Friday, May 24, 2013

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, I do not think I was able to maximize the utility of my iPad.  I found that a little bit of technology in the classroom is the right amount.  I hit the appropriate level by relying on the equipment that already exists in the law school's classrooms.  The iPad added little value.  I also discovered that I did not enjoy reading papers, exams, etc. on my iPad so the device was not helpful outside the classroom either.  The device did allow me to leave my bulkly laptop at home on ocassion, but, ultimately, I probably should have been able to leverage the device far better than I did.  I will keep tinkering, though, and hope to find iPad enlightenment at some point down the road. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Paperless Assignments

My most effective  use of the iPad for teaching has been for receiving, grading, and returning student assignments.  Since receiving the iPad, I have gone from everything in hard copy to everything (except exams) submitted, graded, and returned in digital form.

I grade short, recurring written assignments (e.g., their weekly post to a blog, their weekly entries in a group process log) through comments in Moodle, typed in a comment box.  This helps me remember the purpose of these comments--they are short holistic feedback with a couple of suggestions for improvement.  Typing them in Moodle preserves them for me and for students to access at any point in the semester.

I grade longer essays that will not be revised as PDF files in GoodReader.  I can circle problems or write brief comments in the margins with a stylus and I can use typed pop-up notes for more extensive comments.  GoodReader makes it easy to email the document to students when I have finished grading.

I grade drafts that will be revised in Word using comments and track changes.  Students have been more responsive to my comments in subsequent drafts, because it is so easy for them to access my comments and immediately make the changes in the same document.  I probably could do this in the CloudOn version of Word, but I more often do it in the familiar version of Word on my laptop.

One reason I stayed with hard copy assignments for so long was because I could carry a stack of assignments in my bag and grade whenever I had a spare moment.  The iPad makes that even easier because it is more portable than a stack of papers.  Plus, my grading can be saved to the Cloud.  GoodReader will download documents so that I don't have to have wifi to access documents (CloudOn does require wifi).

Students get feedback from me more quickly and I don't have to rely on them to remember to bring their paper with my comments to office hours--my comments are always available to both of us.

I have found it essential to use a stylus and a bluetooth keyboard.  Writing with my finger was barely legible--it looked like a first grader wrote comments.  The stylus isn't great, but students can read the comments.  My Logitech keyboard lacks some sensitivity compared to a regular sized keyboard, but it is a great improvement over the screen keyboard, which resulted in so many errors (my own and the truly bizarre autocorrects the iPad sometimes makes).

Many of my anticipated uses of the Ipad in the classroom either didn't materialize or weren't so much more efficient or spectacular to motivate me to retool.  I agree with what others have said previously--there is a learning curve that requires time and energy and we are fortunate to have great access to technology in the classroom already.

However, I use the iPad all the time for research.  When I travel, I am able to leave the heavy laptop at home and rely on the iPad.  I find it frustrating that files live in apps instead of folders that I can access in more than one app (though Dropbox helps with this), so I could never give up my laptop entirely, but for short trips, the iPad works well.  All of the articles for a current project are now in Dropbox and indexed in Refworks. I'm using Twitter to stay up to date on public debate related to my research and I track blogs.  I could do these things with other devices, but I didn't.  The iPad makes it easy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Without wifi, the iPad can't quite meet my needs in the field...

Participating in the iPads in Education program has been an interesting, though sometimes frustrating experience.  As a field biologist, I was most keen to use the iPad with students away from campus, on field trips or when overseas.  Originally I envisioned many uses. Video capture and playback of animal behaviors, along with the use of field identification apps seemed like a great way to help students know what they were looking at.  Data collection into spreadsheets and the potential to upload student assignments for evaluation using a mobile device with a relatively small footprint (compared to a laptop) was another real attraction, especially when overseas.

In preparation for using the iPad outdoors I invested in a couple peripherals.  A Logitech bluetooth keyboard provided protection when transporting the iPad and allowed for a much more comfortable level of typing, as opposed to using the on-screen keypad.  I also bought a couple different screen protectors (because of reflection issues, the matte finish is much better for viewing the screen outside).  Finally, I fashioned a cloth shoulder bag that could hold the iPad while I used my binoculars, spotting scope, or camera. These were all good investments, not only because they reduced exposure to the elements when the weather turned inclement, but also because my iPad would've likely been destroyed if it hadn't been in it's case when I dropped it onto a cement walkway.

My purchase of apps focused on "away from campus" uses.  Along with Apple's iWork suite for IOS (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), I bought "Quick Office" to see how the different programs handled word processing, spreadsheet needs, etc.  All of these worked well and I recommend them.  I also purchased the Sibley e-guide to North American Birds and iBird PRO HD (now discontinued).  The Sibley guide proved invaluable, offering range maps, excellent pictures, and song playbacks (see my previous blog post on getting cryptic birds to emerge from the underbrush).  This app has replaced the need to take a hardcopy field guide with me, and though the playback is not as loud, it also works well on my iPod touch.

My biggest disappointment with the iPad stems from its reliance on wifi connectivity for file transfers.  While working with students in Tanzania on an overseas program, I was unable to share files with the various devices they were using for their data analysis and write up assignments.  In the end, I had to use my laptop with a thumb drive for this purpose, and if I have to have my laptop along, there isn't really a need for the iPad.  I know that there are some improvements in this area, though I haven't had a chance to check them out.  With another trip to Tanzania in the fall, I will be looking into this further this summer.

So, in sum, my iPad has been pretty useful for local field trips with students, although the video capture and playback never really worked out because the zoom capabilities, shakiness of handheld video, and relatively low resolution of the playbacks made it pretty hard to capture and share anything meaningful with students. At the same time, as a field guide, it is great.  I have also found it to be useful when attending meetings on campus... since I'm easily able to access e-mail and my calendar.

Monday, May 20, 2013

iPads for Physics & Astronomy Education

What most distinguishes the iPad as a teaching tool for Astronomy and Physics is the fact that it has many internal sensors.  For example, the "Star Walk" app that I previously featured utilizes the fact that the iPad knows the direction that it is pointing and so can show you on the screen a map of the stars immediately behind the iPad, as if you're looking through a window onto the universe.  Another app I featured uses the iPads microphone to measure the incoming sound waves and can show a graph of the spectrum of the sound.  For my final post, I'll mention 2 more such apps:
1) Video Physics from Vernier: let's say you record a video of a basketball in flight.  This app lets you click in the locations of the ball at different times and it will then generate graphs of the x and y positions as a function of time, from which you can display velocities, accelerations, forces, etc
2) Graphical Analysis from Vernier: this one utilizes the internal accelerometers and allows you to plot the x, y, and z accelerations of the iPad as a function of time.

My overall assessment is that the iPad provides some unique capabilities for teaching Physics and Astronomy.  I imagine that sometime soon, we'll be able to plug additional external sensors into the iPad to use it as a data collection device.  Putting iPads into the student's hands will provide additional exciting options.

It's been fun reading this blog, so thanks to all.  -Steve

Friday, May 17, 2013

Looking backward and forward

The end of the 1st iteration of LC's iPads in education is drawing to a close and I have found the iPad to work pretty well at replacing other electronic tools in my teaching/scholarship.  Most of the failures led to new use of other technology.
1. It  worked really well in presenting and working with material in the classroom and its portability and ease of use has pushed me to use digital projection in the biology teaching labs.  This in itself has allowed me to discuss student work (data) with the entire class as participants, enhancing what I can accomplish in my lab courses.
2. It directly led to my use of Dropbox, which is now a staple in my academic life.
3. It was super useful in working with large electronic documents that I used to print.
4. It did not work very well at marking student work, but led me to work electronically with student work on a desktop (my students can now read my comments!)
5. It was not very useful in developing material when traveling overseas, however it worked great for consumption of electronic media (when there was wifi available).

In the future:  I am playing with Notability and I plan on going paper free at at upcoming professional meeting.  I am going to use the the iPad molecules app to engage students with structure when I teach an intro cell/molecular biology class next spring.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wrapping it up

Hindsight is such a luxury - and now results in a humbling 'confession'...

When I first applied, then was granted, this dynamic tool, I envisioned my new relationship with current technology via my iPad would enable a torrent of new adventures in capability and inspiration.  My subsequent learning curve over the last 18 months has become so much less dramatic - and so much more realistic.  Frustrating, but isn't real learning just so?

Here, at least, are those at the top of my list of lessons (many too subtle to list or even recognize):
  • For me, the iPad is not a "production tool": the 'product' of my work is still dependent on non-tech type tools like pencil & paper.  I have to admit - to myself and others - that the amount of time my personal 'training-and-practice' required for some of the potentially useful 'producing' apps competes with my available time to deliver - to my course prep, class sessions and to my design process.  I wonder if I'll ever be up to the re-prioritization of time for such training?
  • for me, my iPad can be a viable "delivery tool" for some content in my coursework, and I appreciate that I now have more choices.
  • I very much appreciate the portability of the iPad for making it one of the more desirable of those choices.
  • After spending many frustration hours of app research-and-testing - in order to be responsible to my iPad's grant agreement - I am often more rewarded by 'accidental' recommendations for apps that really become useful (for example: Noteshelf, which allows me to hand-write - with/without stylus - notes on separate 'tablets') and, gradually, are allowing me depend less on paper.
In spite of frustration, I am grateful for this adventure in learning.  My most valuable - and humbling lesson is more about myself than about my iPad.  I have become more self-aware of my own learning styles - and consequently more sensitive to those of my younger, more technically savvy students.

My conclusion: life with an iPad is entirely worth every revealing moment.  Thank you for all the lessons!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Closing Reflections

My use of the Ipad as a teaching and learning tool ended up being largely behind-the-scenes.  The Ipad is an incredibly convenient way to read electronic documents.  Whether it was class readings or student papers, I was able to reduce my reliance on paper.  I appreciated the increased portability and found that e-annotations are actually superior for my long-term personal filing system.  I also valued having electronic copies of my text books.  Though I only probably accessed them a half-a-dozen times, it is really nice to have a back-up copy available literately at your fingertips. 

The Ipad was also a useful tool in the classroom, but my usage there was more ad-hoc.  The value-added for using the Ipad to project lecture slides was minimal.  Instead, I ended up using it more for miscellaneous classroom needs.  For example, the camera feature came in handy when I didn't want to copy down my notes not white-board by hand.  the Ipad also ended up being a great debate timer for formal debates in my public policy class.  The Ipad even made a jeopardy-style review game more lively with a special buzzer app.  I will definitely continue to bring my ipad into the classroom -- you just never know when it is going to come in handy.

Overall, I definitely will continue to use the Ipad as a teaching and learning tool.  This is particularly true since I expect the availability of education specific-apps to improve.  I do envision myself using the ipad as a grade book someday, or an easy attendance tool.  I didn't quite like the functionality of the existing apps for those purposes yet, but I'm sure it is only a matter of time.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

A last post to answer the question, "What have I learned about using an iPad to enhance the teaching and learning process?" Some quick takes.

(1) I discovered that the iPad in the classroom is not all that useful for me, given the fact that each classroom I use is equipped with its own computer and projection system. At this point, my use of technology in the classroom is satisfied by the latter resources, and the iPad ended up being mostly a cumbersome addition (which I set aside in the classroom fairly quickly). I had hoped to use a primary text program that we cannot load onto classroom computers easily, but the developers of that software have lagged in making it functional for the iPad.

(2) I did find the iPad enormously useful for consuming e-texts, whether they were articles or monographs available through Watzek -- a terrific development for academic work as far as I'm concerned -- or books I purchased in e-form. This resulted in me encouraging my students to consume texts in the same way, and I will continue to advocate that they develop electronic readerly habits. An argument I make is that having the text only in an evanescent form forces you as a reader to engage it fully enough that you won't require it in hand when called upon to reflect on it, critique it, and bring it to bear in critique and fresh, constructive discourse.

(3) I also found the iPad to be useful as a tool for managing my life as an academic -- a scholar, teacher, and occasional administrator. Thanks to Google calendar and the iPad's portability I now actually do have a calendar that is up-to-date and in hand throughout my day. Embarrassing as it is to admit it, it's an amazing improvement on my pre-iPad calendar management.

(4) The most significant learning I take from this experience -- and my occasionally obsessive reading of the sky-is-falling-on-the-liberal-arts-because-of-technology literature -- is that meeting the challenges and realizing the promise that new technologies pose for teaching and learning in higher education is going to take more time and savvy than I have had for the effort up to now. The harsh reality, as I see it, is that to meet those challenges and realize that promise, I am going to need to restructure how I use my time and energy to make room for that endeavor. And I suspect that this is not an elective for any of us going forward.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

OK, another entry that reflects how much of a Luddite I am in all of this: I just discovered Notability, an app that allows you to write notes freehand or with a stylus, and I love it. I have never felt comfortable with the keypad-on-screen, and the detachable keyboard I use is awkward and adds weight to the iPad-schlepping experience that already makes me wish for an iPod too often as it is. So using Notability is a terrific improvement, and it restores, even if only partly, the experience of handwriting text that remains important to me.

"Really cool," says the Luddite.