Daily Archives: May 29, 2011

iPad for academics

Since my last post may have been my most popular one ever, I thought that I should follow it up with a more full discussion of how I’ve made my iPad useful.

I have already discussed footnotes.  That is the only means by which I’ve found a way to make writing possible.  However, I should note that Pages has an unfortunate tendency to double space them.  This can be corrected using the full version of Pages on the mac, but not on the iPad.  When transferring a Word document back and forth, Pages will alter the footnote template to use 12 pt. text in the footnotes.  This must be changed back manually in Word.  All of this can be a bit frustrating and tiresome.  I do most of my serious writing on my computer.  However, in a pinch, the iPad can do it (for instance, when forced to finish a paper in a hotel before a talk, or while on a research trip).

Keynote.  This is Apple’s presentation software.  The version on the iPad is very slimmed down from the one on the mac.  However, it can still present keynotes made on the mac (but no animations or media besides images), but make sure that you have an internet connection when you load up the presentation for the first time.  I believe that it downloads the appropriate template when you load up a presentation made on the mac, and it will not work correctly without an internet connection.  I found that one out the hard way.  It does take longer to put together a presentation on the iPad and there are much fewer options, but I think it works fairly well considering the constraints.  Being able to present off of it can spare you a lot of frustration with using unfamiliar computers with different versions of powerpoint.  The new update of Keynote makes it so that you can use presenter notes and see the current slide and the next.

For iPad amenities, I use a sort of travel case which can hold a book stand, a charger, a usb cable, a bluetooth keyboard, and a small wireless access point.  I don’t usually carry around the access point, but it can occasionally be useful on the road (it is only because I happen to have a spare, it is not worth buying a separate one for the convenience).  I also have an adapter for my camera’s memory card and a converter from iPod connector to VGA.  The connector is necessary for presenting those Keynote slides, since most places use VGA cables to hook up to a projector.  As for the memory card, since my iPad has more storage space than my camera, when on a research trip, I have found it useful to load the images onto my iPad to clear my camera’s storage space.  I mean, digital cameras at the archives is a must.

The bookstand and keyboard.  I have the old Apple iPad case which can be set up like a keyboard or a picture frame.  However, I have found that a $5 bookstand works really well for propping up the iPad and allowing me to use the touch screen without knocking the whole thing over.  Just make sure to get one that won’t damage the screen.  The keyboard is essential for typing more than a few sentences.  I considered getting the keyboard shaped like a dock for a while, ultimately decided that it would be a hassle to carry it around.  Your call.

There are a few attendance sheet apps out there.  I don’t use them, but I know people have found them very useful.  If your school uses Blackboard, there is an app for that.  I have found the web version to be far superior.

The three most useful apps I have found: iDisk, PDF Expert, and iTeleport.  I will start with iDisk.  This is the app that works with the iDisk available through mobileme.  That app itself works well, but the best part is having the webspace.  I hear that dropbox and other webspace providers work very well, too; I only point out iDisk because that is what I use.  It has made it much easier to keep my home computer, my work computer, and my iPad all up-to-date.  I keep all my teaching materials there.  Then, wherever I am, I can upload or download whatever I need to work on, and reupload it when I’m done.  For me, having the iDisk has made the iPad much more versatile and useful.

PDF Expert is great.  It uses pdfs, obviously.  However, it is one of few apps that can fill out pdf forms, which I do quite frequently.  It can also sync with the iDisk, dropbox, and other services to make keeping everything current much easier.  It also has fairly good commenting capabilities.  You can take marginal notes, underline, highlight, pretty much whatever you would do with actual paper.  I use this software in a few ways.  One is obvious, I use it to annotate articles off of JSTOR and the like.  Then I have a relatively easy-to-find commented copy (because I tend to lose actual paper).  I then upload it to my iDisk and later on I might file it away somewhere on my home computer.

The second use is grading.  Last semester, I required my students to turn in their papers electronically in pdf format.  I then downloaded them into a folder in my iDisk and synced that folder to PDF Expert.  I then could comment on the papers as I would have with a paper copy, and assigned grades, all on the pdf.  I returned the papers to my students electronically as well.  It was a very good substitution for the actual paper, and I prefer it much to Word’s commenting software, which just encourages students to click “accept changes.”

The last use is a bit more complicated.  It also concerns grading.  A while back, I put together a rubric for some of the papers I grade.  I used Adobe Acrobat Pro (but there are probably cheaper ways to do this out there) to turn it into a pdf form.  So say I have to grade a dozen short papers.  I make 12 copies of the form and put the appropriate names on the files.  Then I sync it to my iDisk and PDF Expert.  Then I can fill out the rubric wherever I am.  It sounds like extra work, but once you figure out how, it is fairly quick, and means that I can work from my iPad, fill out the rubric, and keep an electronic copy for future reference.

Finally, I make regular use of iTeleport.  It is one of the remote desktop apps.  There are cheaper ones out there, and I’m sure many of them work very well.  This is the just the one that I use.  It allows me to use my iPad as a remote desktop for my home computer.  It’s sort of like “Back to my mac.”  This means that if I’m out, but have a good internet connection, I can use my home computer to write something that Pages cannot handle or to send myself files that I need.  One problem with this particular app is that it does not allow you to wake your computer from sleep.  For that, you will need something like iNet Pro.  Setting up these apps is a real pain, and I do not recommend it unless you or someone you know is particularly network savvy.  You have to be able to find the right ports to open up on you firewall, set a variety of passwords, and I found that for my situation none of the available instructions worked correctly and I had to get a bit creative.  Still, there is nothing like knowing that, from the BL, I can pull up some notes I took on something on my computer in California and email them to myself or upload them to my iDisk and have them available on my iPad.

I should also mention that Apple has a service at iwork.com which, last time I checked, was free but still in beta.  If you use Pages, Numbers, or Keynote, it is an easy way to keep your iWork documents available online.

Anyway, those are my uses for the old iPad so far.  I’ll probably come up with some new ones sooner or later.


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