Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The iPad as a research tool

I'm a grad student collecting my dissertation data. My research is on science education - I give middle school students written tests, interview them, and videotape their science classes.

One reason I wanted an iPad was for reading scientific papers on - I'm tired of lugging around a two inch stack of reading material, and wasting a tree or two on printouts every semester. But I hadn't really given any thought to how it could fit into my research workflow in other ways. There are plenty of things I simply can't do on it, or that are still easier on the laptop - things like transcribing videos, coding data, and statistical analysis (unless anyone knows a good stats app that can compete with R or SPSS...). That pretty much leaves data collection as the one part of my work that it might actually fit into.

So today I took it with me as I taped some eighth grade classes. There we some definite advantages:

- I take limited notes during the taping. Nothing extensive, since I do have the tape, but bits to remind myself of interesting things to look back at later, things that might have affected class, etc. Notetaking apps are perfectly adequate for this, although I'm not sure yet I could use them for more extensive purposes. Right now I'm switching between Notes Plus and UPad, seeing which i like better. I took notes in NP today, and it worked quite well. Plus, I have a tendency to spread my notes across whatever notepad I grab each day, leading to lost notes (I'm a bad scientist, no dedicated lab notebook). Consolidating them all on the iPad would be helpful.

- The iPad is far less intrusive than a laptop. I had it open alongside my notebook in the back of the room all through the classes, and I don't think a single student (or even teacher) noticed. Lugging my 15" laptop out, opening it, etc is a lot more likely to grab attention when my main goal is for the students to forget I'm there. And my laptop has crappy battery life, so I'd have to find a place to plug it in, etc.

- On the other hand, I don't think I'll be using it during interviews. I use my laptop to show the kids videos and paper to hold my questions and take notes on their thoughts about the science topics in the videos. I could use the iPad in place of either of these, but in this case, when it would be right there in front of them, I think it would be a distraction. Tablets are still too new and cool - the kids think nothing of being shown a YouTube video on a laptop, but waving an iPad in their face would be a bad idea. Maybe in a couple more years.

- It made multitasking easier. In any classroom, there are going to be periods where the teacher is taking care of business that I don't particularly care about. With the iPad, I was able to use this time to take care of some scheduling issues (trying to videotape in multiple schools/classrooms at once is always complicated) instead of just standing there watching the teacher collect homework. Again, my qualm about viewing multiple things at once came into play. I wound up using both the iPad and my paper side-by-side to facilitate writing down schedule issues from emails and comparing them to figure out the best combination of dates. I know nothing about the iOS API; I assume that if app devs could allow me to view multiple notepads/pages at once, they would? So I'm left hoping that Apple realizes how useful this would be soon.

- On the other hand, of course, I had to resist the temptation to goof off. :) I did a fairly good job - the only thing I really did that wasn't work-related was using the Gas Buddy app to figure out where to get gas on the way home.

Overall, I'm definitely interested in exploring the iPad's potential as a research tool further. I'm going to keep using it to take notes during data collection and see how that goes.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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