Using the iPad in the Classroom

Sheralee Thomas

Even though I believe that successful teaching doesn’t depend on technology, the appropriate use of it can enhance the teaching experience. This is something that I had the privilege of experiencing lately.

In spring semester, the IT department gave me an iPad to test run as a teacher. I was very much looking forward to the experience of incorporating the iPad into my teaching routine and I found many advantages to using it.

The first and most obvious advantage for me was the size and weight of the iPad in comparison to a laptop computer, which I usually use for teaching. Although laptops now come in very small sizes, none can beat the iPad in this regard. It is smaller than any textbook and can easily slip into most women’s handbags or a pile of books cradled in one’s arm without adding bulk or weight.

As a result of its small size and low weight, the iPad can become your constant companion and help in your daily work as a teacher. Instead of trying to remember which files or books you need to lug around with you, you can easily have everything you’ll ever need with you on your iPad at any given moment. Meet a colleague or student on the pathway who has a question? Whip out your iPad and get an answer immediately because all your resources and records are always with you. I use the first generation Wi-Fi iPad, so I can only use the Internet when wireless is available. But at Southwestern, this means anywhere on campus. If you can get an iPad with a 3G connection you will have Internet access anywhere you are, thus adding to the convenience of this multi-purpose device.

Another great advantage I found in the iPad is the instant power-up and power-down. With just a click of the power button you have your resources at your fingertips. You can walk straight into your classroom and begin your multimedia presentation within seconds. Even if you are using the stand-by mode of a laptop, it can take time until it gets really operational.

You can design the presentation on your iPad using the Keynote App, or do it on your office or home computer, and then simply transfer the presentation to the iPad, using iTunes, where it will remain at your convenience until you decide to remove it.

If you have an Apple Mac laptop with the desktop version of the Keynote software, which is my case, the integration with the iPad is fantastic. If you are using MS Powerpoint either in a Win or Mac laptop, you can transfer your Powerpoint presentation to the iPad and it will be imported into the Keynote app format. I have used this option also and it works well, however, you may need to do some adjustments before displaying it. Editing content in the iPad is not a problem, you can do it using the touch screen keyboard, or an external Bluetooth keyboard.

If you don’t want to use the Apple Keynote app, there are plenty of apps that can display Powerpoint presentations in the Apple App Store. Some of them even allow you to natively edit an MS Powerpoint file. Some apps are free, but you may need to pay for the apps with better features.

The iPad connects to the classroom projector and speakers just as a laptop does. You flip the screen with your fingers to change the slides. You will need to acquire the VGA adaptor separately because it does not come with the iPad. It is also possible to remotely control the iPad using an iPhone as you stroll around the classroom interacting with your students during the lecture period. For this function, it’s necessary to buy an extra app for your iPhone called Keynote Remote (only works with Keynote). iPad remote controls like the ones existing for laptops are not available on the market yet. The iPhone is the only option currently.

So what did I use my iPad for? Display presentations, store class-related documents (syllabi, class notes, class rosters, etc), check and send emails, search the Internet for resources and show class related videos. I also was able to access the Internet during class time to show pertinent and helpful articles or videos to my students. Any video resource can easily be incorporated into the actual presentation itself.  I also used the spreadsheet capabilities to record my students’ grades and attendance although there are many apps available for teachers to accomplish this function. And finally let’s mention that the iPad provides many other possibilities of use offering dozen of thousands of apps for anything you can imagine.

Are there any downsides to using the iPad in the classroom? As with any new gadget, time is required for one to become familiar with how it all works and how to overcome some obstacles. Not all of Keynote’s templates from the desktop version are available in the iPad version. So you can have occasional problems transferring completed presentations. In this case you need to import the presentation with the template included.

The user should also be aware that even though the battery life is incredibly long (you could use the iPad all day on one charge), if the iPad does run out of charge during class time, you have no recourse but to stop use and charge because it cannot be connected to both the power and the projector at the same time.

With the iPad, once you’ve started the presentation and you feel the need to do something else, you have to stop the presentation. It is like using a laptop in mirror screen mode. However if you are using a laptop in dual screen mode you can have the presentation on the projector and something else on the laptop screen, like an attendance list for example. It is worth mentioning that the iPad first generation can only display photos and video in the projector presentations; it will not mirror the iPad screen. However, the iPad 2 mirrors its screen with the projector, so whatever you do on it gets displayed.

The latest release of the Keynote app has also become available for the iPhone. So, many of the topics mentioned in this article apply to the iPhone as well.

It is true that I happen to be married to one of the Southwestern IT staff members, and this helped a lot when I needed to learn something new about the iPad. However, many of the IT staff have iPads themselves (both first and second generation) and would be very helpful if you had questions. In addition, googling a question usually helped me find a solution when my resident expert was not available to help me.

In conclusion, I found the iPad to be an excellent addition to my teaching tools. It helped me organize and prepare for my classes well, while reducing the amount of paperwork and books I needed to carry around with me. I never had the need to bring a laptop to the classroom. In addition, as an education teacher, I believe it is advantageous for our students to see their teachers willing to try something new and incorporate it into their arsenal of teaching strategies.

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  1. David
    August 19, 16:04 Reply
    Just down the road from you in Tyler, we're piloting an iPad classroom environment for our kids. Our students are itching to get hold of the iPads. I've found them to be an excellent interactive teaching tool. See our website as we detail our deployment and the hurdles we encounter. David Maples MSSE, Southern Adventist University 2004 Theology, SWAU
    • Jazzmine Bankston
      August 19, 16:54 Reply
      @David: I didn't know you were a Theology major! Tell the folks there in Tyler I said, "hello."
      • David
        August 23, 21:28 Reply
        I will, Jazz... Dunn's birthday is today, by the way. :-)

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