"Sitting up and taking notes": Using the iPad for reading and writing


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By Johan Geertsema

In this presentation I will share some of my experiences teaching with the iPad, focusing in particular on its usefulness for taking notes. I will share how I have been using the iAnnotate app for marking up class readings and commenting on student work. Academic articles and books can be loaded and read in class. Annotating articles and essays in PDF format and backing them up to a computer is very useful, as is the ability to find passages instantaneously. When it comes to writing, while the device has inherent limitations due its size, which militates against extensive text production (e.g. lengthy papers), nevertheless it is ideal for providing feedback on student papers. Additionally, I will briefly look at the advantages and drawbacks of apps such as Bluefire Reader and Kobo, which allow one to read and annotate DRM-protected ePub files. Finally, I will highlight my use of apps such as Soundnote and Evernote, which are helpful for the kind of writing at which the iPad excels: taking notes.

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"Sitting up and taking notes": Using the iPad for reading and writing

  1. 1. "Sitting up & taking notes":Using the iPad for reading and writing Johan Geertsema University Scholars Programme January 2012 1
  2. 2. Outline1. Context • Teaching • iPad, including potential limitations • Apps, main apps used2. iAnnotate PDF main focus: • marking up course readings; providing feedback on student work • functionality: examples • problems & student feedback: inferences • summary of advantages 2
  3. 3. Teaching context• Used the iPad as an integral part of teaching a small research seminar in the University Scholars Programme (undergraduate)• As instructor used it in mainly two ways—both relating to PDF documents: 1. Marking up and annotating course readings 2. Marking up student work: feedback & grading • Small class: ca. 10 students (who did not use iPads)• Multiple drafts; revision is key 3
  4. 4. iPad Skeptics might ask (certainly have asked): Just a big smartphone (albeit one that can‟t make calls …)? Entertainment mainly? Video, games, surfing Can it be a replacement for a laptop?They might then ask: How can I use the iPad in my teaching? What actual benefits might it have? 4
  5. 5. Potential limitations1. Arranging all files into folders as on Mac or PC not possible ✳ But search function works well2. Non-tactile keyboard: some find this annoying, and it seems true that typing is slower/more awkward3. Though wireless keyboard is possible, not ideal due to touchscreen interface ✳ Lack of mouse: the whole point of the iPad interface is to use one‟s fingers, but that makes an external keyboard awkward✳ Because of its small size and touchscreen interface iPad is best used for more limited kinds of writing, but does this very well. 5
  6. 6. AppsOf course, there are zillions (well, thousands) of brilliant“apps” available in Apple‟s App Store.Fascinating things one could do with the iPad, also in theclassroom.Modelling, virtual reality: very many high-tech things.But: I am not really a very high-tech person—rather, anordinary educator using the iPad in class as part of CIT‟sLoan SchemeMain purpose for which I have used iPad is a very basicone: taking notes, in particular annotating texts 6
  7. 7. Main apps usedSome note taking apps: iAnnotate: for reading and annotating PDF files (my focus) Evernote and Soundnote: for creating and organizing notes Kobo and Bluefire Reader: for reading and annotating eBooks—DRM-protected ePub filesWhile note taking is a very basic function, it is one all academic readers and writers—whether students or faculty—engage in regularly: & of course very valuable pedagogically.  Research: documentation, highlighting key words, etc.  Feedback to students 7
  8. 8. Evernote• creating text notes; clipping web pages with desktop version; taking photos• excellent organizational functionality: tagging and notebooks, e.g. for individual research projects, classes taught• allows syncing with the company‟s servers—„in the cloud‟—and thus across devices: for backing up + having identical sets of notes on iPad, iPhone, desktops 8
  9. 9. 9
  10. 10. SoundNote• less customizable as far as organizing notes is concerned, but excellent for taking notes of live presentations• data file keeps the audio in sync with the text you have typed so it knows where within the audio to jump to when you click a word or drawing during playback 10
  11. 11. 11
  12. 12. Kobo & Bluefire ReaderKobo • Very much social-media oriented • Good built-in dictionary • Most recent versions allow for syncing and backing up of notes, bookmarks, highlighting through cloud to other iOS devices • No search function!Bluefire Reader • Decent search function • No syncing of notes!• Apple‟s iBooks and Amazon‟s Kindle: books not readily accessible / for sale in Singapore• Skoob: Singtel‟s recent eBookstore & app 12
  13. 13. iAnnotate PDF: Course readings Great advantage of having course readings in PDF is that the text is searchable.  Many / most journals available electronically in searchable PDF.  Where that‟s not the case, or when the reading comes from a book, I have a scanned version of it that I „OCR‟ on desktop computer.  Acrobat‟s Optical Character Recognition function (Document --> OCR Text Recognition) renders the text searchable. 13
  14. 14. iAnnotate PDF: Grading / feedbackStudents: • upload submissions (PDF or Word or slides) to IVLE Workbin • 5-20 pp. long: research proposals, presentations, different drafts of papersInstructor: • downloads zip file to desktop • syncs files to iPad with Dropbox • or downloads them directly from IVLE using CIT‟s app • opens files in iAnnotate and proceeds to read and mark them up • emails individual files back to students 14
  15. 15. iAnnotate PDF: Functionality• Reading and searching through PDF files, but especially (of course) annotating them• Finger-based interface makes annotating a breeze• Same main kinds of annotation as in Acrobat: • highlighting text and then commenting • using the typewriter function for more immediately visible in- text annotations • drawing with the finger• flexibility with customizing toolbars and page sizes• search function, both within and across documents 15
  16. 16. Annotated pages 16
  17. 17. Highlighting text and then commenting 17
  18. 18. Typewriter function 18
  19. 19. Drawing 19
  20. 20. Problems using the app• Not many problems: very stable• Students highlighted some issues (will get to them)• But: larger and / or more graphics-intensive files, in particular some scanned files, can take too long to load when e.g. moving from one page to another or zooming in and out. 20
  21. 21. Loading … 21
  22. 22. Loading …• Sometimes it can take 10 seconds or even longer; this is the one area where I have found using iAnnotate, and the iPad more generally, deficient when reading PDFs. • Workaround: reduce document seize, and/or OCR.• iPad is not usable in classroom situations in the case of scanned files that exhibit this behaviour, since it simply takes too long to turn pages.• Hopefully iPad 3 will have more internal memory and a faster processor? 22
  23. 23. Student Feedback Question8. Did you find my COMMENTS on your writing helpful? Please elaborate on: (a) the quality and quantity of comments you received (b) the format in which you received them (PDF) Caveats: Small seminar-style class Have run survey once only I.e. these results are statistically not significant, but even so I have found them useful. 23
  24. 24. Student Feedback Responses (1)I find the comments REALLY helpful…. The PDF format is goodbecause it saves the student the hassle to print it out or torush to school to submit the paper. However there might betechnical glitches here and there. 11/20/2011 12:27 AMCertainly! The comments I received really helped me progressto the next stage of the research process and I do find theformat neat. One grouse I have with this format is that I cantprint it out (as I prefer to have a hard copy with me as I editinstead of having to switch between windows on my laptop). Soin summary, the format was really neat (at least its completelylegible …) but I would have preferred to be able to print themwithout having too much hassle copying and pasting thecomments. 11/11/2011 2:40 PM 24
  25. 25. Student Feedback Responses (2)Yes I do find your comments very helpful…. a. the quality of comments Ireceived so far is critical enough. …. b. I sometimes struggle[d] clickingthe comments one by one, especially if I need to print it from a PC. Imust open all the comments in the .pdf file then print as .pdf from my mac,then send to my email to be printed from a PC computer. However, itsnice to receive the last commented conference paper draft becausethe comments are put as endnotes. I am not sure if this is verysubjective, but the latter is much more friendly to me! 11/10/2011 12:49Yes, I would have preferred it printed out with pen marks but thatsbecause Im a traditional person and have a small screen so I cant seeeverything. 11/9/2011 11:41 PMI think the comments on the papers were very helpful in pointing outmistakes and errors in my paper that I would have otherwise not noticed.The PDF format was also very easy to read and convenient 11/9/20119:53 PM 25
  26. 26. InferencesStudents note convenience and user friendliness,though there may be technical issues.Printing is a key issue for some: want to work onpaper, yet didn‟t know how they could print the filewith all the comments included.Indication that some prefer separately listedcomments. 26
  27. 27. Therefore …I will this semester do two or three things differently:1. Use iAnnotate‟s “Flattening” function when returning papers. It prints all annotations by page and line number with hyperlinks at the end of the document. 27
  28. 28. Flattening a file 28
  29. 29. Flattened notes 29
  30. 30. or:2.Provide students with a separate file, generated by iAnnotate, that lists comments 30
  31. 31. or:2.Provide them with a separate file that lists comments 31
  32. 32. Notes• Notes extracted 32
  33. 33. and …3. Most importantly, brief students better, e.g. how to view the documents (and/or print them) • I simply assumed students would know how to open and print marked-up PDF documents—and access the annotations: invalid assumption4. Would be really great if students could use the app on the iPad for their own pack of course readings, and for accessing my comments on their assignments: CIT?? 33
  34. 34. Finally: some main advantages• Student work in PDF: document not editable In my view, students must decide how to use my feedback: providing feedback in a Word document has always seemed to me to be too interventionist, coming too close to making revisions that should properly speaking be carried out by the student. (This is especially the case where students submit multiple drafts, as they do for my classes: I teaching writing and critical thinking in the USP.)• Searchability: finding passages with key terms very convenient• Mobility: on the bus, the plane, in a compact device• ‘Centrality’: really useful to take iPad into classroom rather than stacks of paper—all notes on all class readings are centrally available, and all student papers / projects 34
  35. 35. Thank you! 35