iPad, Therefore I Am?

From Jean Everett of the CofC Biology Department (and resident Plant Taxonomy expert), this post is an honest, questioning, and insightful look at applying the iPad to daily instruction.

I participated in the very first Faculty Technology Institute in 2003.  That week transformed my teaching primarily by honing my skills in PowerPoint and introducing me to Photoshop; the laptop completely transformed my working life by making me mobile.  I felt rocket-launched into the brave new world.  I was hoping for the same from the FTI last spring, but the magic was not quite there.

The iPad is definitely a valuable tool that I use daily to take meeting notes, to keep up with email and my calendar, and to read from a variety of sources.  When I teach in summer sessions I can take images of student projects that they can then incorporate into their reports – an increasing number of students have their own “smart” devices, but the iPad camera evens the playing field for students that do not.

I love the concept of the presentation applications, especially AirSketch.  However, most of the times I’ve tried to use AirSketch in the classroom, I’ve been stymied by a lack of setup time or a lack of wireless access.  I’d rather see computers with touch-sensitive screens that I can draw on during a PowerPoint presentation.  This modern equivalent to “chalk and talk” would be as transformative as PowerPoint – my lectures are image-rich and being able to annotate during a lecture would be very valuable, especially since in the rooms I use, projection screens cover the chalkboard.  By comparison, AirSketch is clumsy and static – lectures have to be saved as pdf files and downloaded into Dropbox.

Most of the other apps and tools we learned have functioned to clutter my life, rather than streamline it, and I’ve slowly stopped using them.  Now I mostly use Mail, Safari, Calendar and Maps.

My far the most valuable session during last spring’s FTI was the frank discussion we had with a small group of incredibly bright, energetic and engaged students.  The points made by these students have affected the way I teach and connect with students in and out of my classrooms.  I’ve started using reverse classroom techniques in one class, I’ve increased my efforts to bring in relevancy and current examples, and I have de-structured some lectures and allowed for a lot more student input.  Perhaps the most valuable lesson learned from these students is that while they completely rely on tech, new tech for the sake of new is not useful to them.  Amen.

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