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Thinking about my iPad: writing teacher version

posted: 1.11.13 by archived

Not long after finishing my foot-tall pile of student portfolios and turning in my grades for the semester, on my iPad for a bit of relaxation, I inexplicably found myself downloading something called the Grading Game. Making a game out of proofreading and getting an amazing four and a half stars from over 1200 ratings, this app is according to one reviewer “the perfect piece of entertainment for grammar fiends.” Though I can’t recommend it (largely because its errors seem much too contrived), that game has set me to thinking about how I’ve been using and plan to use my iPad to support my teaching.

I’ve got another reason for being more reflective about my iPad use. I was an early adopter. My original iPad was a consolation prize from my husband after I was turned down for a full-time teaching position after eight years of adjunct invisibility; my current iPad was purchased a few months ago under much different circumstances, with the help of a technology grant given to full-time faculty (I got the position the next time around).

My initial thoughts about iPads and teaching are tinged with regret: that because iPads are not required at my college and few students seem to own them, opportunities for classroom use are constricted. We do have a couple of iPad carts on campus that can be reserved for limited in-class exercises, but many of the ways I’d love to be able to use the iPad with my students are not feasible. (Our new computer labs have done a great deal to ease this regret, but still it would be nice if students owned technology they could use both in class and outside class.)

General-purpose use. When I first got an iPad, as an adjunct with shared cubicle space (at the time about eight cubicles for at least four hundred adjuncts) but no office, I loved its light weight and portability, so that I could get online in whatever corner I found to perch. It was similarly handy at meetings and conferences for note-taking (small enough to slide in my purse; a conveniently long battery life that allowed me to get online to check refs on the fly; in the early days at least, a sure-fire conversation starter with someone sitting nearby).  Although I downloaded quite a few note-taking apps for use with finger or stylus including Note Taker HD, Pad & Quill, Penultimate, and Side by Side, I find myself these days most often typing notes with the built-in digital legal-pad-like Notes app. I was a little surprised by this, as I’m not a native “screen-typer” like my text-happy students. In fact, I bought a Bluetooth keyboard with my first iPad, which I’ve used about twice, thinking that I’d need it to do much writing with the iPad.  I am comfortable now writing even fairly long emails with the on-screen keyboard, but for longer writing projects (like this blog post) generally go to either my laptop or, more rarely, my office desktop. I routinely use the cloud-storage provided by Dropbox to sync up all of these devices, for any writing I’d like to have available at home, office, or class.

Course-material scavenging. This is one of the most significant teacher-related ways I use my iPad, especially because I generally use online readings in place of a textbook. The iPad is perfectly designed for the sitting-on-the-couch-surfing I typically do to look for possible material. My favorite app for this is Flipboard, which bills itself as a “social magazine.” It allows the user to collect in one place a customized list of feeds from hundreds of possibilities. My list includes many of my favorite, regular stops: New Yorker writers, the Atlantic, Time, Longreads, Byliner Spotlights, Metnal Floss, Magazine, and the always-inspiring Brain Pickings. (In setting up your list, be sure to check out the category “Cool Curators.”) Useful multimedia content can also be found through individual apps from PBS, NPR, National Geographic, and TED.  For lit comp classes, the iPad offers a wealth of materials, the copyright-free resources in iBooks, Kindle, and Project Gutenberg apps as well as a variety of poetry apps (The Waste Land is wonderful, though not cheap).  

Social networking. This is also a natural fit for the casual surfing the iPad invites. Though I’m an infrequent poster, I do keep track of friends, family, and (some) colleagues through Facebook, twitter, and just recently (for family only) Instagram. For all of these apps, the screen size (especially useful for reading twitter-recommended articles) makes the iPad a preferred choice over my phone, and its portability makes it preferable to either my laptop or desktop. My iPad is also useful in my prime social-networking mode, blogging, though I use it more to read blogs (my students’ as well as the colleagues I follow via the app Reeder) than to compose blog posts. (Blogsy does seem like a well-constructed app, though, which I’d like to try out, and WordPress does have an app that seems quite usable as well.)

Grading. Inspired by yet another ProfHacker post, I’m going to try out the app GradeBook. I was never really sold on the grade-book feature in our college’s CMS (nor with the CMS as a whole, actually), so I’ve been using an old-school paper grade-book since I started teaching. I’m hoping that keeping grades on the iPad will help with a couple of issues I’ve had:  I’m not as faithful as I should be in recording grades for low-stakes assignments, so I’m hoping circulating through the classroom with iPad in hand will make this easier; some students would benefit, I think, from getting regular progress reports, which the app seems to make possible. It has some other neat features, like the ability to attach photos of students, which would be a great help with the beginning-of-semester challenge of connecting names to faces.

Feedback? Please feel free to chime in with your favorite iPad finds, either apps or strategies for use in the classroom.



Categories: Holly Pappas
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