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.

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