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.

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