iPad Pro in College

Quick background on me. I am an undergraduate student at Roger Williams University pursing a degree in mechanical engineering. For the last few years I have been trying to shift more and more of my work onto digital platforms. I first started by toying around with note taking on my iPad Mini with a third party stylus. This worked for some classes but the precision was not nearly good enough to use for every class (math, which I do a lot of, requires pretty fine accuracy in order to have clear work). While I was still having to carry at least two paper notebooks I did not have a drive to consolidate‘everything into one devise. My backpack was heavy with two notebooks, a textbook, my 2010 15" MacBook Pro and a few calculators. When I heard rumblings of Apple making a larger iPad that had native stylus support I started to think that such a device could make possible a lot of what I have wanted to do for years. I can say now that is certain has.

What is now possible

First off, note taking. The Apple Pencil is magical, after using it for a day I knew that I would no long have a need for paper notebooks. I have been using Notability ever since I started to take notes on my iPad Mini in 2013. I like how clean the app is while still having a huge amount of features that I want. I love being able to zoom in on what I am writing so that I can add small details (for example adding detentions to a figure). I have a lot to say about Notablility so I will cover that in a separate piece later on.

The next change I wanted to make was to develop a paperless workflow. I have never been good at organizing all the handouts and old homework assignments and other papers a student collects over a semster. The system I have developed for eliminating the need to hold onto these paper has two steps, scanning and filing. I use Scanbot to scan all the paper I am given and convert them to PDFs. What really sets it apart from other scanning apps is its edge detection and OCR text recognition which allows scanned documents to be searchable. Once I have scanned documents I make the choice weather something is going to be a reference document or something I will want to be able to annotate. If it is a reference document I use PDF Expert as a filing system to store documents. If it is something like a handout I put the scanned PDF into Notability.

These are the major breakthroughs that have come from moving to the iPad Pro as my main computer. I still do basic things like word processing in Microsoft Word and data organization in Microsoft Excel. What I am doing in these apps really has not changed since moving away from the Mac.

Learning Difference

One of the major driving forces behind wanting to do all of this is my learning disability. I am dyslexic, ADD and have dysgraphia. Having everything in one organized place take a good amount of mental burden off me day to day. Another big made possible by moving to the iPad Pro is something I just started using last week. I am taking a literature and philosophy class right now that requires a lot of reading. We are given the reading in paper every day during calls. Once I have scanned and organized these papers on my device I can then send the PDF to Voice Dream Reader which will read the PDF to me with a remarkably realistic voice. I can play this in the background like an audiobook while making notes on the document I have in PDF Expert. For someone like me this is a game changing feature.

Goals for 2016

Develop a Workflow

One of the big thing that I want to figure out this semester is an iOS workflow. As you can see above I am working on figuring this out and I have narrowed in one the major key elements to my day to day life:

  • Note Taking: This I have pretty much figured out. Notability is a great application that I a good iOS citizen getting frequent updates.
  • Scanning: I want to make a workflow in Workflow that allows me to scan, name and organize all in one action. I have been playing around in the app for about two weeks now with now luck. If anyone has any tips would love to hear from you
  • File Management: Right now I am happy with how I am organizing my PDFs but I need to work out a system for organizing everything else (Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, any file really). I have started playing around with Dropbox this week an so far I can see a system that may work. Will post an update once everything I proven and working
  • These are the major workflow items I feel I need to figure out going into this semester. More will arise I am sure but right now this is what I am focusing on.

    Textbooks

    Digital textbooks are something I have often though about in the past but has never been possible if I wanted my iPad to be more then just a textbook. However with iOS 9 and split view this is now possible. Now the problem is finding these textbooks digitally. Many textbook publishers offer digital textbook that can only be read in their own apps which of course have not been updated in years thus they have not split view support. Amazon also sells a lot of my textbooks but there are two problems with this. First off the kindle app for iPad still does not support split view. Second many eTextbooks on Amazon are more expensive than their digital counterparts. In a perfect world I would love to be able to pay a reasonable price for a PDF version of the textbooks and put it in whatever reader app I would like. Having just purchesed my textbooks yesterday this is what I have done for this semester. One of my textbooks was avalible to rent digitally only from Amazon for a reasonable price. One could not be found digitally anywhere so I found a paperback version for $20 on Amazon (side note about this book it appeares I have bought the book that is made for developing countries and is technically not for sale in the us but it is the same book inside). The other two books I needed for my math classes I was able to find older editions online in PDFs. This semester will be an intresting learning experiance in which of these models works best.

    Discover Limitations

    There are still going to be things that I know that I will need to go back to my Mac. As an engineering student I need to work in 3D CAD program like Solidworks, something that I simply can not do outside a desktop environment. There are also website that many of my classes homework is done on. Most of these have iOS optimized site however one (I am looking at you Sapling) is flash based so nothing I can really do about that. Right now these are the two limitations I have run into and not been able to workout a solution. I am sure I will run into more as the semester goes on.

    Closing Thoughts

    So this is the start of something new for me. I am not a writer but I want to talk about how I am using the iPad in college. There are a lot of technology writer who are now writing about using the iPad as there primary computing device but I have not come accosted many college student doing this (those of you who are out there let me know). I am currently writing on a deeper dive into how I use Notability every day and what it make possible.

    The iPad Pro is the future of computing. This is not to say that this is the beginning of the end for the PC but in the coming years a lot more people are going to find they can us an iOS. Looking at this from a college students perspective the iPad opens new possibilities that are not possible using a Mac. The iPad can be all your notebooks, binders and textbooks. I have already been able to downsize my backpack because I do not have to carry as many items with me day to day. Fraser Speirs's piece "Can the MacBook Pro replace your iPad" is a really good take on this idea. Many of the tasks I am now doing day to day seem so natural even tho four months ago they where not imaginable. I am exited to see what this semester brings for new workflows and continues to make my academic life more efficient.