After escaping the pirates who took over my session in the morning and finding coffee, I went to the session on mobile computing led by two people from the University of Zurich. The session began with a demonstration of a course developed there several years ago. This particular course is targeted primarily at students to teach them techniques of working with sources in archives.
The version I was able to access didn’t seem to have the full functionality being shown on the screen in the room, but it is clearly a nice tool for students to use as they begin to poke around in digital collections in archives. Given my limited German these days, I may have missed some of the most important points, so when I have more time, I’ll poke around the project some more to see what it can do.
Among the questions that came up in the session were: What are your experiences with apps; what specific comments do you have on the app demonstrated; what needs should an app fulfill; what are the key technical questions; how do we take into account the fact that not everyone will have a smartphone/mobile device?
One of the questions discussed was the degree to which mobile computing has penetrated the student population. I know in the case of George Mason, it seems that maybe only half of our students still have easy access to mobile computing. But how much longer will this be true?
Another important question on the technical side is the difficulty in making sure your app will work on multiple platforms? Keeping up with the constant changes/needs to support different devices seemed to some in the room as more than academics can afford to do such sork.
The app I want is one where I can go into an archive with my mobile device, work in Zotero, take pictures of the documents I’m working with, and have them uploaded in a frictionless way to my Zotero database. Right now, I have to take the pictures with my camera, download them, resize/rename them, then upload them, which will take me days. If you are an app developer and create such an app, please email me right away!
My request led to a wide-ranging discussion of the cloud, user interfaces, “creeping featurism” (a term I like a lot), and how many devices will we be using when doing our research? Some argued that one day in the near future we will have only two — a phone and a tablet. Microsoft seems to be betting on this kind of a shift with Windows 8.
At least one university (Washington State) is offering a course in summer 2012 for mobile apps in the humanities. Perhaps we should all plan on spending a week in Vancouver this June? More on their summer Digital Humanities Institute is available here.
Another interesting conversation revolved around what is “the toolbox” the historian or the history student needs as she walks around? Which of these should be mobile?