Saturday, December 20, 2014

Useful tablet tech gift ideas

As the holidays bear down upon us, here are some ideas for last-minute gifts you might get your favorite tablet teacher.


My iPad came (thanks to Fresno State) with a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio which I really enjoy having. It is a case to protect the iPad that also has an integrated Bluetooth keyboard. The folio acts as a stand for the iPad as well. The key layout takes a little getting used to; the thing I miss most on this compact keyboard is a tab key that doesn't require using a modifier key as well.
The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio

I opted for the Adonit Jot Script because of its ability to perform wrist rejection in certain apps (i.e. Penultimate). Although this stylus is expensive, the built-in Bluetooth connectivity is what allows tablet apps to know whether it is the tip of the stylus contacting the touchscreen (when you want the screen to respond) or your wrist, just resting on the touchscreen. The main drawback I've found about the Jot is that its hard tip makes a very subtle *tap* sound when it contacts a touchscreen - this isn't surprising. However, any hard-tipped stylus will cause issues if you're using an app like ExplainEverything to make a recording - you'll hear in the recording all of the *tap* *tap* *tap* as you draw, write, navigate using a stylus. So, I don't use my stylus when I record movies or when I present in-class, but I still use it (and it is essential, especially given my "stout" fingers) for any sort of drawing application.


For untethered presentation (e.g. walking around a classroom with your tablet), I really like the MaxCases educator case, which clips onto the back of a tablet and has an elastic strap that fits around the hand. The case also rotates around the clip, so that it is easy to change the orientation (portrait or landscape) of the tablet as you're holding it. There is also a built-in loop for holding a stylus. I use this case every day in class. If you've tried holding onto a tablet for an entire class period and had extreme hand fatigue, or if you've accidentally pressed various parts of the touchscreen while using your tablet, you'll love this case.

When I'm not using my iPad, it lives in a Cocoon Innovations iPad Sleeve. This extremely handy padded tote has a fleece-lined pocket for cradling your tablet; it is just (barely) large enough to accommodate the iPad while it is attached to the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio. What is most unique and useful about this product is its sole other feature: a pocket for holding your tablet backup kit! With myriad elastic loops of all sizes (Cocoon's big contribution to luggage organization), everything I carry "just-in-case" always has a place to live.

Cocoon's iPad Sleeve
Some of these extra items that the iPad Sleeve holds will also make good stocking stuffers for your favorite educator!

  • iPad-VGA adapter (or iPad-HDMI adapter, depending on your classroom set-up)
  • LASER pointer (splurge and get a green one - they're much more effective than red)
  • Stylus
  • iPad charging cord
  • Keyboard Folio charging cord
  • Apple Remote
  • Spare batteries for LASER pointer
Happy shopping!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Term 1: Lessons Learned

As another reflection on the first semester of DISCOVERe tablet-based instruction at Fresno State, I'm offering a few general best practices for any of you who are thinking about introducing tablets into your classes. Later, I'll detail specific best practices for certain apps and approaches. Look back through some that I've already covered in previous posts:

Lessons from the first semester of tablet instruction

Be flexible. As you are aware, this isn't specific to tablet instruction. However, we're more likely to run into problems opportunities in class when trying something new, and these can lead to those priceless teachable moments.

Be prepared to spend more time doing essentially the same in-class things you used to do without a tablet. Likewise, be prepared to sacrifice some content to give you and your students time to establish workflows for apps. Consider making practice assignments (assign some points purely for completion, if you want) to let students work through using apps for the first time and become comfortable with their new learning environment.

Be an evangelist. On day one and regularly throughout the term, explain to students the potential benefits to them of tablet instruction and set their expectations for the term.

Foster interaction between you and the students (and between the students) about how they are using their tablet in class. The students are more likely to come up with efficient processes and creative ways to achieve goals than the instructor. Leverage their expertise!

Finally, and most importantly, have a backup plan!

  • What will you do if there is an internet outage? Our campus was performing network upgrades during the term that impacted internet access during one class period.
  • My tablet suddenly isn't connecting wirelessly to the AppleTV (and through it, to the class projector), or it keeps dropping the connection! What now?
  • "Dr. Ross - the new version of that app, which just came out, doesn't work the same as it used to..."
  • A third-party website you were planning on using (e.g. online database, textbook publisher website) is temporarily down

Once again, as always, the flexibility of an instructor to deal with adversity on the spot is critical for keeping a class moving forward, engaged, and convinced of the perception that their instructor is an authority. Addressing the above best practices in advance will help you keep those students engaged and to present the best possible classroom environment to them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

All good things come to an end

Today was the final day of instruction in my first DISCOVERe course! Looking back on the term, given other responsibilities, I certainly didn't do as much innovation and exploration as I would have liked to incorporate the tablet into my class. However, I am overjoyed and proud that the first half (or so) of the semester involved a flipped classroom approach, where I recorded screencast lectures in advance of each class; my students were required to watch those before coming to class. The reason that I didn't continue this approach through the entire term was because I was also requiring students to perform textbook readings in advance of class as well, and the two approaches were mostly redundant.

What I'm even more proud of is that I faithfully recorded every lecture (except one, because of technical difficulty) and posted each one on YouTube. As mentioned in the previous post, I've seen resounding success with this approach. Today, my channel for my course (both my tablet and non-tablet sections combined have an enrollment of 84) has received 5,805 video views, in which 53,090 minutes of video have been watched by my students. As soon as I post grades, I will be allowed to access my student assessments for the purpose of analyzing my successes in more detail and comparing my tablet and non-tablet courses.

In one month, I will start instruction on my second DISCOVERe tablet instruction course: Applied Bioethics. A graduate course, this will be fundamentally different from my genetics tablet course, and I'm really looking forward to learning about and inventing more new ways to use a tablet computer in class!