The iPad as a research tool

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog lately reflecting on Big Education ideas. During that time, my little buddy the iPad has felt a little neglected and unloved. So I thought I’d get back to talking about everybody’s “favourite little tablet that could”. Today, I want to explore the possibilities the iPad has as a tool for researching information. As I’ve said many times, what I describe here can be done on laptops but the purpose of this post is to show how the iPad can be used for all tasks if you have decided to use iPads as your main computer. Having said that, there are some iPad specific functions and apps that for me offer a superior experience.

One criticism of the iPad is that it has the “one app open at a time” limitation. This can make it less that ideal for research. The desktop interface of regular computers allows you to have a webpage open alongside your word processing program. However this is now possible with a couple of integrated browser apps. PaperHelper is a split screen browser app that allows you to simultaneously view web pages and take notes at the same time. The app has a note taking screen side by side with a browser ( you can select which side of screen depending on your preference ) and provides tools for transferring website addresses to the notes page with a sale click. The browser has 5 favorites buttons that you can customize to link to preferred websites that you are using during our research for quick access over multiple sessions. You can use it in both landscape and portrait, depending on your preference. While it makes the browser screen a little small compared to normal iPad usage, it still provides you a window bigger than an iPhone screen and you can of course zoom in easily. I find it quite useful when wanting to copy and paste notes from Internet articles. The app also allows you to open and save your notes in word processing apps like Pages or just save the text to Dropbox or other file saving apps.

WikiNodes is a different way of browsing and collecting information from Wikipedia. Instead of presenting Wikipedia in its standard web page format, a specific topic is expanded out into key sections via a concept map type interface. Every time you select a ‘node’ it expands out into more connected topics. Each node map gives you the specific sections within a Wikipedia article as well as related topics. It is a nice visual way if laying out the information that suits today’s visual learner and the way it generates related topics can helpc students expand their ideas. You have the option to view the article within the node or view full screen via Wikipedia.

A welcome extra feature is how WikiNodes allows the user to save, store and organize information from the Wikipedia article. You can store written or audio notes about each topic you are exploring, set tags and labels to organize notes, share your information via Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote or email and view all your notes linked to a topic via a presentation the app creates for you.

Notability, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is a versatile note taking app that I think has some useful features for research. If your research involves listening to lectures or presentations to gather information, Notability enables you to take written notes while simultaneously audio recording the speaker. You can also take photos directly from the app while the recording is continuing. The beauty of the note taking and recording combination is that the app automatically links the written notes to the recording so you can go directly to what was said when you wrote a specific note. I think this would be useful during practical experiments in the classroom as the students could record their thoughts while taking photos of their experiment stages. They could then work back through their written and audio notes for revision. For children who struggle taking notes, having the audio available means they can write less then review the audio for what they missed. Alternatively, the teacher or more able student could share their notes with children who are unable to take notes due to learning difficulties.

An additional feature of Notability is the ability to browse the Internet within its own browser. Users can then save a web clip of the site they were reading within their notes that take them directly back to review the information. This is more efficient than copying and pasting web links or bookmarking sites outside of your note taking file as yoou have it readily available within our note taking area and it gives a visual reminder of the website as well in the form of a miniature screenshot of the website.

Often research involves using specific articles that are given to us to read. If you can download or convert them to an editable PDF file then you can use a range of PDF annotation apps on the iPad to make notes directly on the file. My app of choice is GoodReader, which I have used since I’ve had my iPhone and then upgraded to the iPad version. I’ve always found it easy to use so haven’t sought alternatives. GoodReader enables the user to highlight, write text notes, underline or strikeout words and phrases and draw a range of basic shapes directly on the article text. You can save the annotated file for later use and transfer it to virtually any cloud service like Dropbox, Box and GoogleDocs as well as WebDAV servers and email accounts. Notability can be used in the same way but it’s more of a freehand annotation experience, whereas GoodReader annotates accurately. Reading and annotating is also great in iBooks as well, with the added feature of all annotations being saved in a single space for easy access and reading.

Automatic news curating apps like Zite and Flipboard are great ways to have quality articles delivered straight to your iPad without any searching. Zite in particular is very useful in finding news reports, web sites and blog posts that are tailored to your interests. Simply enter your specific topic and it is likely to be a category contained within Zite. Examples include Urban Planning, Climate Change, Tennis, learning, Australian History, Drawing, and so on. The suggested articles are refreshed throughout the day and can be shared with others through a large range of social media sites and bookmarking tools. Flipboard can be set up as a magazine style RSS feed reader, allowing the user to read and share any collection of news articles or blogs. It can be customised to create direct links to specific blogs or newspapers and have all the most current article fed to a single icon that is linked to that site.

Both of these apps offer possible solutions to the aimless Google searching that happens in classes around the world because they filter out a lot of the useless links you get in Google and other search engines. Zite can also be used to automatically search for related articles or other entries by the same website or author.

Both Instapaper and Diigo are available online from any internet enabled device but they also have dedicated IPad apps or bookmarklets. As bookmarklets, Instapaper and Diigo allow students to save websites for later study. Instapaper’s added bonus is that it saves sites for reading when no Internet connection is available which is useful when students may not have wifi access but want to continue their research.The app allows users to create folders to store related articles together to enable easy retrieval.

Diigo’s strength is its social bookmarking capabilities. Students can share bookmarks in a common group as well as annotate and highlight pages straight in the website they are reading collaboratively with others. every time the Diigo iPad bookmarklet is activated, the highlights and annotated note reappear, regardless of what iPad or any other Diigo linked Internet device you are using. This kind of shared note taking allows students to collaborate in real time on any any research task involving reading information online. Diigo has an iOS app that can be used to quickly access your tagged links, although it lacks the ability to search via tags. I prefer to use the Diigo link within the bookmarklet.

Another useful bookmarklet that can help sort and store research information links to Scoop-it, an excellent magazine style website curation tool. Once you create a free Scoop it account, you can use the bookmarklet to quickly add sites to your Scoop it page. One of the benefits of using other users’ Scoop-its is that they have done a lot of the searching for you, saving you the hassle of trawling through countless Google search pages to find something useful. Scoop it has a search feature that can lead you to curated pages on the topic you choose and you are likely to find useful references on someone’s page. Pearltrees and Pinterest are other curation sites that offer similar opportunities but I am yet to explore them as options.

Tools 4 Schools is a relatively unknown app that is a collection of graphic organizers that allow for focused note taking for specific purposes. It’s useful for students who need some scaffolding in organizing their thoughts during research. Completed organizers can be emailed to others to share notes collated on them.

20120512-203332.jpgThe App Store is of course flooded with a huge range of reference apps that relate to specific topics. The beauty of this source is the price of the apps when you compare them to reference books providing similar depth of information. Also,the interactive multimedia nature of these apps make them an easier to follow option for many of today’s learners. There are too many to list here but here is a good link to another website that mention some of the better apps.

There are other great options for research on the iPad but that’s enough from me today. If there are other options out there, I would love to hear from others. Join the conversation.

2 thoughts on “The iPad as a research tool

  1. Pingback: Weekly iPad Resources and Suggestions from EdTechTeacher (5/14) | Leading Change in Changing Times

  2. Hi Mark,

    Just discovered your blog and found it very useful, will be following it from now on. Just need about three hours now to explore all the apps that you have recommended. It is really useful to see them being described in the context of the learning intention rather than “this is a cool app”.

    We are doing a lot of work with iOS devices and are cataloguing it as it happens:



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