iPad apps for academics (Part 2)

I wrote earlier about a few apps that I had found useful in my first weeks of owning an iPad. Well I’ve been actively pursuing opportunities to learn more about the learning applications for tablets like the iPad and wanted to share some of what I have found. A lot of this comes from a workshop by the brilliant Joe Moretti, who came to my university to run a workshop on iPads in education. I hope these are useful to you, too:

  • AirDrop – Not an app per se, but a useful tool included with later iPads. Airdrop uses Bluetooth to provide easy sharing of files and documents without need for WiFi with multiple participants. This can be useful for having classes share files among themselves in small groups, but it won’t work in larger lecture classes. Beware, though, as people can see their proximity to your device for theft so leaving Bluetooth on all the time can be a risk.
  • Explain Everything – EE is a live whiteboard that can record sound and annotation. The app allows easy download to local files store (via the camera roll) or upload to YouTube. You can embed images and bring in pretty much any kind of file, including PowerPoint, PDF or Word, and annotate and voice over to explain concepts. In particular, you can load up through Dropbox and work through examples in the lecture theatre in real-time. Coupled with a VGA adaptor to connect your iPad to a projector, this makes any projectable surface into an interactive, recordable smartboard.
  • Reflector – The frustrating thing about the iPad in teaching is that despite the portability of the device, if you want students to be able to see what you are doing on your iPad you need to be tethered to a computer through VGA. Reflector is a $10 piece of software that solves this by allowing screen sharing (“wireless mirroring”), so long as your iPad and your laptop/desktop are on the same wireless network. For those of you who can’t install Reflector on your university or school computers, a work-around is that you can have that software on a laptop and connect that through VGA to a projector then mirror (convoluted but it works). The Mac version of Reflector allows you to capture the voice and display components to record. However, firewalls prevent these things working, and so you may need to talk to IT staff to open a specific port in the university firewall. IT services are reluctant to open up, but certainly some universities have figured out a way to make this work. The University of Southampton, for example, have set up proxy settings that allow Airplay to be used.
  • Showbie – Showbie provides a simple and efficient addition to existing virtual learning environments (VLEs), running alongside and complementing products like the Blackboard service, while giving additional functionality in regular interaction between staff and students. Showbie allows inclusivity and is cross platform, connects to existing documentation and permits differentiation between students. It can be 24/7 if there is WiFi. This is a wonderful way to organise classes, give feedback (audio or text, including voice to text), share PDF or PowerPoint files, take photos of notes and share, or share videos and links. Teachers can also create subgroups of students by creating additional classes with subsets of students. It sounds as though the only functionality missing from the Windows version is voice recording, but you can record using other programs then upload the file. Also, there is no Android version, and no current plans to make one, but it is likely to come in the near future.
  • NearPod – This was one of my favourite apps, and I can see immediately how I can use this in my university teaching.  NearPod is completely cross-platform, and you just need a code to log in to a session. Take a PowerPoint presentation (for example), exported as PDF and then uploaded to NearPod.com. When students log in, they have no control over the presentation. You will need to bear in mind that there is a spike in WiFi activity with the initial downloading of the file, so asking students to begin the download a few minutes before you want to start using the tool helps. NearPod allows you to take an attendance register through the incorporation of sign-ins. You can monitor attendance through name colour (leaving leads to the name turning red). Key thing is that questions can be asked, and responses (optionally anonymous) all feed back through the app and can be downloaded, with everything recorded for later download. There is a wide diversity of question types, which can be scrolled through in real-time to provide feedback. Because you don’t have to be on the same network, NearPod can be used to give presentations and interact with classes at distance. The app has a really nice revise and test function (you can show information and then ask questions straight after) as well that can be used along with live feedback and progress monitoring. You can play audio files, either as prompts for discussion or the focus of the discussion, and can take people to specific websites. The limit on the free version is 30 students at a time, but this allows you to create presentations that you can use with the paid version. You can also create homework from a NearPod, and the number of submissions through that tool is not restricted in the free version. The app is great for extension activities with a nice user-friendly interface. Best of all, there is no need to sign up for anything, because accounts aren’t needed – students just need a log-in code for each session.
  • Socrative – In a similar vein to NearPod is Socrative, an in-class interaction and quizzing tool that can replace clickers. Socrative is also platform agnostic, allowing students to access the quizzes through tablets, smartphones or laptops. Quizzes are easy to set up and use, responses are displayed in real-time, data can be downloaded for analysis, and there is a set of pre-configured quizzes that allow you to gauge student interest at the beginning and end of the class. Best of all, Socrative is completely free at this point. There may be a charge later (it is a new product) but until then it is an excellent tool for classroom engagement.
  • Book creation – There are a number of tools that can be used to create eBooks. iBooks Author is excellent, providing the opportunity to incorporate multimedia, slideshows, whiteboards, and interactive elements into “books”.  The downside is that the eBooks produced in iBooks Author can only be read on Apple devices, making it inappropriate for almost all teaching applications. Wikipedia has a native book creation app on the website which automatically strips out any material that is not Creative Commons. You can then add multiple Wikipedia pages to create a book. Once you create an eBook you can then can mark up the book using iBooks, although annotations cannot be shared. Creative Book Builder was suggested as the best eBook creator aside from iBooks, and will produce books that can be used on all platforms (on PCs, you will need a Chrome plug in called Readium).
  • A few miscellaneous MS Office tools – Cloud On is a useful MS Office app that can work Word docs. SharePlus Lite is a simple Sharepoint app for accessing SharePoint sites.

With all of these apps, I would suggest trialling them to see what they can do.  If you have a PC/Mac, smartphone and tablet available, try setting them up together to see how students will experience the tools. I would certainly recommend NearPod for homework quizzes and Socrative for in-class engagement. I’ll be trying both of those out over the next year. Let me know if I have missed anything!


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