Matthias K. Gobbert
Teaching with an iPad since 2011
This page can be reached via my homepage at
Since Fall 2011, I use an Apple iPad with Wi-Fi as my main tool for
all aspects of teaching.
More precisely, but still in short, I write in hand-writing in
the application NoteTakerHD and display it via the data projector
onto a screen; if desired, I can also show slides in PDF form
from NoteTakerHD and write on them with hand-writing on the fly.
Either of these results of NoteTakerHD sessions during class
can be posted as transcripts of the lecture in PDF form
on the web at some place where students can access them,
as record of the class or for review, e.g., if a student missed class.
When I want to show students how to log in to a
Linux computer in class, I use iSSH; this application can even
display graphics that are produced remotely, for instance by Matlab.
To gain much more screen space in iSSH,
it is vital to use a bluetooth keyboard with the iPad here.
Of course, the iPad can also display webpages and show
(certain types of) video (not: flash, many mpeg).
Some of these techniques assume Wi-Fi connectivity in the classroom.
Additionally, I am currently prototyping homework submission in PDF form,
which I am planning to grade using NoteTakerHD and return to
students with the red grade marks, just like homework submitted on paper;
when returning by e-mail, I can of course also type up additional comments
or give links to webpage with specific resources (e.g., posted solutions).
Fundamentally, the iPad allows for several types of
zoom-in (magnification) and zoom-out (enlargement) features,
and these are the key tools that allow it to be used successfully
for my purposes, in particular in lectures.
This is the key difference to a tablet laptop with Microsoft OneNote:
Due to its fixed scale without zoom-in or -out, one has to
compromise between writing size and display size;
see more in the previous page.
I want to interject already here that mastering the capabilities of
the hardware and software of the iPad is not easy, if the use of the
technology is to be smooth and
the not a distraction in class to teacher and student.
It is a challenge to explain how precisely the use of the iPad works
and how it appears to students.
Very fortunately, my lectures in the course
Introduction to Parallel Computing at the Universität Kassel
in Wintersemester 2011/2012 were video taped
(expertly produced by the Zentraler Medien Bereich and
with gracious funding by the AG Analysis und Angewandte Mathematik
under Andreas Meister).
These conventional videos can show both the normal student perspective
of how a lecture looks like and (due to a technical glitch one day)
also show how NoteTakerHD looks like from the instructor's perspective
using the zoom features.
Following this paragraph are postings from two lectures.
For both, I post the PDF transcripts to show how a static record
of class looks like.
The video of the lecture under the first bullet (dated 12/21/11) shows
how a normal lecture looks like, which demonstrates the student perspective.
The video under the second bullet (dated 12/19/11) shows a lecture,
where (due to some technical glitch)
the projector displays the exact view that the instructor has in
NoteTakerHD, which demonstrates the instructor perspective and
is critical here to understand how the whole technique
of using an iPad for lecturing works. ---
Caution regarding the videos: They are very large. For some reason,
they are also twice as long as the actual lecture; after the first
run with audio, the second run is without.
The videos are also in
a format that is not streamed and thus leads to fits and starts
on most desktops/laptops; so, you may want to download the video file
first and then play locally. However, an iPad has no trouble
streaming this format automatically! Go figure.
The use of the iPad described on this page replaced a tablet laptop that
I used from Summer 2006 to Summer 2011, which is described
in the previous page.
That webpage contains more programmatic details than spelled out here;
this page focuses more on showing how the technology actually works.
PDF transcript and
(length 40:00 minutes, file size over 250 MB)
of lecture dated 12/21/11.
PDF transcript and
(length 1:28:00 hours, file size nearly 600 MB)
of lecture dated 12/19/11.
In a normal class, the projection of the output of NoteTakerHD
shows the final result of writing in NoteTakerHD, just like
it will eventually appear in the static PDF transcript of the lecture;
it does not show the magnified input area that the instructor uses
or the controls for display area; see next bullet.
Notice, or rather notice that you cannot notice in this lecture,
how some of the larger pieces of writing were created,
where I had to unzoom from the magnified area and write on
the whole screen view in NoteTakerHD;
see the next bullet to understand what I am saying.
There is also some use of color in this class;
see page 2 of the PDF transcript.
This transcript also shows two line widths selected in NoteTakerHD.
Notice in the video that the students did not
see any of the selection menues
that I accessed to change colors and linewidths.
The transcript is so short (only two pages), since I proceeded
with a demonstration of software in class.
At 06:40 of the video,
you can see (a portion of) me and my pointer to explain
things on the screen; the pointer is necessary since there is
no other pointing or highlighting device available to the instructor
(like a mouse or similar).
Also in this class, I had started iSSH before starting lecturing;
you will see repeatedly that this software wants attention,
for instance at 08:30.
It wanted me to confirm that I wanted it to keep up its connection.
The actual dialog window that I saw and had to click on
is not visible on the projector, though,
but only the change of software. This goes via switching through
the operating system and is thus interesting to see.
One student had to call out to remind me to move up the display area at 09:05.
This is a thing you have to keep remembering to manage manually.
Again, this control (a red dashed box) is not visible on the projected display.
I also used iSSH in this lecture to log in to a Linux computer;
you can see this starting shortly after 35:35, including use of a pointer.
Notice that there is no keyboard visible on the iPad screen,
which results from my use of an external bluetooth keyboard.
The iPad and/or iSSH detect the keyboard and automatically remove
the screen keyboard.
This is vital to gain more screen area for the Linux operating system display.
Interesting to watch in this lecture is the beginning to see
how I sit and write while talking
(if there were a lectern available in the room I could also stand and talk)
and how it displays behind me on the screen.
The video camera starts with me and then pans through the lecture hall,
until it zooms in on the screen.
The technical plan for this lecture was the same as for the
but due to some technical glitch (the order in which I started
NoteTakerHD vs. when I connected to the projector maybe?),
the projector displays the exact view that the instructor has in
Notice the magnified input area, which allows me to write much
larger than it is displayed; this is vital for hand-writing to be
clear and readable. But since the projector displays it smaller,
it can show much more contents than would fit if all
of the screen were magnified that much.
One key thing that you can see in this video,
namely from 05:25 to 08:35 and from 13:40 to 15:45,
is how I had to unzoom from the magnified area to create
the tall vectors that you see on pages 1 and 2 of the PDF transcript.
Notice how the hand-writing gets worse at these moments;
I anticipated this from my tablet experience and compensate
by writing larger and very carefully, so the result is not so bad.
But this brings out the importance of my points how the
iPad's and NoteTakerHD's zoom-in and -out features are the
key to make the whole idea of hand-writing in class work!
At 12:15, you can see how I have to request NoteTakeHD to add
a new page to the document (complete with dialog window to confirm).
Then, the new page is not zoomed in, and
you can see the dashed red box that encloses the
portion of the iPad screen that should be displayed on the projector;
this is what was being ignored by the hardware in this lecture
and constitutes the technical glitch; of course, this allows you
to see something here that is not usually visible!
You can see the unreasonably large page from 13:40 until 13:50
when I zoom in on the iPad; it is not the camera that does the zooming!
Among many times, for instance at 15:45 is a good moment to see
how I have to move the area of the magnified area to the desired
place on the page for writing.
Also in this class, I switched to using iSSH shortly after 1:16:00
to demonstrate live in class the use of the Linux commands
discussed just before in the lecture (page 6 of the transcript).
You can see nicely a few short visuals of iSSH, including its setup window,
before I log in to the Linux cluster successfully.
At first, iSSH supplies a keyboard on the screen of the iPad,
which occupies a large portion of the screen
that you would rather use for more Linux command lines.
That's why I use an external bluetooth keyboard;
as soon as I switch its power switch on and the iPad detects it,
the screen keyboard vanishes and gives you the whole screen
for the Linux shell, which is exactly what we want!
Additionally, the bluetooth keyboard is of course easier to type on
than the screen keyboard.
Here at 1:19:40, you can also see me using a conventional pointer to point
to the iSSH screen.
At 1:20:40, for unknown reasons, iSSH logged me out;
this glitch gives you a chance to watch how rapidly it really
connects to the Linux cluster again (without the accidental detour
through the iSSH setup window the previous time)!
And by the way for American audiences, if you watch to the very end
of class, you will hear the audience knock on the tables
as the traditional form of applause at German universities.
More specific information on hardware:
I found that there are a lot of video reviews of hardware available
online, where you can see the product in action.
This really helped me understand the features of the keyboard and
the smart cover before purchasing them.
- Hardware from Apple:
- white iPad2 tablet notebook with 32 GB memory and Wi-Fi
- VGA adapter, necessary to connect to data projector in classroom!
(Caution: do not confuse this with the Apple digital AV adapter.)
- grey polyurethane iPad smart cover
- second power adapter (has longer cable which can be necessary
to have to charge in office, e.g., if power outlet is not
conveniently accessible; remember you cannot charge the iPad
while using it with the projector, so timely charging at office
and/or home in preparation for class is a necessity!)
- Stylus for more precise writing (I cannot tell brand from my
product itself; it was a cheap one)
- External keyboard: wireless bluetooth Freedom Pro;
I spent a long time reading reviews of keyboards, which was well worth it.
You need one that is specifically compatible with an iPad,
which needs something called "HID pairing".
From a physical standpoint, the point of this keyboard is
that it folds and I can carry it in my bag.
I take it out only if and when specifically I want to show
the class how to access webpages or a Linux command-line via iSSH,
when typing of text is necessary repeatedly.
- iLuv carrying sleeve; I carry the iPad in there, inside my larger
workbag for additional protection.
The sleeve holds the VGA adapter, stylus, pointer, and a pen,
so I never forget these vital accessories.
- Recall that you do not have a mouse (contrary to a laptop),
so a conventional pointer is a very useful tool.
I use a mechanical one that extends telescopically,
but you can also use a laser one.
Details on software:
- NoteTakerHD v. 6.5 by Dan Bricklin
for both handwriting on blank documents and
to annotate PDF files (that you e-mail to yourself as attachments,
open on iPad, then "Open in NoteTakerHD").
Their help page literally points you to a video for information:
- iSSH secure client to connect to, e.g., Linux computers.
Collection of other lessons learned:
Since the iPad only has one input/output,
you cannot charge it while using with a data projector, so you must
have it charged sufficiently beforehand.
I changed some iPad settings to make it work best in the context of
a class. For instance, I set Auto-Lock to "never", so that the iPad
never starts hibernating automatically in the middle of class.
(Since I have the smart cover, hibernation is usually simply controlled
by closing that cover. To be sure, to protect this cover from dirt
in the classroom, I often take it off the iPad instead of folding
A stylus is not absolutely necessary, but can be useful to make
the writing in NoteTakerHD feel more conventional to the instructor.
My point is that the appearance and thickness of lines
in NoteTakerHD is controlled by software settings, not by the
fatness of the instructor's fingers or the amount of force pushing on the iPad.
Since the iPad does not have a mouse, you lose one of the possible
pointing devices in a computer,
so it is useful to have a conventional pointer again
(which can be really conventional stick or more modern laser one);
you see this when showing students how to navigate webpages:
They do not see your finger hovering before clicking, but they
can only see the result of a selection and might miss which link
in the previous webpage you actually clicked on.
Make sure to avoid the thinnest line width in NoteTakerHD for the
main text. While this displays readably in class via the projector,
it is very uncomfortably thin in the PDF transcripts that I post afterwards.
Most particularly, printouts of the PDF transcripts are hard to read
with the thin lines.
In fact, this issue can be seen in the
of the lecture dated 12/21/11;
compare the first one-and-a-half pages of thin lines vs. the last half page
with the next thicker lines.
Again, the issue comes up even more when printing out the transcript
rather than just viewing it on the screen.
NoteTakerHD uses PDF as native data format and thus has page breaks built-in.
In fact, whenever you want a new page, you have to specifically ask for one.
This means that you have to manage your lecture on the fly, so as to
avoid page breaks right in the middle of sentences / pararaphs / examples.
Of course, this is analogous to how we used to manage the use of chalkboards
or hand-written transparencies, but it is a contrast to the 'infinite'
page in MicroSoft OneNote (which only gains page breaks when printing to PDF).
Steven Anderson, Nagaraj K. Neerchal, Andreas Meister,
UMBC, UMBC DoIT,
UMBC Department of Mathematics and Statistics,
Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Consulting (CIRC),
Universität Kassel Zentraler Medien Bereich (ZMB),
Universität Kassel AG Analysis und Angewandte Mathematik.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Matthias K. Gobbert. All Rights Reserved.
This page version 1.2, February 2012.