The Great iPad experiment

I decided to live life on the edge when my boss gave the entire library faculty iPads to use for work. The purpose was twofold. First, to give us a chance to experiment with emerging technologies and secondly to determine the merits of incorporating the iPad into our current instruction practices. For the last five summers I’ve taught a 4.5 day seminar for the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) called Immersion. Usually this intensive program takes place on host college campuses across the United States. This year it was on the amazing campus of Champlain College in Vermont.  

Normally, I lug a heavy laptop PC (circa 2000) that I affectionately refer to as “Rocktop” (as in the Flinstones). However, this summer the opportunity to bring the feather light iPad instead inspired me to retire fast and steady Rocktop and document the advantages and disadvantages of freeing myself from Stone Age. Did I mention I owned my iPad a whopping three days before embarking on my adventure? Yes I am that crazy.  With no previous knowledge of iWork’s KeyNote or Pages, I taught myself on the fly. What’s the worst that could happen? Here are a few things I experienced along the way:


The Advantages: The iPad was an easy way to carry multiple materials in a variety of formats. Vital storage tools included DropBox, PDF iRead, Pages, Kindle and iBooks. This was the first time I used reader apps for bringing work related resources on the road. The best feature of iBooks and Kindle for work was the ability to add notes to books. Not only can you annotate as you read but you can display all of your notations afterwards. The PDF viewer iRead offered the annotation feature in an upgraded (not free) version called iAnnotate which I am considering purchasing if iBooks doesn’t add the ability in the next few updates. I used the Kindle app to download a novel called the Rising by Brian Keene for the flight and found Amazon e-book offerings more robust and significantly cheaper than the iBooks store. These tools made for a virtually paperless week.  

 I used Keynote to display slides previously made in Powerpoint, however I added additional slides as well. Some tools I found that I needed to download to assist with my creation of slide content was Photopad to edit images and a screen capturing tool called PageCapture that I purchased for $1.99 in the App Store. While I could have used the built in image capture of the iPad, the advantage of PageCapture is that is captures the entire web page rather than just what I can see on the screen.     


My presentations included five rounds of Battledecks and a series of “guess the learning theory” using YouTube video clips. Both displayed well on the iPad.

I used Pages to create a handout using the template for “recipes”. Since I didn’t test the ability of the iPad to print wirelessly, I emailed myself the pages document as a Word document and it printed beautifully.

With the advantage of a completely wireless campus, I was able to freely access web-only resources such as the seminar’s Moodle course site and of course, any website without flash. Communicating via the LMS and email was simple and more convenient than my iPhone. 

UPDATE: Blackboard views in iPad but some scrolling features don’t work e.g. for discussion board threads

Technically, the iPad was comparable to a typical laptop. The battery life (unlike its brother the iPhone) is amazing and an overnight charge was sufficient for an entire day. I had no technical problems with setting up the display by using a dongle designed for the iPad (purchased separately also by my library).

The Disadvantages: I was warned by my IT department that not all things display from the iPad to the LCD projector. They were quite correct. Keynote only worked in “show” mode, YouTube showed when you played the video and nothing else I tried to display broadcast on the screen. Other than the annoyance of not being able to show documents created in Pages, the biggest disadvantage the iPad has for instructors is its inability to display anything accessed on the internet. No live demos of ANYTHING. Luckily for Immersion I didn’t need this feature but I was sad to think about large lecture classrooms where it’s the only option.

UPDATE: Upon my return home I investigated this more and found a few apps designed to demo the Internet as well as the home screen- a term that all educators should be aware of is VGA which to the casual user (ME!) means it’s compatible with video show output. I noticed this term in the descriptions of some utility apps and really hope it becomes a searchable standard category in the app store. I downloaded the VGA Browser called Expedition and hope to test it before the week’s end. (@vonburkhardt tested it and it WORKS!) It allows viewing of .PDF documents, word documents saved on my DropBox, and compatible web sites.

In terms of content creation for PowerPoint presentations there are some things instructors need to be aware of. The version of Keynotes for the iPad is much more limited than its full version. I would suggest anyone that plans to use it read this article by Chris Anderson and this review by Brian P. Hudson first. While it easily uploaded my PowerPoint (downloaded from Dropbox) the notes were stripped away and it was not an option to create new notes. Since I usually cite image sources in the notes field this hampered my ability to add new cites or view old ones.  

The touch screen keyboard doubled the time for creation. Mainly because you cannot use conventional hand placement like a real keyboard. Luckily I had a wireless keyboard (again supplied by my library- is there nothing they didn’t think of?) which is a must for anyone that is going to go “iPad only”. In fact, I am typed the majority of this blog entry on a plane using my wireless keyboard. 

Getting things out of iPad can also be cumbersome. I was forced to rely on emailing documents to get them out although iworks.com seems to be a more useful way to set up exporting. Keynote was NOT readable in PowerPoint which meant a colleague was unable to download a joint PowerPoint onto her PC.  

Since I am a font addict, many of the fonts I used in my original imported documents were not readable by my iPad and stripped away. I will have to investigate if there is a font app that can give me more than the scant offerings currently available on the iPad apps Keynote and Notes. 

UPDATE: I didn’t find anything that installs additional fonts onto pages- help a sista out if you know of any products!

Overall, my experience with using the iPad as a laptop replacement was extremely successful. I think the key to using it as an instructional tool is to plan ahead by uploading all relevant documents, importing a completed slide presentation and testing display compatibility. This will greatly aid in a victorious instructional adventure.  Downloading the content creation tools I listed are a must before travel. Wireless access is also vital as most of the apps I used were accessible only via the internet. My library bought us all Macally iPad cases (yes my library really is this thorough) which made it easy to put the iPad into an upright position. My Library also supplied us with an iPad VGA cable (not the same as the one for a MacBook) as well since many classrooms do not always have Apple friendly connectors unless specifically requested. 

A testament to its ease of use is the fact that I really only used my iPad three days before starting my trip. Before I jumped on a red eye, I had never used Keynote or Notes for content creation, nor did I know which apps would display on an LCD. I had the backup of other colleagues PCs if I needed it but I was determined to rely solely on the iPad to see if it could be done. Perhaps the most insightful thing I found from this experience is that it forced me to think outside of the box and exposed the gap in my apps as I went along. I would not have found the tools I used if I had not just dove in. Four and a half days later I can say like Gloria Gaynor, I survived and I plan on doing it again. A number of participants brought iPads as well and I would love to hear the converse of this story: what’s it like being a student in an iPad only environment?  

  1. mojogirl posted this
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