ACU Library Explores iPad Uses

With June temperatures already hitting triple digits, what better place is there to escape the hot Texas summer than the cool confines of a library, playing with the coolest new gadget around?

The Margaret & Herman Brown Library at Abilene Christian University (ACU) is currently testing Apple Corporation’s newest creation, the iPad, to learn how the popular mobile touch-screen device might be used by staff to deliver library services to students more efficiently.

In April, the school’s technology department purchased 20 iPads to distribute among selected faculty as a means of encouraging mobile innovation. Faculty members were urged to submit proposals for how they might employ the iPad in their instruction. The library submitted three proposals and received three of the devices.

The iPad initiative is not the first foray into mobile technology by the university. Since 2008, ACU has distributed iPhones or iPod Touches to its incoming freshman classes through a partnership with Apple and AT&T. Two classes will receive the mobile devices this fall, giving all ACU undergraduates either an iPhone or an iPod Touch.

Amigos recently spoke with Laura Baker, Emerging Technologies Librarian at the Brown Library, about the iPhone/iPod Touch distribution and iPad initiative.

Amigos: “The iPad experiments are a separate initiative from the university’s iPhone/iPod Touch distribution, correct?”

LB: “Yes. The iPad experiment is a way to encourage faculty to explore different ways that the iPad could be used in the classroom and to encourage learning. In some ways, the mobile initiative in the library is simply an extension of a lot of the principles behind our library’s Learning Commons (first reported in the April-June 2007 issue of ¿Que Pasa?) The idea behind the Learning Commons was that we want to integrate space, technology, and information to match the way people actually learn. It’s about being flexible and innovative and user-centered in the ways we encourage and support learning. We’re trying to extend the same principles with regard to mobile devices that we have with our actual library space.”

Amigos: “Talk about the iPad proposals the library submitted.”

LB: “One proposal dealt with the potential for an iPad in conjunction with e-reserves, particularly streaming digital media. We think it has big implications for how media can be delivered, and also for how it would be consumed by our students and used by them.”

“Another proposal involved creating some kind of interactive information literacy tutorial that our freshmen use. With our third iPad, we’ll also be trying to figure out how it can be used to make text and other information more accessible to those who have various types of disabilities. iPads could give them the ability to enlarge text and incorporate sound and other media to actually manipulate the text to fit the way the person needs to receive it.”

Amigos: “How are the library’s experiments progressing?”

LB: “The first phase is simply getting acquainted with the devices, to try them out. Of course none of us had ever held one in our hands before. We’d seen them on the internet, and videos and the like, but it’s just a different experience when you hold one in your hand and get to manipulate those icons, carry it around and see what it can do. iPads have a very short learning curve, and are very intuitive. It’s very convenient to be able to carry one around when you’re helping students in the stacks or across the floor, a way to carry a computer with you and show to other people. I think iPads have very big implications for how we teach in the library. That’s been exciting to see.”

“The next phase will be looking at platforms for hosting the content we want to deliver, trying to develop some kind of user interface that works well and is both convenient and effective in how it delivers information. It’s really new ground for us, so we’re trying to figure out what we need to do as it happens.”

Amigos: “What have you learned so far?”

LB: “Most importantly, iPads let us take advantage of teachable moments. The teaching and service we do in the library often don’t happen at scheduled times. More likely they happen when you’re in your office and someone just drops in to ask a question, or when you’re walking across the floor and someone in the stacks stops you and needs some help. It’s often difficult in those situations when you’re asked a question. Usually, you need to take the person to a computer, and sometimes you might have to walk all the way across the building to access that computer. Perhaps you need to go to where you can check on a database, then return to tell them you think there’s some information for them in another part of the library. All that effort may be too much for some students, and they may tell you to just forget it. But with the iPad you can answer a student’s question where they are. They can look on while you access information and you can let them see how it’s done. If you can answer a student’s question when and where it’s asked, then you can take advantage of that teachable moment. Being able to satisfy a need when it occurs is a big difference and a big advantage.”

Amigos: “How long do you anticipate the iPad experiments will continue?”

LB: “We’re looking to make this a summer project. We’ll be working on incorporating the iPads for these specific proposals all through the summer and hope to have something tangible in place this fall in terms of a product that students can use to access our services. As far as I know, the iPads we’ve received will remain in the libraries so we can continue to explore and innovate with them.”

Amigos: “And students no doubt will be purchasing their own iPads and bringing them to campus.”

LB: “Certainly as time goes on and the market opens up, they’ll get cheaper and we’ll be seeing a lot of students with iPads, and we want to be ready for that. Creating mobile formatted content, whether for an iPhone, Blackberry, or iPad, I think is part of the role of the library. Making the learning objects that students need to use is very much part of our role. We’ve had a lot of cooperation in this effort, and it’s great to receive that kind of support.”