iPad student diaries #6: It’s spreading, but causing confusion

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My iPad is no longer the only iPad in the classroom. Someone else in class got one as well, and that means it’s time to teach them how to use it.

Someone else in class just got an iPad as well and I’ve been helping her to get useful apps and features in place for using it for various things. I originally started doing these articles to do just that- help people find new ways of using their iPad, namely for school. Helping someone directly though has made me see some difficulties with getting people to adopt technology when they have no idea how to use tech (in general) to begin with.

Being a geek is not really about knowing everything, it’s more about knowing enough to figure out the rest. In order to find all the little treasures on the app store that make life easier, you have first be able to imagine what you want to do and know enough about how things work to know whether it’s possible. That includes little things like the principles of a PDF file compared to Word documents or web pages (which is needed to understand why smartNote requires PDF files and hence why you need Save2PDF) or knowing the basic principles of cloud storage and syncing/moving files in order to get a file from A to B. These things aren’t needed to use the iPad one app at a time, but they are so critical in order to be able to use multiple apps as one big app suite, tying everything together in a system where everything works together fast enough to be used on a daily basis.

I realized how difficult this can be for those who (very understandably) never learned the basics when I tried to explain my smartNote environment to this new iPad owner. I ended up drawing diagrams of what role the different apps play in the system and I started to feel as if I was some crazy professor who just held a lecture to a class of third graders on how to make a nuke in your garage. To me everything is so easy to understand because I’ve been doing these kinds of things for years, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than I thought when you start to look at it: Documents are scanned with the iPhone, saved as PDF, uploaded to Dropbox (iPhone), downloaded from Dropbox (iPad), imported into smartNote and inserted into a notebook. Word documents, web pages etc are converted to PDF files using Save2PDF (which requires you to use the Save2PDF web browser to get the files) and then imported into smartNote and inserted into a notebook. Straight up PDF files are opened (in Safari) and then imported into smartNote and inserted into a notebook. PowerPoint presentations are downloaded using Filer, imported into Keynote, printed to Save2PDF using a fake printer driver (converting to PDF in the process), imported into smartNote and inserted into a notebook. Then when everything is done and complete with notes on top, it’s back into a PDF file and off to iBooks for storage (and preferably sync it with a Carbonite-enabled computer for backup).

I can do all of this in my sleep, but if you never quite learned the difference between a PDF file and a Word file it suddenly gets a lot more difficult. Even if you have that down, remembering the process for each file type isn’t easy if you didn’t think it up yourself and know how it works. The process for Powerpoint presentations is definitely the most complicated of these, so that one I didn’t even mention in my explanation to  my “pupil”. It’s like trying to solve a math problem using a formula without knowing how it works, you get dependent on the formula and if something doesn’t work you’re screwed.

Another issue for new iPad users who want to do any of the things I talk about in these articles is being able to use a stylus. I’ve been using one for years, from resistive ones like the Nokia N800 and Viliv S5 to Wacom pens and now capacitive styli on the iPad. They all have their quirks; resistive styli reqiure a calibrated screen and enough pressure to register, using Wacom tablets require you to write on a plate that is independent from the surface you’re writing on (the screen) and capacitive styli are giant soft blobs that are very inaccurate when you’re trying to duplicate something as thin as a pencil line. Multi-touch gestures are in my blood to the degree that I can’t stop using them even when I’m not at a touchscreen. If you’re used to pen an paper though, the transition can be difficult, especially on capacitive screens where the inaccuracy of the stylus makes zooming and panning essential. My teacher got a scare once when she tried to scroll up on my iPad and ended up drawing lines all over the place due to using one finger, not two. People who use pen and paper aren’t used to their fingers being pens, nor the existence of an “undo” button or a perfect eraser that leaves no marks. It can be very hard to suddenly start doing everything digitally when you haven’t done it for years- especially since doing it in a lecture environment means you have to do it fast and accurately, not mess around trying to figure out how things work. In the end I abandoned the whole on-screen handwriting idea and I’m instead going to teach her how to scan her hand-annotated documents when she’s done with them. I could never do that as I’m so used to complete control over what’s permanent and not, but for her it will still give her the ability to keep all documents organized without having to learn a whole new way of interacting with documents.

I think that in 5-10 years or so, what I’m doing today is going to be the default way of doing things. Younger pupils already learn to use computers at an early age, though compared to PDF annotation they might as well learn cave painting. It will give them a general idea of the basics of doing everything digitally though, which will make the transition to tablets easier. Make no mistake, tablets are going to take over completely in school, as they are simply better suited for the tasks at hand. It will take a few years, much better (more integrated) software to get there though, so having 10-ish apps that work together the way I have is basically an alpha version of how things will be like in the future. I hope that the people behind the Kno will get rid of the hardware department as rumored and focus on software for the iPad and other tablets, as a big (relatively speaking) company with proper funding can turn the tides on this whole method of studying, turning it from something you need to be a geek in order to get a handle on to something that t is as intuitive as the iPad itself. In the mean time, I’ll continue to blog about my experiences and methods using what’s available today, then those who can follow me train of thought can join in on the fun and the res can continue to use paper. I expect there are more of the former category among NBT readers though while the latter (dominant) category never thought of visiting a tablet specific website, so not all is lost- I hope.


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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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12 thoughts on “iPad student diaries #6: It’s spreading, but causing confusion

  • Nice….i know the feeling – the feeling of helplessness and then….being rescued by the “geek” :) thanks!

  • The Professor with the nuke… you have saved now a picture of yourself as the Prof. From mdk 2 in my head :D

  • Avatar of Matthew B.

    i know your feelings.. i have the same trouble when explaining my friend why clicking twice with a mouse on a quickstart bar opens the application twice, and why clicking once on the desktop icon only highlights it.. And then include the fact that when she tries to use the touch panel on a laptop she (for some reason) clicks 3 times, I (as a teacher) am sometimes hoping the technology didn’t even exist :D

  • Avatar of Allen Schmidt

    Hmmm, this might bring up some potential problems in the Apple segment, especially lately. I have heard numerous times that, Apple especially, makes their products sot that way nobody can tweak them. They don’t want you changing your own battery, or really knowing how things work. They want people to see an app, click, and do what they can. Now I am not sure whether I believe it or not, but some think this might lead to a slowdown of tech knowledge among the next generation. That this next generation will be so used to things “working magically” that they won’t know the underlying process.

    Things like this do give you pause. And we are definitely in alpha versions of many apps. One of the great things I have enjoyed with WP7 (since switching from Android) is having Microsoft Office built in. OneNote syncs easily, Power Point and Word are said to be coming this Fall with complete syncing abilities. So from computer, to phone, to maybe a Windows 8 tablet????

  • Not sure I agree with saying the way you do things now will be the norm in a few years. I think what you’ve described is a real roadblock to full adoption. The requirement to use so many apps for what should be a simple task will confuse many people and frustrate them, leaving the tablet a fringe device. Unless the fundamentals of multi tasking or interoperability change, I can really see this becoming a problem.

    • As I stated in the article, once everything that’s needed is integrated into a single app there won’t be a problem anymore. There’s no reason you couldn’t buy all these app developers and combine them into a single school suite, or create one from scratch, it just needs to be done.

      • Yes, I misread you to a point. You stated that it would be the default way of doing things, then go on to suggest the apps will become more integrated to cover these things. I didn’t immediately connect these statements. So you aren’t saying that what you do now will be second nature to tablet users, but instead what you’re doing now will be masked by better software. And while users will be doing it, they won’t realize how much is involved with what ‘simple’ tasks they’re doing. Exactly how Windows and Mac users are today is where tablet users need to be to make tablets a long-term success.

        • Exactly :) The issue is knowing how to get stuff (documents) from A to B. All of that is easily automated if someone just makes a single app designed to do so.

  • Hey man!

    WOW what you have done here… really convinced me to buy a ipad 2 man… wow… I’ve been using a tablet PC (Fujitsu 4220) and I really have been suffering with the short battary life… and what you explained here.. just.. WOW opened my eyes to the world of Ipad.. but one thing I find regrettable (as you mentioned) there isn’t a single app that can do ALL these.. like for myself, when using the PC, Onenote does EVERYTHING for me.. I am guessing the Onenote in ipad doesn’t.. right?

    anyways just want to let you know how much I appreciate your effort

    • The official OneNote IOS app is made for iPhones (no iPad resolution version) and is nothing like the OneNote you’re used to. I suggest you take a look at this article which is the main one for ALL the iPad-in-school stuff:
      Basically, you need a couple more apps than with OneNote, however OneNote doesnt do everything. It doesnt allow you to scan documents using a camera, nor is it (IMO) a good document READER. So, more apps, more features ;) good tradeoff

      • thanks for your reply,

        I just have a question about transferring scanned documents from my iphone 4: Is there any other way to transfer the scanned documents without the use of internet? like.. Bluetooth or something? Is there any apps thats like that? I noticed an app called BUMP thats sort of like a “localized” file transfer but that requires a wifi connection, which would make your way (drop box) alot more convenient.

        • Yes, but they’re not “standard” – that is, you probably found the one single site on the Internet where someone knows how (and thats not an exaggeration), There are two ways I see off the top of my head:
          1) BY FAR the easiest: Take pictures with your iPhone 4, but don’t use Scanner Pro on it. Instead, use the Apple Camera Connection Kit’s USB dongle and a standard USB/30 pin dock connector and connect the iPhone 4 to the iPad that way. The iPad will see your iPhone as a camera and allow you to transfer images and video off it. This doesn’t let you transfer PDF files, hence why you can’t process the images in Scanner Pro on the iPhone. Instead import the raw images into the iPad and use Scanner Pro there.
          2) Get an Airstash: It’s a storage device that creates its own Wifi network that you can connect to (so it’s not dependent on other wifi networks nearby). Unlike the other wireless storage options out there, the Airstash actually allows you to UPLOAD files as well. The chain of event would then by scanning with iPhone 4 -> opening PDF file in iFiles (file uploader that works with airstash) -> uploading to Airstash -> downloading to iPad.
          I can think of a couple other methods as well but I think these are the most practical in the long term.


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