Using the iPad to hack the grad school workflow

My Productivity Apps for School

I am lucky to be a member of the inaugural cohort of the hybrid Phd in Ed Psych/Ed Tech at Michigan State University. Not only do we do the majority of our coursework online, but we were lent an iPad to assist in our studies.

As I’ve gotten to know said iPad, I’ve discovered a way to hack my workflow with it in ways that I can’t on my laptop.  I like working on the iPad for things like reading and annotating. A few things about my set-up: I use the iPad apps in conjunction with web-based applications to seamlessly sync between the two. Also, I am a working mother while in grad school, so I am often reading while cooking dinner or while the kids play (I have three-year old twin boys): basically I like snatching whatever moments I am able for reading for school.

So, let’s begin with Mendeley. Mendeley is a social network for researchers that stores your articles and books on your desktop, on the web, and on your mobile devices like the iPhone and the iPad. Mendeley will also do your citations and syncs with Zotero.  I have set up groups to share my readings with my advisor and classmates. I can add notes, tagging systems, and make groups. I can also annotate within the desktop and mobile versions. I can not fully explain my deep and abiding love for Mendeley.

Mendeley on my iPad: I can read/annotate here or open in another program, like GoodReader

I hate doing searches for articles on the iPad, so I generally do library or Google Scholar searches on my laptop, save them using the Mendeley toolbar and then also save any PDFs to Dropbox.

Once I have an article I want to look at in Mendeley, I generally annotate in GoodReader. I like that I can import from DropBox or from Mendeley and then save my annotations as a new copy, thus always keeping one version clean of notes and scribblings. GoodReader has more robust annotation features, including drawing, notes, underlining, highlight, and shapes.

The annotation toolbar in GoodReader for ipad

All in all, I’ve found this Dropbox/GoodReader/Mendeley trifecta highly useful and productive, especially since I am not quietly reading in a sunny corner somewhere, but usually reading in the midst of barely controlled chaos.

Other apps I’ve found useful:

  • SoundNote: take notes and record; when the recording is over, the individual notes sync with the place in the recording when you wrote (think like the LiveScribe pen)
  • WordPress: love this way of blogging on both my iPad and iPhone. I also have a bluetooth keyboard to assist with typing on both devices.
  • Instapaper: for all those articles on twitter I would like to read later
  • Kindle: I read a lot of books for school on my Kindle. They are cheaper and I like the way the highlights and notes can be pulled out and looked at later as one list.

Any other suggestions? I would love to hear them in the comments! :)

POST EDIT: A twitter conversation reminded me of SpringPad which allows you to create sticky notes/notebooks/tasks and more. Similar to EverNote, but I like the way I organize the flow on it better than EverNote.  Both programs integrate between the web and the devices.

Hacking the NWP Annual Meeting: Part 2

So now that you’ve started thinking about how you might go about hacking the conference, you may be looking at my proposed list in part 1 and having a few thoughts. For instance, “I really don’t want to lug my laptop around to the conference, especially without internet access in the meeting rooms.” or “that just seems like too much, but I’d like to try something a little easier.”

And, so I present to you Part 2: If you can make a phone call and send a text, you can tweet, podcast, and even blog without carrying anything but your cellphone. That’s right: not a smart phone, but your plain old cell phone.

Part 2: Hacking with your cell phone (or hacking without internet access)

I have long been inspired by Liz Kolb’s work around cell phones in K-12 learning, and a lot of my inspiration has come from her. Feel free to poke around her site for more ideas and tutorials.

1. Short updates can mean a lot

In part 1, we discussed the use of twitter and hashtags in order to share learning gained from sessions.  Twitter began as an SMS service that integrated with the website, allowing users to text in their tweets.  There are lots of other services that also do this–the underlying concept being that the user texts a number and the service puts the update up on the web.  These short updates, when taken together, can draw a pretty robust picture of some of the ideas being discussed and are bite-sized archives of the experience.

2. Decide what you want to do and set it up ahead of time.

The key to hacking these kinds of services is to decide what you are going to use and integrate the various services well before the conference.  Without doing some work setting up your account on the actual websites ahead of time, the services are unavailable to you.  Here are some sites to get you started.

  • twitter.com: one of the easiest services to integrate with your cell phone: set up an account, enter your cell phone number in the “Mobile” settings, and get ready to text 40404.
  • Ping.fm: one of my favorite new finds! The tag line reads: post from anywhere to anywhere.  After setting up your account and your cell phone, you can post to a number of different blogs (including posterous), your twitter, facebook, flickr and any number of other social media sites with a single text.  Not a bad little service. Udefn is another source for this type of service.
  • Finally, if you are a Blogger user (which is a great service as part of the Google suite of applications), they provide a “Blogger on the Go” service in which you can write a blog entry and post it via a text message.  There is a nice little explanation on the Blogger on the Go site, so please check that out.

3. Consider Phonecasting: podcasts from your phone

You don’t need a fancy digital voice recorder to do some podcasting.  There are a number of services that allow you to call into a dedicated phone number, enter some account information, and record a podcast. Tumblr (also has smartphone apps), ipadio (which also has a nice iPhone and Android app for the smartphone users) , and Phonecasting.com (which not only allows you to call in your podcasts, but you can call in to listen to podcasts as well) are among my favorite services that allow for this type of podcasting.

4. Remember to tag, tag, tag.

NWPAM10 is all you need to remember.

P.S. Sometimes you meet the coolest people

Another great site that integrates cell phones is Contxts.com, which allows a person to text a username to 50500 (or you can have the site text the person if you have their number) and it texts the phone a business card.  Additionally, it will track the people with whom you are exchanging business cards.   Want to try it? Text 50500 and put “Zellner” in the message.

For more information:


Hacking the NWP Annual Meeting: Part 1

After years attending to the National Writing Project Annual Meeting with the traveling band of Red Cedar Writing Project wiki-ers, bloggers, podcasters, and tweeters, I feel I have a good handle on how to hack a conference.  In the past, we’ve been really cognizant of those of us at home, wishing we could be at the conference and wondering about all the wonderful things going on.

Part 1: hacking with internet access

(Part 2 focuses on how to leverage cell phones with SMS to hack the conference)

When I attend a conference, it always seem that there is a lot of new information to process, new ideas to consider, and new people who I’ve met.  It usually turns out that, for me, the synthesis of all that new stuff is where I end up implementing what I’ve learned into my work.  Here are a few ways to approach that synthesis:

1. Take notes and POST them

I can’t tell you how often people have begged me for my email address or URL to get a copy of the notes I am taking.  It’s not that I take excellent notes or anything, it’s usually that people really like to collaborate on notes.  One excellent way to facilitate this if you are attending the conference in a large group, like we do at RCWP, is to utilize a wiki for notes.  We actually make a page that re-creates the Annual Meeting schedule and then just link our notes off of that main hub.

In this way, we stay organized and can collaboratively create a database of notes for the conference.

Additionally, now that Google Docs doesn’t require a login to edit, linking to a public Google Doc is a nice way to share some notes from a session.

2. Reflect in blogs

I find that blog posts allow me expand and reflect on what I am learning and is where the real work comes in.  This also allows more of a narrative of the conference to unfold, rather than long, sometimes disjointed, bulleted lists of notes.  With internet access, it is quite easy to jump on a laptop and write-up a quick reflection between sessions, and usually I make time to blog before I go to bed to make sure to capture all of my thinking.  Also, with smartphone apps that link to various services (WordPress and tumblr both have iphone apps, for example), I can even put my phone to work for a quick reflection.

Of course, for in the moment insights, tweeting is an excellent way to archive your learning and experiences.  Twitter is the most famous of the microblogging services, and conference attendees are using hashtags (the # symbol with some type of signifier after it, for example, this year’s annual meeting hashtag is #nwpam10).  Hashtags allow users to search twitter for all of the tweets related to the conference and is another great way to track what is going on.  The great thing about twitter (and more on this in the next post) is that you can tweet via the web, via your smartphone app, or via SMS texts.

3. Talk to people about their experiences: Podcasting and Vodcasting

Another great way to capture the experience of a conference is to interview other attendees, presenters, and speakers about their experiences.  I’ve interviewed authors like Jim Burke, Kelly Sassi, and Ron Clark about their views on education and been able to share those conversations with the folks back home.  Other people at Red Cedar have interviewed authors like Jerry Spinelli  and Chris Crutcher and taken those interviews home to their classrooms to share with their students.  You’d be surprised how willing most people are to be interviewed.  I always post these in a blog post along with some brief explanation:  a great way to share the excitement of a conference.

4. Find out how other people are sharing their information

The NWP Annual Meeting has a whole page devoted to ways one can connect to the meeting. One can post pictures to flickr, tweet, blog, post presentations to Slideshare and more.  NWP is able to grab all these different posts only if each person tags in the way indicated. So for tweets, tag with #nwpam10 and on flickr, Slideshare, all blog posts, youtube videos and the like should all be tagged with nwpam10.  That way a quick search on the tag will yield all of the relevant photos, blog posts, vodcasts, podcasts, presentations, etc.

5. Respond on designated spaces

NWP has a facebook page and a Ning designated for conversations and reflections on the Annual Meeting.  At the very least, post a comment or two in one of those spaces about your experiences.

6. Enjoy yourself!

Only do as much as you can and take each of these suggestions as an invitation to share your learning in different media.  I do it because I love learning new things and sharing them with others.  I like going back and remembering, years later, different experiences I’ve had (last year, I met Billy Collins! Wow!). I only do as much as is still enjoyable for me and no more.  I know that with so many invited to share, we do a really nice job capturing the conversation.

For more information: