Cut exam correction time in half

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If you are a VCE teacher in the throes of preparing your students for the final exam, I don’t need to tell you how much time you are spending marking practice exams this week.  What I do need to tell you is that if you are marking multiple choice questions manually you’re not spending your time; you are wasting it.

ZipGrade is an app that lets you point your iPhone at a multiple-choice answer sheet, and ding! Correction done! It highlights incorrect answers, calculates the overall score and lets you export the data both as a PDF to hand back to students, and as a CSV (Excel) file for your own records.

It’s blindingly fast. A class-worth of papers will be marked in under a minute!

I’m no a fan of multiple choice tests. But as long as we are working in a system that requires us to use them, I’d prefer to see teachers spend their valuable time on something more creative than grading papers!

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Student in a Flipped Class? Cut homework time in half using this tip!

Most of us read much faster than talking speed yet still comprehend what we read. In the same way, it’s possible to listen much faster than your teacher can speak. But many of us have never thought about that, because in real life, we only hear words as they are uttered. (In the classroom, the speed your teacher can move her mouth is holding you back!)

But If your teacher makes screencasts, videos, or audio podcasts, try playing them at double speed. You’ll be amazed to find that you can comprehend what you are listening to just fine. In fact, after listening for a while, you’ll discover that it starts to sound surprisingly normal. After listening at double speed, if I slow a podcast down to “normal” speed, it sounds comically slow!

So how do you do it?

With an audio podcast it’s easy. Almost all podcast players have the option to adjust playback speed. My favourite is Overcast. To my ears it does the best job of speeding up voice while preserving clarity. Plus it has some really innovative features like “Smart Speed” which reduces the length of the pauses between words; shortening the total listening time, without speeding up the words themselves. Brilliant!

Swift Player

For videos or screencasts on your iPhone or iPad, try Swift Player. It lets you speed up any video on your device, or online (YouTube, Vimeo, etc).

Student: “My teachers won’t let me take a photo of the Whiteboard…” (Are you serious?)

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 8.49.07 pmOn the heels of my previous post about why some teachers fail to realise the efficiency gains of technology, Today I had a conversation with a teenager that went like this:

Student: “My teachers won’t let me take a photo of the whiteboard with my iPad.”
Me: “Are you telling me, they make you copy off the whiteboard with pen and paper?”
Student: “Yes”
Me: “How many of your teachers do this?”
Student: “All of them!”
Me: “Are you serious?”
Student: “They tell us that copying the board will help us remember and understand the information better”
Me: “And do you think it does?”
Student: “No, I’m usually not even thinking about what I’m writing; I’m just copying down the words”

I don’t buy for a moment that students will remember or understand information significantly better by copying! Telling that to students is as disingenuous as it is absurd! When I read the morning newspaper I don’t need to copy out the news stories in order to comprehend them! When researching a topic of interest I read relevant articles, maybe make a few notes and save them to Evernote for future reference but I don’t transcribe the articles in full onto loose leaf! What makes anyone think that copying paragraphs of text from the board will make students remember or understand? As you began reading this blog post, did the thought even cross your mind to start copying it out with pen and paper to aid your understanding? Of course it didn’t! That would be a prodigious waste of your time and would make little to no difference to your comprehension.

Let’s be honest. The real reasons teachers make students copy information from the board are:
(a) It pads out the lesson with busywork, so a very small amount of learning will use up an entire period (It reduces the teacher’s preparation time : class time ratio).
(b) It is the easiest way to “wing it” when a teacher hasn’t prepared a genuine and engaging learning activity.
(c) It keeps students seated, quiet and under control.

In 1989 copying information from the board was a practical way for students to collect a body of examinable subject knowledge to learn (i.e. memorise / encode), because schools didn’t have photocopiers, students didn’t have cameras, and nobody had Google.

In 2015, valid reasons for using a whiteboard might include sketching a diagram to answer an extemporaneous student question, teaching basic literacy skills (character formation, perhaps spelling) or to capture a group brainstorming session. A whiteboard is useful for that kind of thing. (And don’t be ridiculous – if your students have smartphones, let them take a photo, if it helps them!). But I can’t think of any good reason for entering class, with the intention of writing screeds of informational text on the board for students to copy like it were still 1989.

It’s a squandering of class time – a great example of wheeling technology, instead of riding it (to borrow the metaphor from my previous post).

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A USB Thumb-Drive for Both iPad and Computer

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 1.30.49 pmIf you work with 25 iPad wielding students in a classroom, then you already know that sharing large video files between iPads or between iPads and computers comes with some friction.

Sure,there’s a festival of ways to transfer content from a student’s iPad to your computer or vice-versa, or from a student’s iPad to another student’s iPad.  (AirDrop, Dropbox, Instashare, PhotoTransfer WiFi, Email, just to name a few) but each has it’s limitations – especially if your school’s Wi-Fi is flakey or the internet is slow.

A Mobi My iStick in your pocket is a pretty neat solution. When you plug the iStick into your computer it behaves just as any USB thumb-drive would – because it is a USB thumb-drive.  But slide the slider over, and at the other end is an Apple-approved lightning jack that fits into the lighting port on a student’s iPad.  It’s the first USB thumb-drive that works with an iPad and it lets you copy files directly between iOS devices (whether or not they are your own) and computers, without needing Wi-Fi, bluetooth or an internet connection.

What’s Good:

Copying files to the device from a computer is as simple as can be.  Transferring those files to an iOS device is just as straightforward. When you plug the iStick into your iOS device, a pop-up message asks to use the iStick. You click Agree. The iStick app opens, you select the “iStick” tab and you can see all the files on the iStick, open them, move them to the camera roll etc.  You can even play movies on the iPad screen, directly from the iStick without first copying them to the iPad (Super if you are running out of storage space on your iPad!).

What’s Not:

On the iOS side, things are not quite as simple as they are on the computer. You need to install the (free) iStick app on every iOS device that you want to use the iStick with. Working with Photos and movies is straightforward enough.  Within the iStick app you see a “Photo Library” folder. That shows you all the Photos and Videos on your iPad, which you can then easily copy to your iStick.  For other documents, however, the process is clumsy and slow. You need to first open the document in the app that created it (say, Pages) then choose “Open in” and select iStick.  Then you need to open the iStick app (on the iPad),  select “iPad” (or “iPhone”), navigate to the inbox folder, select the file and chose to move it to the Documents folder (still within the “iPad” tab of the iStick app on the iPad).  THEN (if you haven’t given up by now) you insert the iStick USB thumb drive, navigate to the Documents folder in the iStick app, and choose to move the file from there to the iStick. Once you have done that, it’s simple to drag it off onto your computer as you would with any USB thumb drive, but the process of moving documents to the iStick is horrendous!

My advice:

  • If you want to shift large videos or photos between devices quickly and avoid doing this over Wi-Fi – this is a great solution.  It would allow your students to create movie projects on their individual iPads, and then you could pass the iStick around and they could all copy their finished product to it.
  • If you want to increase the storage space on your iPad – because perhaps you have a model with only 16GB – again this is a great solution because you can store movies on the iStick and still play them from there without first having to copy them back to the iPad.  If you were to move the videos off your iPad any other way (Eg. upload them to Dropbox) you would then have to re-download them before watching them!
  • If you are travelling, and want a way to back up the photos and movies you are taking – or to transfer them from your iPhone to your iPad in the absence of Wi-Fi – it’s great!
  • But if you were hoping to use the iStick to conveniently shuttle all kinds of miscellaneous files – PDFs, text documents etc – between iOS devices like you are accustomed to doing with USB thumb-drives and computers … forget it!  Sure, you can move files that way. (It’s not that it doesn’t work, per sé) – but the process is so graceless that you’d be better off attaching your files to a self-addressed email!

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Install Fonts on Your iPad

Have you ever crafted a Keynote slide or Pages document on your computer, thoughtfully selecting the perfect font, only to find that when you open the document on your iPad you are greeted with the message:

“The font FortuneCookie is missing.  Your text might look different.”

This morning I made a slide in Keynote on my Mac, and chose the font FortuneCookie.  My iPad replaced FortuneCookie with Helvetica Neue – a nice enough font but not the one I had chosen!

Or perhaps you are just bored by the small selection of fonts on the iPad and want to add a few.

Unknown to many people, it’s actually quite easy to install additional fonts on your iPad.  Start by downloading AnyFont ($2.49)

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Fig 1. iTunes on my Mac, Showing the File Sharing section within the Apps tab, of the iPad.

Then connect your iPad to your computer, open iTunes, select your iPad in the devices list, click the Apps tab at the top, and scroll down to the File Sharing section.  Within the File Sharing section, you will see a list of all the apps that are available for file sharing.  Select AnyFont from that list, as shown in Fig 1.

Drag any true type font (.ttf) or open type (.otf) or true type collection (.ttc) from your computer to the left-hand pane titled “AnyFont Documents”.  If you have just installed AnyFont this pane of the window will be empty.  You can see that I have added 14 fonts.

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Fig 2. Close up view of the AnyFont app on the iPad, with FortuneCookie.ttf selected. Tap the large icon to begin installing.

Now you can close iTunes on your computer and disconnect your iPad.  Open the AnyFont app on your iPad, and tap the font(s) you have just added.  The app will take you through a few steps to install the font.  (These steps feel unusual as you are doing them, but they are quite easy and safe).

That done, open an app such as Pages, and format some text and you will now see that your new font is available to use.

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Fig 3. My Keynote slide, looking nice with the font FortuneCookie.

That’s all there is to it.  Now you can make your presentations and documents look as nice on your iPad as you can on your Mac.

Collaaj for iPad – An Impressive New Screencasting App to Rival Explain Everything

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 3.24.09 PM Since I first saw Explain Everything I have been a fan – sharing it with teachers everywhere I go.  In my opinion it has long been the clear winner in the iPad screencasting space, which is also occupied by Educreations and ShowMe.   In my opinion, price aside, Explain Everything is better in almost* every way than Educreations and ShowMe.

Now… there’s a new kid on the block, turning heads – and recording it!

Collaaj’s compelling feature.

Collaj lets you record your webcam video at the same time as you record the screen!  As far as I know, no other screencasting app (on the iPad) allows this.  Explain Everything, ShowMe and Educreations allow you to record your iPad’s screen and your voice narration, but students can’t see you speaking to them.  in Collaj If you tap the camera icon in the sidebar, voila! your face appears in a little window on the screen.  This can be repositioned if it’s not in the place you want it.  You can even move it during the recording – if you want to write on the part of the screen occupied by the webcam video.  That is pretty cool.   I love this feature because I think one of the shortcomings  of the ‘flipped learning model’ is that video explanations can loose a little bit of humanity.   Our brains are hard-wired to respond to the human face.  Seeing the face of the person speaking to you somehow makes the experience of listening to an explanation more personally accessible.Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 5.03.42 PM

That is Collaaj’s  winning feature.  It’s a very compelling one.   But in most* other respects I think Explain Everything is still ahead.  The two possible exceptions to this are in the price, and in the video sharing options.  The school context will influence your choice here.

Note: since posting this, a reader has pointed out to me in the comments (see below) that it is, in fact, possible to record your webcam in Explain Everything.  The process is a little more convoluted but it certainly works!  Thanks for that Reshan!

*Sharing your screencasts.

Explain Everything is great if you want to share your video via YouTube, Vimeo, etc as you can easily do this right from the app.  Collaaj, ShowMe and Educreations allow you to upload the video to a private server provided by the app, and then share a link with your students.  Personally I prefer to use YouTube, but in some schools YouTube is blocked and so the “in house” option may be preferable there.  Once you have recorded your video and saved it, it goes into the Collaaj library within the app and from there you can upload it to the Collaaj server and then share a link with your students.

Slide Number

Explain Everything allows you to make multiple slides and navigate through them while you are recording – much more like using an interactive whiteboard.  Educreations, ShowMe and Collaaj each allow you to record just one screen at a time.

Laser Pointer

One feature I really like about Explain Everything is the laser pointer tool.   When I am explaining a concept, and using a diagram or graph to do so, I don’t necessarily want to write on the graph – and doing so always feels just a little bit clumsy.  Oftentimes, I just want my viewer to look at a part of the diagram.  I find the laser pointer a much more efficient tool for this than simply a pen tool.  None of the other three apps have a laser pointer tool.

Zoom

Another great feature of Explain Everything is the zoom tool (indicated by a magnifying glass).  It lets you pinch-to-zoom on part of the diagram so that you can focus on just one feature, then zoom out to look at the whole diagram once more for context.  I really like that feature and wish that Collaaj would implement it.

Fit and finish

When it comes to polish, Explain Everything is still far and away the best of the three.  Educreations and ShowMe just look a bit to plain and basic, and lack functionality in comparison.  Collaaj is kind of buggy.  You can tell it’s new in this space.  As an example, while importing images from DropBox is apparently supported – I can’t get it to work for me.

Price

All these apps are free, except Explain Everything which is $2.99.

The Verdict?

I’m torn.  I love Explain Everything.  I love the finesse with which the tools work, I love the fact that I can upload my videos straight to YouTube,  I really love the laser pointer and zoom functions.  If only it had the ability to record my webcam video like Collaaj does there would be no question as to which to use!  in the meanwhile I’m really liking Collaaj because it brings something to the iPad that has been missing.

Edit: Again, thanks to Reshan’s helpful contribution, I’m back to Explain Everything.  🙂

Three Solutions for Combining Videos from Multiple iPads

Who’d have thought it could be so difficult?

A couple of weeks ago I ran an iPad workshop for teachers.  One of the participants, Judith, raised an interesting problem that stumped me.  I promised to find her a solution.  This blog post represents the fulfilment of that promise.

The Problem

Judith wanted to be able to have several students record video on their own iPads, then copy those separate videos to one student’s iPad and there, combine into a single file in iMovie.  That doesn’t sound like it would be too hard, now, does it?

The problem it turns out is that you can’t get a video into iMovie unless it is in the iPad’s camera roll.  Getting a video into the cameral roll is (stunningly) problematic.  Copying it into iMovie via iTunes’ File Sharing window on a computer doesn’t work. Neither does emailing it from one iPad to another.  You can of course send the video to an iPad via email, Dropbox, GoodReader, Documents, File Storage or any one of a number of other apps – but this doesn’t get it into the camera roll – which means you can watch the video in the app that contains it – but it doesn’t show up in iMovie.

I spent several hours on Google and Apple’s support forums, etc.  That got me nowhere.

Twitter got me further.  In fact a number of my tweeps were very helpful and offered suggestions that worked.   Many of these, however did require the use of a computer as an intermediary between the two iPads.   I was really looking for a way for two students equipped with iPads only, to share their videos.

Since then, I have done a bit more experimentation myself (and purchased numerous apps).  Out of all that, I present what I consider the best three solutions.  Each works well and each has advantages and disadvantages.

1. BOX

(Kudos to Heather Bailie @hebailie for this)   This was the first solution suggested that worked!  Box.com is very like DropBox. Students can upload their videos to their free Box accounts via the Box app and share them with each other.  They can then download each others’ videos to their own box account and then in Box there is an option to save the video to the photo roll on the iPad (this option is not available in DropBox and others).  Once it is there on the camera roll it will be visible within iMovie.

Advantage:  It’s free.

Disadvantage: The video data is uploaded and downloaded via the internet, which makes the process slow and since videos tend to be large files, this will also be an issue for the bandwidth-impaired.

2. APPLE’S CAMERA CONNECTION KIT

Mr. Barlow @mrbarlow suggested a stirling solution which is to use the Apple iPad camera connection kit.  For $35 this stupidly overpriced little piece of plastic lets you connect a Digital camera to your iPad and transfer your photos to your iPad’s camera roll.   The nifty thing Mr Barlow pointed out is that this also works between two iPads.  In other words, you can connect one iPad to another and transfer the photos and videos from the camera roll of the first to that of the second.  That works very well, and is very fast.

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Advantages:  It’s fast.  It works simply, without installing anything or setting anything up.

Disadvantages:  You have to buy the connector for $35.  Only one pair of students can use it at a time.  It’s so diminutive an item that you are likely to lose it.  If some of your students have iPad 3 and some have iPad 4 or iPad mini you will also need to buy a lightning to 30-pin adaptor (another $35) – bringing the total cost to $70.

3. Photo Transfer WiFi

Just this week Simplex Solutions released an awesome new app – Photo Transfer WiFi that is exactly what I was looking for! This really nice universal app is just $2.99.  Once the app is installed and open on two iPads, they see each other, once their passwords are shared, the two can simply send photos and videos to each others’ camera rolls.  It’s a thing of beauty and simplicity.   Unlike using the Box solution, it doesn’t send the files through the internet – so it’s much faster.  And unlike the Apple Camera Connector Kit, several groups can be doing this at the same time.

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Advantages:  It’s fast.  It doesn’t use the internet, just WiFi.  It’s got a very intuitive interface (unlike many other apps I tried).  It’s affordable.

Disadvantages: There really are none – except that it’s not free.  But this developer deserves every cent he earns.

If you have another solution, I’d sure love to hear about it.  Please share it in the comments below.

Students can now conveniently publish podcasts directly from an iPad app

Some time ago I posted about iPadio a web service that for years has been a key part of my students’ toolkit.  iPadio allows a student to record a podcast (aka “phonecast” or “phlog”) directly to the internet, for free, from an ordinary landline or mobile telephone.  In my experience this is a really easy, no-fuss way to get students to publish their learning orally, anywhere, anytime they have a phone at their disposal.

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The service also provides the ability to automatically cross-post phonecasts to iTunes, Facebook or a class blog.  That’s what I had my students do, so that my students and I didn’t have to visit 25 different websites to listen to each others’ phlogs).

I was excited to recently get an email from iPadio, announcing that they have finally released an iPad app which means students, armed with an iPad and having an internet connection can now record and publish a podcast conveniently from the classroom.  The app is incredibly simple to use and the sound quality is excellent because unlike iPadio’s free phone service, the audio is recorded on the iPad at a relatively high bitrate and  subsequently uploaded (rather than using the phone network in real time).

The iPadio app is free and available from the iTunes app store.  It is necessary for students to create a free account to use the service and they should be reminded to take appropriate cybersafety precautions, remembering that their iPadio page and the podcasts on it will be available to the public.

Wonderful! System-wide iPad text expansion

“Frankly, I don’t know how I managed to overlook the power of this for so long!”

The Problem: Some characters cannot be typed on the iPad Keyboard!

I love the iPad for many reasons, but typing on it is like trying to pick up watermelon seeds. The biggest (not the only) issue I have with the iPad keyboard, is that there are some characters that you simply cannot type! It’s crazy! Try typing a © symbol, or a greek character like µ, and you simply can’t do it. Nor can you type subscripts. That’s right – NO SUBSCRIPTS! (can you sense my eyelid twitching?). As a biology teacher, I need to type subscripts!  (Apple, do you realise how hard it is to write about biochemistry when you can’t even type “H₂O”?!)  In my previous post, I discussed one work-around, using the Cymbol app, and that’s handy for one-off instances when you need to type something unusual.  But this is a MUCH better tip – especially for characters you need to type often.

The Solution: System-wide text expansion using Shortcuts

In my previous post, I mentioned TextExpander, which works well in the handful of apps that have incorporated it’s SDK.  In all others one needs to copy, switch apps and paste – a pretty clumsy workflow.  A much more elegant solution as I have discovered is using Shortcuts. Frankly, I don’t know how I managed to overlook the power of this for so long!

This doesn’t even require you to download an app!  iOS comes with a built-in customisable Shortcuts option in the Settings app (look in Settings > General > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Add New Shortcut). The most obvious use for this (and what it was intended for) is setting short abbreviations for longer messages.  If you are the sort who is often running late you can create a shortcut “omw” that when typed into a text message will expand to “I’m on my way” (So that you don’t make yourself even later, typing out the full message on the virtual keyboard, then editing it because it was changed to something ridiculous by autocorrect).   BUT, and here is what I’m excited about,  that expanded Phrase in Shortcuts can be anything you’d like it to be.  It can be a whole essay or just a single Greek character!

Simply go to the Shortcuts section in Preferences, and type (or paste) the character or expanded text you want to appear into the “Phrase” field.  Then type your desired abbreviation into the Shortcut field.  Tap ‘Save’. That’s it.Untitled-14.jpg

For example, if I want to be able to type C₆H₁₂O₆, I paste that chemical formula into the “Phrase” field, and then type the shortcut “gglucose” into the Shortcut field. (see image). Strangely, even though you can’t type these things on an iPad, if you copy and paste them, subscripts, superscripts and special characters are maintained and work just fine. The trick here, is to create all the “Phrases” on your computer, then email them to yourself, open the email on your iPad and copy and paste them into the “Phrase” field of each Shortcut.

I make my Shortcuts a description of the result I want, with a double letter to begin with: “gglucose”, “ccarbondioxide”, “ccopyright”, “mmicroL”. Then when I want “5 µL”, I simply type “5 mmicroL”. This text expansion works system-wide, and is synced accross all my iOS devices automatically via iCloud.

If you are a science teacher, this is cause for rejoicing!  But for everyone else, it’s also useful for common replies you make to emails or other oft-typed tidbits of information. If, for example, I get an invitation to a school for a date on which I already have a booking, I type “ddateclash” and it expands to:

Thank you for the invitation.  I would have loved to present at your college.  Unfortunately I do not have that date available due to a prior booking. I do hope that your Professional Learning day is a great success, regardless.
Sincerely, Andrew

If someone emails to ask me for a photo of myself, I can reply with “pphotoofme” and it expands to http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4495191/PhotoOfAndrewDouch.jpg – the download link for a head and shoulders photo of me in my dropbox public folder.

What a time saver!  The half hour I invested in creating my shortcuts, will be paid back to me with interest before the month’s end.

Apps That Improve the iPad Typing Experience

A number of comments on my recent blog post indicated that many teachers and students find the experience of text entry on the iPad to be one of it’s biggest drawbacks. I read those comments and found myself nodding.

iPad Typing Woes

As a touch-typist, I am more productive on a physical keyboard when writing more than a few sentences. It isn’t just the speed of typing. There are some things that you simply can’t type! For example, chemical formulae generally contain subscript numbers to indicate the number of atoms of each element in a molecule (eg H₂O). There is no way to type a subscript number using the Apple onscreen keyboard. The same goes for typing many mathematical symbols. Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 3.18.42 PM

Many teachers don’t realise that pressing and holding certain keys on the iPad keyboard will bring up alternate characters (often the ones you would get by pressing the Option key on a Mac keyboard). For example pressing and holding on the 0 will pop up the option for a degree symbol. These are useful but there are many characters that you can’t access this way. There is no way to type the Greek symbol for Pi π, nor is there a way to type the copyright symbol ©.

Solutions

There are three apps that I’ve found though, which make the process of text creation much more efficient. The purpose of this post is simply to share those. No doubt there are other options which some of you have found. If so, I would love you to please share them in the comments.

I’d be lying if I said that these apps make typing on an iPad as efficient as typing on a computer. But they do make it much more efficient than without them. Whereas before I would rarely type much on my iPad at all (unless I had no choice), I’ve found since using these apps, if I’m comfortably seated on the couch, the bother of typing on my iPad is less than the bother of walking all the way into the other room where my computer is.

Textexpander

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Textexpander ($5.49) is an iOS version of an old, incredibly useful Mac program which runs system-wide to enable one to create snippets of text that will expand when a predefined shortcut is typed. This neat little application on my Mac has saved me 17 hours of typing in the past 6 months (according to the built-in statistics it keeps). There is also a Textexpander app for the iPad. Unfortunately because of Apple’s sandboxing policies, Textexpander can’t run system-wide, although it can operate in other apps, if they have taken advantage of the Textexpander SDK but only a minority of apps have this (Byword is one example, see below). Despite the sandboxing limitation, you can open the Textexpander app, expand the shortcut you want, and then copy and paste the result it into another application. If you are a science teacher, for example, you can save a shortcut such as “ggglucose” which will expand to C₆H₁₂O₆ complete with the subscripted numbers. This solution does require you to have already created snippets and shortcuts for all the things you might need, ahead of time. You can do that on a Mac though, as your Textexpander database can be synced through Dropbox.

Byword

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Byword ($2.99) is an iPad app for writers. It uses markdown syntax for headings, italics, bolding, lists and for inserting links. For me, it took half an hour of learning the markdown syntax, but then, it’s like a breath of fresh air to type on the iPad. Markdown syntax was new to me, but not at all difficult. For example, to *italicise* text you enclose it in a pair of asterisks. To make a first level heading you preface the text with a #.

The text in Byword is large, clear and full-screen (apart from the on-screen keyboard). Compared to typing in most apps it just feels really ‘open’ and clean. When typing on the iPad, half the screen is taken up by the keyboard, so the last thing you want is a row of formatting buttons across the top like you have in Pages, or for the app to only use 2/3 of the screen’s width (which is the case in most apps!). The image below compares Byword to three other commonly used text apps, in each case the text entry area is indicated by a dotted red line. A little bit of extra screen real estate makes a big difference.

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It is also worth mentioning that Byword has built-in Textexpander support. So if I type one of my snippet shortcuts in Byword, it will expand to the full snippet. What a great time-saver if you have a large database of snippets saved in Textexpander!

The screenshots below show how the text I enter looks as it is being typed in markdown (and with Textexpander shortcuts), and how the text will look when exported to another app.

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Cymbol

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 12.09.27 PMAnother app that I think is very helpful if you ever find yourself needing to type characters that aren’t available on the standard iPad keyboard, is Cymbol ($1.99). This one is really simple. It’s really just an extra keyboard of characters that you can type. See screenshot below. There is nothing much to learn in this app. What you see is more or less what you get. There are many more symbols that could be included in Cymbol but aren’t. Nevertheless, it’s a great start.

Once you have typed the text you want, you can select parts of it, or simply hit the button that says “Copy All”. Then you can open any other app, such as Pages, Byword or WordPress and paste the text in. The superscript, subscript and other formatting is maintained when pasted.

There are a few “features” of Cymbol that I don’t like. But considering I haven’t found any other apps that do what Cymbol does – I have it on my highly recommended list.

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Better Together

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Each of these apps is useful in itself, and each worth the asking price. But when you combine all three, they together become very useful. For example, just this afternoon, I found myself wanting to write the chemical formula for Hydrogen peroxide. So I went to Cymbol, and used the features there to create the formula with subscripts. Then I copied that and pasted it into Textexpander (screenshot right) to create a new snippet for which i created the shortcut pperoxide. Then over to Byword, I can simply type and each time I type pperoxide, it expands to H₂O₂. Pretty neat.