My (and my students’) ten most useful free (or at least cheap) apps for iPads

When we started with the iPad at the beginning of the year, I was convinced that certain apps would quickly become invaluable. For me it was going to be all about screen sharing and connectivity, with losing the need for the whiteboard and having everything on the iPad’s screen. I thought that FaceTime would be the way in which we’d all communicate with each other and that every student would want to handwrite using a stylus pen.

I should have known better. Anyone who has spent more than a few hours with an iPad soon realises that they are personal devices, so trying to get anything standardised isn’t really worth bothering with. I think there are some things that you do need to all be doing the same, such as how to share files and get work back – but for the majority of students and teachers it’s great to be able to have some freedom to make the iPad a truly personal PLD.

These then are the ten apps either I’ve found the most useful/worthwhile/valuable as a teacher, or students have found the most valuable. By and large they are free – another important consideration. They are in no particular order, by the way.

1. Flipboard: to me it is the ultimate PD tool. I have learnt more from subscribing to various Twitter feeds than any number of books written on the subject of ed tech. Its interface is so user friendly and clean. Try using it with a class: when they research, they can tweet useful websites with a particular hashtag, which can then be assembled via Flipboard.

2. Idea Sketch – most of the students use this over Popplet, as it has more functionality as a free app.

3. Clibe – this is the note making app of choice for most students. The nice thing about this is the ability to store the notebook in the cloud and enable students to access it. I have stuck a couple of notebooks up there for students to access, so they can see my planning. My notebooks are very much works in progress, but I think it’s quite good for students to see this.

4. Notetaker HD – one of the better paid apps, as it allows for PDF annotation as well. The zoom window is clever, as it allows you to zoom into part of the page so you don’t have to write small to fit lots in.

5. Penultimate – this is the notebook app I use as my substitute whiteboard, as I like how smooth the ink is and it’s super simple.

6. Explain Everything – definitely the best screencasting app around at the moment – you can now even record webpages, and it uploads straight to youtube if you want it to.

7. Readability – I love the way this enables you to read webpages really easily and save things to read off line. You can also save pages from your desktop and then read them on your iPad as it syncs your devices together.

8. Qrafter: there are quite a few QR code readers out there for the iPad, but this the best generator I’ve found. Create QR codes from URLs, locations, contacts, events, phone calls, messages, emails, tweets, and even wifi networks and iTunes apps.

9. Side by side – you know how annoying it is when you’re trying to make notes while researching on line or through documents? Well this app enables you to split your screen. One one half you can have your webpage or document, and on the other is a simple note taking screen. Simple but very effective.

10. Idea Flight – a new one that I have yet to try out properly but have tested to great success. It is a screen sharing app which enables you as controller to share your screen with ‘passengers’. Looks like it has promise.

One other to consider, which is a website but has a very good iPad and iPhone app: Edmodo. This is a great tool, far better than any VLE. You create groups, enable students to join the group by sharing a code, post work and messages to them, and they can post back to you. Each student has their own code which they can give to their parents, so they too can see what has been set and how their children are getting on. The iPad app mirrors the web interface, with the addition of a tool which enables you to upload files from the iPad photo roll, or via the camera. We ditched our VLE earlier this term and have certainly not looked back. Probably the best thing about it is it looks like Facebook, so everyone knows how to use it from the start. Compare that to Moodle and, well, there is no comparison.

Hope this proves useful – as I said, there is no default list, but there are definitely some I asked students to get or buy at the start that haven’t been used much at all.

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