Catering to all means tailored for none

A few weeks ago, when all the geeks were freaking out about Google Reader shutting down, I felt a smug sense of satisfaction, having abandoned reading the web via RSS feeds a couple months ago. I realized that I could gain about as much by checking a dozen sites that post both original content and link to lots of interesting writing from all over the place. Sure, I also used feeds to follow journal tables of contents, but I rarely had time to read full journal articles when I was checking feeds, something I tended to do when I was half brain-dead after the kids were in bed.

But this isn’t another blog post about Google Reader or RSS. In response to the news of the closure, Fraser Speirs mentioned that he now uses Flipboard and Twitter lists as a replacement for RSS:

I was curious enough about how this worked to set it up and give it a try, and I would probably stick with it if I were still an avid feed reader. But this is not a post about reading feeds with Flipboard, either.

What really grabbed my attention was Fraser’s link to an iTunes U course. The course uses a series of narrated videos to walk through the process of setting up Flipboard and connecting it to a Twitter account. He created the course for his day job as an IT director and teacher at a school with a one-to-one iPad program. The content itself is very high-quality, of course, but what struck me was how nice it must be to know that every single one of your students can access your lesson exactly how you intend them to, all within a nicely bundled package that receives new content and course updates automatically. This works for Fraser because his school, after weighing the pros and cons, committed to a platform.

If I wanted to use iTunes U or iBooks Author to create materials for my classes, I would only be serving a small fraction of my students with the ideal experience — I’ve only noticed 3 or 4 iPads in my classroom in any given semester. For the majority, I would have to post the materials to the web or our learning management system, requiring additional work and, more importantly, stripping the material of the interactive components. This creates a chicken-and-egg problem, because I’m not inclined to distribute my course supplements as iOS-optimized if I don’t see my students using iOS devices, and students are not inclined to choose iPad or iPhone over other similarly-spec’d tablets and smartphones if they don’t see the course materials being created.

We may be in the midst of the mobile revolution, but from the standpoint of one creating or preparing classroom materials, which mobile — the OS, the size, the capability — matters. Unless you’re in the (enviable) position of knowing exactly what all your students will bring, I guess we’ll have to settle for the least common denominator, which is probably not the best solution for any.

4 thoughts on “Catering to all means tailored for none”

  1. Found your blog via Dave Winer and your review (liked that by the way). I keep reading when I get to sites I’ve never visited before, and given that I’m in the midst of creating content for a MOOC – and use two phones and two tablets as my core “PCs,” I thought it neat to read this, and toe have much of the same concerns.

    For the class that I’m working on, I’m required to have Moodle-able content, paper books to read/purchase for the students, and several online links which sit in a series of PowerPoint docs. I’ve been mobile-mainly in terms of hardware for a long time, doing this class has felt in part like going back in time. Which is a shame, because I’m talking about the very tech that’s disrupting all od this… mobile.

    Much like the online outiner, it would seem to make a lot of sense to just let every class be a shareable, central controlled but widely readable outline or wiki. Interactive anything can be added at the skill of the instructor – and students can be met at the place where their channels/devices are able to get to the content. Before this class, I did every presentation as a HTML-based slide-deck. Easy to distribute, easier to add interactive anything, and vastly superior towards getting to more people – those that needed what I talked about.Catering to the top end f devices, even if you have that platform buy-in, seems like setting oneself up for failure later.

    Its harder to go go backward. And I agree, that means that I’m losing a lot of “me” in the process of doing this. I wish that instructional designers could see that and just kind of get out of the way (yes, I know standards and such, I was once one). I’d rather spend my time interacting and teaching, not creating the bells and whistles.

    1. ARJWright: Thanks so much for stopping by, and especially for commenting. I wholeheartedly agree with your comment. I find it odd and disappointing that the tools to do the kinds of things you and I seem to want to do are still not there. In fact, in some ways, the LMSes and teaching platforms are anathema to the way the rest of the web works. I’m fortunate to be on the faculty at a place that has a very loose policy about what kinds of tools I can use with my classes — it’s pretty much up to me. I can’t imagine being in the position you describe, needing to use a particular tool for a MOOC and make my materials fit the tool.

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