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iPad Producer
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 03/18/10

Some describe Apple's new iPad as a media consumption device. Under the headline, Built for Watching, Not Working, the New York Times recently bemoaned the tablet's inability to produce. A blogger put it more directly, under the headline Consumer vs. Creator:

The iPad is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again. That is why media companies and advertisers are embracing it so fervently, because they think it returns us all to their good old days when we just consumed, we didn't create, when they controlled our media experience and business models and we came to them.

This seems to fly in the face of what we advocate in this column, the importance of students as producers of their own media (Consumers or Producers?; Student Engagement; Basic Technology Competencies (Part 2).) A device that restricted students to the role of consumer of media -- no matter how serious or academic -- would not be something we'd like to see in school. But after a few days with the iPad, and a thorough exploration of how it works, and the tools available for it, I came to a different conclusion than the pundits mentioned above. So this week's article is a primer on how to produce educational works on the iPad.

Research

Even the most creative of productions requires some research. Research is an exploratory and investigative activity, not a passive consumption of information. Armed with a provocative question or a sticky problem, a student can employ the iPad to gather and compare the ideas, facts, and artifacts needed for productive work. The most obvious app for this is the web browser, which on the iPad works just like it does on the computer, with the ability to search, find, and save what you need. (To save text from the Safari web browser, select it, copy it, and paste it into the Notes or Pages apps.) Other apps can help in the research: Wikipanion for encyclopedic introductions; National Geographic's World Atlas, or Google Earth for maps.

Writing

Even in the age of multimedia, the written word remains a most efficient form of communication and persuasion. As they say on Facebook and Twitter, What are you doing right now? And for writing, the iPad offers the producing student an array of tools: the built-in Notes app for short simple pieces organized into a collection, like the 3x5 note cards some of us old-timers remember from the days before digital (see Notecards in this series); the MySheet app that lets you create text documents into folders organized by subject; or the full-featured Pages app for longer essays with nice layout. All these use the same on-screen keyboard, which takes some getting used to but in many students' hands will become within a day or two an efficient producer of words. Saving, copying, cutting, pasting, are built in to all of these; fancy formatting is possible with Pages.

Images

Alas, the first iteration of the iPad lacks a camera; nonetheless, the tidy tablet lets students work with online images (which form the majority of their productive academic work anyway). A student can find an image with the Safari web browser app -- Google's image search works like a charm on the iPad -- copy it by tapping, holding, and tapping the Copy button, or save it with the Save button. Saved images go into a permanent collection in the built-in Photos app. Once copied or saved, the pictures can be imported or pasted into the Pages or Keynote apps to be incorporated into a finished work. Or edited right on the iPad with the Masque photo-editing app.

Students may also create their own diagrams, charts, and graphs, with Keynote or Numbers; or draw from scratch with one of the many free-hand apps (SketchBook), and from there copy and save them for later use in their productions. Keynote, Pages, Numbers, and SonicPics, among other apps, will incorporate these images by copy and paste, or through the Photos app.

Need a screen shot from an app or web page? Just hold down the home button, and click the power button. The resultant image ends up in the Photos library, whence it can be incorporated in other production apps.

Sound

Students can record voice or music with their iPads, using the built-in microphone and speakers, with apps like Voice Memo. These can be sent to fellow students or to their teachers through the built-in email app.

Presentations

Students can use the iPad's Keynote app to create presentations that combine text and images (but in the current version, no audio -- see Podcasts below for a work-around). Very much like using PowerPoint on a computer, Keynote on the iPad allows images, builds, simple animations, and transitions. Text and images can be copied and pasted onto a slide from another app on the iPad, or brought in from the Photos library. And when connected to a projector, the iPad can display the production to the entire class.

Podcasts

Want to communicate with voice and images? Want to make a quick narrated presentation from the images you've collected? Point your students to the SonicPics app. With this you drag in images from your Photos collection, put them in order, then record your narration as you flick the pix to tell the story. The result is saved in video podcast (.m4v) format, playable on everything from the iPad to the iPhone to the laptop to the desktop to your grandmother's PC.

Can the iPad produce many of the kinds of work we want students to do in school? The answer is a resounding yes. Can it produce everything we'd ever want? Not yet. There's no video capture or editing (yet), no WYSIWYG web-site editor (yet), no equivalent to GarageBand (yet). But there's plenty to keep our students meaningfully creating and publishing their own works.