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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Why I Plan to Buy an iPad for Teaching

Law professor bloggers haven't said much about the iPad, aside from the bloggers at Law School Innovation who have posted some interesting thoughts (1 2 3). To celebrate iPad launch day, let me explain why I plan to buy one to use in the classroom.

This semester, I taught a class in math for lawyers, and in class I found myself drawing lots of diagrams and equations for the students. I had never used the chalkboards in our classrooms before, because I ordinarily teach from the projected video from my laptop (I don't use Powerpoint; I project a mind map in each class.) After two, failed classes with the chalkboard, I borrowed an old tablet PC our IT department had lying around, installed Linux and a piece of sketching/notetaking software called Xournal.

Now, in class, I sketch to my heart's content to the projected image on the wall. I can switch pen colors whenever I want, or change the background to lined paper or graph paper or yellow, legal pad paper. I can find documents or images online, import them into my notes, and annotate them. And most importantly, at the end of class I export my notes to PDF and post them online.

This is why I will buy an iPad for classroom instruction. Using a tablet is far, far better than using a chalkboard--I get to face the class as I write, I don't end up with chalk dust all over my clothes, the students can see what I'm writing without straining--no ghost images from the prior class; no weird lighting days--and they get to keep a copy of my notes for later study. And none of these benefits apply only to teaching math; I think teaching from a tablet makes as much sense if you're writing down the elements of a tort rather than drawing histograms. And an iPad will be miles better than my clunky, old tablet, which has needed rebooting during class a few times.

In fact, once the economy recovers, we should simply remove all of the chalkboards and whiteboards from our classrooms and replace them with projectors and video-input cables. That's at least what I would do if I were in charge.

Posted by Paul Ohm on April 3, 2010 at 12:16 PM | Permalink


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Paul, I have a feeling the ipad isn't going to work for you this way. The chalkboard feature in keynote apparently didn't make it to the final version.

Posted by: Rich | Apr 7, 2010 1:59:21 PM

I don't really get how your are going to scrawl notes using your finger other than diagrams really? Sure you could use a note taking app and type in with the onscreen keyboard but that kinda defeats the object? Plus adding images from the web whilst notetaking will be hard as it doesn't multi-task (unless you get an app with images to access within it) not sure the ipad does exactly what you want it to really?
I love the idea of using it for teaching with smartboards etc. but it just won't do it!

Posted by: Dave Orritt | Apr 6, 2010 6:43:09 AM

Interesting perspective about higher education. Read our general educational report card for the iPad at http://www.ededco.com/blog/

Posted by: ededco | Apr 5, 2010 1:36:31 PM

Totally agree, which is why I'm hoping to begin using an iPad in class Tuesday - although I can't yet dispense with the laptop since Apple's slide software for iPad (Keynote) can't yet do everything the computer version can do. TenOne makes a stylus that many reports have said should work with an iPad, and I expect other companies will follow suit, which will address the concern expressed by billb above. Also, MindManager's iPhone app for mind mapping provides one possible answer to Steve Bainbridge's question. It may work adequately for iPad as well.

That said, for drawing digital diagrams in class, I wonder if an interactive electronic whiteboard would be better. Better yet perhaps would be an electronic whiteboard which will project whatever app or program is running on a connected iPad or laptop, allowing you to electronically sketch over it, or perhaps manipulate it directly from the whiteboard display. (Does anyone have experience with that technology + recommendations as to which brand is best?)

Posted by: Marc Blitz | Apr 4, 2010 9:04:36 PM

What will you use to project the mind map? Have you found a drawing app?

Posted by: Steve Bainbridge | Apr 4, 2010 8:16:37 PM

Paul, the nice thing about a tablet is that you can draw with the stylus.The iPad doesn't have one, and Jobs thinks you should just use your finger. Any thoughts on how that's going to play out for you?

I was hoping that the iPad would be the ultimate note taking device, i.e. that it would replace all my paper notebooks where I scribble my mathematical musings, but it's starting to look like I should wait for the MS Courier instead (as loathe as I am to say it).

Posted by: billb | Apr 4, 2010 10:22:04 AM

I would have really fought that decision. Having to shlep my laptop to class and buy my own iPad just to do some simple projected drawings would be really miserable. We also have a laptop hookup for folks who want to use macs.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Apr 3, 2010 11:12:06 PM

Our building is only four years old, and I was on the subcommittee charged with outfitting classrooms with technology. We bought some really nice projectors, which throw enough lumens to be seen pretty well with all of the lights on and blinds open.

And we chose not to put computers (or Sympodia) in each class for several reasons: podium real estate, cost, and fears about vandalism, repair and replacement costs, and flexibility (A built-in computer wouldn't let profs choose between PC, Mac, Linux, or special software). Most of our faculty were using laptops by then, anyway, so we decided just to let them bring their own computers to class.

Posted by: Paul Ohm | Apr 3, 2010 8:58:16 PM

I'm with Bruce on this one. Getting covered in chalk dust is part of the performance. It makes me feel good after a hard fought hour in the classroom.

Posted by: Vladimir | Apr 3, 2010 7:55:32 PM

Bruce said, "Great suggestion, but I actually enjoy the performance art of making huge circles with my arms while I draw, or running from one end of the board to the other during class."

Glad to see I'm not the only one!

I am considering going to Powerpoint, but only because my writing on the board gets worse every semester.

Posted by: Mark D. White | Apr 3, 2010 4:31:20 PM

My question is why your school doesn't spring for some Sympodium PC's. If you have the projectors already, they can't be that expensive. I've been doing drawings in patent law since I started teaching.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Apr 3, 2010 3:25:58 PM

Great suggestion, but I actually enjoy the performance art of making huge circles with my arms while I draw, or running from one end of the board to the other during class -- using a tablet kind of reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's bit about how the cordless phone changed the dynamic of slamming the phone down in anger.

One question I do have though -- Paul, do you teach in the dark? Or are your projectors bright enough that you don't have to dim the lights? Even in rooms where you can just turn off the front row lights, it strikes me as suboptimal to leave the room like that for a long period of time.

I'd also be interested in an example of how you use mindmaps, which I think you've mentioned before. I have the software but am not sure what to do with it.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Apr 3, 2010 3:02:13 PM

An USB adapter comes with the iPad.

Posted by: Nealf | Apr 3, 2010 2:40:17 PM

Thanks Paul--I wonder why they don't make a similar iPad to USB adaptor? I see a USB adaptor on the site--but it looks like its solely for charging. Well, maybe next version....

Posted by: Amy | Apr 3, 2010 1:58:31 PM


Here's the answer: http://store.apple.com/us/product/IPAD_VGA_ADP?mco=MTc0MjU1OTU

Posted by: Paul Ohm | Apr 3, 2010 12:53:07 PM

Great idea. How would you project from the iPad to the classroom - I was under the impression that the iPad didn't have a USB port - does it have some other adaptor that would let you plug it in to port your diagrams onto the screen?

Posted by: Stew | Apr 3, 2010 12:45:40 PM

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