Tablets for Reference - All Posts
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As I get ready to turn in my nexus tablet, I've been thinking about how we can or should use tablet in Research & Instruction. My feelings from my last post, One Quarter with the Nexus, haven't changed. The mobility and flexibility are awesome. They outweigh any issues or problems, and I see nothing but posibilities coming from the use of tablets in R&I.
Do I personally like the Nexus? No. If R&I were to expand use of tablet do I think it's what we whould use? No, mainy becuase of the physical dimensions of the screen.
Is this the future of reference services in academic libraries? I think so. To a certain extent, it is the future of computing and we need to stay current. Additionally, for years, librarians have been trying to find a way to offer mobile or roving reference serivces. They've tried laptops, personal digital assistants, and spartphones. All of them had issues for various reasons, but the tablet seems to be the "just right" combination of all of these devices.
Despite this, when I turn in the Nexus in a few weeks will I check it or the other tablets out to use in meetings or anything else? Probably not. Why? It's not set up for me. More than likely, I will bring in my own iPad as I did before. It was nice to not have to keep remembering to bring in my iPad or to forget it in my office when I needed it for something at home, but I'd prefer it over something with a generic set-up.
This highlights one of the problems with tablets: They are personal tools. Tablets are most powerful when they can be constomized by the person using them. How one person sets up an iPad or other tablet won't be the same as another person. This could be rectified by purchasing everyone a tablet and letting them personalize it, but that doesn't appear to be an option. Checking out generic tablets is another option but may not be ideal. We need to look at other areas on campus that check out tablets: Woodring, STC, ATUS and see how they have manged it.
As we move to become more mobile in how we offer research consult services, and we absolutely must begin developing a system for using tablets. Our students are mobile and we must be as well.
For more information and reading:
The Nov/Dec 20120 issue of Library Technology Reports is focused on tablet use in libraries. The issue is available in Academic Search. The record in OneSearch can be found here: http://library.wwu.edu/onesearch/9987912670001453. In particular, look at Maloney & Wells' article:
Maloney, M. M., & Wells, V. A. (2012). iPads to enhance user engagement during reference interactions. Library Technology Reports, 48(8), 11-16.
Hibner, H. (2005). The wireless librarian: Using tablet PCs for ultimate reference and customer service: A case study. Library Hi Tech News, 22(5), 19-22. doi: 10.1108/07419050510613819
McCabe, K. M. & MacDonald, J. R. W. (2011). Roaming reference: Reinvigorating reference through point of need service. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library & Information Practice & Research, 6(2), 1-15.
Lotts, M., & Graves, S. (2011). Using the iPad for reference services. College & Research Libraries News, 72(4), 217-220.
Gadsby, J & Qian, S (2012) Using an iPad to redefine roving reference service in an academic library, Library Hi Tech News, 29(4), 1-5. doi: 10.1108/07419051211249446
After one quarter with a tablet it has been useful for what I thought it would be useful for: helping students when I am away from a computer (say, in the reference collection or sitting at a table in the Learning Commons) and in meetings. This doesn't suprise me since I have been using my personal iPad for similar tasks since I've had it.
But after one quarter with the Nexus, do I like it? Not really. I like the mobility, but I have really grown to dislike both the dimensions of the screen and the Android operating system. I didn't think there would be that much different between using Android and Apple's iOS, but there was just enough difference that it bugged me. The keyboard is just different enough that I hunt and peck. Some apps I want to experiment with in Android aren't available. And, really, when it comes down to it--I just don't like it.
Some of my dislike of the Nexus is nothing more than personal preference, but if we were to purchase tablets for use in R&I, I don't think the Nexus or any other Android device is the right way to go. And my reason is based on my what a lot of people like about it: It's flexibility. While it is nice to have flexibility to set things up they way you want, the iPad is, honestly, more intuitive. And easier. And nicer.
But maybe that's just me.
I'll keep using the Nexus for as long as I have it, but based on some more recent experiences (it's been crashing; I had problems after I changed the password on my universal login), I'm not a fan.
Lately my biggest challenge with the tablet is editing documents, mainly Word files. Due to a university committee I'm on, I've been meeting almost weekly with a task force charged with writing a report for the Provost. When possible, task force members have been bringing their laptops so we can work on files during our meeting. The problem is, we've been trading Word files as opposed to work in Google Docs (long story).
Google Docs (now called Google Drive) will allow you to view Word files but not edit them--at least not how I want to edit them. So, I went searching for a free Word editor for the Nexus. I tried two different apps DocumentsToGo and OliveOffice.
DocumentsToGo: I was familiar with DocumentsToGo from the dark ages (about ten years ago) when I had a personal digital assistant (PDA) and DocumentsToGo was software that let me edit MS Office files on my PDA and then upload them to my computer via USB. Because of this familiarity, I tried this one first. I abandoned it almost as soon as I opened it. Why? Pretty much everything I wanted to do required the pruchase of an add-on.
Olive Office: This one had decent rating and was free... so pretty much everything I want in an app. It appears to work okay, but I have to admit I haven't used it much and I run into some of the same issues I've had in the past: when it saves, where does it go? I can see the fill structure when I try to save, but when I go looking for the file, I can't figure out where the folders are. The menu is a little odd I believe there are options to synch Google Drive, but I haven't spent much time playing with it.
And while these are nice, neither of these apps allow me to wok simulateously with others on a Word file, and in the end, that's what I want to do. With the university looking at Office 365, it makes me wonder if this concern may be a thing of the past.
I've had the Nexus for just under a month.
After a month, the Nexus' strong point is still very simple: Mobility. It's strong point is still being able to grab it and work with a student while I am at the consult desk in the Leanring Commons or use it with a student during an appointment. While I know others are experimenting with chat and have used it to cover virtual reference services while in meetings or when called away, I haven't found the Nexus to be useful for that. As mentioned in previous posts, it's mainly due to the size of the screen.
So how have I been using it with students? I've been using it just like I would a laptop. Earlier this week a student met with me to talk about some advanced marketing research. She brought in her laptop, I grabbed the Nexus and we sat at a table in the Wilson 2W area. it was easier to talk and easier to work than sitting in my office.
With the Nexus, I was able to search the article databases to show examples and she was able to apply what I explained as she searched on her laptop. It is a simple use and it is, as far as I am concerned, the tablets best use.
I take it with me to the Research Consult Desk and I use it from time to time, but not as much as I used to. I have used it to help others when there were multiple people waiting for help.
I still take it to meetings, but that is beginning to lose its lustre--again, mainly becuase of the screen. It is just a teeny bit smaller than my iPad and I find it frustrating. Also, the wireless is more of an issue in meeting rooms and offices than it is in the open study areas (although sometimes wireless connectivity in the Learning Commons area can be spotty).
Do I like it? Yes. After a month does it still appeal to me as a tool to use when working with students? Absolutely. Would the Nexus be my first choice? No.
I think one thing that we need to remember with tablets is that they aren't computers or laptops and not even netbooks. Considering how much we do online, they are very useful, but we don't do everything online so there are still some limitations.
- Mobility (this is a really big one)
- Outlook (still)
- The dimensions. The screen is too long/narrow.
- Keyboard. This is partly due to the fact that I am used to the iPad keyboard, but it is also tied to screen dimensions because the navigation tools are part of the screen.
- Lack of apps. I have to admit, I haven't spent a lot of time looking for apps. Most of what I use are links I bookmarked to the homescreen. But looking through the Google Play store, I still didn't see much that interested me.
I took a couple of screenshots of chat on the Nexus. As mentioned, the dimensions of the screen are different than an iPad (the Nexus is more of a widescreen when used in the portrait view). The on-screen keyboard makes chat almost impossible. The pop-up chat box is outlined in red--this is where I enter my reposnes. The questions from the user and our convertations would be above it and aren't visible.
The chat window is visible is you use the Nexus in portrait mode (see below), but the keyboard is difficult to use. If we wanted to use these for chat on a regular basis, two things would need to change: 1) Better wireless, and 2) we'd need external keyboards.
I have been slow to adopt the Dell for meeting notes, but have recently taken it to two meetings, and found that note-taking is pretty easy. The tablet has Word installed, and some of the functionality is a bit funky with touch, but overall it works ok. I'm also getting used to typing on a smaller keyboard, and one where the keys don't move. It's a weird sensation at first.
So, for something that doesn't focus on poor wireless signals or odd screen dimensions, I'll turn to eBooks.
They work well. Very well. I viewed a book on my Nexus without any problems. I had to install the Bluefire Reader app, but that was easy.
In my first blog post I mentioned I didn't know where downloaded documents went. I could view files in other apps (Bluefire opens all PDF files I view), but donwloaded documents were a myster to me. The other day while looking for something else, I discovered the Downloads app on the Nexus app screen (a set of pre-installed, Google-dominant apps).
I had a "duh" moment.
I double booked myself again, so with relief took my iPad to a meeting in Wilson 268 so I could cover Chat! Thought all was well until I noticed that the Chat page had me up and running for 1 minute - constantly. I suspected I lost contact with the wireless . . . .
This morning my plan was to write a blog post about using the Nexus for reference chat (simply put: It isn't easy due to the size of the screen) using the Nexus to compose the post. This would allow me to both touch on chat and attempt to upload images/screenshots I took with the Nexus directly from the Nexus.
Since I am currently typing this on my computer and I'm not posting any screenshots, you can guess how it worked out.
Let's start with chat
Chat doesn't work well on the Nexus. The dimension of the screen is narrower than the iPad, so when the keyboard pops up, the chat box (which is part of the browser) is covered up. You can see it if you are in the portrait mode, but the keyboard is more difficult to use. Also not so good: No notifications. Notifications in tablets are usually tied to apps as opposed to websites, and Springshare doesn't offer a chat app and from what it sounds like, they don't intend to put much effort into developing one.
I have tested chat in the iPad and it works better as long as you allow pop-ups and don't use private browsing. I normally don't allow pop-ups and I use private browsing, so on my personal iPad, once I changed my settings it worked. But like the Nexus: No visual and audio notifications.
Simply put: Chat is not ideal with tablet and the only one it seems to work well at all is the iPad, because the dimensions of the screen allow you to both use the one-screen keyboard and see the full chat window. But because there aren't notifications, the best thing to do would be to only use tablets for chat when you aren't multi-tasking. Several of us have done this while in meetings when we were pulled away from both the reference consult area and our offices. It worked in that type of situation.
Now on to blogging:
Let me start with this: my major issues with blogging from the Nexus were with Drupal. Blogging platforms like Tumblr, Wordpress, and Blogger are set up to work with tablets and other mobile devices. But this blog is in Drupal and it turns out it doesn't not play will with the mobile platform. It may be easier with an iPad, but I doubt it.
Problems I had:
Uploading images: I tried uploading them directly from the Nexus Gallery, but the images were too big. I tried to use the image upload directory in Drupal. it worked, but it was extremely clunky and slow. It did allow me to resize images but it wasn't easy. The worst part was when I would upload the image, anything text I had typed would disappear. Talking about typing: The screen on the Nexus is so narrow that the keyboard takes up about half the screen--that alone is a problem--and as you type in Drupal the text box does not move so anything you type disappears under the screen keyboard. You have to stop to manually scroll to your text. Not cool.
And of course, there were problems with the wireless. I could not get a steady wireless signal in my office, so I moved to the LC area. The WWUWireless was consistent but the secured network was not. This meant anything I typed was lost when the browser would prompt me to re-login to the network. This happened three time. After two hours of frustration, I gave up.
While neither of these things, chatting or blogging, will be the main use of tablets, I wanted to see how far the use of the Nexus can be pushed. Right now, it doesn't seem to be much farther than basic web browsing.
Reference/Research Help: The Bright Spot:
So far, outside of using it in meetings, the Nexus is most useful for working with patrons. Just today, in a two-hour span, I used it three different ways with three different students.
As I was working with one student on a laptop, another student wanted to know if we had a book. I used the Nexus to look up the book in the catalog; we didn't have it, but it was in Summit. I let him use the Nexus to login to his Summit account and request the book.
When the student I was helping needed to move to the reference collection, I used the Nexus to look up a few reference titles. While in the ref collection, I used the Nexus to look up an organization listed in the Encyclopedia of Associations and found their trade journal and some other info that looked useful.
And then, as we were changing research consult shifts, Rebecca was helping a student, so I used the Nexus to help a waiting student--and this involved another trip to the reference section and some more digging online while there.
- Using it to work one-on-one, face-to-face with students. This is where it shines and is the most useful. This may jut be one "like," but it's an important one.
- Once again: The wireless
- Blogging in Drupal. Terrible. This can cause some issues with posting screenshots. My guess is that I will have to transfer them to my computer and post them. It's a very clunky workaround. But... in general, blogging in the current set up in Drupal is far from ideal
- Chatting: Also not good. Much of this has to do with the dimensions of the Nexus screen.
There was one final preliminary task I wanted to do as a basic introduction to this tablet, and that was to look at ebooks.
It is very easy to read an ebook on this device, and resizing the text is quite simple; contrast is good; and scrolling from page-to-page seamless (although some pages take awhile to load -- that's probably the wireless). But downloading the book seems impossible. Adobe Digital Edition software is required and there is no app for that available. So I'll have to be satisfied with reading online vs downloading, which is fine.
All for now.
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