Session Review from Merlot/Sloan-C Conference

This is the first in a series of reviews on the sessions I’ve attended at the 5th Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium.   These are sessions from Wednesday.

Getting Started with iBook Author

As the title suggests this session was about the software iBook Author.  For our purposes, the most useful part of the session was the first 15 minutes focused on the capabilities and limitations of iBook Author.  

I’ll start with the limitations since they’re pretty substantial.  iBook Author can only be used to publish books viewable on an iPad — not a MacBook, not an iPhone, and certainly not on non Apple products.   Given the importance of Open Education/Open Access to the MELO project this is a major drawback.   We should insist on using cross-platform tools for developing interactive texts for our courses.  

Other limitations on the interactivity are: no web plug-ins are allowed (i.e. no internet connectivity), no java, and no local file access.  These are all security features — but the first two

On the plus side its fun to think about the possibilities for interactive texts.  The iBooks publishable by iBooks Author can include embedded audio/video, presentations from Keynote, and various HTML ‘widgets’ (like on a Mac Dashboard).  The latter is perhaps the most fun as it would allow for using similar interfaces across content from different courses.  

Unfortunately, the best example widget given was a review widget allowing students to check their understanding.  This is great — if not overly imaginative — but does not allow for feedback other than correct/incorrect.   

The negatives here are reflective of the software and the needs of our specific environment.  For users with iPads as part of the classroom environment this would be an easy-to-use tool for making interactive materials.

Despite the generally negative review of the software, I’d like to give kudos to the presenters Russ White and Jeanne Sewell.  The presentation was informative and appeared to be very useful to others in the room.  For my part, I appreciated the truth in advertising aspect of their being up front about the this tool.  A nice tool, but not for our job.

Demystifying iOS Programming

This session was a straightforward run through of getting started with developing an iOS app through X-Code.  The basics: use X-Code and ‘UIKit’ with ‘storyboards’ which are controllers that live outside the source code and optimize the navigation ideas.

The middle part of the session was on extending iOS programming language (creating classes, methods, etc.) and was a bit over my head.  It seems there are good iOS developer tutorials on the web (there are free accounts available for universities) that would be a good place to get started with this.

A question from a participant near the end raised a useful discussion.  If functionality for an LO exists as HTML code, it can be made quickly into an app by wrapping UIwebview (?) around the HTML, possibly with the navigation replaced by native navigation (storyboards) to  speed things up. This might make for quick app development, while allowing cross-platform capabilities through the core HTML code.



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