Making order out of chaos: the crisis of information

The problem I have found myself facing in the past week is one that is reflective of the problem we will find ourselves facing increasingly into the digital age. I will once again borrow the words of Apple Distinguished Educator, Dr. William Rankin who talks about ‘the crisis of information.’

Finding information is fast but the amount of information we have available causes a new problems because there is so much of it available. The current informational challenge is assessing what is and isn’t valuable: “In the digital age, information is a commodity.” He also highlights the statistic from the American Library Association: “By 2020, if trends continue, information on the internet will be doubling every 15 minutes.”

My goal for the two weeks before the next critique has been to start examining, evaluating and critiquing existing apps available on the iOS platform to test my hypothesis, to determine whether the affordances of the iPad were being utlised in an academic context, or whether they were being used for simple consumption of content. This criteria for determining this again came from Dr. Rankin where in another iTunes U podcast where he discusses that the iPad/iPhone is powerful because it beings together rich media, connectivity and access to the internet. This provided a starting point.

However, I found myself facing this problem where I was trying to determine which apps to even use. In the big scheme of things, the ‘app market’ and the app store model is still very new, starting in April 2008. There are now over 700 000 3rd party apps available. So finding those relevant to my research questions posed a problem, needing to determine the best way of selecting the ones which I would critique. The advantage however is that the App Store is the sole channel through which to purchase apps for the iOS platform so in that aspect, it makes the search a bit easier.

 ‘Education’ category

The logical first step was to go to the ‘Education’ category and the recommended ‘Apps for Teachers’. It can be assumed that many educators look here for appropriate apps to download and utilise.

This didn’t pose too much of a challenge, there were 72 apps all together under 5 subcategories. It took a few hours but I went through all of these to get an idea of what their predominant functionality was. It was evident that many of these apps were specifically intended with education in mind but many of them I have seen used in this context.

My main impression was that there were a lot of apps focused around document and content creation and management. Many were focused around access to educational content (e.g. Wolfram Alpha, National Geographic, TED) but also many more more on accessing ‘non academic’ sources such as blogs and social media. I am not arguing the validity or educational value of content ‘non academic’ content as that is a whole other research topic but it is interesting to see that trend reflected in the recommended apps.

Keyword Searches
My next idea was to look at apps based on keyword searches to try find relative apps. ‘Collaboration’ seemed a good one to start with and immediately I was faced with over 100 apps which mentioned it in some way shape or form. I realised that I needed a better way to try sort through this information.

Inspiration struck – as it quite often does – on the rush hour bus ride home. I found the search API for iTunes, App store, iBookstore and Mac App Store. It took only an hour, some open source code working with JSON parsing in Processing and I’d hacked together some code:

—-

import org.json.*;

String baseURL = “http://itunes.apple.com/search?term=collaboration&entity=software&limit=200″;

void setup () {

getApps ();

}

void draw () {

}

void getApps () {

String request = baseURL;

String result = join(loadStrings(request), “”);

//println (result);

JSONObject Data1 = new JSONObject(result);

JSONArray results = Data1.getJSONArray(“results”);

int total = Data1.getInt(“resultCount”);

int numberOfElements = results.length();

try {

// loop through array

for (int i = 0; i < numberOfElements; i++) {

JSONObject entry = results.getJSONObject(i);

String getInfo = (entry.getString(“description”));

println (getInfo);

} //for

} //try

catch (JSONException e) {

println (“There was an error parsing the JSONObject.”);

} // catch

} // function

It did the trick. I was able to specify a search for apps with the world collaboration and get it to spit out the app descriptions for up to 200 apps.

I then took these app descriptions and used Wordle to generate a tag cloud. Immediately I found that this gave an instant overview of the common ideas and themes. I tried putting in a few more words: learning, teacher, classroom, education, university, learning, mobility. Suddenly it was amazing how quickly I could sift through these ideas and get at a glance an idea of the kinds of themes that were emerging.

I know I will have to think more critically about what this process and the outcome of that (the tag clouds) mean. Before the next critique, I will be updating the draft of my thesis to start integrating this work and communicating it in a more academic way as part of my field review. This process however is still only a part of the initial review.

Case studies – CfLAT
Last week (2nd August) marked one year since the Center for Learning and Teaching began its iPad project and I was first hired as a Learning and Teaching Technology Enabler. So much has happened in the past year and now we have a team of six ‘LATTE’s to provide university wide iPad support as now there are over 300 iPads in the hands of staff and quickly growing.

We provide a range of support starting from taking it out of the box through to advanced document management and are starting to move into content creation and classroom activities.

However, the hardest question we get is, of course, what can I do with it? This is still the question everyone is grappling with and I still don’t quite know how to answer it. It is definitely something that evolves the more you use it but it becomes a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, where if people don’t see the buy in, they won’t use it. Sadly, as we are getting past the enthusiasm of the early adopters, this is something we are starting to see.

Being a LATTE has been a hugely important part of informing my ideas and so for this field review, it provides valuable insight as to the kinds of apps that we recommend to staff. I will be the first to admit that these apps are more often than not those which are focused on content consumption and document management, if for no other reason because in the limited amount of time staff see us for iPad training, these are the topics they want to address.

So these are some the apps that we most commonly start staff off with:

This is part of what has informed my hypothesis and it is my hope that when we get past the initial stages of implementation, we can begin to see more exciting and innovative uses of the iPad. It is about moving beyond ‘business as usual’.

Case studies – External

With the next critique only two days away, what I want to accomplish before presenting this work is to look at some external case studies of iPad projects from other institutions, to see whether their approaches are similar or different to the one I’ve been involved in. I will also need to generate some critical insight as to what these findings so far mean so I can get some valuable feedback from lecturers. It’s scary how fast the fortnightly meetings come up and even scarier how fast the eventual D-day will arrive.

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One response to “Making order out of chaos: the crisis of information

  1. Pingback: Changing Technological Trends in Classrooms | tycunepercussion.com

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