Monday, April 30, 2012

GoodReader & Senior Theses

This time of the year I typically carry around a half dozen 50-80 page senior theses that are the basis of "thesis defenses" where students sit down with a group of faculty to orally defend their thesis work.  This year, I decided to replace the stacks of papers with electronic versions of the theses using the GoodReader App.  Within a few minutes (the introduction to the app is worth reading) I was marking corrections, adding notes, and making comments on the pdf version of the theses.  All of these comments were saved on an annotated copy of the thesis and that I used with the iPad during the defenses.  In particular, the list feature of the App that showed all of my comments allowed me to quickly recall the questions that I had on the thesis work when sitting in the defense.  A bonus is being able to save a digital version of the thesis (with my comments) that I can refer to down the road (and email to students if corrections need to be made).   The paper versions of drafts with comments inevitably get recycled and I have encountered a few situations where having the "paper trail" of comments/corrections would have been useful.  Based on this positive experience,  I plan on giving GoodReader a try when evaluating student manuscripts in my courses this fall.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

As I noted in my last blog contribution, I've struggled to use the iPad in direct teaching. As the semester ends it seems a good moment to take stock of where I stand now.

(1) I aimed originally to use a program that allows me to display primary texts in English and their primary language. The iPad was key to that inasmuch as the program that permits that could not be loaded on classroom computers. Disappointingly I used the iPad for this purpose only a little. I must admit, though, that this has less to do with the merit of the iPad for the purpose than with my own teaching patterns. To get the most from this feature I need to be considerably more patient with "set up" that permits useful projection of the texts in class. I am committed to working on this next semester, especially in that my students do seem to get quite a lot from working through a text they all see as one (as opposed to working from their own texts on the desk in front of them).
(2) I also hoped to use the iPad to project more images that were supposed to be available in the program that supplies the primary texts. However, the software producer has only released a very limited collection of its images available on laptop and desktop computers for use on iPads. They promise better in the coming months, but that was the same promise they made last November. We'll see (so to speak . . . images, after all).
(3) I continue to find the iPad enormously useful as a reader and take a great deal of pleasure in reading the increasing number of electronic books available through Watzek. Apostasy or not, this experience has made me a believer in reading electronically and willing to forsake the sacred paper text. As I may have noted before, in my view the iPad's greatest promise in education is as the best platform for delivering texts to student and teacher alike.

Looking ahead, I plan on finally taking some time to explore some of the ways others are putting the iPad to use in the classroom to add some tricks to my nearly empty bag. I hope as a result to offer more to the blog in the fall.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review Session Trivia Game

For my last day of class I am planning on playing a jeopardy-like trivia game to serve as a review session.  I initially looked for iPad apps that would help me build a custom game, but didn't have much luck.  I ended up finding a website ( that was both free, user-friendly, and exactly what I was looking for.    You can check out my game here:

The game was really easy to put together-- just enter in the questions, answers, and point values.  Best of all, the website is compatible with iPad so you could potentially use the iPad in class to project the game on the screen.  Instead, I'm opting to use the classroom computer to project the game while using my iPad as a mechanism for choosing which teams get to answer the questions.  The app I'm using for this is "Game Buzzer Free", it's the only one I found which allowed players to go head-to-head to buzz in first.  Here is the screenshot for the app:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Don't Leave Home Without It

It is almost the end of the Spring Semester and my iPad and I have become inseparable friends. I simply cannot imagine my life without that little tablet of mine, and I truly "Don't Leave Home (or the Office) Without It."
First of all, I have become a much more ORGANIZED a person that I've ever been in my life. The simple, pre-loaded app, called "Remindert" is a life saver, for someone who's running a Department, directing a show or two, working on all sorts of outside projects, teaching several classes, scheduling a great number of meetings every day, and is trying to have a life too. I simply put everything straight into the application, it organizes it by days and hours, and sends me reminders. I haven't missed a meeting yet since I use the app.
Second, my NOTES have now become organized as well. Previously, I'd have hundreds of pieces of papers with different notes from different meetings, classes, etc. I'd have different note books flying about my office and home, and in general, I'd lose half the notes I took. Now, with the iPad, all my notes are in the same place - instantly accessible, never lost, and actually useful.
Third, I have now downloaded several dictionaries and writing aides onto the iPad. My work as a translator has been made much easier, and I don't need to use hard-copies of dictionaries, I have several different kinds of Thesaurus o the device, and other writing applications. I just completed a major translation of a Czech play, and the iPad was invaluable.
Finally, I'm making great use of the Dropbox. All my files are now accessible to me where ever I go, and that makes my work much easier.
So, in general, the device is very very helpful in my daily life, and I wouldn't trade it against anything else.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Old dog . . . still looking for new tricks?

I haven't yet conquered my fears.  Replacing time-tested paper-and-pencil techniques for a digital 'drawing pad' is taking way more training time - and WAY more dead ends - than I anticipated.  I'm trying not to be held hostage to my discouragement, but am also not surrendering to lingering waves of good old guilt.  Am I too set in my love of graphite doodles on odd bits of paper?

In the previously described five apps I'm testing, I am challenged with very different interfaces (tools, protocols, shorthand/shortcuts, etc.) that are not always intuitive.  Much more 'training' time is needed than I originally anticipated, challenging while inside the semester's other demands.  At the same time, I remain intrigued by the opportunities to 'save layers separately' that might lead to some interesting process-based case studies.  "Layers" might be the very treasure that I've been seeking in this hunt for digital payoff . . .

Meanwhile, I'm also exploring 'mind-mapping' with an app called iThoughts.  I'm new to this kind of application, but not to its goals.  If this is a way to track the process of design conceptualization, I might be a new advocate.  More 'training time' is needed, and I'm wondering (fearing?) if the digital interface will slow and/or kill the spontaneity of idea-making.  I'll keep those worries to myself and plow on.

Still looking for that "Eureka moment" to convince me that paper is 'over' . . . any recommendations for apps/techniques to change my mind would be much appreciated!