The Right Tablet

I’m not sure I would call myself a technophile.  While I try to make sure that my current tech setup is just a little bit better than what I currently need (I tend to buy a new laptop about every four or five years, and I make sure that it has more than enough memory and storage for my audio and graphics needs), I don’t usually jump out and buy the newest “toy”–um, tool–when it comes out.  Case in point: the tablet.  The iPad has been out for over three years now.  There are now PC tablets that match or out-perform it.  Many of my colleagues put them to good use.  I simply haven’t been able to justify the expense until now.

MacBook Pro

Because, frankly, I didn’t need it.  My sturdy MacBook Pro provided everything I needed and more.  I downloaded videos from Youtube and Vimeo, and ripped scenes that I needed for teaching from DVDs (fair use!), all from the comfortable user-friendly environment of Macintosh’s iOS. I used iMovie to make polished clips for use in class, a necessary tool as a teacher of music and media.  To fill my PC gaming needs (a side interest that allows me to participate more fully in small screen academic conversations, since I’m a TV music scholar), I purchased a desktop tower that should last me at least another six years before upgrade is necessary.  I had Microsoft and Mac (almost) right where I needed them.

And then my needs changed.

This summer, I decided that I was going to flip the course I’m teaching in the fall, a first-year undergraduate writing course that’s focusing on popular music as its general subject.  I’m not just going to be teaching writing–I’ll be teaching about music, culture, and consumerism as well.  And at the core of this class is the fact that students should be gaining life-long skills: the ability to question society and media, the ability to research and critique these things, and the ability to write about them clearly and effectively.  I decided that I wanted to send as much time in class practicing skills instead of imparting information. Because, in the end, it’s about my students these skills.

This requires something that my current laptop and desktop setup simply couldn’t provide: the ability to video record the screen as I write on it, by hand.  I could have done this with my current set up, but not nearly as well or as convincingly–using a mouse for handwriting is difficult.  The hunt for a tablet was on.

Now, here I had several choices to make.  Did I go with a tablet? Or with a laptop/tablet convertable?  Did I choose Mac or PC?  What programs did I want to use?  What OS?  What hardware did I need it to work with?

Ultimately, I decided that if I was going to buy a new tool, then I wanted it to replace my current laptop.  (This is a plus for me personally, because my MacBook gets passed on to my parents, who are currently trying to run their household on one of the oldest PC laptops I’ve ever seen.  I can’t believe my mother hasn’t “accidentally” spilled coffee on it.)   I needed to be able to take whatever I bought to a library or coffee shop to research and write, since I don’t do all of my work at home.  So, the new tablet needed to be a workable laptop/tablet mix.  I also decided that I was going to forsake Mac (egads) for PC, since I have a PC desktop at home and it’s simply easier if both stations use the same OS.  The decision was made: a PC Windows convertible.

I chose the Windows Surface Pro (SP).  After much research (and a very painful stint with the Surface RT–don’t do it), I decided that the SP had the right mix of tablet functions while retaining a laptop-like OS system.  This means that, while I can use tablet apps, I can also download any software needed for more advanced work–including the Microsoft Office Suite (I still prefer PowerPoint), Ableton Live, and, if I ever decide I need to install it on the SP, Adobe Premiere.

Microsoft Surface Pro

So far, it’s worked wonderfully.  In fact, I find the touchscreen function so useful that I forget I’m doing it.  Every time I return to my desktop, I accidentally touch the screen to highlight something before I remember that, hey, only my tablet lets me do that.  It’s also small enough to fit in my mid-sized purse, and so light that I sometimes forget I’m carrying it.  The included stylus is entirely bug free.  More importantly, I’ve been able to record video lectures on the SP–my initial reason for needing the tablet–and I couldn’t be happier.

Well, actually, I could.  Up to this point, this post has taken the tone of an advert for the Surface Pro. (You’re welcome, Microsoft.)  The fact is, I’m very pleased with it.  But the experience could definitely be better.

The SP has some serious drawbacks, ones that should be considered before purchase–and that could possibly lead you to buy an iPad instead.


First of all, when I dropped the Mac system I lost a lot of great software.  I used iMovie quite a bit, and had been dependent on Mainstage 2 for live keyboard performance.  Final Cut Pro is no longer an option for when I need something more robust than iMovie.   Now I use Adobe Premiere on my desktop (because, let’s be honest, Windows Movie Maker just doesn’t cut it) and I’m going to be trying Ableton Live for performance. I still haven’t figured out the best way to rip scenes from DVDs for use in my (fully legal) lecture slides, while this was very easy to do on my MacBook. In addition, Mac has a lot of other great A/V and educational apps that are simply not an option for me anymore.  Many of the really useful teaching apps and lecture tools are Mac-based.  I’m not happy about losing all of this, but it’s what I traded in for the other benefits of the SP.

Secondly, there are some hardware issues; namely, the SP only has one USB port.  Usually this isn’t a problem, but since I use my portable computer for live performance, it helps to have two ports.  Now I have to purchase a new audio interface so that I can run both midi in and midi out.  This is really just a personal loss, given my own technological needs. Frankly, the SP has RAM and storage to spare, so that’s not an issue at all.

What I gained:

  • Touch-screen capability 
  • A high-functioning, light laptop/tablet convertible
  • The ability to easily share files between both of my computers
  • The ability to use PowerPoint (instead of Keynote) when lecturing
  • The ability to make screen capture video recordings of document mark-ups

What I lost:

  • Some really effective and easy-to-use Apple software
  • My live performance setup (i.e., Mainstage 2 and two USB ports)

This is the short of it. Basically, my SP is not perfect, but considering what I had to give up and what I’m getting, I’m happy with the decision.  Others will probably prefer the iPad.  Still others, one of the many PC tablets that runs on Android. It all comes down to your own personal and academic needs.

I’m sure I’ll write a post soon on useful software and apps for teaching with the SP, and probably for Apple and Android tablets as well, since we’re all in it together.  If others have thoughts about their tablet usage and the software they prefer, throw in a comment.

CFP: Tech Wars: The Social and Aesthetic Dimensions of New Media Innovation

SCMS conference panel
deadline: 7/31/13

full name / name of organization: 
Aviva Dove-Viebahn
contact email:

Tech Wars: The Social and Aesthetic Dimensions of New Media Innovation

Google Glass promises a seamless integration of the best aspects of mobile technology with our daily lives. Blogs and micro-blogs allow us to record everything from our most profound thoughts to minutiae for the entertainment of a potential audience of millions. Video game consoles trend more and more towards virtual reality. The proliferation of social media networks and the social pressure to “belong” speak to our ostensible ever-growing desire for increased connectivity. Tech-related advertisements, from campaigns for computers and tablets to the promotion of specific internet browsers and email servers, anthropomorphize products or capitalize on tech rivalries to garner users.

Read more…

Call for Papers

“Teaching With New Media”

A panel to be proposed for the 2014 Society for American Music national conference
March 5–9, 2014
Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square (Lancaster, PA)
DEADLINE for abstracts: May 29, 2013
SEND ABSTRACTS TO: Jessica Getman (jgetman AT umich DOT edu)


New Media is an evolving group of online creative practices that rely upon the interplay of technology, visual arts, and sound. It is by nature dynamic and accessible, interactive and participatory, encouraging collaboration and the wide exchange of ideas. In the past decade, technological innovations such as YouTube, Facebook, Skype, and Spotify have changed the structure and pace of global society by encouraging and facilitating an interconnected world. This has had an impact on post-secondary education: on what students expect from university courses and their professors, and on the ways professors approach pedagogy. Though music is entwined in this New Media world, and though New Media promises to provide effective tools for music pedagogy, its presence in the discourse and practice of the instruction of American music is still rather limited. With all of this new and continuously developing software at our disposal and the ways it promises to benefit the learning environment, professors—and especially professors in a field as media-friendly and media-dependent as musicology—must come to terms with its possibilities.

This panel considers how to effectively incorporate New Media as a pedagogical tool in the classroom and what role it can play in the music and music history context. In what ways can we use the tools to stimulate discovery, collaboration, participatory learning, and critical thinking? What risks are inherent in the application of new and changing New Media software? How can such barriers, or should such barriers, be overcome? Through the sharing of real-world classroom applications and experiences, this panel aims to stimulate conversation about the utility of New Media in post-secondary musicological pedagogy.

Panel organizers Dr. Paula Bishop (Bridgewater State University) and Jessica Getman (University of Michigan) welcome papers that address this topic from a broad range of perspectives. Some possibilities:

  • Blogging, vlogging, and podcasting as an online, low-stakes area in which to shape ideas and practice communication.
  • Social media and multiple modes of communication.
  • Online music- and video-sharing sites and the exchange of interests as an educational tool.
  • Hands-on media projects created with easily accessible editing software.
  • Collaborative technology and musical creativity.
  • Media course facilitation via course management software.
  • Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs) about music or musical media.
  • Flipped classrooms and activities.
  • Active learning and diverse learning styles.
  • Issues of copyright and fair use in New Media teaching strategies.
  • Personal experiences in teaching with New Media in music courses.

The Society for American Music requests individual paper proposals of 250 words, in addition to a shorter abstract of 100 words. If you are interested in participating in this panel proposal, please send these two versions of your abstract by e-mail to Jessica Getman by May 29, 2013:

Jessica Getman
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
jgetman AT umich DOT edu

We will notify you of whether your abstract will be submitted as part of the proposal by June 1, 2013, and will submit the entire panel proposal by June 3, 2013.

Please also feel free to email Jessica (and/or Paula at pjbishop AT comcast DOT net) if you would like you discuss your interest.