Academic Skills, Pedagogy, teaching, Technology

iPad in the Classroom: Round 2

Last time I posted on this topic I included some brief videos (extremely blurry videos, I will admit) that displayed how I planned to employ note taking software, dictation software, and geography/mapping apps with my students.

In the time since I’ve written that post I’ve managed to employ SimpleNote a bit, but have found the most functionality in using the iPad for my own reading and research. While I find SimpleNote handy for jotting down ideas for reading questions, for resources to use in upcoming lessons, and for ideas that strike me during meetings, I haven’t applied it directly to taking notes about student performance. Instead, I’ve been trying to be really diligent about making observations and collecting my thoughts about students in a series of Google Docs organized according to class period. I managed to stay on top of this really well during the first week, but have been a but more intermittent in my updates since then.

However, all that information isn’t really the point of this post; writing about how I actually managed to use my iPad and the SoundNote app in class is the point. (To get a full discussion of the features of this $4.99 app and its functionality, I strongly recommend reading Kevin Purcell’s in depth review.)

I’m not sure how I discovered the app (perhaps the App Store “genius” feature really lived up to its billing), but I was intrigued by its simple interface and it’s ability to record and sync up the notes — be they typed or hand-drawn — with what was recorded at that precise moment. In this respect, the app simulates the essential features of the LiveScribe pen, although the app is a fraction of the cost and can record far more audio given the iPad’s much greater storage capacity.

So, where does the pedagogical use come in? If you read the reviews of the app online, you’ll see that most people interested in it appear to be university students who want to capture every golden word of their lectures so that they can relive the thrills during the hours they’re not in class. While this is undoubtedly a handy function, I saw the potential of the app to serve two purposes in the classroom: 1) make students really attentive to and concerned about their own style of presentation to me and their peers; and 2) allow me to model thorough note-taking for the students in a way that would demonstrate how one can get down more than just the few words that are often written on the board in the course of a lecture or presentation.

Honestly, it was primarily the first feature that interested me the most, as I think students often view in-class presentations as just something to get through and not something to really hone. This attitude is an unfortunately prevalent (and just plain unfortunate) one given that few people grow up to be professional multiple choice test and quiz takers. In reality, having the confidence, organization, and ability to present ideas persuasively is a really important skill regardless of one’s discipline or career. So, my hope was that by recording the students’ presentations (which were something that I had them compile and share within one class period, so they weren’t super intensive), the preparation and substance of the presentation would be focused, clear, and direct.

I’d tried this approach a few years ago when I recorded students’ research paper presentations with a Flip camera and had found that the mere presence of the camera created an environment of heightened focus on the part of the presenter and the audience.

Using SoundNote in this similar way I found that it had some of these effects, but wasn’t quite the dynamic-changing presence I’d hoped for. While the students listened to their peers’ presentations attentively, and for then most part took notes that they might compare with mine in the future, I found that most of the presentations didn’t have the polished, well-conceived structure that I’d hoped to see. In large part, this lack of polish is something that I could do a better job of facilitating by giving the students more time to prepare and by also requiring them to present a visual supplement or visual organizational guide that went along with their talks. However, the ease of setting up and recording with SoundNote makes it a useful tool for an impromptu changing-up of the classroom dynamic (e.g. The students can’t come in and expect to be passive receptacles; rather, they’re responsible for structuring and facilitating their own learning as well as that of their peers).

Once I’d finished my notes on each presentation, I simply emailed the file, which SoundNote breaks into a PDF and a series of audio files, depending on how many times you started and stopped the recording, to a class specific webpage.

I haven’t yet followed up with this class to find out their reaction to this approach and whether or not they compared their own notes with mine as a way to perform a self-assessment of their note taking skills. Additionally, I still need to find out what they thought about the effects of “being on the record” in front of me and their classmates. Undoubtedly there is more follow-up to come.

In the meantime, I wonder what other techniques teachers have used to increase student attentiveness to their own presentation styles. In part, what appeals to me about using SoundNote in this way is that it can hopefully encourage students to become more attentive to this aspect of their academic and intellectual development without cajoling them through the use of the carrot/stick of a grade.

What other meaningful, (seemingly) no-stakes approaches are out there to help students develop these skills? Par usuale, any and all thoughts are welcome.


6 thoughts on “iPad in the Classroom: Round 2

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review, or “The Cheapest and Easiest Post I’ll ‘Write’ All Year” « The History Channel This Is Not…

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  3. Colin Byrne says:

    I applaud you for trying to integrate the teaching of presentation skills in your classes. I agree that class presentations are often approached as something to get done rather than a chance to refine presentation skills. When I taught computer skills several years ago, I did notice that students took presenting much more seriously when a camera was present. I am intrigued by the idea of using an iPad to enhance presentation skills and will ask the teachers that I work with for their suggestions. Do your students have iPads as well or do you just have one for yourself?

    • Nate says:

      Hi Colin,
      Thanks for the feedback. At present, I am the only one with an iPad in the classroom context (though I have a few students who have them as well); however, it isn’t a 1:1 situation. I’ll be interested to hear what new approaches your teachers come up with as well.

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