iPads in the Classroom

January 21, 2013. This semester (Spring 2013) I am teaching the graduate Usability Engineering class in our department. I have taught this class twice before but not since 2001. The textbook I used back then, Hartson & Hix, is long outdated. I am going to try the new book by Hartson & Pyla "The UX Book" and see how it goes.

But reading over the book, I noticed a big change in the book. The book now places a bit of emphasis on "User Experience" (hence the UX). The authors try to go beyond the now narrow definition "usability" by including emotional impact and other UX concepts. In thinking about the implications of that, I started thinking of how different computer products are today, particularly when compared back to 2000.

I also realized the ubiquity that we have finally reached with computing. There were no iPods, iPhones, iPads, etc. back then. Today, you can see and interact with computers very naturally all over your work environment and home, not just in your desktop. I frequently read my email while waiting inline at Starbucks, where by the way, I pay with my iPhone. I have a Nest and a Wemo at home, both of them I control from my iDevices. I even do FaceTime conferencing with my siblings back home (Puerto Rico) and when they call me, all of my device ring (laptop, iPad, iPhone). All I need is a watch that will let me do FaceTime and I'll be like Dick Tracy (old reference).

Thinking about ubiquity and user experience made me think about how to update the class. How can I best convey this level of ubiquity and user experience to the students? First, I threw out the old idea of "getting a client" for the students. I felt that their client would pretty much ask them to build a CRUD application "that I can access from the web." But more is needed, if I really wanted to get students to live within this new environment in the classroom.

So, with the advice of my skillful TA, Bobby Beaton, we started talking about these ill-defined interaction environments that span multiple locations but that all have at the center the user's personal information where user experience is paramount. We were able to define several and will make then available to the students to work on projects. Over the semester I will write more about them here in this blog.

But more importantly, it dawned on me how boring it would it be if we ask students to imagine these highly interactive environments, yet ask them to go back to their "PC" and write a paper about it. The environments that we are asking them to envision include large displays, mobile devices, interaction with data from multiple locations, cloud applications, etc. So, why not ask them to explore these environments using the very devices that are part of this environment?

That's when it hit me. I have 30 iPads courtesy of SCHEV. Why not try to run the class from the iPads? That's a tall order, but not undoable. So, as of tomorrow, my semester starts. I will tell the students that they get to borrow an ipad for the semester. Not all of them will have iPads, as I have only 32 and there are 38 students in class, but I figure some of them already have some hand-held devices. I have also ordered some Nexus 7s to complement the pack for those that don't have one already (and because I know there are some Apple haters in the crowd).

I will lecture from my iPad Mini, will share materials with students through some cloud storage (Google Drive or Dropbox), and will use apps that run in multiple devices. I will also ask the students to be creative on the preparation of reports for the class. Their iPads have cameras and microphones that can be used to document or even create the reports in its entirety.

I will try to capture here in this blog my experiences as the semester goes. The few upcoming blogs will describe how I will lecture from an iPad. I will also discuss the online environments that we are asking the students to explore. And as homeworks and projects get assigned, I will report on interesting ideas that ocur in the classroom.

I am excited and looking forward to this experiment. Lets hope it is not a total failure.

Posted on 01/21/2013



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