Saturday, March 09, 2013

An "Office" challenge on the ipads

I'm very lucky to be able to teach a graduate level course on iPads in Education. I'm currently working with a wonderful group of teachers in the central PA area (IU8).

Today we had a showdown between some "Office" apps. Now, before you start, I know that it's not fair to compare the ipad to a laptop. It's different. It's not about how it's the same as a laptop. It's the very difference that's important. I get it. But, at the middle and high school levels, at SOME point, the students will have to write something, turn it in to the teacher to be 'corrected/graded' and have it returned to them. In a one to one setting, there is no escaping this - or shame on us if that's NOT the case.

So, in today's class we broke out in groups of 4, with each person in the group taking one of the main contenders: Pages, CloudOn, Google Drive, and Skydrive. ( via Safari). They were asked to perform the following tasks, which I felt were very basic tasks and not an unreasonable expectation of a word processor.

The Challenge:

Type some text - How does it handle spelling errors?
    • What formatting options do you have? Can you add a comment?
    • How do you control margins?
  • Make a hyperlink - Can it be done easily? (Take a phrase, like 'Go here', and link it to
  • Paste some text from another app (From a webpage or even a Note)
  • Add a photo
    • What formatting options do you have?
    • How easy is it to add an image?
    • Can you add an image from the camera?
  • Can you add a table?
    • How easy is it to modify the table?
  • Share it with yourself (as the teacher)
    • Must it be shared via email?
    • Can the document be shared with another potential editor?
    • Does it have dropbox support? What other options does it have? (What formats are supported?)
  • Can you "correct" it and get it back to the student?
    • What annotation options do you have?
    • Is this method satisfactory to you - if you have 100 students doing the same thing?
  • How would this app work in a shared ipad environment vs 1:1?
  • Which app does more to advance teaching and learning?
  • Share your findings with the group.

So, first of all, are those unreasonable feature requests? If you say yes, please tell me in the comments WHY you think those are unreasonable. Format options, hyperlinks, adding photos (from the built in camera, too), and a table. Surely those can't be asking too much.

And the challenge to continue the experiment from 'student to teacher and back.' Isn't that a fair test? Isn't it important to know that the workflow is manageable? And, isn't it also fair to ask them to consider how it would work in a shared cart environment? This is a grad course, after all. We're exploring the options.

I'll post the rough draft of the pros and cons from our followup discussion in a moment, but let me say up front, that these results are NOT uncommon. I've taught this course seven times before this, and it's been the same each time. Granted, the apps have improved, but only in one case did it improve enough to make a difference in the standing.

First, the results as I wrote them down as they offered them, then a couple comments.

Results of the Office Challenge

Pages pros

Familiar feel (very ipad friendly)

Easily adjusted margins

Great spell check

Text wrap around images

Easy bar graphs

Access to camera roll

No internet connection needed (important for some students)

Can save in multiple formats

Pages cons


Must Email to teacher (can't share)

No comments, making markups difficult

No collaborators. Very unfortunate in 2013

Meant for one person. Won't function well in a cart situation

Cloudon cons

Must reload when switching apps- very slow!

Poor image handling

No collaborators - meant for one person

Requires Internet

Pixelated and hard on the eyes

Cloudon pros

Annotations are available making markups easier

Looks like ms word, so familiar to many

Nice interface with Dropbox

Can open and create ppts

Google drive pros

Collaborative editing. 
Simply share with another person. 
Real-time editing. Ie: no email needed

Streamlines workflow
Can see, in real time, edits of other authors

Google drive cons

No camera roll access

Very limited formatting options.

Requires Internet - problem for some students

Very limited functionality

No images

no tables
No hyperlinks pros

Has powerpoint

Has Excel

Has One note - excellent for note taking

Access to camera roll
Sharing via email or collaborators allowing synchronous editing
Can insert comments
Many options for sharing - privacy

Nice formatting options - especially with images

Skydrive cons

Requires Internet - problem for some students

Not as good as using laptop

Can't move images -at least, not that we could see

Can't modify tables - or not that we could find

We also talked about using Dropbox to submit documents to the teacher. While it's possible for students to read the reports submitted buy others and the paraphrase to get credit, one person thought that at least that person was reading -something that might not be done otherwise.

And, we talked about not being able to return graded papers via dropbox. We really worked through the workflow issue.

So - The final vote?

Well, those who worked with Pages really liked it. But - we felt that it was really meant for an individual and therefore would have problems in a shared cart setting. Plus, in today's world, what a shame it is to have a word processor that does not allow for multiple editors.

NOBODY liked Google drive. NOT ONE. It's lack of formatting options, and lack of access to the camera roll (and the camera) were non-starters. Do you mean that we can't take a picture of our lab experiment and add it to our writeup about it? #fail

CloudOn was just FAR too slow. That, coupled with the lack of multiple editors, also made it a loser. In fact, in all the (now eight) sections I've had, a scant hand full have chosen it. But, that was before the changes to Skydrive.

Skydrive won. (Accessing it via safari at Prior to this latest revision, skydrive would finish BELOW last place. It was awful. Folks would stop testing it. Now, it seems to be the winner. It seemed to allow us to do more, format more, AND it managed the workflow by allowing the student to share the documents with the teacher. No dropbox issues. No email issues.

I will admit that I guided the conversation, asking questions like, "Yes, but in today's world, is it OK to have a word processor that doesn't allow for multiple, synchronous editors?" And, "But, requiring an internet connection means that some students won't be able to use it at home." Or, "Are we sacrificing features (especially in the case of Google Drive) just so we can have an ipad?" Or, "Do you mean that I can't use this ipad to write up a report and expect it to access the camera?"

Yes, I did pose questions that had them thinking about the pros and cons. And, I'll have to wait and see how they report back on which app they would choose. But, from the discussion, Skydrive (maybe tied with Pages) won. Google Drive finished dead last!

Surprised? I'd LOVE to hear your comments.

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