kitchen table math, the sequel: have iPad apps solved the page riffling problem?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

have iPad apps solved the page riffling problem?

A friend bought me an iPad a couple of weeks ago, and it is amazing.

I've been skeptical of 'technology' in education, mostly because nothing I've tried (online learning, educational software, educational CDs & DVDs, educational audio CDs for the car, the Kindle) has worked well for me. ALEKS came closest, but I would only use ALEKS for review, and I probably wouldn't do that, either. I found the need to look back and forth from the computer screen to my paper-and-pencil notebook tedious.

The iPad is the first form of technology that I can imagine changing the way people read and study.

First off, the 'content' apps I've looked at so far (Wall Street Journal & The Economist) format articles so that video and interviews really are "integrated" in a way that CDs tucked unto the backs of textbooks can't be.

More importantly - and this is a fantastic innovation -- the graphic design of the content apps potentially gives readers a workable substitute for page riffling.

The inability to riffle pages is the huge drawback of reading on a Kindle; I would never buy a Kindle edition of a textbook or a cookbook for that reason. On Kindle, reading is a strictly linear affair.

The iPad apps potentially change that. The mobile versions of WSJ and The Economist places content inside two rectangles: a big rectangle containing the article you're reading, and a much smaller, scrollable rectangle containing all the article titles in that section of the paper or magazine.

This would be a terrific feature in a textbook, where you need to grasp the structure of the subject, not just the content on the page you're reading. Each chapter could (and should) have a scrollable list of all the chapter's subject headings flanking the page you're reading.

Having all of the subheads directly at hand would let you riffle. For example, I'm working my way through Greg Mankiw's economics textbook, and I need to constantly flip back to previous sections to remind myself, say, why the aggregate demand curve slopes downward. Doing that on the Kindle is next to impossible. Yes, you can use the search function to find content elsewhere in the text, but it takes forever, and gives you too many hits. If I could read the Mankiw text formatted like the WSJ app, I would be able to click on "The Downward Slope of the Aggregate-Demand Curve" and instantly be where I need to be.

Then, after re-reading the material on AG, I would be able to click on the subject heading of the section I had been working on before I returned to the AG section.

(It would also be incredibly helpful to be able to ask the book to give me the numbered explanations of the graphs illustrating long-term-vs-short-term effects in sequence instead of having all of the "Point As" and "Point Bs" and "Point Cs" visible at all times.)

I doubt any textbooks have adopted this structure as yet, but they should.

Ed is writing a textbook for Oxford, and I'm telling him they need to include author interviews -- interviews, not lectures -- in the electronic edition. I'm going to push the idea of a scrollable column of subsection heads, too.


SteveH said...

I've just started to look at this technology again. I think there is a ways to go, but some things are looking promising. What I want is not just a reader but a PC with a full OS. I will accept the keyboard on the touch screen with an optional plug-in keyboard. I also want the option of a pen or stylus.

I started to look at OneNote again because it allows you to combine both text and graphics. It now has something called "Ink to Math". I can draw (with the mouse) the integral of x^2 dx and it will convert it to the proper graphic form. The problem is the mouse. I can't control it. I can, however, control a pen. OneNote would be great (almost) if I could use it on some sort of "slate" PC with a stylus. It would be better if I could tie it in with something like MatLab or Mathematica. However, I generally don't like being a guinea pig for new things. That's why I haven't rushed out to buy a slate PC.

My son just bought a smart pen he can use to write notes in class and record the teacher's voice. It requires special paper, but he can then point to any picture or text on the paper and the pen will play back what the teacher was saying at that point. He can add (insert) in new notes later on. The pen can also upload all of the contents (writings, pictures, and audio) to a PC and the writing can be converted to text in Word. This is like a take-off of the "Fly Pen" he had years ago. He can draw a picture of a keyboard and then use the pen to play a tune.

My son takes all of this for granted.

Catherine Johnson said...


What is the pen?

I agree - they still have a ways to go, and we need a PC/Mac with a full OS.

But this is the first time I've been able even to imagine that an electronic device could take the place of a paper textbook.

I've pretty much abandoned my Kindle, btw. The underlining mechanism is fantastically glitchy. At this point, virtually every time I underline a passage in a book, my Kindle freezes for minutes at a time or crashes altogether.

This has happened with two separate Kindles.

Anonymous said...

Yes, what is this pen?


TerriW said...

Now that I have Kindle for Android, I almost never pull out my physical Kindle anymore ...

... but you'll pry away my Kindle for Android from my cold, dead fingers.

K9Sasha said...

I think the pen Steve's talking about is the Smartpen from Livescribe.

Catherine Johnson said...

Me, too, Terri - I only use the Kindle app on the iPad.

IT doesn't allow me to read my two magazine subscriptions, unfortunately.

SteveH said...

Yes, it's the Livescribe. It's neat, but will he continue to use it? Probably not.

"But this is the first time I've been able even to imagine that an electronic device could take the place of a paper textbook."

Me too. Maybe I'll let my son be the guinea pig.

ChemProf said...

Yeah, I've seen that pen. It is actually an accommodation at my institution (they gave up on having notetakers, as there were too many problems with transferring the notes, readability, etc. so they give students the pen instead). It is pretty neat.

Allison said...

I too, own the Livescribe, but it's not comfortable to hold for long for me. The "time" feature, though, where it redraws over time is nicer than just a scanning device.

CassyT said...

What I want is not just a reader but a PC with a full OS. I will accept the keyboard on the touch screen with an optional plug-in keyboard. I also want the option of a pen or stylus.

I've been using Fujitsu tablets for years. One is the size of a netbook, the other the size of a laptop. Sure, they aren't as light as my ipad, but I can write notes directly on them as though they were paper. Heavy paper, but still...

On the ipad, I have a stylus & use Penultimate, but it just doesn't work as well as as the stylus on the tablet. I guess that's not what an ipad is really designed for.

For software, I use Evernote instead of OneNote. I like how it allows me to keep my notes organized and remember almost anything. (Not where I left the keys ;-)

I love the Kindle app, and use it on the tablet, the ipad & the ipod...and they all stay synced to my account. Since I've been working my way through the school's classical reading list, I've come across some words that I need a definition to instantly. Thank you dictionary of archaic terms!