An interesting conversation sprung up recently on a list-serv that I participate in. A question was asked as to how Tablet devices might be used by instructors for scholarly research. The person who posed the question was hoping to create a workshop for some professional development around the subject. What a great question!
Unfortunately, the conversation soon got derailed. Some participants began posting links to websites that showed how Tablet grants were being won on their campus, some respondents were frustrated by use of the term "iPad" instead of the generic term "Tablet" in the responses, but the most bothersome response from my perspective was a simple question: "Why would we use a digital device at all? What's wrong with pen and paper?"
Sure, I too remember the "good old days" when I would head to the Michener Library (University of Northern Colorado) armed with a thick yellow pad, several sharpened number 2 pencils, and a role of dimes. The nostalgia of that moment in time is a fond memory for me. The smell of the stacks, the ink of the copier, and constantly looking over the top of my book to see if any girls were looking at me…those were the days.
But the more I think about those days, the more I remember how much I hated them at the time. ERIC searches that went nowhere because I couldn't find the right keywords, inter-library loans that would take days if not weeks, running out of dimes for the copies I needed, having to physically copy (with those pencils) paragraph after paragraph of potentially important work, paper cuts, looking for (and not finding) a sharpener, getting high off of highlighter fumes, mixing up my research for multiple classes, accidentally throwing away the right copies while holding onto the wrong copies, needing to work out the flow of my ideas with my voice (but being shushed when I did), and on and on…those are the memories that are hidden just below my nostalgia.
Do you want to show your students a better way? Do you want to provide a good model for how to effectively research using technology? I don't care if you use a Tablet, your phone, a laptop, your desktop, or all of the above - technology represents FAR better ways to research than a pad and paper. For instance:
Start by tweeting to your colleagues that you are going to be researching X topic. Over the next several hours or days, watch suggestions flow in around how to find and research it effectively. Open an Evernote or ReadItLater account (or both!). This allows you to create folders of digital notes that can be accessed from ANY smart device. Those notes can be PDF files, web pages, documents, etc - all from research or just your own thoughts. Open a Dropbox account. This allows you to upload large quantities of files to a safe location which can also be accessed from anywhere, shared with others, and can be any file type. Grab your smart phone and open the Wikipedia app. Check out the list of references for your topic - what a fantastic starting place. Now snap a picture of an important paragraph in the document you found that cannot be printed. Upload it to Dropbox or Evernote. Tag it for easy reference (finding) later. Launch your microphone app on your Tablet. Remind yourself of the great opening paragraph idea you have. (You can even whisper - it will pick up your voice.) Start to assemble the main points in a mind-map using the SimpleMind app on your Tablet. Now, remembering that you don't need to whisper as you open your laptop from your dining room table, search through an online database (or even Google Scholar) for research. Open up your Pearson eText and highlight, copy, and paste a footer into your notes. Now navigate to WolframAlpha and type in your research topic - see the interesting off-chutes from a math / science perspective. Open a Delicious account and invite your colleagues to join you. As you happen across helpful web pages with great content (like this blog perhaps?), send them to your Delicious account with a simple tag. Now, go check out the tags your colleagues have posted. No need to have everyone do all of the same research after all! At your doctor's office, open up your ZITE app as you wait for the doctor to see you. Luckily, this is where you listed your research as a potential area of interest. Now read through the blogs, website posts, and articles that have been aggregated and sent to you. (Send the ones you like to ReadItlater, email them to yourself, or even Tweet them so you have them on hand later.) Finally, go back to your desktop / laptop and open up your Word Processor. Then, open the appropriate folders or websites that contain your content. You have everything you need no more than 3 clicks away…
Education 3.0 is no longer about doing as I say, not as I do…it's about doing it smarter, doing it simpler, and doing it together. It's about using some of the new tricks available to us to make our teaching lives easier, our research lives more connected….it's about making education better. So grab your tablet and do some research. After all, if we can do it for ourselves, it will be SO much easier to show our students how to do the same.
Good luck and good teaching.
Dr. Jeff D Borden