Using some money from an in-house grant for pedagogical improvements, I purchased an iPad. I’ve long been a believer in the archival of course content. Since the only SMARTBoard available to me was several buildings away and was in a space that could not be regularly scheduled for courses, I figured that I could try to make something work. The iPad fit the bill. I’ll elaborate on this more in a few paragraphs.
Using the iPad in the Classroom
This is not an original idea. I had learned of the use of tablets from my undergraduate university–particularly Drs. K. Renee Fister and Maeve L. McCarthy. They had been awarded an HP Tablet grant and had written about their experiences at
I highly recommend the read.
Why the iPad?
- This is a tool that can clearly be used for more than one thing. At the time, I was only MARGINALLY certain that I could use it in a classroom.
- Note Taker HD – This is the app that seemed most reasonable for the usage of SMARTBoard mimicry. There was nothing like it on the Droid tablets.
- Price! At the time, it was $500 for a refurbished iPad (much cheaper now) at 32 GB versus a brand new 16 GB iPad. The refurb came with an identical warranty to a brand new iPad. Android tablets were starting at 600-700 dollars. I just wasn’t willing to spend that kind of money.
- The app store. It is impressive.
- The interface. If you haven’t tried an iPad out yet, just do it. I’m sure the iPad 2 is a phenomenal experience as well.
I accessorized. I knew that I could never write neatly with my fingertip, so I purchased a stylus. I purchased the Griffin Technology Stylus. It works great. Apparently it is the same stylus that other manufacturers sell, only shorter. I bought some screen protectors since I drop and scratch everything. Finally, I also bought a flip cover in order to safely transport the iPad.
Note Taker HD is amazing! I use it almost entirely for taking notes in meetings and emailing them out in .PDF format instantly thereafter. What made this app usable for the classroom was the fact that it was one of only a few writing apps that projected to the VGA dock adapter (which I also purchased from Apple at $30). (Note: the newest edition of Note Taker HD is far more amazing than the first.) What left me unhappy with NTHD was that I remained tethered to the wall via a VGA cable. It was better than nothing, but not the wireless classroom that I had hoped to have.
The tool that did it for me was Air Sketch Pro by a company named Qrayon. Although not as feature-rich (no Cartesian coordinate planes, timestamping, etc.) as NTHD, Air Sketch does something that no other apps do–it wirelessly transmits. Air Sketch (Pro, the paid edition) creates a web server on the iPad. Then, using any HTML 5 browser, one can browse to the page projected via Air Sketch Pro (ASP, from now on). ASP embeds itself in the menu system for the iPad allowing PDF files to be opened directly. One can then annotate each page of the PDF file using a variety of line-thicknesses and colors. When finished, the annotated file can be sent via email and then posted to the course software.
As another note, you can try out both NTHD and ASP in free versions out of the Apps Store.
Were there problems? Of course. The primary dilemma for the use of ASP was the wireless network in our science building. I taught my Calc II course in a classroom that was on the outer wall, on the top floor. Wireless access was poor. The manifestation of a less-than-stable wireless network connection was an ASP scenario that was…flakey. In spaces where the wireless networking was exceptional, the iPad+ASP combination was powerful. This combination allowed me to be mobile in the classroom and not tied to a podium, desk, or wall-mounted board. One example was from our discussion on the volume of an object using cylindrical shells at the following link.
I gave out surveys to my students. As soon as some results are tabulated, I’ll post them. I spoke on the usage of the iPad at the Project NExT-SE meeting at Tuscaloosa, AL in March, 2011. This idea is definitely not well-explored.
Feel free to add commentary!