Using the iPad to Record Observed Students on Placement

One of my interests is how to use iPads more effectively with my students. My plan is to keep a blog/diary of how I am using the iPad and its impact on my teaching and the students’ learning.

Some areas I intend to use iPads are:
– recording observations of students on placement in primary schools;
– administration at University (including attendance);
– lectures/presentations.

Today, I tried using the iPad during an student observation for the first time.

Purpose

      To determine the feasibility of using iPads during school visits as an alternative method of recording and assessment;

To identify potential difficulties and issues of using iPads instead of the traditional paper report form;

Setting It Up
Usually, a specific paper form is used during tutor visits. This form is A3 size in triplicate – one copy for the tutor, one for the student and one for the school. I have the original PDF document used to create this paper form and Adobe Acrobat was used to add fields to each section of the form in order to create an electronic version which could be used for this trial.

An app for the iPad called PDF Expert was also used to enable me to type into the fields on the PDF form.

Implementation

There were some issues with the iPad auto-correcting my text causing me to then correct it. I found it easier to turn the auto-correct feature off although there was still a need for meticulous proof-reading.

There was no bold/italic feature (possibly due to not having set the presets on the form properly) nor was there a bullet point feature, something I prefer to use during my reporting. Instead, I had to use paragraphing to separate my key points. This is probably more of an aesthetic issue but I found that not doing so gave the form a “text-dense” feel which old have looked visually overwhelming for some students.

The ability to scroll text allowed for comments to extend beyond the confines of the text box. However, if the form were to be printed, the text below the text box would not be visible.

During the observation, it was easier to hold and type on the iPad as it was significantly smaller in size than the paper version. Comments were able to be edited as the observation progressed without having to cross/score out, as is necessary on a handwritten, paper copy.

During the discussion with the student after the observation, it was equally as easy to refer to the iPad as it was to refer to the paper duplicates.

PDF Expert allows for the tutor’s own signature to be saved and brought up by pressing and holding down on the iPad. It also allows for another signature (which doesn’t get saved) which works well for the student’s signature. It was a bit awkward for the student to sign her name with her finger on the iPad and it was clear it was not her regular signature. There is a question whether a signature is needed on an electronic version of the form. However, it was decided that obtaining a signature was in keeping with the other students’ hand-written reports and also provided clear evidence that the report had been shared with the student at the time of the tutor visit.

One small issue was that the student needed to review the form which meant explaining how to scroll using the iPad. The student was a bit hesitant but was willing to try. She was given the iPad and an explained was given about how to scroll each section. She read through the form without difficulty.

The form was emailed to both the student and the school mentor. This was achieved through the use of a MiFi (portable 3G device) and connecting the iPad to the 3G network. However, it would have been just as simple to have emailed the form once in a WiFi area (possibly upon the return to the office/home at the end of the day).

Evaluation

It was not difficult to use the iPad and the pre-created form for the tutor visit. By not needing the large A3 form, it was less awkward to sit, observe and record the student. The fact that I can type quickly and I’m comfortable with the use of the iPad probably made for a more effective and productive experience.

The number of words used in the word-processed form was slightly higher than recent handwritten reports. This is probably due to my ability to type faster than I can write. A wireless network was connected to the iPad via Bluetooth. The ability to touch type was then particularly helpful as it was not necessary to look at the keyboard while typing. More attention could be paid to observing the learning experience. This resulted in the higher word count as more commentary was recorded.

Although I word-processed the form, another method could have been to use Notability (an app for iPad) and to use the hand writing facility. This would be challenging using a finger. However, using an iPad stylus would simulate (to some extend) writing on a paper form. It would be of interest to compare using PDF Expert and word-processing with using Notability and hand-writing.

The student experience is not impacted negatively in a significant way except, perhaps, the lack of an immediate copy of the report (unless the student has a way of checking emails immediately with a smartphone or suchlike). There is also the issue of the student being comfortable navigating a form on the iPad and being able to write a signature. These are issues which are not insurmountable.

Confidence in using PDF Expert (such as knowing how to access signatures) and the iPad in general is certainly necessary to ensure the focus can remain on observation (and recording) of the student. Training would certainly be necessary for other tutors unfamiliar with PDF Expert. It is also helpful to be able to touch type (I.e., less need to look at the keyboard whilst typing).

One particular issue is regarding sending the form to the student as an attachment to an email. Firstly, it is important for the tutor to ensure the emails is being sent from a work account. More importantly, the form needs to be sent as a flattened file; this allows the student to read the file but not edit it. However, this removes the ability to scroll text. In this particular scenario, the student was in contact to state she couldn’t read all the text.

Having reviewed the PDF document and researched methods about how to send a copy of the form electronically without allowing editing but with scrolling, the conclusion drawn was that it was significantly easier to reduce the font size to make the text fit the area as the student was able to zoom in on the text, making it easier to read. Indeed, there is no easy way to create a non-editing form with scrolling on a PDF document unless JavaScript is used and/or Adobe Acrobat Pro is used on a desktop/laptop computer. Having to use a computer/laptop to send a report defeats the purpose of this study.

Next Steps

      Use the iPad to observe another student, using

Notability

      and using hand-writing instead of word-processing in order to compare both experiences;

Get feedback from involved students and school mentors;

Review PDF form to identify if attributes such as bold, italics, etc. can be added.

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