi-media to answer questions (like in the PBS video where students used smartphones with GPS to tour their town and learn about its history).

So thank you Dr. Fowler, for introducing me to the iPad, even if I am addicted.  Now if you could just introduce me to a way to afford one on a graduate stipend…

About Cat Cowan

2nd year DVM/PhD student at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Studying immunology, vet medicine and aiming to stay in academia.
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