Anecdotal records using iPad

One of my professional goals this year is keeping some anecdotal records of what my students are doing in class so I have a better record of what they do during class in addition to having some artifacts of their work, such as exams, audio or video projects. My tool tool of choice is my iPad, not (just) because it’s so darn cool, but because it’s something I have with me all the time. I was also inspired by Chris Lehmann’s plan to use his iPad as a tool for facilitating his walk-throughs (and I’m hoping that Chris will share his experience with the world).

After a few days of research and pondering I’ve put together a set of tools and a workflow that I think will work. The two primary criteria I’m looking for are portability and simplicity. I want to be able to access the information not only on my iPad, but also on my MacBook or from any of the school computers. I’d considered using Google forms, but I’d also like to have the data actually residing on my devices simultaneously, not just accessible through the cloud. I already use Dropbox for syncing/storing many other files on different computers so I’ll be making use of it for this project. I also want my data to be portable in the sense that I can use/edit it between different applications – no proprietary data formats allowed!

By simplicity, I mean that the tools needed to work with the data should be simple tools that I can have on my MacBook, iPad or whatever device I have at hand. Straight ASCII text is the simplest data format for which tools are readily available on multiple platforms so I’ll put all the data into straight text files.

There are a number of iPad apps that edit text, but only a couple that I know of that sync with dropbox – Plain Text (currently free but soon to adopt a freemium model) and Elements ($4.99). (I did a quick google search while writing this post and found that another app called iA Writer ($4.99) also looks promising. There is a Dropbox app directory for various platforms that connect into the Dropbox APIs). Since Plain Text is currently free, I’m using that but if a better alternative comes along, I can easily use transfer over since all the data is in plain text files. I’m storing the records in a separate file for each student.

Usually adding components to a workflow or other system increases the complexity of the system. In this case, however, there is one additional element that makes the system simpler. I already use TextExpander on my MacBook and it is one of my indispensable tools. There is also a version of TextExpander for iOs devices that allows me to create text snippets then assign a text trigger for it. When I type in the text trigger, if I’m in a TextExpander aware app, it is instantly and magically transmogrified into the text snippet. For example, i have a text snippet for the current date in the format YYYY-MM-DD which is triggered using “dymd”. I type in those four characters and today’s date in the desired format appears. I’m creating some text snippets for templates that I will use for creating the records.

So the whole thing basically consists of text files stored/synced with Dropbox. I can create/edit the files with any text editor that can get access to Dropbox. TextExpander helps to save on the typing, which is especially handy when typing on the iPad. The only part that I need to figure out is some way of tweaking data out of the text files in a manageable way, but I think I’ll be able to put together some simple Python scripts to do all the data extraction.

Stay tuned for details as to how this works out.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad