In a prior post, I discussed the IT productivity paradox, and the three main reasons that reduced productivity is sometimes observed in the aftermath of dramatically increased IT: (1) mismeasurement of productivity, (2) poor useability of IT, and (3) poor implementation of IT. I discussed the first of these in the last post, and I discuss the second in this post.
A recent article in the New England Journal of Medecine gives a great example of poor useability:
[I]n the mid-1980s, the Internal Revenue Service purchased 18,000 computers and specialized software, hoping to increase the productivity of field agents. However, the new system required agents to load as many as 18 different diskettes to perform a single audit. Productivity dropped by 40%, and most agents refused to continue to use the system.
I have experienced useability issues in trying to incorporate the iPad into the classroom. As background, I should mention that I started using a SMARTBoard six years ago, and I love the way it lets me annotate and save pre-made slides in the classroom. Over the last five years I have also used a Windows tablet PC (first an IBM Thinkpad, then a Dell notebook, and now an HP notebook) with PPT slides as a virtual whiteboard. I attach the tablet to a projector and then use the stylus to mark up the PPT slides. This method has also worked well to create video podcasts (using Camtasia) to post for out-of-class viewing. And this all worked well because the handwriting capture on a Windows tablet PC has been amazing -- great feel of the stylus in my hand, precise interaction between the stylus and the software, and great resolution of the handwriting.
When the new iPad (i.e., iPad 3) came out, I was hoping it would have the features I loved about using the Windows tablet PC in class: virtual whiteboard and great handwriting feel and recognition. And I even dared hope that the new iPad might actually un-tether me from the podium via wireless interaction with a projector. Well, we're not quite there yet, hence my mentioning this in a post on useability. None of the virtual whiteboard apps for the new iPad are as good as PPT on a Windows tablet PC for creating slides before class, and then for annotating in class. Also, every handwriting stylus I have used for the new iPad feels light and odd in my hand, and the handwriting itself is imprecise and downright poor at writing small lettering. And while there are apps that allow you to use the new iPad as a remote for a desktop in the classroom, thus un-tethering me from the podium (see Splashtop and Doceri), those apps merely allow me to control a Windows desktop and are still clunky to use. So, at this point, I have spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to use the new iPad in the classroom and have come up empty. Don't get me wrong -- the new iPad has made me more productive in other ways, but classroom use is not one.
I'd be interested in hearing any tech that has made profs more productive, as well as any tech dead ends that I ought to steer clear of.