Teaching with an iPad

I got an iPad2 for my birthday last summer, and although I use it every day at home, I have rarely let it venture into the classroom. The one exception was a poorly executed attempt to place it under the document camera so students could see the spinning RNA molecule in my Molecules app. I didn’t have a way to connect the iPad to the projector in the classroom, but I thought the document camera would be a decent substitute. I was wrong. Glare from the overhead lights made the exercise futile.

I finally decided that it is high time to do more with my iPad. So for this blog post I am going to lean shamelessly on my OU colleague Dr. Mark Morvant, an innovative organic chemistry professor who gave a presentation on using iPads in the classroom last January. This post is based on the notes I took during his session.

First, you need a way to hook up your iPad to your computer and/or the projector. There are multiple ways to do this. For example, I just bought an Apple VGA adaptor, affectionately known as a dongle, for $29 at our campus IT store. This will allow the projector in our classroom to mirror the display on my iPad. I am already excited about the potential to show off that Molecules app during the chemistry unit in my biology class this fall.

iPad dongle

My iPad with its new teaching partner, the dongle

Another way to hook up your iPad is to use Apple TV and Airplay to wirelessly stream data from your iPad to the projector. The giant advantage here is that the setup is wireless, so you can roam your classroom with your iPad. I’ll be honest, I did some searching around and still don’t understand how this works. That’s why I went with the dongle.

If you like to use a tablet PC in your class, you can use your iPad in much the same way. You can create your PowerPoint or Keynote presentation as usual, convert it to pdf, email it to yourself, open it on your iPad, and use iAnnotate to highlight parts of the lecture or scribble on it to your heart’s content (hint: you’ll need a stylus). After class, you can email the annotated lecture to yourself of your students, or you can put it in your Dropbox to retrieve it later.

Penultimate is another app that lets you write on the iPad; you can even import photos and annotate them with a variety of “pen” colors and sizes. You can use Penultimate to turn your iPad into a digital whiteboard, drawing diagrams of molecules or mitochondria or muscle cells or whatever else you might want to depict in class. And again, you can save your masterpiece and send it to Dropbox for posterity. For good clean iPad fun, you can’t beat Penultimate.

Dr. Morvant likes to roam the room, so he goes wireless, and he likes to get students involved in the class. So he sometimes puts a question on the iPad and hands it along with the stylus to a student to answer while the rest of the class watches. Hint: if you do this, lock the rotation (Settings –> General –> Lock Rotation) so the image doesn’t rotate every time you hand over the iPad.

If just preserving your images isn’t enough for you, you can record your voice and your sketches to create videos as well. Dr. Morvant mentioned Screenchomp as a useful, highly rated, free app that helps you achieve that goal.

Finally, if you’re into concept mapping, check out iThoughtsHD or SimpleMind+. It’s not too hard to imagine starting a concept map and having students add to it as they pass the iPad around the room.

Of course, I have only scratched the surface of what you can do with iPads in the classroom. You can check out Apple’s own iPad education site for more ideas, and of course the iTunes app store is full of education apps for the iPad. Hmm, this Powers of Ten one looks interesting; its goal is to help students visualize the scale of biology. Maybe I’ll spring for it soon.

If you teach with your iPad, please feel free to contribute your own ideas, favorite strategies, and best practices. I am a novice but am eager to learn more.

This entry was posted in Active learning, Concept mapping, Engaging students, Instructional technology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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