Monday, June 25, 2012

Teaching Library Research On An iPad

I recently taught my third library research class on an iPad and here’s what I learned.

     First, you may be wondering why a librarian would teach with an iPad rather than a laptop. In my case the answer is simple: GFU students who enroll in the Master's Degree in Teaching (MAT) and Adult Degree Programs are given new iPads. Professors from those programs felt it would be helpful to the students if I used the library's iPad to demonstrate how to access and download library resources. 

The equipment:
     Along with an iPad 2 or the New iPad (3rd gen), you need a VGA Adapter to connect the iPad to the classroom projector, and some kind of laser pointer since you will have no cursor. The picture above shows what I used: an iPad 2 with a smart cover (for easier viewing and typing during demo), my iPhone battery charger with built-in laser pointer, the VGA adapter, and a case for carrying the iPad and accessories. 

Class design, learning outcomes: 
     My one-hour library research session consisted of a brief overview of the library website, followed by demos of how to get articles from our subscription databases, how to find and request books, and how to use library e-books.  I also introduced them to their course-specific research guide (LibGuide), and used that for parts of the demo.

How things went in the classroom - (learn from my mistakes):
     Even though I had practiced in my office, the first class was a little rough. I did not have a laser pointer, and I hadn't realized that without a cursor students would not be able to follow along as I referred to links and various parts of pages on the projector screen. The students were quick to point this out, and now I always take a laser pointer with me.
     In addition, these students were in a new cohort, and had been handed their iPads at orientation only hours beforehand. Most were unfamiliar with the device, and this brought additional challenges. Fortunately many owned smartphones and were familiar with touch screens, mobile browsers and apps. Still, I needed to move more slowly than I had anticipated. Halfway through the class I realized I needed to focus more on exact steps so the new users could follow along.
     The two subsequent classes involved sessions with students who had been using their iPads for a few months. These graduate teacher education students were very adept at using the device. They easily followed along and even got ahead of me more than once (i.e., some began downloading e-books while I was demonstrating using e-books in the browser). 
     For the most part these classes went smoothly and felt more like teaching on a laptop. Nonethless, when on an iPad there are regular reminders that you are using an Apple mobile operating system (iOS) throughout. When pointing to anything built on Flash there will be either an empty space in the page or a small “broken link” icon. In the case of our library tutorials, we made sure everything had been uploaded to our YouTube channel so those on iOS devices could access them too.
     Another consideration is that many sites will detect your mobile OS and ask if you would like to go to the mobile version of the site. In some cases there is no choice and it will simply redirect you. It's important to test the sites beforehand to know which way to direct users when there is a choice. Most libraries now have a mobile site to accommodate smartphones. That may not be the best choice for iPad users, though, who could benefit from having access to the full website.

iPads and library e-books:
     The GFU library's two major e-book vendors, ebrary and EBL, are probably mostly used in the browser. They also allow e-books to be downloaded for offline reading, which may be attractive for iPad users. Digital Rights Management (DRM) ensures that these downloads expire after a certain amount of time, and limits their use in various ways. Consequently, the user must have a free Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) account, and will be prompted to create one if need be at the point of download.  In the case of ebrary, the user must also create a free personal ebrary account before downloading an e-book. Both accounts can be created on an iPad. However, Adobe Digital Editions is Flash-based and can not be installed on iOS devices. Instead the user must install the Bluefire app, which uses their ADE account. 
     Bluefire can be used for both vendors’ DRM-protected ebooks, but ebrary offers an app of their own, and there are some benefits to using it. I recommend installing both and authorizing them with the same ADE ID account.
     If you don't have time to walk students through creating ADE accounts, it may be best to simply demonstrate how to use these books in Safari—one can still search, highlight, take notes and more in this environment.  You could then point them to a link on the library website that will explain how to create an ADE account and download the ebrary and Bluefire apps. 

What I learned: 
1) Before teaching with an iPad the first time, practice in a room with your iPad hooked up to a projector
2) Always bring a laser pointer
3) Mobile sites are often not the best choice on iPads, since the screen size permits handling the full-content site.  However, sometimes there is no choice; be prepared and test beforehand (especially with e-books).
4) Be aware and prepared for workarounds when running into Flash on the iPad.
5) If a learning outcome is to have students successfully download a library e-book, have them create a free Adobe Digital Editions account before class.
6) If students are new to the iPad prepare a simpler presentation that covers less territory.
7) When working with students who are adept at using the iPad, relax and let them teach you a few tricks. 
     Finally, I'm noticing that students who own 2nd and 3rd generation iPads are beginning to use them as their primary devices. I have confirmed this with a show of hands whenever I work with students in our MAT program. Most eventually invest in some kind of case with keyboard so they can type as quickly and easily as with a laptop. They may have access to a desktop or laptop as well, but the tablet becomes their go-to device once they're comfortable with it.  See Forrester blog post from April 23, 2012 - Why Tablets Will Become Our Primary Computing Device