Monday, May 6, 2013

Oh Appy Day

I got my iPad a year ago Christmas and an iPhone this past Christmas (I call them iStuff).  I was sure they would help me with teaching, but I didn't know precisely how.  There was some vague notion that cool and innovative apps would play a big role, but it turns out that much of the real utility has been in the ... well ... utilities.

While we do have classrooms and other school resources at our main location and a couple of auxiliary locations, most of our English classes are held in non-school spaces around the city.  I do lesson prep in my office at home, teach in two different libraries that are 8 city miles apart, drop in to our West Philly office between classes to have lunch and access a printer, and go to meetings at the main office now and then.  This had been a communication nightmare, but thanks to my iStuff, I now have my "desk" available wherever I go!  Here's a summary of the tools I use with my iStuff to help me stay organized and keep in touch.

thanks to Keith Ramsey
Mail (iPhone and iPad): the standard mail app that comes with the iStuff is just fine.  I love being able to check my personal mail and office mail in one place any time (except deep within the subway system).

Calendar (iPhone and iPad): again, the standard calendar app does it for me.  It's synced to my three Google calendars.  The key is being able to (and remembering to) update the calendar the instant a commitment is made.  Before the iPhone, it was not easy.

Reminders (iPhone): yep, the standard app does the trick.  I used to keep a class notebook in which I jotted quick notes for future lesson planning, transferred info from bits of paper that people keep handing me, and  noted any time I told someone "I'll do that". Now I have three lists in the reminders app, one for each class and one for everything else.  Goodbye notebook!

General communication (iPhone): talking on an iPhone is a tad awkward.  Hold it to your ear and you can't see the screen or use other apps.  The speakerphone is not private.  Earbuds work great after you fumble around to find them and hook them up.  I don't have a Bluetooth thingie, so I text more.   Many times, that works better anyway.

Dropbox (iPhone, iPad and PC): it's essential.  All documents on my home computer are now transparently accessible wherever I have Internet.  I do my lesson and data prep at home, but I have it all with me for reference in class and at the office.

Google Drive (iPhone and iPad): I have Microsoft tools on my PC and that's what is used at the office, but Google Drive works best with its own file format.  For formatting text and serious spreadsheet work, Google's functionality is weak (but improving).  But for collaborating, it's fantastic.  I like working out a draft document online with other team members in real time (or not). My vocabulary team keeps all of our shared resources in Google Drive.  Unlike Dropbox, I can actually create and edit Google files from my iStuff.  That makes it good for taking notes, etc., that you (and your team, if you're sharing) can see immediately from anywhere.

Google Hangout: (iPad and PC): My vocabulary team used this for a conference call recently and it worked pretty well!  I ran it on my iPad while I used my PC to edit files, etc.

Goodnotes: I keep all of my PDF downloads in this app.  Research, periodicals, some e-books, etc.  When I'm trying to learn something new, I like highlighting (it keeps me awake, ha ha!).  I've tried others, but keep coming back to this one.  Straightforward, does the job.  I can organize in folders (keywords would be better) and I can back it all up to Dropbox.

Kindle: not my favorite, but I now buy e-books (or check them out from the library) whenever possible and this is where they show up.  Its functionality has gotten better (highlighting is easier, for example), but it doesn't allow me to organize stuff.  Keywords would be excellent.  Folders would be OK.

One thing that isn't working for me so well is that I can't send a document from my iStuff to our office printers.  When mindsets begin to shift, we are all going to do a lot less printing anyway.  But for now ... I  mail an electronic version of most of my data to the office once a month, but it's not "official" until I print it out and physically deliver it to a particular folder.  The mindset shift is occurring, but it's slow.

Another weakness is that you can't do serious document work on iStuff.  I have a nice Bluetooth keyboard, but the apps themselves don't usually support fancy formatting, etc.  I still have to go sit at a PC for that.

A lot of this is surely not news to the tech-savvy among you.  But I did want to share my experience.  Maybe more experienced users have some tips for the cons I've mentioned?

Next post, I'll share how I use iStuff in the classroom (and how I'd like to use it).

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