I used iPads in my Fall Span 330 class. This class is a comprehensive look at eighteenth and nineteenth Spanish literature. We read essays, short stories, plays, and novels. I also assign supplementary journal articles and book chapters about the history, politics, culture and society of this period. I usually assign these in the form of .pdf files that I post on Moodle under each week. The iPads worked well in this instance. It allowed students to access these files conveniently and quickly. Most of the students brought their iPads to class and would consult those files in class as we would discuss them. They also used the iAnnotate app to mark up files. The feedback I got back from students in this regard was very positive (one student mentioned that this was the first semester he had not gone over his printing budget – and he’s a senior). I think this is a particularly useful way to utilize the iPads, while minimizing our impact on the environment and student budgets.
I had not assigned any primary readings in the form of electronic files as I like to do close analysis in class and for this type of activity it is important for everyone to be on the same page – literally. However, some students chose not to buy the hardcopy of the story, play, or novel that we were reading and found free versions online. Aside from the problems of editions – which can be an issue with older texts — it was a bit difficult for those students to be always on the same page as the students that had the paper book. We partially solved the problem of referring to the same line/paragraph by always making sure we talked about the chapter it was in, but it was at best a partial solution. In the future, and particularly since students are bringing their laptops/iPads into the class more, I will probably make sure that I have an alternative electronic version of the text so that students who don’t want to buy the paper copy can use an electronic edition that I am familiar with.
I also used the iAnnotate App to grade student essays. I assigned several short papers, a midterm essay and a longer, final essay in this class. The midterm and the final essay required the students to turn in several drafts. I created a color-coded chart (green is for errors with verb tenses, yellow for misspelled words, etc) and had students send me a .pdf of their draft. I would then go over the draft and highlight in the appropriate color errors I would see in their drafts (on paper I usually circle errors and write what kind of error it is). This color-coded system allowed me to be more efficient in grading drafts, and it made the student really think about the error I had highlighted (because I didn’t write down exactly what had been done wrong – they had to figure it out). The color coded chart worked well with language errors; I did give written feedback on the ideas and structure of the essay. This was the first semester I had required an upper level class to turn in electronic files instead of paper. I used Dropbox as well to manage files and to be able to access files from my computer and iPad. In the future I am going to continue requiring electronic files, especially for drafts – it was efficient, and it allowed me to focus more on the writing rather than on the grammatical errors.
In terms of student distraction, I did sense at times that students got distracted from what was going on in class by the screen in front of them – iPad or laptop. This is the one aspect of using iPads that I did not like. Most students were good about not using the iPad in class except if we were discussing a reading that was assigned in the form of a .pdf or if they had an electronic version of a text instead of a paper copy. However, there were some students who were distracted at times. I usually solve this problem by requiring them to do something other than sit and listen – group work, discussion with classmates, write schemas on the board, etc. I think, however, that this isn’t just an iPad problem, it is a technology distraction problem