Saturday, March 24, 2012

On traveling with my iPad

I've previously blogged about a substantive app that I found useful while traveling, but I also want to share some thoughts on a few other apps and the use of a wireless keyboard.

I borrowed a wireless keyboard from the IT department to travel with because I intended to try to use my iPad as a substitute for my laptop. In general, I found the wireless keyboard absolutely essential. I cannot imagine how folks "type" using the onscreen keyboard. I am able to use it for very short emails and for populating search bars, etc. but not for taking notes, blogging, or keeping up with work emails. The wireless keyboard solved this problem for me, and I've loved using it. I highly recommend investing in one if you intend to travel with your iPad and you want to use it in lieu of your laptop.

I did, however, find a few aspects frustrating. One of the major issues is the inability to use keyboard shortcuts. While I have not yet explored even close to a significant number of document apps, the ones I have used (GoodReader and CloudOn) do not accommodate the use of keyboard shortcuts. The second major issue I had with the keyboard is switching between using it and not. The iPad doesn't always respond immediately to disabling the wireless keyboard---in other words, if I'm not using the wireless keyboard and want to use the screen keyboard just to type a quick email or Facebook posting, for example, I don't always get the pop-up keyboard. This is the case whether I am pulling my iPad out of my bag after not using it for three hours or whether I have disabled bluetooth and disconnected the keyboard. Even after disabling bluetooth, I had to actually turn my iPad off for a few minutes, then turn it back on to use the on-screen keyboard. The only other issue I had with the keyboard was that in certain apps there is a delay between what you type on the keyboard and when it appears on the screen. This is a minor issue, but it requires that you fastidiously double-check your work and sometimes slow down to let the machines catch-up to each other.

Despite these glitches, again, I found the wireless keyboard to be absolutely essential.

Prior to life with my iPad, I regularly used a few apps on my iPhone while traveling. I have synced these apps to my iPad, and I wanted to share them here because I find them so useful. The first of these apps is "Currency," which as you might guess is a currency converter. This is essential for international travel---it helps with managing your travel budget and filling out expense reimbursement forms as you go. In fact, I can maintain an expense reimbursement form using CloudOn and update it as I go through my day so that when I return I don't have a huge pile of receipts to sort through and enter.

The second related app is JotNotPro. When I am traveling internationally for work, I regularly eat dinner and lunch with groups of colleagues to talk shop. Often each of us needs an itemized receipt but the restaurant is only able to produce one; this is especially true in many developing countries where receipts are handwritten. JotNotPro has allowed me to take a picture of the receipt and the app "scans" it and converts it to a scanned PDF of the receipt, which I can then email directly to my colleagues. When researching apps for my iPad, I read many recommendations for GeniusScan, which seems to be an app quite similar to JotNotPro. Always willing to try something new, I downloaded Genius Scan. I have used both apps while traveling in Dublin, and both work well. I will have to explore more whether one regularly produces better quality scans than the other.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Track Changes and CloudOn

Much of my job benefits from the use of "track changes." When I work with students in my clinic, I find that track changes is a useful way of providing the students with meaningful feedback on their work as well as ensuring that my changes are incorporated directly into the document (balancing the need to get work done for clients within real-world deadlines with effectively teaching students how to do that work). When I work with colleagues around the world on issues related to my practice of international environmental law, track changes is a convenient means of sharing suggestions and evolving a document into a consensus-based reflection of joint work.

Because I travel often for work, I was most excited about using the iPad as a light, easy-to-use laptop substitute, but as I started exploring document production apps, I became concerned that most apps do not support the use of track changes. As I began to research apps that might support track changes, I was quite discouraged . . . until I found a blog posting from a lawyer who blogs about using his iPad in his practice. He suggested using CloudOn but noted that he had not fully explored it.

I immediately downloaded CloudOn for free. You can find it here, along with screen shots of the app at work. CloudOn supports Microsoft word, Powerpoint, and Excel, and as far as I can tell, allows a pretty full range of tools in each program, including track changes! CloudOn works as (obviously) a cloud-based document storage tool and it integrates with Dropbox so that when you get a document by email or have a document on your computer that you want to work on from your iPad you can either open it or download it with CloudOn from your email, which automatically puts it in your Dropbox files, or upload it directly to Dropbox from your computer.

Once your document is in Dropbox, you can open it through CloudOn and begin manipulating it. As suggested, I primarily used track changes in a Word document in my trial run. I ran into a few things that could use updating/revisiting in an updated version. First, I found it really difficult to multitask while using CloudOn. I am currently at an meeting where I have been following an agenda, taking notes, checking email, and working on a document with track changes. I have found that each time I click back to CloudOn to access my track changes document, I have to wait a few seconds and then sometimes also reopen the document which takes time. Moreover, sometimes the document reloads at the beginning of the document, instead of where you left off and scrolling through the document involves some delay, which can be tiresome. My final concern is that using CloudOn with track changes appeared to drain my battery more quickly than other apps. I have, for the most, found the battery to last quite a while, but using CloudOn I was draining it much faster than I have in the past.

There are a couple of really great features as well. For example, the document is continually saving the most recent version to Dropbox, so you do not have to worry about having to continually save as you move through various apps or as you move between your iPad and your computer. I should also mention that you can also use the comment feature to insert comments throughout a document. While not perfect, I enjoyed being able to use track changes from my iPad and I believe that it will significantly increase my productivity when I travel or would otherwise choose to use my iPad instead of my computer.

Given what appears to be a lack of options, I highly encourage folks interested in using track changes on their iPad to download CloudOn. I'd also be happy to hear in the comments if others have worked with other apps that support the use of track changes.

- Erica

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I should begin by saying that I've been delinquent in posting for the usual reasons -- too busy, as we all are -- but also for a more significant cause: I've struggled lately in getting the iPad into my classroom use. I've even considered turning the thing back in out of frustration and with the admission that I'm just too tied to my longstanding habitus in the classroom. I am one of those teachers who prefers to roam the front of the classroom, engaging students in a sort of lecture-dialogue, stopping from time to time at the board to write down their thoughts and mine to create a roadmap of our intellectual progress. That practice has worked well for a long time and it is difficult to integrate iPad use into it. And, quite frankly, I'm not inclined to alter it too aggressively just for the sake of a gadget's use. I tried for a time and soon decided that the interface was just not that much better -- and in fact was worse in some instances -- than using the classroom computer for what I needed to project.

That conclusion sent me searching for alternative uses of the gadget for the broader endeavor of teaching and advising students, and I am happy to report that I've found good reason to feel justified in not returning the thing to Kelly! For now I report on two of the uses I've developed that have enhanced my teaching experience and my students' learning.

(1) Teaching advanced Classical Greek entails reading complete, difficult texts with students (e.g., speeches of Lysias, Plato's dialogues, Greek drama, ancient historians, and occasional documentary papyri). Virtually all of these texts are now available in digital form and are syntactically and grammatically "tagged." That means that you can click on individual words, phrases, and features of the text and acquire in a separate window the technical detail associated with it. Doing this with my Greek 201 and 202 students this semester has been enormously helpful -- we have been able to acquire much finer-grained analyses of the texts we read, and I have been able to drill students in some of the more arcane aspects of the language, which is a real boon for those who want to go on to graduate study in the field.

(2) In my ongoing crusade to eliminate virtually all paper exchanges in teaching I have started tom use GoodReader to grade papers, with some success. Perhaps more important, because the library and the Summit consortium have been so ambitious in acquiring digital editions of journals, trade books, and, most significantly, monographs, I have been able to assign a great deal of reading that does not require students to purchase paper copies of books or print copies of articles. In one great example of the advantage of digitized editions, a new monograph essential for a seminar I am teaching this semester, promised in January 2012 but delayed until the end of April, was released two weeks ago digitally. Acquisitions in our library was able to purchase access to the digital edition for Watzek in a matter of 48 hours and my students are now able to be among some of the first in the world to read this important new work.

More on these sort of uses of the iPad later. Suffice it to say, I have found its uses for my teaching and mentoring of students. They all need to buy one, and Apple needs to think more about making the hardware and software friendly to the teaching, learning, and scholarly enterprise. Sure, the iPad meets the "needs" of game players, picture takers, popular written media consumers, and video watchers well. But it has lots of room for improvement for the educational market.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ipads in the rain

You may have noticed it has been a bit wet here in the Portland area recently.  This has made my field trips for Animal Behavior (Bio 352) a bit challenging, especially when it comes to trying to use an iPad.  Here is what I've learned:

1) The iPad touch screen doesn't really work well when it is covered with raindrops.  The cursor begins jumping around randomly when you touch a part of the screen and applications you want to open may not, while others you don't want to open may pop up.  Obviously, this is not the best situation.

A beautiful picture of a bird, taken with an iPad through a plastic bag

2) Putting your iPad in a plastic ziplock bag keeps it dry, and the sound production isn't muffled all that much, but the camera becomes pretty much worthless.  Above is a shot of a beautiful Black-capped Chickadee... can't you see it... right there... in the tree?  So, for showing students pictures of birds from my Sibley e-guide to birds app, the iPad works fine in a plastic bag, even when it's raining.  Getting images to share, however, is a lost cause.

3) When you are trying to keep your iPad dry when it is raining, you are more likely to drop it.  Yes, I've dropped my iPad out in the field twice... once when I was trying to get it under my raincoat and once when I was trying to put it away in the shoulder bag I've been using to allow my hands to be free.  The second time, of course, I was standing on a concrete walkway, but fortunately, the iPad was housed in my aluminum bodied Logitech case/keyboard, and it was the case, not the iPad that took a bit of cosmetic abuse (see below).  So, all is well, though I think a few students did overhear my expletive when it clattered off the pavement.

You can see the dents in my iPad case...  nothing a bit of judicious sanding won't remedy.

What's the take home message from all of this.  Well, you can use your iPad in the rain, but bring along a plastic bag to keep it dry, and include an underwater camera if you want to take pictures.  And then, remember that your hands will be cold and the iPad will be slippery, so keep it in it's protective case and you will be able to use it the next time you need it...  hopefully when the sun is shining (speaking of which, I do have a clear protective cover over the screen... it has a matte finish, which helps with looking at the screen when there is lots of sun glare (not much of an issue this semester, I'm afraid).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tablet PC use on the Upswing

iPads and other tablet computers may not be going anywhere anytime soon.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Pearson Foundation "tablet ownership among college students and college-bound high school students has more than tripled from a year ago." Tablet PCsportable computing devices typically characterized by touchscreen or pen-interfaceare not only becoming more common, but students see them as a valuable learning resource and expect to see them replace textbooks in the near future. Click here to view the full report in PDF form.

Have you noticed any increase of tablet PC use in your classrooms? Have students been inquiring about digital versions of textbooks? If this is the next trend in learning, how might we need to prepare for these changes?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Initial Impressions

Like others, I've been trying to use the iPad for productivity.  I migrated to LC's Google mail account a few months ago, and the iPad integrates this and my existing private Gmail account seamlessly.  So no trouble there at all.  In fact, it is much easier to use on the fly than the online interface, and you can toggle back and forth between email accounts easily, if you do not want to use the master inbox option.  The one major problem comes if you need to do things like search all emails with attachments, as it seems that the iPad does not have this functionality (clue me in if I am wrong).

Google Docs
Here at Watzek in Collection Development, we share lots of Google Docs, mainly spreadsheets.  This is a serious problem on the iPad.  Problems include distorted fonts, inability to scroll, the upper half of the screen wasted on Google's negative space, and horrible navigation.  I have not tried the handful of apps out there supposedly created to interface with Google Docs because they all have poor reviews.  Very frustrating but still looking for a workable solution.
QuickOffice vs. Pages
Having tried many writing apps, the one that I have found the most useful is QuickOffice.  It isn't cheap but I was sick of paying $.99-2.99 on apps that did not really meet my expectations so decided to pay the $15 for this one after reading the good reviews.  Among my primary criteria was the ability to handle many different kinds of cloud storage services, like DropBox, Evergreen, SugarSync, etc.  And this app literally handles them all, along with several more obscure options.  Word seems to work well enough, but it is still a poor substitute if you need to customize spacing and margins.  I can't speak for Excel or PowerPoint yet (see someone's comments below, as they did not have a good experience with Q.O.'s PP).  I gave Apple's app Pages a shot but it felt bloated and useless, more concerned with aesthetics than functionality.  It also forces you to use iCloud as your online storage and does not allow for DropBox, SugarSync, or any third-party solution.   

SugarSync vs. DropBox
Of these two file sharing services, I much prefer SugarSync.  Apps are increasingly using both as upload options, and SS has some functionality I really need, like the ability to quickly sort files by date.  Also, DropBox requires that you place files into a special folder.  This folder also exists with SS, but it also allows you to sync other folders from locations elsewhere on your PC/MAC.  This was a huge plus for me, as I wanted to keep my existing file structures intact on my work desktop and home laptop.  I simply checked off  the ones that I wanted to keep synchronized in SS.  If I am altering a document or spreadsheet in QuickOffice, it is automatically uploaded to SS and synched when I save.  There is also some "push" functionality for offline access that sounds handy, but I haven't read up on this thoroughly.  Overall it just feels like a more polished and superior product, although I am still using both at the moment.

Current Favorite: iA Writer
I love this app.  It achieves the minimalism I expected from Apple's Pages.  The developer's goal was to clear the clutter and gimmicks so common to writing apps and focus strictly on the writer's creative interaction with the text.   To that end, the typography is clear and concise, and the redesigned keyboard offers easy access to punctuation.  It uploads to DropBox and iCloud and can print wirelessly to Apple printers designed for this.  The only thing it lacks is a TAB key, which seems to be a problem with all writing apps.  
More on ebooks in my next entry.  Still working that out.

Jim Bunnelle
Acquisitions & Collection Development Librarian

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A few of the librarians in Watzek were talking today about keyboard options with the iPad. I just came across this YouTube video about Keyboard Secrets for the iPad:
If you don't have an external keyboard for your iPad, you'll want to watch this video to learn how you can take advantage of some "secret" keyboard tricks. One example is to hold down the exclamation point on your alpha screen -- this reveals the apostrophe, so you don't have to toggle back and forth, or rely on the auto-correct feature, which doesn't always work  (e.g. we're/were). Many more hidden keyboard features are revealed in the video.

Joanna Haney

More accolades for GoodReader

I would like to second the accolades for the Goodreader app on the ipad.  Like several other posters, I've used his app to grade papers to great success.  The ability to both write on the paper using the free-write tool as well as type comments has been both efficient to me and beneficial to my students since I've been able to provide substantial feedback throughout their papers.   I also like the idea of being able to keep electronic copies of stellar papers.  Hard copies always get lost in the file cabinet and I'm hopeful that it will be easier for me to access electronic versions.   Finally, I also think that my students appreciated getting their papers back slightly quicker since I can simply email them back a my convenience when I'm ready instead of waiting for class.

I also have been using Goodreader as the primary way that I prepare for class.  I have been doing almost all my readings on Goodreader instead of by hard-copy.  I am hopeful that this will save me time in the future because I will be easily able to save and access my "marked up" versions of the readings.  I also appreciate the feature in Goodreader that allows you to email yourself a "summary" of your markings.  This is done simply by clicking the "export" button on the bottom right hand corner of the screen and choosing "email summary".  What this will do is export all the text that you've highlighted as well as any notes you've made throughout the text.  I frequently print out the summary and bring it to class for easy reference. 

There are two improvements I can envision:

1) The summary automatically assigns page numbers that correspond to the number of pages in the document.  I wish I could assign my own page numbers so that they would correspond to whatever book/article I've taken the reading from.  This would make it easier to reference passages on the go using only the summary document.

2)  For scanned files, i still need to use my desktop computer to convert the file using Acrobat Pro's OCR technology.  Goodreader is only helpful if the pdf recognizes that it contains text (which is what OCR does).  It would be nice if there was an app on the Ipad that could do this so I didn't have to prepare the document on my desktop first.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Overseas with an Ipad (2)

I am currently in New Zealand leading a Lewis & Clark College overseas program and have been using the ipad in various capacities.  As our program has some fluidity in timing of activities, the calender function of the ipad has been very useful in planning activities.  I am using google cal so this is synched to all of my other electronic devices (when all have WiFi).  However, many of the other uses I have for the ipad such as monitoring the programs "digital journal", accessing the scientific literature and other course documents, and acquiring information for the program requires internet access.  While this is seamless on a university campus, like many of our overseas programs, much of our time is spent out in the field.  In New Zealand, WiFi is hard to come by and extremely expensive, requiring the purchase of access codes that only work on a single device at a time.  Thus it has been extremely frustrating using the ipad "off campus" at times when I thought it would be most useful (see prior post).  I brought along an Apple Airport that I can use to set up a local hotspots, but most accommodations in New Zealand lack Ethernet jacks precluding this option.  Thus, for those thinking of using an ipad on an overseas program I strongly recommend the option of an ipad with 3G connectivity (which is quite prevalent and has been the major way that I am staying connected with my laptop).  It is quite easy to purchase data plans that would allow access of the web for the ipad.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Settling in to Goodreader and Dropbox

Blog once a month? No problem!  Well, here it is another month gone by so I guess I'm due for a post. 

My biggest difficulty with the iPad has been document management.  I like the idea of a folder with files in it that I can open using different programs.  The idea that files live in apps (or that files and apps are all in the cloud anyway) is something I am having to get my head around.  I have some files in iBooks, some in PDF Expert, some in Goodreader.  I think the answer is to pick an app and a cloud, so I'm committing to Goodreader and Dropbox and gradually getting everything moved into those.

Goodreader has proven better than PDF Expert in terms of accessing files, annotating them, and then moving them to someone or someplace else.  I used the instructions Lydia provided in her blog post about grading exams and have successfully graded a take-home exam posted to Moodle.  There is an export function in Moodle that I used to put all of the individual student exams into a file.  Moved that to Dropbox.  Then accessed Dropbox in Goodreader to pull down the folder with all of those files.  I used my finger to write short comments and mark errors, just as I would a red pen (I'm looking into a stylus because my finger writing looks pretty awful).  I used the highlighter to identify passages in the exam for comments in sticky notes that pop up out of the text.  I was then able to email the exams to students.  I also posted them back in Moodle in the same assignment where they submitted the exam so that we both have a record of the comments (for meetings in my office, for their e-portfolio at the end of the semester).  They will have to be sure to open in Adobe or Preview if they want to see the sticky notes.  So far, no one has reported problems.

I now have Pocketcloud and the VPN client that will allow me to access it but I haven't yet successfully accessed my office laptop from the iPad.  My hope is that this will be a quick way to record attendance at the beginning of class and participation at the end.  I have always kept my gradebook in Excel and rather than getting a separate gradebook app, I thought I would just access that Excel spreadsheet on my office computer remotely from the classroom.  I may be brave enough to start accessing lecture notes that way, too, so that I don't need to print out my outline/lesson plan to take to class.

That's all for February.  Here's hoping the fun continues in March.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My first blog, ever...
I was so excited when I heard I was accepted to the "ipad grant group" this winter.  I was certain the ipad was going to present THE solution to hauling my heavy laptop everywhere and give me some "new tools"!  It hasn't proven to be as complete a support as I'd hoped, but I'm still exploring the uses and apps.  I really only have two discoveries, one has proved a god-send and the other disappointing.  I love Dropbox and use it to access documents I am working on between home, the office, and in the field.  The other is QuickOffice.  I hoped to be able to pull up documents from Dropbox and edit them (out in the field working on a student's program, making notes, etc).  It is clunky, the powerpoint option didn't work on the ones I tried to edit, and I'm not sure I'll end up using it.  There were suggestions at our meeting - iannotate, good reader, and others that I want to try.  I might even have to move to pages and keynote... hmm.

So, my biggest fears about moving to google (I still have some bugs to work out on accessing my work email from my ipad...) and blogging are behind me.  Now it is time to find those apps that will change my practice!
Wish me luck!