Exploring the use of iPads and mobile devices in education.
We all know the feeling. You begin and end every day with a flood of emails to answer, tasks to complete, meetings to attend, text messages that require a response, articles and websites to read, reports to write ... the list goes on and on. Every which way you turn there's another beep or popup. And doesn't it feel that the more you have to get done, the less you actually accomplish?
We live in an age of information overload and it's only getting worse. Life in the 21st century produces unparalleled masses of data. Even more, much of the information we received twenty years ago was one way traffic coming from newspapers, TV, radio, books etc. We were consumers of information. These days, it's estimated that around one-third or more of the information we receive requires some form of response. We have become prolific producers of information. As a result, it has become critically important that we develop the skills to organize and filter all the information we're required to manage on a daily basis.
As educators we also need to be helping students develop those same information management skills. Their success in school and afterwards will be heavily dependent upon it.
Fortunately, computers can now carry much of the burden of helping organize and manage our daily info-management needs. There's a wealth of excellent tools available on the iPad. In selecting the list below I relied on two important criteria:
1. The solution has to work efficiently on the iPad - whether it's browser based or an iOS app. It's not enough that it's a great desktop solution.
2. It has to work across platforms and devices. Your iPad is usually a 2nd or even 3rd device so it's important that you be able to access your information in multiple locations and across all devices.
I'm sure you'll have your suggestions. Here are some of mine:
A. Archiving and Sharing Content
I can't seem to ever keep up with all the wonderful and intriguing content being produced on the Internet. For every article I read there's two I want to save for later reference. That's where Instapaper steps in. Add the Instapaper bookmarklet to your browser toolbar and with a simple click you can save any web page for later reading. There's an Instapaper app for the iPad and saved pages can even be read offline. It's fast, extremely simple and effective.
Diigo functions as your personal digital library. Sign up for an account at www.diigo.com and you can store web pages, annotations, notes, images, screenshots and more. Diigo makes it easy to categorize and organize your data with tags. Add the Diigo bookmarklet to your browser toolbar as a quick means of adding and categorizing web content for your libraries. And of course, as it's a web based service so you can access your Diigo account anywhere. There's also a Diigo iPad app which gives you direct access to your digital libraries. One of the lesser known features of Diigo is that you can share your content within groups and you can also open an educational account which enables teachers to create student groups for collaborative classroom research.
An honorable mention also goes to Evernote which operates more along the lines of a digital filing cabinet. Set up "notebooks" in Evernote and you can use them to add and archive content ("notes") for later reference. Use your notebooks to store and organize text, images, emails, Tweets and more. Add an Evernote icon to your browser toolbar and simply click on it to archive pages or you can also email content to your Evernote specific email address and it will be automatically stored in your folders. The Evernote iPad app is implemented elegantly and allows you to open a note and use the iPad mic and camera to record audio or photograph the contents of your note.
One unique use of Evernote is also as a means of collaborating in the iPad classroom. Students can all sign into a class-specific Evernote account and work in groups to each create notes that the teacher displays on a screen. Everyone's work is instantly visible and available for review and discussion.
B. Task Management and Calendaring
For those of you that have used Google Calendars I'm probably preaching to the converted. Having a simple cloud based calendaring system that works across all devices is an indispensable part of personal organization. The ability to create multiple calendars and share any of them with colleagues and friends is another wonderful feature. Whether you use the native iPad calendar or any other calendaring system on the iPad it's pretty simple to link it to your Google calendar and make it your default.
Pocket Informant is an integrated and full featured calendaring and task management system. It uses the GTD (Getting Things Done) based tasks system and has an app that's specifically designed for the iPad. Tasks are easily filed according to projects, contexts and priorities and there are a number of different ways of viewing your lists. Filters allow you to quickly find active, due, undated, overdue, and completed tasks and the "Today" View will show an overview of all your current appointments and tasks. The only drawback I have found is that it's app-based which means it doesn't have any native method of working across devices. Instead, you can sync your calendar with Google Calendars and tasks will sync with the Toodledo web based service. You should sign up for accounts with both.
If you don't want to spend the $15 it costs to purchase Pocket Informant then a simpler and less expensive alternative is simply to use ToodleDo. It's limited to task management but also uses the same GTD system of folders/projects and sub-tasks. As an added bonus, it has a web interface that you can use across devices and platforms.
C. Document Handling
You'll definitely want a reliable way of taking and reading content on the iPad. GoodReader is the most versatile app for reading content on the iPad and can read all sorts of files from PDFs to Word documents. Use GoodReader to read books, movies, maps, pictures and more. It handles large files nimbly and with great speed. It's also added the ability to mark-up PDFs with text boxes, sticky notes, lines, arrows, and freehand drawings on top of your file.
The latest version of GoodReader adds the ability for you to sync and pull files from remote servers such as iDisk, Dropbox, SugarSync and any WebDAV, FTP or SFTP server.
DropBox continues to be a market leader in cloud storage. It provides users with a simple yet powerful method for storing and accessing documents anywhere. Open a Dropbox account and you get 2GB of free online storage for your documents. Dropbox also uses a very elegant interface that creates a folder on your computer where you can easily save or place documents for seamless storage in your online account. You can then download the DropBox app to access the content on your iPad. In addition, many iPad apps have a direct interface to your DropBox account for saving and accessing content.
iCloud will be released soon and it should be an excellent method for synchronizing content between Apple devices and apps. DropBox should however continue to be the choice whenever you need cross platform, multipurpose storage and access.
D. Note Taking
For those of you that still find it hard to give up that pen and paper for taking notes I'd recommend taking a look at Noteshelf. Select a note template and then write your notes with either your finger or a stylus. A selection of 17 digital ink pens can be used for taking notes and there's a full set of highlighter pens and erasers. You can even add and annotate images in your notes.
Noteshelf has many features for creating and organizing notebooks. They can be grouped on shelves, each notebook having a cover and title of your choosing. Password protection can be used for notebook security and pages can easily be moved and rearranged within or between your notebooks.
It's important to be able to read documents on your iPad but as it starts becoming more of your daily "go-to" device, you'll want a simple way for creating and sharing documents between devices and people. There are a number of word processors competing in this app category but it's hard to go past Apple's own Pages app for both simplicity of use and depth of available features. The main knock on Pages that spawned a variety of competitors was that - other than emailing a document - there wasn't a simple process for easily moving documents off the iPad to other locations. There are however a couple clever workarounds:
Lastly, iCloud is on the horizon and will add more options for seamlessly syncing your Pages documents across devices.
E. Remote Access
Your iPad is probably at least your second if not your third or fourth device. While you'll get better at moving data and documents between devices there will still be occasions when you urgently need to get something from your laptop or desktop. Remote access isn't cheap but when you need it it's invaluable.
My favorite remote access service is GoToMyPC. Sign up for the service on their website and install the software on your desktop (or laptop), then install the GoToMyPC app on your iPad. Within a few seconds you can directly access and control your desktop computer anywhere.
If you happen to need access to your desktop computer and you are within the same network then I would recommend using Splashtop Remote. I had to give a workshop recently and the desktop that was connected to the projector was at the back of the room. I installed Splashtop on the desktop and controlled it using my iPad from the front of the room.
Any list is subjective and I'm sure you'll have your favorite apps. Please feel free to add your suggestions in the Comments section below.