Monday, November 22, 2010

Six times a year

I believe in the purpose-built device.  As opposed, you see, to the all-purpose device.  I find great pleasure and utility in having a Kindle that is built for reading.  Sure, I could read e-books on my phone or my computer screen, but that's not what those devices were built for, and so reading long passages on them has significant drawbacks.  If I value reading, then I don't want to struggle through the compromise it takes it read on a device that will present e-books, but not well.  I want a purpose-built device so that it disappears and doesn't constitute a barrier to my work.

For years now I've had a tablet PC at work.  I insist on it because there are six times a year, at minimum, that nothing other than tablet technology will do.  Those are the three student essays I typically need to grade every semester.  I want to receive the papers electronically and give them back electronically.  And although I could type up my comments or use Word's track-changes feature to interpose them, I find this process extremely clunky.  I just want to write on the page, cross out things, add things, bracket things, make marginal notes.  And so only a tablet will do.

I like my tablet PC (Lenovo's X series of ThinkPad tablets) just fine.  But my current X200 died for the second time today, the predictable victim of connections through the swiveling hinge.  I can always tell when I'm in trouble -- the swivel suddenly becomes difficult, and after pushing the screen into place, a few days later, the tablet pen won't move the cursor anymore.

So I took it to the help desk, and I expect to get it back with a new motherboard again in a few days.  But it's made me wonder whether the hybrid nature of the tablet PC (it's both a laptop and a tablet) makes it especially vulnerable to this problem -- and whether it is almost time to go with a new purpose-built device for this important task of grading essays in a natural, speedy, and paperless way.  I wonder whether it is time to get an iPad.

A few weeks ago I did some poking around to see if any teachers were grading papers on the iPad, and I saw that some people have cobbled together little ad hoc suites of apps that annotate PDFs or Pages documents.  I don't want to spend time inventing something, really.  I just want to grab a tablet and write on a paper that I can then send back to the student in a form they can read.

How about it, iPad owners and instructor or editor types?  Are you using the iPad to mark up text?  How do you do it, and do you think this use of the device is ready for prime time?

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