How Teaching Changed My Mind about the iPad


This is a guest post by Alan Jacobs, a professor of English at Wheaton College, and the author of Original Sin: A Cultural History. (You can find a comprehensive list of Jacobs’s publications here.) Jacobs blogs at Text Patterns, and he can be found on Twitter. This is a modified version of a post from Text Patterns; the original is here.)

A few months ago, I bought an iPad — and a week later returned it. It didn’t seem to fit my workflow. I use my iPhone to manage my life and my MacBook to do serious work, and it seemed to me that the iPad just plopped down between those two stools and lay there, useless.

But when the fall semester began, I found myself reconsidering that decision, for a couple of reasons.

First: I have never built (and almost certainly never will build) an entire class session around a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, but I often want to show a few slides at some point in the class — and yet I rarely do so, because the process seems unwieldy to me: create the Keynote deck, pack up the laptop, unpack the laptop, wake it from sleep, type in my password, etc. But with an iPad I can quickly create a presentation, carry the device to class under my arm, plug it in and instantly have my presentation running.

And second: I am a plain-text guy. I don’t quite keep my life in a single big-ass text file, but I keep it in a lot of little text files. For random notes — ideas, things to remember, links to follow — I use an eccentrically fabulous Mac app called Notational Velocity, but everything else I write in the justly venerated text editor BBEdit: books, articles, blog posts, class notes . . . ah yes: class notes. You see, I backup and sync all these files via Dropbox, and Dropbox has a very nice iPad client which allows me to view all those files. (See previous ProfHacker coverage here and here and here and . . . .) Once I thought about all that I have going here, I realized that I had stumbled on an ideal (for me) teaching workflow — I just needed to get an iPad to make it work. Which I did.

Here’s how it goes. Let’s say I have about an hour before class. I’ve got notes for the session, but I want to show the class a few images and quotations. I grab the iPad and create a new Keynote file, copying and pasting the relevant material from online sources or my Dropbox files. Then I turn back to my MacBook and revise my class notes to incorporate the material I’m going to present. When it’s time to go to class, I grab the iPad. I plug it into the projector and show my slides. When I’m done, I unplug it and open Dropbox, and voilà: my just-updated notes, in a very readable format. No more printing the notes, three-hole-punching them, and putting them in my notebook — and no more throwing away last year’s notes. Just write or revise, and go.

So I’m an iPad user again, and it really looks like it’s going to be the central device of my pedagogical life. At least, until something even cooler comes along. . . .

Image by Flickr user freddyfromutah / Creative Commons licensed

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