Last year, with a fearless group of 10th graders in Katrina Kennett’s English class at Plymouth South High School, we attempted to transform the traditional research process to a completely paperless one using a fresh new cart of iPads.
As I have written previously about iPads in the classroom, our decision to use iPads did not start with iPads, it started with learning goals and objectives. We later determined that iPads would fit into the equation.
The 4 Goals
A few of the goals that we outlined prior to the research process included:
- Students will crowd-source their research to a collective research group.
- Students will incorporate varied media types into their research: web based text, traditional text, audio and video.
- Students will work collaboratively with their teacher and classmates on their research and writing process.
- Students will become proficient researching and writing in a digital environment.
Based on the objectives that we established prior to the process, we then determined that iPads would fit. Before we proceed any further we must address the elephant in the room…the iPad keyboard. When going paperless with iPads the point will be brought up that the keyboard and typing on an iPad is frustrating. I would argue that the benefits, connectivity and collaboration that can be achieved when going paperless with iPads outweighs the slower word per minute typing count. As Stephen, a student in the class noted,
“The technology used really help to enhance the writing and research process. Diigo and the iPads proved to be particularly helpful during the process of researching and annotating. Some minor challenges were presented with the use of this technology (writing with the IPads was a bit more difficult than typing on a computer), but nothing interfered with the process in a negative way. Some of the technology could prove very useful in the future.”
The question still remains, how can iPads help address the goals listed above. Through a combination of apps, Safari extensions and a bit of creative problem solving, a research process can go completely paperless.
Going Paperless – The Process
- Dropbox - This app allows students to work offline in the Pages app and upload their document to their Dropbox account with each new draft. Pages does not support direct upload to Dropbox. As a solution, students linked their Dropbox accounts with SendtoDropbox. This work around allowed the students to email their working draft to their Dropbox account. One of the earliest steps in the process was to have the students share a folder in their Dropbox account with their teacher in order to allow the teacher to check in on their progress along the way.
- Pages - While there are less expensive alternatives for word procession on an iPad, Pages is the most stable option that will consistently be supported and updated for the life of the iPads.
- Diigo Web Highlighter for Safari - As one of our goals was to take advantage of the web connectivity and social bookmarking, Diigo was a perfect solution. Once the Diigo app is installed, there is a three step process to install the Safari web highlighter. This Safari add-on allows students to conduct, save and share their web based research to a collective Diigo group. The Diigo group was setup by the teacher early in the process, student accounts were created and the students were invited to the group. To access and refer to each other’s research, students had to access Diigo through Safari, not the Diigo app. The purpose of the collective research group was to have students examine each other’s research and use the resources their classmates found in their final research paper.
- Notability - Because students would still be conducting traditional paper based research, we needed a solution that would allow them to digitize and share their research. When students found traditional paper content that was part of their research, they could snap a picture of the document and pull it into Notability. They could then digitally highlight, underline and insert notes on the document. Notability will also export directly to Dropbox from within the app.
- Explain Everything - This step was a late addition to the process and allowed students to create video screencasting feedback of each other’s papers. The process was a bit cumbersome, but in the end it worked properly. Students exported a PDF version of their paper from Pages and email it to a classmates SendtoDropbox email address. This would place the PDF version of the paper into the classmates Dropbox account. The receiving student could then open ExplainEverything, link to their Dropbox account and use the PDF of their classmates paper as the back drop to the screencast. To share the video files, we had students publish directly to the teacher’s YouTube channel from ExplainEverything. This allows all of the students to visit one location to watch the video feedback that their classmates created.
At the end of the entire process, Jess captured the challenging yet rewarding nature of the entire process:
“Definitely keep doing this! It’s just as exciting for the students to work with technology as the teachers. I think over time the whole project will get more organized though.. A few parts were a little chaotic, but that was sort of unavoidable. Changing the world is a tall order, you know?”
Moving Forward & Going Paperless
While we were a Google Apps school (prior to the recent upgrade to the iOS Google Drive app) creating, editing and sharing a google document on iPads was frustrating at best. However, the recent update to the Google Drive app that allows for in-app creation, editing and sharing of a Google document absolutely changes the landscape of going completely paperless with iPads. The clunky workaround of combining Pages, SendtoDropbox and Dropbox in order to get student work shared with the teacher would be much streamlined by conducting the entire process through Google Drive.
As an alternative to the process of writing in Pages, collecting research in Diigo and storing documents in Dropbox, I would consider jumping to Evernote to house the entire process. Writing, researching and sharing could all be conducted within Evernote. When combined with the Evernote Safari Web Clipper, web based research could also be conducted and shared directly to an Evernote research folder. Another helpful resource is the Evernote email address, that would allow teachers and classmates to send work to one another throughout the process.
While the end result was a success, with all student research papers being posted via email to this collaborative Posterous blog, Greg honestly reflected on the process and kept things in perspective,
“I will take away determination more than anything from this project. I was able to take a foreign technology and figure out how to successfully use it to create a research paper which I take alot of pride in. This paper was not just thrown together in one night. It took many frustrating weeks in order to finish this project. I learned many valuable technological skills, but i also learned that technology is not always better. The reason we have been using good old paper and pen for so long is because it works and is simple ”
In Part II, we will explore the day to day process of a paperless iPad classroom.