MP3 Players Help Meeting Attendees Store Information

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons gave each of their 3,500 meeting attendees iPod Touch devices loaded with meeting content and give them reasons to use it all year long.

What's the great idea? Provide content-loaded iPod Touch devices to annual meeting attendees and then use them all year long.

Who's doing it? American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS)

What's involved? When neurosurgeons take part in continuing education, they receive a lot of documents. Carrying hundreds of pages around during a meeting can be a heavy burden, so AANS lightened the load by distributing iPod Touch devices already filled with content at its annual meeting. At no additional cost to attendees, AANS provided 3,500 iPods downloaded with a meeting-specific application, plus videos, podcasts, and documents relevant to the education offerings.

Executive Director Thomas Marshall and Deputy Executive Director Ron Engelbreit worked with Apple directly and were able to order the iPods at an educational discount. After an unsuccessful outsourcing of the content download, Engelbreit decided that AANS staff could load the devices on their own. Using some spare computers, Engelbreit, the AANS IT director, temporary employees, and staff spent two weeks—including late nights and weekends—configuring the devices.

"The list of things that we had to do to the device was quite large," says Engelbreit. "We needed to make sure that the device had the Philadelphia time zone … we changed the wallpaper to our logo. … We had to download our app … two apps for two vendors … and we had to download seven videos and seven podcasts. … And make sure that the battery was charged."

Before the conference began, the AANS website posted videos and how-tos on using the iPod. During the conference, a brief tutorial was offered as attendees received their devices at registration. Plus, younger members familiar with the technology volunteered to help troubleshoot with other attendees throughout the event.

What are people saying? "I was 99.9 percent certain the technology would work. … I think my fear was the thing I couldn't control: whether the members liked it or not," says Marshall. Most members, Marshall says, didn't know what an iPod Touch was, and only a third of them owned iPhones. "But happily, almost amazingly, it was overwhelmingly well received. We actually overplanned for the support and teaching that we had given them. We had too many assistants."

Engelbreit says AANS currently offers videos and podcasts every few weeks and will continue to distribute content throughout the year for its frequent weekend courses and educational offerings.

"We keep giving members a reason to get used to it," says Marshall, "whether they attended the annual meeting or not. That was there right from the beginning [of planning] in terms of not just using it for the next annual meeting but to incorporate electronic-device communication as a learning style in AANS offerings."