Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Talking to birds with the iPad

Today my animal behavior class headed down to Tryon Creek Natural Area to learn more about how different aspects of the environment can constrain animal communication.  Instead of taking my field guide, I brought along my iPad, loaded with the "Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America".  This app provides a searchable catalog of regional birds, including excellent drawings, range maps, descriptions, and best of all, recordings of each species' vocalizations.

Thus armed, I quickly put it to use, calling up descriptions of the Song Sparrow and Spotted Towhee that we found just outside of Bodine Hall.  It was really easy to just type in the name of the bird and quickly have an image to show the students.  Even better, if you tap on an image, it is shown at higher magnification, which allowed everyone to see better than if they were looking at the smaller images in a field guide.  We followed this basic pattern of seeing a bird, finding it on the iPad, and sharing the image for 17 species of birds and I must say it was much faster and more effective than thumbing through a book.

So, this really worked well for helping with bird IDs... but it was even better as a device for broadcasting bird songs.  At one point, down in the bowels of Tryon Creek we stopped at an area where there was no evidence of any activity.  I told the students that this was the perfect kind of habitat for Pacific Wrens, but that they were very small and inconspicuous, and that we were unlikely to see one until the males start singing their territorial songs in a few more weeks. But then, as an experiment, I played the territorial alert call from my iPad.  Within seconds, a Pacific Wren popped up and started scolding us.  He then proceeded to move all around us, giving the students the best views of this species that I've seen in 14 years of teaching this class.  It was awesome!

About the only problem I had with the iPad was how to carry it.  It is too big to fit in a pocket, and in the field, I needs my hands free to use my binoculars, etc.  For today, I carried the iPad in a spare binoculars case slung over my shoulder, but this didn't feel very secure and I worried about it falling out.  Something to investigate between now and Thursday, when we make our next trip out. If anyone has any suggestions about slings or bags that might work, please let me know.

Winter Wren Photo

Getting Comfortable with Moodle on an iPad

I use moodle for class outlines and material, and was dismayed to discover that when I opened them from within the class moodle page I could not scroll down beyond the opening "screen shot" that appears when the outline opens as a window within the moodle page window. But I learned how to get around this problem. If you haven't learned this secret yet, here are some instructions.

(1) Go to the relevant moodle page and "Turn editing on."
(2) Click the "Update" feature for the item you want to open in a window that can scroll.
(3) Go to the "Options" box and choose "New Window" from the pull-down menu next to the "Display" feature.
(4) Click "Save and return to the course" and you're done.

Next time a few words on the program that I use on the iPad in class to display primary texts. It was the reason I wanted to be a part of the program, and it's working wonderfully.

Overseas with an iPad (1)

I am Greg Hermann, a member of the Biology Department at Lewis & Clark College, and currently leading an overseas program in New Zealand.  I picked up the iPad about a week before heading overseas, so have done most of my work with it while abroad, which presents some unique challenges that I will discuss in the next couple blog postings. 

The major focus of my work with the iPad over the first few weeks of the program has been using it to help create and manage the program "digital journal" that the students have been creating.  You can see it at:  This is a project being put together in collaboration with Jeremy McWilliams, Digitial Services Coordinator at Watzek Library.  In short, students upload images  into their Flickr accounts, write short descriptions of the object being documented, link predefined tags to the image, tag the location of where the image was acquired (or verify that the correct GPS position was uploaded with the digital data), and submit for my approval to upload onto the site.  I have been adding images to the site using the FlickStackr app.  Images are uploaded to the Photostream on my Flickr account from iPhoto using a MacBook Pro.  I have not found an easy way to load/access images from the camera directly onto the iPad, which limits its usefulness at this steps in the process.  Once the images are part of my Photostream, the FlickStackr Ipad app nicely displays them and allows you to  title, annotate, and geotag (define the location) them.  I especially like the Location feature in which you use a Google map to zoom in on the location where the image was acquired and with a simple Set command drop a pin at the site of capture. 

Of course all of this works through WiFi access to the internet, which is not always easy to come by, even in a well developed country like New Zealand.  More on that in an upcoming blog post.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Grading Essay Exams with GoodReader

My first goal for my new iPad was to be able to grade my Intellectual Property Survey exams using the GoodReader App.  I was able to quickly locate and download the GoodReader App.  The next step was to be able to load my students’ exam answers onto my iPad inside the Good Reader App.

Students at the law school began using ExamSoft this semester to take their essay exams.  ExamSoft results in digital files uploaded to a secure server.  For all classes, our TIPS (Text and Image Production Services) department then prints out those exam answers in hard copy for grading.  The essay answers for my class ranged from 15 to 25 pages, double-spaced.  In big classes with 60 or 70 students, my ability to grade digitally will save, literally, reams of paper.  This is important to me personally and also to the law school that has one of the leading environmental law programs in the country.  Last year the faculty adopted a sustainable paper policy, which aims to “reducing overall paper consumption” at the law school.

ExamSoft can generate a pdf file of each exam answer – with the push of a button.  Indeed the software can generate a zip file of all of the answers for a particular class in seconds.  I asked one of our TIPS wizard, Andy Marion, to generated a zip file for each of my two classes and email me the file.  Then all I had to do was figure out how to get those pdf files onto my iPad.  I decided to use dropbox to transfer files.  After unzipping the files on my PC and loading the pdf files to a designated folder on dropbox, I then was able to sync that folder with GoodReader and begin grading. 

I want to provide my students with feedback on their exam essays.  I decided to use two main ways of providing feedback.  First, I used a basic color coded highlighting for generalized feedback:  Green highlights means the statement is an accurate and good statement in the context of the exam question.  Second, I used the comment box function to insert typed comments.  The color of the comment box also was similarly color coded. 

GoodReader provides lots of different annotation tools.  For this “first time out” I used only two:  the highlighting and the pop-up boxes, although I experimented with lots of the tools.  Below is one page of an exam retrieved in Adobe on a PC that shows the use of many of the annotation tools available in GoodReader:

The red and yellow triangles indicate an embedded comment.  When you put your cursor over the triangle, a box with the comment appears – see the yellow triangle example at the bottom of the above page.  GoodReader also has a function that will let you “flatten” the document so that each triangle is numbered and the contents of the comments appear at the end.  I tested the annotated files in both Adobe Reader and Adobe Pro, and both permit the pop-up box to show, so I don’t see a need to “flatten” the documents.

The first time you seek to add notations to a pdf file in GoodReader, you will be asked if you want to save the annotated file under a different file name, and where you want to save the file.  I had to think that through a bit because, ultimately, I need to be able to “hand” back the exams to the students.  This is just something to think through when you start using this method of grading.  Students email me asking to review their exams and I am able to email them back the annotated pdf of their exam answer, along with a short note about the color coding I used.

I also needed to keep track of the scores for each of the seven questions that were on the exam.  I started out by having a separate pdf file that is my detailed score sheet.  This didn’t work too well as I had to keep switching between the two pdf files for each exam.  After grading the first two questions this way, I switched to a paper print out grade sheet for each exam.  While I was disappointed to not be able to complete my grading entirely digitally, I was, overall, quite happy with the experience!

Overall, the experience was a very positive one.  I was able to take what would have been a heavy and HUGE stack of papers with me as I traveled Washington D.C. for the annual AALS conference during the semester break.  I got a lot of grading done on the airplane – all I needed was my iPad!