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Notes toward an iPhone app: Reading Texts with Enkidu

image by flickr user oskay / cc licensed

image by flickr user oskay / cc licensed

This past summer, I TA’d a pilot program in Jason Jones’ class where every student was loaned an iPod touch for the duration of the session. It was an admittedly bumpy process, though fun – several assignments were invented days – possibly hours – before they were assigned. [Ed. note: A full post on this--including the reason for the improv--is coming next week!] At the end of the class, I asked if I could present one of my own, a sort of soft review of the iPod as a platform. I asked the students what they wish they had on the device; what magical app could they dream up that would solve all of their problems with the class?

One group decided they were going to re-invent the Kindle. An e-book reader with specific texts for the class on the iPods. They assumed that, if the campus was full of iPods,  then professors would be compelled to offer iPod-ready versions of their literature. They surmised that the ebook reader would make it easier to quote (click on a quote or selection, get a bibliography-ready reference) and would ease the strain on their backs, and perhaps their wallets.

Another  group wanted a social reading experience. While reading a text, you could find media online – like music, movies, and images, and connect it to particular selections. This was likely influenced by Jason’s particular manner of pedagogy- while reading The Táin, he made sure to give a listen to the Decemberists album based off of the epic. They figured that by imprinting your own particular context into a piece of text, you could bring both your understanding of it into brighter focus, and provide new perspectives for other readers – not unlike  literary analysis usually found in class, but now with moving pictures.

The third main group came out to the idea of collaborative reading. Imagine a live book on your ipod that was connected to the other iPods reading the same book. With a hard-press or some cool multitouch action, you could snap your friends screens to a quote. It would allow you to direct a group to a specific piece of text, and allow them to explore from there. They imagined syncing up ipods to a particular presentation – like a powerpoint on crack!

As they were talking, an idea formed between them. If you take all of their ideas and combine them you get something pretty awesome – an ebook application that allows for collaborative reading and analysis with the addition of personalized contextual media. Professors could direct students to particular quotes, even track individual progress through the reading. Students could pepper their texts with things that they are reminded of, media and links that enhance the book for other readers. Perhaps a web application to manage these various versions of the book? As a Professor, you get to let readers see new insights into the book (perhaps ‘unlocking them’ after the initial read-through, reinforcing close reading) and as a student, you get rewards and incentives for paying attention, as well as a very easy, manageable platform for traditional studies / paper writing. Your class becomes awesomely organized and suddenly alive with technology – all for a cost very likely under your traditional smart classroom, and using a piece of tech they students are likely familiar with.

There are legal issues present in that app, without a doubt, and the creation of such an app would require in depth knowledge of programming – It’s mostly a pipe dream, at this point. This mythical app – code named Enkidu, the interpreter of dreams from the Epic of Gilgamesh – is something that I have spent a good while working on conceptually, and I think both myself and Jason are confident enough to suggest that it might be one NEH grant away from actual reality. I’d personally love to built it, and I want to know if you’d like to have it. What would you like from an app like Enkidu? What key features in classroom management would make the lives of ProfHackers everywhere easier, and make students more involved in tomorrows technology, yesterday’s text, and today’s class?

I look forward to hearing about it!

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