Technology for Academics

I’m pretty late to the game when it came to Apple products, tablet computers, and all that stuff. I always preferred paper for taking notes, and enjoyed writing things out longhand. These things are still true, it’s likely that when reading articles I will always take notes on paper, and writing with a fountain pen is one of the small joys that I relish each day. iThings may work really well, but I saw the trade for this as losing a large amount of privacy, and for me that was never really going to be worth it. Also, I dislike the level to which people now focus on screens instead of the world around them. Since I am most often found either wearing headphones or with my nose in a book, I realise the snobbish hypocricy that dells within this. However, I have caved, and bought an iPad. I use it only for work related things, and I put a lot of thought into what I wanted it for, and how I was going to use it before shelling out the cash. 

Much to my delight and chagrin, I actually really like the iPad, and it is immensely useful for me on a day to day basis. There are a lot of blogs out there that list various apps for academics and students and I pored over them when trying to decide if this was what I wanted. Basically, I got sick of carrying around a notepad, pen, diary, larger notepad for more detailed notes, and whatever documents I needed for each meeting I had that day, or printouts of the lectures I was going to deliver. The things I needed were getting a bit unwieldy. Also I like to use the calendar attached to my email, so often my paper diary was not up to date anyway. If you are in a similar position, here’s what I’ve been finding useful about the iPad:

1) My calendar and email can be carried around much more easily. I know a lot of people use their phones for this anyway, but I wanted something separate so that when I am finished with work for the day I can turn it off and not look at it unless I needed to know something urgently. 

2) To do apps. I am a great maker of lists. They allow me to get thoughts written down and out of the way so I can focus on what I am doing at that specific moment. There’s a massive variety of apps for this out there, and I know a lot of people really like Evernote, but I don’t seem to get on with it. I have found Wunderlist to be very good though. It’s simple, allows you to make different lists for different topics, and syncs with your calendar so you can get reminders of when to do things on time limited tasks. It’s helped me be a lot more productive as I can set times for specific tasks and not have to think about what to do next, or what else I need to be prioritising. It also means that my masses of different to do lists are in one place.

3) Blackboard and turnitin apps. Checking if I’ve added something to blackboard is a pain if I’m not already logged in. Having an app means I can find out quickly and easily without having to wait for the computer at my desk to load. The turnitin app means I can mark anywhere too, which is nice, especially as DMU is moving to online marking only within the next year. 

4) Making diagrams. I like to draw out ideas, it helps me to see things in front of me. This is particularly true as one of my research interests is organisational structures, having a diagram is helpful to see what is happening and where. Drawing on the iPad is really easy, and it means diagrams are already digitised. This is particularly nice for soft systems thinking approaches, as the diagrams having a hand drawn, imperfect quality is actually reflective of the overall approach. Drawing them on an iPad means I don’t have to try and scan them, or ask others to grapple with Photoshop for me to make the thing that’s really easy to do on paper appear on a screen. 

5) The notes function. I’ve been keeping track of my ideas in a much more legible way. Rather than having to try and find the right page in my notebook where I put a specific thought, or noted down a thing to do, I can have separate notes for each project, teaching module, or future plans. This means I can find stuff quickly, and so am more likely to follow up on it. 

Those for me have been the best things about getting some form of portable digital device for work. If you’re considering something similar I hope it helps.

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About Jess Urwin

Lecturer in social work at De Montfort University, youth justice researcher, musician, crafter, constant reader.
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