Category: iPad


I have been neglecting this site for this past year because, frankly, I got tired of being on the computer!!!  Since I’ve been teaching, both face to face and online, a good portion of my day is spent in creating materials, reading online discussions, and grading digital assignments.  And by the end of the day, just about the last thing I want to do is do some more sitting – either in front of the computer or one of my game consoles.  Hence …. few hours playing games and even fewer opportunities to review selections for educational purposes.

I have, however, continued to explore serious games, digital gamification, and online fitness communities.  FitBit and LoseIt have joined HabitRPG and Nerd Fitness as part of my self-improvement suite.  I’ll write more about these old and new favorites, but I would first like to introduce a mobile game that has become my new – healthy – addiction:  Ingress.

What It Is

Ingress (Wikipedia entry) is an augmented reality game for smartphones.  It uses your phone’s GPS feature to associate your real life physical location with a place in a science fiction world where exotic matter is leaking into the world through portals.   You play a member of one of two opposition factions among the world’s human population and attempt to control portals and regions of the Earth’s surface on behalf of your faction.

Game play at the basic level is pretty straight-forward.  You drive, bike, or walk around with your smart phone – and use your phone to interact with the game world.  When you find a portal, you use your phone to interact with it, supporting or trying to destroy the portal’s control system (and then gain control over it for your faction).  In essence, it is a world-wide game of capture the flag …. with millions of flags scattered on every continent and in every city.

But like any good game, there are levels of complexity available for the interested participant.  The game has a complex back-story and a current events mystery unfolding in a series of episodic online stories and organized, real life events in select cities.  And if the narrative is not of interest, the strategic creation of links between portals and subsequent control of areas is reminiscent of a game of chess played on a grand scale.  While it is fairly simple to learn to play, playing it well will take some time and experience.

The Good

There is a lot to like about this game.  For one thing, it gets me up and away from the computer.  When I talk to parents and educators about computer games for learning, one of the first objections is that kids spend too much time sitting already.  Trust me …. this game will get them out of their seats and searching for portals to control, particularly if their friends are also playing.  I introduced my husband to the game, and now one of our favorite Saturday outings is to go take a long walk in order to play Ingress together, and we are often walking a few miles in order to get “just another one.”

Portals are also placed – deliberately by the game makers (Google) – to coincide with real life points of interest, such as museums, libraries, historical markers, memorials, and scenic outlooks.  And players are rewarded with badges if they visit a large number of unique places.  This feature has prompted me to visit sections of cities – and points of interest – that I had no idea existed.  It’s been a fun way for me to get out of my routines and go some place new for a walk.  And it encouraged me to go exploring on a recent, out of town trip.  I can see this used by parents …. and maybe teachers ….. to encourage kids to go visit culturally important locations and learn more about their neighborhoods and cities.  Carefully, of course.

With the science fiction back story to the game, and the continually evolving mystery, this game could also be very helpful in encouraging students to read and write.  The narrative is engaging in itself, and students could be asked to propose theories about what is happening based on the clues that are dropped periodically in the game’s news releases.  I’ll admit that I’m usually more interested in walking around and gaining control of territory, but I can see the potential for the language arts in this game.

With two teams working to control sections of the world, there is also, naturally, room for teamwork.  Each faction has its own Google group as well as a way to chat from within the game, and teams in many locations arrange for meet ups to socialize and plan strategy.  Teams need to work together to mount strategies to control territory …. and also to block the opposing team’s strategies to gain control of the same spaces.  It is generally a lot of fun, and so far, I have not had any negative encounters – even when near an opposing team as they were trying to wrest control of a portal from me.

Cautions

That being said, as I mentioned earlier, parents and teachers (and everyone else) should use caution in playing this game.  Just as with geocaching, it can be easy to leave your comfort zone for areas that are not safe.  You need to remain alert and aware of your surroundings, not stepping off of cliffs or balconies in an effort to reach a portal …. don’t laugh.  There is a portal in my city that is barely reachable by carefully stretching over a railing.  I’m not sure how it got there, but it is a lesson in caution.

Given how the game is played, it is easy for kids to get involved and play as peers with and against adults.  As a relatively new player, I’ve probably been schooled by more children that I would like to know.  But do be aware that the game is one of competition, and new players will be at a disadvantage for many levels, having their hard work destroyed by higher level players who see an advantage …. and who don’t know that they may be playing against a kid. So long as players understand that the game really is one of shifting control back and forth …. daily  ….. it is fun.

Drawbacks

While the game does encourage movement, a lot of players – myself included – simply drive from portal to portal.  Most locations are readily accessible from the street or a convenient parking lot, and it is easy to be lazy or in a hurry …. trading a seat in front of the computer for a seat in the car.  For people who are mobility challenged, this is a blessing – you can play with the best of us.  But it also sorta defeats one of the big draws of the game.

The game also puts quite a strain on your smart phone.  I am still running an older model iPhone, and the battery does not last very long while playing this game.  My husband’s new iPhone holds up far longer, and I have simply gotten an auxiliary mobile power source to support longer gaming sessions ….. when I’m not in the car with the iPhone plugged in.

And … of course …. it does require a smart phone … or an iPad.  Originally released only for Android, it’s been out for about a year for the Apple platform.  But the requirement of a fairly robust device will put the game out of reach for some students.

Summary

On the whole, I really like this game.  It is encouraging me to get out and explore new sections of the city and to walk a good deal more than I have been during the cold winter.  I’m looking forward to reading more of the narrative and getting to know some of my team mates ….. and even members of the opposition …. in local Ingress meet ups.  If you are an educator or a parent, this game has potential to be an engaging alternative to the traditional computer or videogame, and it would be a lot of fun to do as a family.

I’ll admit it – I have iPad envy.  Less expensive than a computer, more mobile, longer battery life, and easier on the back as well.  If you are not yet convinced that they are the wave of the future in higher ed, take a look at my post on the pros and cons.  I think you’ll agree that they are worth a pilot project at your institution.

Unfortunately, I haven’t sprung for one yet … such is the budget of a grad student.

BUT, in the meantime, I keep looking at ways the iPad would fit into education, especially at the post-secondary level.  And while the hardware certainly is cool, it is pretty much a stylish brick unless it runs apps that you can use.  I haven’t checked if my favorite wine selection app is available yet (probably is ….), but this list from NITLE is probably more appropriate anyway.  Check it out and vote for your favorite (educationally related) apps as well!

iPad and a Bluetooth Keyboard

Image via Wikipedia

I was asked today if we our campus should be looking at the iPad as an addition to classroom technology.

On the balance, I think it is time for the innovators and early adopters to get their hands on this device and explore.  Unfortunately, I suspect that many of the 8 to 10% of faculty who like to live on the cutting edge are already well ahead of me on this one.

But, for the sake of presenting ideas to the masses, here’s my list of pros and cons since everything points to this being a technology that will stay and affect how we work in education.
On the plus side:

  • Pen/finger centric devices were picked last year by Gartner to become mainstream in 2 years  (I think it exploded faster than anticipated)
  • it is a technology that generally allows the user to transfer information around to other devices
  • it is easily customizable by the user for low cost (i.e. “there’s an app for that”)
  • it has applications that can be used for a huge range of tasks
  • multimedia
  • peripherals for it are springing up faster than daffodils
  • faculty are asking me what I think of it and pointing out that it could replace a laptop for them
  • students are adopting it and rapidly mainstreaming it into their lives
  • K-20 schools are piloting them the way they did laptops
  • it does allow digital interaction that was difficult before, such as writing kanji and moving smoothly in virtual space

Cons

  • it is still not a great device for production of artifacts, although I see signs that this is becoming less of an issue
  • we will need to make sure that early issues with accessibility are being addressed
  • I still have some difficulty using it in some lighting conditions

I returned the iPad to its rightful owner.  Actually, I returned it so that he could loan it out to another tester.  It it getting a lot of mileage as well as a lot of buzz.

Good points:

  1. Plays great games with more natural, finger-driven controls (a big plus for children!)
  2. Wonderful color and resolution, which makes it ….
  3. Great to read on
  4. Portable but doesn’t feel fragile – the big brother to my trusty iPhone, which I do not treat like a hot house flower

The challenging points (from a potential teacher’s view):

  1. Doesn’t run Flash or Java, which means that some educational games won’t work — and some content management systems will also lose functionality
  2. Hard to type on
  3. Hard (impossible?) to multi-task on – which makes it hard for me to read work and grade it or give feedback while using a single device
  4. Big shiny screen reflects light sources above it, making it hard to read even in many office settings (I didn’t try it outside)

A colleague will be attending some sessions on mobile computing in teaching, so we may have new information next week, but I’m still on the fence about whether I’d recommend the iPad for educational purposes.

Pilot testing?? Sure – I’d love to hear from other front-running pioneers out there, especially if you have a situation that has been crying out for a lower cost, small near-computer device.  The gadget girl in me wants to like it, really.  But I have reservations about recommending it to others right now.

Yesterday, I borrowed the department’s iPad and started playing around with it.  I wanted to get a sense for its good and bad points, see what the gadget-loving hobbyist in me thought of it, let the teacher in me ponder its potential place in my (often virtual) classroom, and finally experience for myself the device in the middle of the (as usual) hyped debate about the future of society.

My initial reactions were a mix.

First off, it is more sturdy than I had imagined.  When I hold it, it doesn’t feel frail.  Like my pretty sturdy iPhone, the iPad seems built to stand up to normal wear and tear — and my occasional lapses in judgment or attention.  I am still not sure I’ll be comfortable tossing it in my backpack – or just carrying it around like a book, but it also isn’t going to break in half  in a stiff wind.

But this is both good and bad.  After a few minutes, I had to adjust how I held it in order to deal with the weight.  I  kinda moved around a bit and finally settled on holding it in my left hand, resting on my left knee.  Over the course of a couple of hours, I still occasionally noticed that my hand was getting tired.  It is like holding a substantial book for hours – you just get tired.  While not as bad as my Gateway tablet, the iPad is still not quite the replacement for the paper copy of the New York Times or a paperback book in terms of how I “naturally” interact with print media.

This would be less of an issue if the screen were not so very shiny.  That much reflective surface quickly reveals where the overhead lights (or the sun!) are located.  This means that I need to shift around not only to manage the weight of the device but the direction of incoming light.  It can be a bit distracting at first and may be a problem for users in traditional classrooms and computer labs.

But as Malcolm Reynolds would say, “You’re hitting on all the sellin’ points.”

True, true.  The shiny screen is drop-dead gorgeous in its clarity and color.  Reading on the device is just as easy, for me, as reading print.  And I am not young.  At nearly 5o, I have bifocals and have often struggled to read text on my iPhone, PalmPilot, and even some computer screens.  The iPad’s books and program screens were crisp, clear, and readable.  So much so, that I almost forgot I was holding a computer and not a paper version of the Times.  (Have to be careful NOT to toss the thing onto the desk when done with an article!)

It is very refreshing to be able to hold digital media at the same angle I hold a book.  I leave it to usability experts and cognitive scientists to tell me if this position is somehow optimal or natural, but being able to hold a screen down and at an angle felt really good.  Again, I don’t know why this should be.  I’m no Ludite and have been reading a lot on the screen for 35 years.  But reading on the iPad felt less tiring than reading this on the screen.

I also greatly enjoyed interacting with the programs through direct touch rather than a mouse or keyboard.  Of course, most of what I did for those two hours did not require typing.  I was mostly reading and looking at unusual applications.  Oh, and playing Plants vs. Zombies (an ideal game for exploring the touch technology of the iPad, really …..).

As soon as I switched to trying to take notes in the Notepad application, I became frustrated.  It was like trying to learn piano with a hypersensitive teacher.  Typing on the virtual keyboard resulted in a great many typos.  In fact, for a while, I could not type ANYTHING correctly.  I started getting better after about 10 minutes, but I am not sure that the iPad will ever become a replacement for my main computer, unless I invest in a stand and a keyboard.  And that seems like it would defeat the purpose of having one.  And yet, the hobbyist in me is wondering if I could somehow justify the purchase of one for myself.  Just think …. if all I did was save the reams of paper involved in reading my favorite newspapers (and yes, I am a throwback to the Victorian era and do read multiple city papers), would that be a reasonable excuse?

Since gadget loving girl wants it, that brings me to the question of … does this device have a place in education, particularly in higher education? There are a lot of cool science applications available for this.  Some organize and provide reputable science information so that students may be less likely to run out to Google or Wikipedia to research everything.  Others provide data visualization or physics experimentation and play.  Any of these would be potentially useful.

But education is not passive consumption of information, and it does not take place in a vacuum.  Most educational activities require that students then get involved at some level by taking notes, doing assessments, or producing something – a report, a response, critical reflection, or their own understanding and new knowledge.  If nothing else, they must be able to produce artifacts that I will eventually grade.  And then I come back to my difficulties with the virtual keyboard.  I will have to experiment further to see how easy it is to take notes or make annotations or work in two different applications at a time.  While many educators vehemently decry multi-tasking, at many levels we require that students do so by reading and note-taking in near-simultaneous fashion.  My question is — does the iPad support this common work flow for students?  Or will they be juggling the iPad and a notebook?  Which, again, seems to negate the reasons for having this device.

I will keep looking at these questions over the next week or so.  Meanwhile, I encourage you to check over at Don’t Waste Your Time’s collection of opinions from other educators.  I really have to agree with David Hopkins — all we know for sure right now is that we have more questions than real answers.  We need to gather data before we make grand or pessimistic pronouncements.

Finally, the educational virtual world geek in me has to ask … will it run Second Life?  At the moment the answer is …. “yes and no”.  It does run the same apps that were available on the iPhone and iTouch for accessing a few streams of information from Second Life.  For most people, accessing chat, IMs and inventory were the main purpose for using Second Life on a mobile device.  And I have to agree that this is all I wanted on my iPhone. It allowed me to attend meetings in the virtual world when I couldn’t be anywhere near a computer — and that was great.

But I am now waiting for a real Second Life viewer to be developed for the iPad.  It seems to me to be the perfect platform for this interactive 3-D building environment.  Where the keyboard and mouse always seemed clunky, actual touch control of 3-D space could allow for natural “hands on” manipulation of objects a la Minority Report (remember how Tom Cruise’s character interacted with the computer system … wow).  Being able to rotate and move things while I’m building with my hands would be awesome sauce.

So, at the end of a couple of hours of play, I’m intrigued and hoping that we will come up with new ways to interact with digital media now that we can go back to kindergarten and use our fingers.  But until we make that step, the device seems mostly ready to allow users to consume media – by reading, playing, or listening/watching.  But it is not a device for serious creation or meaningful interaction.  Yet.