iPad and Blackboard

Since I don’t actually have an iPad yet (emphasis on yet), I’m free to devote what I time I do have for it to pure speculation about the joys and trials it might bring to my life. For personal use, I see only joys. Maybe there would only be joys for school use too, but I admit to many questions about how we might convert our entire campus over to iPad junkies, as our fearless leader evidently envisions.

First, well…does Blackboard even work on the thing? We’re locked into Blackboard for course management, and Blackboard has lots of building blocks, like Wimba and so forth, that use flash. Apple isn’t even on speaking terms with flash, so how can this work?

I don’t know, but here’s a video demo of Blackboard for iPad.

Cool looking application. Does it solve the problems of incompatible Blackboard plug-ins? Who knows?

I have the Blackboard application on my iPhone, and I find it extremely frustrating. It shows me when new content has been created in my courses, but I can’t respond to it from my phone. I can see if a student has left a message on the discussion board, for example, but I can’t reply to it. The video above appears to indicate that this is not the case on the iPad. The app is meant to be much more functional than the previous app released for iPhone.

Yes, that’s nice, but do you mean only for native Blackboard content or for third party extras as well?

That will be one of the first questions I answer for myself when I finally get my very own iPad. I’m going to have to buy one, you see, before I can find out whether I need one or can even use one for what I think I want to do with it.

Meanwhile, I have played with the Evernote application on an iPad, and I think it is about the coolest learning tool ever invented. I oooh and aaah over it while I stood around in the Apple store in Madison hogging a demo model for an unseemly amount of time.

This, not the book reader, is why the iPad is a better device for the classroom than the Kindle.

Ebooks as Eco-Friendly

In looking for ways to be kinder to Mother Nature, it occurs to me that ebooks could be one way. It also occurs to me that they may not be.

Someone told me ebooks didn’t really reduce a person’s carbon footprint. I don’t remember who said it or why, but the fact that I remembered it at all made me stop to question.

Someone also told me that driving a hybrid car doesn’t automatically reduce your environmental impact. I do know who told me that. It was my brother. The logic goes like this. Gas savings isn’t the only thing that matters. You also have to factor in the environmental impact of manufacturing the vehicle and transporting it to a dealership near you. Then you have to do environmental comparisons on the types of parts used in a hybrid vs a non-hybrid.

Turns out a hybrid really only makes a difference if you keep the same car long enough. It doesn’t reduce your carbon footprint at all if you buy a Prius only to sell it after a couple of years. Driving the same Corolla for ten years would make a bigger difference. That’s what I tell myself every day when I slide into my five-year-old Corolla. I have at least five more years to go before I can even consider buying a Prius.

And so I have poked around a little trying to determine if the same logic applies to ebooks. It seems like it probably does. The jury is decidedly iffy on whether they represent measurable environmental savings.

You have to consider the impact of the devices used to read them, the computers used to store them–and no they don’t just dangle out in cyberspace by will of magic–and the technology used to transfer them from said computer to said device along with the energy used to run the device.

My conclusion is basically this. A person who normally purchases a lot of books probably would help the environment by switching to ebooks. A person who normally purchases no more than five to ten books in a year, probably wouldn’t reduce the environmental impact at all by switching to ebooks and may actually increase it.

This isn’t scientific. This is just my impression from reading a few non-scientific articles on the subject. Be your own judge.

As for me, well…I want any new gadget I can get my hands on, and I do buy enough books in a year to justify using an iPad as an eco-friendly toy. But then again I have no problem with the ongoing practice of tree killing provided we’re destroying commercial tree farms in our own country. Dead trees sent me to college and paid for all of my textbooks.

I wouldn’t even mind if someone killed a tree to buy me an iPad so that I could read more paperless books. Really. I wouldn’t complain a bit.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded today. He wrote The World is Flat as well. I read it, or at least parts of it, a year or two ago and was appropriately disturbed by it. I’m even more disturbed by Hot, Flat, and Crowded. The figures he gets into about over-population alone are enough to bring on massive panic attacks. Scary stuff. Really. And scarier still to think he’s probably right. The world is too crowded to sustain itself much longer at the lifestyle to which the middle classes of industrialized societies are accustomed.

That said, I’ll talk more about the book when I’ve finished it. For now I’ll say I wish I could be a person of extreme measures. I wish I could read something like this and decide with absolute resolve to turn off my air conditioner for the whole summer and not drive to town more than once a month.

It’s not going to happen. I turned my thermostat up by a couple of degrees during one of Friedman’s more dire predictions, and I thought I was going to die. It isn’t even really summer yet, so I’d say if this was a test I’ve failed.

I planted a garden after I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I know I’ll have to do something equally radical in response to Friedman. I’ll let you know what when I decide. For now I have to go turn off my cable box. I should have never left it on after I turned off the TV.

On Safari

They said they were going on Safari, for which evidently the only equipment required is a pair of binoculars, known around here as a “close up camera.” That’s what Dusty called it when he was their age anyway. No matter that Dusty is 25 now. Some things your family will never let you outgrow.

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I don’t know what caused this look of surprise so great that his hair literally stood on end.

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I suspect it had something to do with the wild animal that followed them home from Safari.

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It attacked viciously.

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They had to run for their lives.

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And guard their food supplies.

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But the creature was no match

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for Safari boys.

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Ebooks and Attitudes

rhetoric and composition

This is an example of why it is not really necessary for my students to pay anything for books. We have them purchase books because that’s what we think they are supposed to do. We’re bound by school policies requiring us to pick out books for our students to purchase. Somehow from an administrative perspective it looks more legitimate if students are buying books from established companies.

But it isn’t necessary academically when books like this are available for free and available in multiple formats so that they could be accessed via wikis, pdf, Kindles, iPhones, or whatever depending on student preference.

All of this should be considered as we push forward into the ebook age. We’re in a co-dependent relationship with textbook companies. I don’t know what that relationship will look like in the future, but I do know that it is still driving the school policies that prevent me from just chunking our expensive handbook and going with something worthy and accessible and free like the example provided above by Matt Barton and others from St. Cloud.

Good job, Matt. Thanks for putting this out there. Thanks for showing us what can be done.