Debrief: Castilleja Speed-Geeking Event

Earlier this week, I was invited along with Ms. Sena to be an iPad expert at a Speed-Geeking event in Palo Alto at Castilleja School, a grades 6-12 girls school that is moving toward a one-to-one iPad program similar to ours at CSH. “Speed-Geeking”, like speed dating, involves participants spending a short burst of time at a table learning about a new skill or resource until they’re signaled (usually with a bell) to move on to the next table. In all, there were four tables at this event, and each table showcased a series of iPad apps related to a single theme: note-taking/reference apps; collaboration/presentation apps;  multimedia apps; and publishing apps.

My assigned theme was note-taking and reference apps. In all, I showcased four apps that I like, a couple of which I’ve written about before. These were:

  • Audiotorium Notes: record audio while you take written notes, mark reference points in the audio.
  • Evernote: the glorious all-syncing note-taking app, with integrated audio recording. (My favorite thing, as you may know.)
  • iThoughts: great mind-mapping software, works well on the iPad and on desktop machines.
  • iSaveWeb: allows users to save an offline, static version of a webpage.

As I worked on my schtick for the event, I thought it might make sense to have a sort of unifying theme: it might be cool, I thought, to show how each of these four apps might help take notes and offer reference information in support of a single lecture topic. Since one online cartoon I follow had recently done a (somewhat vulgar and certainly NSFW) post on Nikola Tesla, I had Tesla on the brain and chose to revisit a lecture I used to do on his work. I was pumped: I did an audio recording of myself doing the lecture, took notes on it using Audiotorium Notes, then I took notes using Evernote, then I made a mind-map using iThoughts. I used iSaveWeb to save a bunch of websites about Tesla, including his Wikipedia page, a page on the AC versus DC battle between him and Thomas Edison, and a few other sites about Tesla’s life and work.

While I thought this was terribly interesting, my participants did not. They were a lot more interested in why anyone would choose these apps, especially when there are other apps out there that do the same things. In particular, they wanted to know why I wasn’t talking about Notability, with which they were all familiar and which they all loved. First of all, if they all already know about Notability, it’s not a great use of their time for me to include it in my presentation. Secondly, this offers a tremendous insight on the ever-expanding world of iPad apps: heck yes, lots of these apps do the same thing. While there are some that are clearly better than others, and some that are awfully buggy, there are lots of sleek, thoughtfully designed, great-functioning apps out there that do almost identical things. The objective with events like this is not to tell you which app to use; instead, the idea is to expose people to more and more of these high-quality apps and give them the chance to explore and discern which suite of apps works best for their needs.

Ultimately, I loved this event from a presenter’s standpoint because of the instant feedback I got from my participants. While I thought my Tesla stuff was cool, they didn’t, and that feedback helped me better tailor my presentation for the groups that followed. I could better anticipate their questions (“Why not Notability?!”) and hone my answers (“Use whatever you want! These are some other ideas.”). I also learned a lot from their questions and the apps that they used. I wasn’t very familiar with Notability before, and their insights about it (especially its audio recording capabilities) helped me better understand how I might use the same capabilities in my current favorite app, Evernote. I’ve never used Evernote like that, but I might now.

This is by far my favorite thing about teaching: in my opinion, if you’re doing it right, you’re always learning new things from your students.

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