I have been using an iPad at work and home for about a year now and it has quickly become an indispensible tool for managing research and academic writing. Initially many colleagues were a little suspicious or sceptical about my use of the iPad at work, flashing me looks when I pulled it put at meetings to take notes, or sitting somewhere quiet to read. Over the last few months I seem to have had a steady stream of colleagues appearing in my office, sparkling new iPad in hand, to ask for tips and advice on which apps to get.
What I thought I would do here is provide a brief overview of which apps I have found most useful from an academic point of view. I have left out apps specifically designed for academics – such as the Science Direct app – because well, they just didn’t work for me… Consequently none of the apps here are designed specifically for academic use, but are great in such an environment.
Mail is the standard email app that comes with the iPad but is worth a mention as access to exchange email on the go is perhaps one of the most useful aspects of the iPad. As it is synchronised to the universities exchange server, I have access to the full address book as well. This all frees me up to work wherever I like, whenever I like, something that I personally need in order to stay productive.
Calendar, like Mail, comes as standard on the iPad, but as any busy academic knows, managing your time is essential. I synchronise my calendar with Outlook on the work PC so any changes I make on the go also appear on the office machine. To do this effectively you need to install the iCloud control panel on your PC, but that’s not a big deal.
Twitter is being used by an increasing number of academics – you can follow me here. Of course access to our Twitter feeds on the go is essential. I have tried probably all of the Twitter clients on the iPad such as Hootsuite, Twitterific, Tweetbot, but I always seem to come back to the in-house Twitter app for some reason. Just does what is should.
Flipboard is a social network aggregator – it takes feeds from your networks and presents then in a magazine style format for an easy (and beautiful) reading experience. I synchronise Flipboard with my google reader RSS feeds which I use to pull in information from blogs, news sites, job opportunities, and journal article alerts. I can share interesting articles with twitter or Facebook integration, and save a long article for later via a ‘read later’ button to Instapaper. If I want to read, annotate and archive a journal article I email myself a link to the paper.
iBooks is my e-book reader of choice. Whilst there are others – most notable Amazon’s Kindle app, I find that the iBooks app suits my needs best. I can create shelves and so divide my reading up – fiction, non-fiction, academic, Pdf’s. I use the apps ability to open and store Pdf’s direct from the iPads browser very useful. I manage my e-books via a pc/mac app called Calibre which I can sync to the iPad and send pretty much any document to the app.
Instapaper is a service which saves articles for later reading. You can save articles via your web browser, or via many other apps such as Flipboard or twitter clients. The app then allows you to read a stripped down version of the article on your iPad or other e-reader. You can also share articles you like via twitter integration. There are other apps which do this such as Pocket or Readability, however Instapaper also allows you to see what your friends, twitter followers etc are saving and reading.
Citrix provides an app to allow connection to a remote server. Like many institutions, mine provides a virtual desktop for students and staff. With the citrix app, I can connect to my work windows desktop and use all of the applications associated with it like the Microsoft Office suite and other specialist applications like Minitab or SPSS. It’s a little clunky and not really useful for full-scale use, but can be useful if I need to access something on the go that is only available via my work desktop.
Skype is an essential service for me. There are a large number of distance learning students on the MSc programmes on which I teach. Many of our international students return to their home countries to complete their thesis. Skype allows me to stay on touch with these students and supervise them almost as if they were in the office with me. I think that this situation will only increase as universities seek to attract more international students at undergraduate level.
YouTube is a video sharing service as I am sure most people know. I use it to share videos of my lectures for use by distance learning students. Whilst videos of lectures are not the best way to address distance learning, it is required of my at the moment. Usually our videos are uploaded to the university servers and shared via Blackboard, however the turnaround for this was often 2 weeks from lecture to upload. By using YouTube, I can have the videos available an hour after the lecture and can embed them into the module Blackboard site.
TED is a great resource for academics and students alike. TED seeks to make the best talks and performances from TED and partners available to the world, for free. I use many of them in my teaching to punctuate specific points and students love them. How else can you get Al Gore to give a guest lecture? The iPad app is great for discovery of good talks which I can then favourite for use later on.
Dropbox – If you don’t already use Dropbox to store and sync all of your important academic work – get it now here…. It is simply the best way to keep your documents both safe, and accessible at all times. It has replaced my use of USB drives and the like, so now when I teach a class, I will log into Dropbox via the web browser in the lecture theatre and access my presentation from there. It also allows me to carry and sync my entire (extensive) Library of research papers with me for reading and marking up on my iPad.
Goodreader is a PDF reader and markup tool for the iPad. It is very powerful and can sync with most web storage services including Dropbox. I use it to read and mark-up research papers, which I send to my iPad via my reference manager of choice, Zotero. I then send them back to Zotero on my computer where I can extract and save these annotations for later use. I also use Goodreader to mark up student work – wither completed assessments or thesis drafts from my postgraduate students.
Blogsy is the best app that I have found so far to create and manage blog posts I can now complete a full draft of a post, including inserting images and links using the iPad alone. Whist the learning curve on Blogsy is quite steep, its worth the investment as I don’t have to wait until I am with my computer to begin writing.
WordPress has its own app of course, but I find this difficult to use for writing posts – you need some knowledge of using HTML script to get the best out of it. Where it is useful is for checking on, replying to and moderating comments. It is also useful if you like to keep and eye on your blog’s statistics. Other than that, Blogsy is better all round.
Evernote carries the strapline ‘Remember Everything’ on its website, and this is indeed its strength. It allows me to take notes in meeting or seminars, clip interesting websites for later reading or archiving, save scans of receipts for expense claims, store passwords or serial numbers – pretty much anything I can think of. It also scans the text in these notes so I can search the information contained in them. I can then access this information anywhere via the iPad, smart phone or web. Particularly useful if your handwriting is rubbish like mine…
Prezi is currently my presentation tool of choice. It’s cloud-based software allows me to create more visual based presentations that don’t necessarily follow a liner path like Powerpoint. I find that used correctly, a Prezi can engage an audience much more that Powerpoint style presentations. The app allows me to tinker with the presentations on the iPad on the way to a lecture if need be.
I hope that some of these suggestions will be of use to others. If you have any comments or suggestions for other apps useful in an academic environment, please let me know in the comments.