Saturday, April 23, 2011

Two apps I like better than the websites

It seems like nearly every website has its own free app these days. Now, I'm sure many of these make sense on an iPhone, where regular web browsing isn't ideal. But I soon discovered that on the iPad, these are often extraneous at best and far inferior to just loading up the web page at worst. A couple of examples in this category are the Amazon shopping app and the iPad Forums app - in both cases, I'd much rather navigate the web page than bother with the app.

But there are definite exceptions. The Weather Channel Max app has me grabbing my iPad every time I want a weather update - even when I'm sitting at my computer where I have both the weather widget and bookmarked to my city. The key is that it gives me super-easy access to two things that I always seem to have to poke around for on the web: hourly forecasts and animated maps. And maybe I'm imagining this, but it all seems to load faster and more seamlessly than on their website.

The other is the GasBuddy app (sorry, having trouble getting the direct link right now). Even though it's only an iPhone app, the loss in resolution at 2x doesn't detract from its usefulness. Like the weather channel, it loads more smoothly and quickly than the website, particularly in map mode, which is nearly the only way I use either the app or the site. Plus, it's easier to find map mode to begin with - sometimes the web page can be a bit much to navigate. Overall, it's simply a much more pleasant experience than on the web, yet every bit as useful. And, of course, this is one app that is truly useful to have around on the go!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, April 22, 2011

iPad elbow?

The downside to using the iPad during data collection: iPad elbow.

I've been using the iPad to take notes while videotaping middle school science classrooms for three days now. I've mostly been cradling it in my left arm the way you would a regular notebook for writing on.

Yesterday, the third day of this, I realized my left elbow was feeling stiff. And when I picked up the iPad in that arm, it was definitely sore. Now, the iPad really does not feel that heavy while I'm using it. I was definitely not expecting this side effect. It still doesn't feel heavy, despite the sore elbow. But apparently cradling it like that for several hours a day is more of a challenge than my arm was expecting.

Of course, the fact that I'm nearly 8 months pregnant might be to blame. I did not know this before getting pregnant, but your body releases a hormone that loosens all of your joints - this is useful for joints in your pelvis that need to let a baby through, but can also lead to things like many pregnant women developing carpal-tunnel, not to mention knee and ankle problems from the extra weight. So my elbows may just be more sensitive to mild strains than usual.

Yesterday I tried changing positions a lot, propping the iPad up on other things, etc, to reduce the strain on my elbow. It's still a bit sore today (no videotaping today, luckily), but hopefully it'll be recovered by Monday and this will be the kind of thing it gets used to over time. But be warned - even when the iPad doesn't feel too heavy, it's no notepad!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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