AMITIAE - Thursday 19 May 2016

Cassandra: Student use of iPad Pro and Notability for a Writing Project

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


At this time of year, I set my year 2 students a writing project. This is a process paper and as most Thai students have never been taught to write anything more than simple sentences, the whole task is fraught with problems.

I ask them to devise a test of a product. At they have almost no experience of writing, I outline the introduction for them (they write their own sentences based on this) and wait for the output. This is almost always a near-disaster at the outset as their first approach is to translate: the kiss of death to their writing. I know this is going to happen. My intention is to have them develop the writing - it will not be perfect - over a couple of weeks and come up with something acceptable (never perfect).

The first task is to have them plan the whole paper. They are then required to write Draft One on paper. This ensures that they are not copying and pasting from the internet and I can keep track of other writing problems, rather than have them start in Word for Windows, which is a common approach.

iPad Pro

A student in the class surprised me a few weeks back when I saw she was using a 12.9" iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. I have seen a few Engineering students with iPads in recent years, but this was unusual. She seemed completely at home with the device, but when she turned up with Draft One on the iPad Pro and not on paper, I was a little reluctant to accept the work. Until I looked.

She and her group had hand-written the draft (as required) using the Apple Pencil and Notability. This had avoided the problem of running straight to a word processor and I let this go. The students had kept to the spirit if not the letter of the rules I had laid out.

As expected, some changes were needed. I was handed the Apple Pencil and I began to make editing marks (I changed the output color to make these suggestions clearer) for the group. Despite my own familiarity with the iPad Pro, I was pleased with how easy this was.

Apple Pencil

When they returned with a corrected version a couple of hours later, I was able to do the same. At this time, I had a query on what I had read in the morning, so the student called up that earlier version from within Notability and confirmed what it had been.

Later in the afternoon, the group returned with the first printed draft. This had a couple of errors, mainly due to the printer output and despite using Word to create this. That was quickly fixed (I suggested a PDF) and the final version was in my mail-box before I left for home.

I had looked at Notability some months ago when the iPad Pro first arrived in Thailand. I like this, along with iA Writer (now only Pro versions appear to be available). They both have Mac versions and content can be synchronised.

The 12.9" iPad Pro is a fairly expensive device for students in Thailand, although some will have considerable support from their parents. I have really enjoyed using the 12.9" iPad Pro and the 9.7" version - both have advantages and are different in certain ways. This collaborative experience of a group of students working together and then interacting with the teacher, was another demonstration of how useful these devices are in practical ways.

See also:

Notability for iOS ($3.99)

Notability for the Mac ($5.99)

iA Writer for iOS ($4.99)

iA Writer for Mac ($9.99)

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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