As part of the writing class in this semester – “Power, Space, and Pleasure” (here) by A/P Johan Geertsema – each student was loaned an iPad unit. The iPad did not feature as a mere supplementary gadget to complement the teaching-learning pedagogies; instead, within and outside the classroom, it became the centre of attention. For instance: before a lesson, we were expected to do our readings through iAnnotate, and subsequently post these versions onto Evernote; during a lesson, Dr. Johan used Doceri and Keynote (presentations and projection were done through Apple TV) to facilitate discussions and discourses.
My initial sentiments were mixed. While owning a piece of new technology (albeit just for a semester) did appear to be an exciting prospect, I am a little bit of a technophobe. I consider myself rather proficient on web-based and social media platforms (personally, I have a socio-political website, and I engage in frivolity on Twitter in a whimsical fashion), but am terribly slow when it comes to handling (new) hardware. Hence, I thought it would be constructive – from the perspective of a first-timer – to raise a few reflective points on the exclusive use of iPads within an academic classroom.
Yay: iAnnotate is a brilliant application for readings and class activities.
As its name suggests, iAnnotate allows the user to highlight, underline, and make little markings in PDF documents. The other tools include the addition of notes, pen mark-ups, as well as the provision of comments. It also comes in really handy when one is searching for key words or terms, because the number of times a certain phrase or expression appears would orientate the reader to the main arguments in the texts. We use it in conjunction with Terminology, which corresponding provides the necessary definitions for the words.
Besides readings (above), Dr. Johan has made use of iAnnotate in two helpful ways: first, for our essay assignments, he does the marking of our drafts through the application, providing feedback through customised comments and various mark-ups (below); second, we use iAnnotate to provide peer reviews before submission of our drafts. When there are group exercises in class, we also use the application to contribute viewpoints accordingly. If complemented by the right pedagogies, iAnnotate can be – and has been – a powerful tool.
Yay: Sharing-presenting readings or assignments in class through Apple TV.
The brilliance of iAnnotate is augmented by the screening and projection capabilities of Apple TV. If I am not mistaken (in tech-speak), Apple TV is a wireless network provided within the classroom; when students connect their iPads to this network, they would be able to mirror their iPad screens on the main projector screen. I presume this has two distinct advantages: first, it allows the professor to check if readings have been done properly (because a student would have to explain the main points or arguments that have been highlighted); second, the mirrored screen provides a focal point for participating students to debate and exchange viewpoints during the lessons. New propositions can be added in simultaneously, with other mark-ups done at the same time.
Yay: The ability to multitask, with multiple channels for communication.
During a screening of “The Truman Show”, our FaceBook group was used to provide any insights we have gleaned from the respective key screens, as well as to link these instances to concepts – panopticism, voyeurism, scopophilia – which we had previously explored. Additionally, in recent weeks, Dr. Johan was been exploring the use of a back-channel, which allows for the provision of new ideas and points.
Nay: Complicated file transfer.
I don’t use a Mac or the iCloud service, so file transfer on the iPad has been very counterintuitive for me. I grew up with floppy disks, the CD-Rom and thumb-drives; hence, I have grown very accustomed to a system in which I plug a device in, and gain access to the files or documents I have prepared beforehand. I have been using DropBox, Evernote, and even my Gmail inbox to save these documents, but I still find the process too complicated and contrived. At the present moment, I profess that I have a very poor understanding of how file management works on the device (For instance: after the downloading process, where are my Evernote files stored? Would I be able to restore the annotated readings or texts from iAnnotate if I stop using the iPad? Could I transfer all the files I have en masse?)
Nay: The importance of a technical, introductory session.
I believe such a session had been planned in the beginning, but the class could not find a common timeslot to do so. Notwithstanding, a technical, introductory session would have allowed the users to understand the details of the iPad, including the overall mechanisms. We were given a number of applications for our day-to-day academic-scholastic usage (below), and Dr. Johan constantly shares his experiences; nonetheless, it would have been superb if the orientation programme had been conducted.