I’ve had my new toy for a couple of months now, enough time to play around with it in various teaching contexts, on a few long and short trips, and in two different countries. I say toy because, if I’m honest, that is mainly what it is – I mean, it’s a luxury item, something I wanted rather than needed, and something which makes my life more fun rather than better. Nonetheless I have found myself doing a lot with it, and with certain reservations I would recommend it.

Which Model?

Mine is wi-fi only, and 64GB memory. My university campus doesn’t have wi-fi, so it means I have to be a little better prepared for class – not that I was unprepared before, but I had greater flexibility with a laptop plugged in via an ethernet cable. I miss not being able to call up youtube videos, google images and the like on the spur of the moment. On the other hand, I don’t miss carrying my MacBook Pro up a very steep hill every morning.

In the UK, wireless coverage is far more widespread – you can check up in pretty much any cafe or pub. For Japan, I may pick up one of these mobile routers – very cheap minimum monthly plan, but handy for emergencies.

I can live without the 3G, but I am glad I got the largest memory available. I have a lot of audio and video, as well as quite a few books, and it’s nice not to have to keep deleting and re-synching.

Classroom Apps and Applications

The main reason I held off on the first model is that it didn’t have video mirroring, which the iPad 2 does. That means that whatever is on the screen of the device can be beamed through a projector or shown through a TV, with the right adaptor cables. This is great for showing video clips in class – I use handbrake to rip my own dvd’s onto my mac, and it is also handy for converting other files sourced from the internet. From the laptop, I can easily synch them onto the iPad. One video app which has a lot of potential is the TED+SUB application. Many of the subtitled videos are available to be saved and played offline, too. I have also loaded up all my class cd’s – one less thing to forget when scrabbling around before a lesson, and also easier to use in mp3 format with a touch-slider control.

The first essential app is Keynote. You may have used the desktop software in presentations or class before, but I really love the way it is set up in the iPad version. It’s so easy to create nice looking slideshows, with animations, audio/visual inserts, or different design features. I like it because it allows me to pace the class according to the mood. Rather than writing three discussion questions on the board, for example, I can put each one on a slide and reveal them one at a time. The same goes for new vocabulary, or images, or example sentences, or whatever it is you want to show. It saves paper, and looks neater than my scruffy handwriting. One drawback is that I haven’t figured out a way to save the files into folders on the device itself yet, although they are so quick and easy to knock up that I’ll probably just delete them and remake them as necessary. Those that are worth saving can be exported in several formats and saved externally, them synched back onto the device in the future.

The two other apps I have used the most so far in class are both dictionary apps. The first is the Oxford Deluxe Dictionary and Thesaurus, very expensive for an app, but for an English teacher probably worth it. I’ve found it very useful as a dictionary training tool, for pointing out differences in usage, and for demonstrating pronunciation (with the audio). The other dictionary is Midori, a very effective Japanese / English (and back again) translating dictionary. Lower level classes in particular tend to rely on their translating dictionaries, (although I try to encourage and support other methods) and it helps me to make sure that they are saying what they want to say. As an aside, it’s great for my personal study. I can input Japanese via the keyboard or with a stylus directly onto the touch pad – so I can even look up complex Chinese characters.

One more reference tool which has come in handy is All of Wikipedia, as you can imagine it’s a huge file but when I am offline it can be handy for checking up on random ideas or questions which come up in class. A very useful tool for a wi-fi only, 64GB iPad 2. If you have wireless access, Qwiki presents information via audio, text and pictures. It also detects your location to offer you encyclopedia entries which may be of particular interest, although to be honest the best use in class might be spotting the inaccuracies! I am still tinkering with maps, but World Travel Atlas seems to be the best so far.

With only one iPad for a class of twenty to thirty, and no wi-fi, there have been no fundamental changes to the way I teach. If I had several iPads and wireless classrooms… now THAT would be something! Imagine students video recording each other and uploading the videos to a class blog, solving puzzles, doing research together….

I have been teaching a professional couple, informally, on-and-off, for several years. In the past, I used a notepad with a piece of carbon paper in a ‘dogme’ style lesson – I noted the ’emergent language’, we worked on whatever we needed to work on, and at the end of the class I gave them the top sheet and kept the carbon copy myself. However, they are very tech savvy people, now each with an iPad! I am set up on the wi-fi in their house and we are figuring out together some of the things we can do. One app they put me on to is Note Taker HD. Using a stylus, we can write directly onto the screen, insert images or links, save as a pdf and share on dropbox or via email. Another which could be fun is Dragon Dictation, a very clever (and free!) app which transcribes whatever you say (as long as you are wi-fi connected). It could work for presentation or pronunciation practice very well.

Finally, GoodReader is another essential app. It’s a pdf reader which I’ll talk about it more in part two of this review, but in class I have used the highlighting and annotation functions on conversation transcripts, to show particular features of conversational English. It works well in conjunction with audio downloaded from elllo, an excellent free resource in its own right.

I am still exploring the possibilities for classroom use, but I can say that the device itself has a fundamentally different feel to using a laptop or desktop. By removing the keyboard and mouse and interacting more directly with the screen, it feels far more intuitive and responsive… there seems to be one less layer of mediation between what you want to do and what the computer does. Because of that speed, flipping between a video and a text document, then zooming on to a thesaurus page feels far more natural and the flow of the class is less likely to be interrupted.

In part two of the review I’ll talk more about the out-of-class applications, for research, for admin (and for fun!). Until then, I’d love to hear what you’ve been doing with your new toy!