Slice of Life (1): Teaching with the iPad

Talking about technology, like mobile computing, can sometimes be too cold and technical; Product specifications, software features, updates, issues, etc. This is all valuable and useful, but what is eventually more important is how we use our devices, and what kind of practical/day-to-day routines and actions we get out of them.

This article is the first of this blog’s category of “Slice of Life” showcasing glimpses of actual daily uses of the iPad (or other mobile computing devices). And because each of us is in essence a work-in-progress, these daily uses are in constante evolvement.

For this article, you would learn about a slice of my daily life mainly focusing on my role as a university instructor. Tomorrow would be the beginning of the last teaching week of the Fall semester, which means that my main focus for the next 2-3 weeks would be on my teaching role.

# Day Opening

Starting from early morning, my iPad is (mostly!) not beside me in bed. It is being charged in my home office. The great thing about the iPad is that once I remove it from the charger early morning, I never need to recharge it. It just keeps going for the full day.

The iPad is removed from the charger and placed into my daily bag. This bag is specifically bought with the iPad in mind. It is practical, very easy to carry, and on the small end of sizes.

# Day overview

I usually start my workday by having an overview of my commitments and tasks of the day. In an ideal world , this would be completely done in OmniFocus on the iPad (also installed and synchronized on my iPhone, iMac, and Apple Watch). I do use OmniFocus heavily, but I find that I feel more comfortable having hand-written notes to work parallel to that.

This is usually done by having OmniFocus opened a third of the screen to the left, and GoodNotes occupying two-thirds of the screen to the right. The size setup is designed to allow (relatively) easy handwriting, whereas OmniFocus could work fairly well in a third of the screen.

I would also sometimes have a third window of the Calendar app in floating mode. It is important to look at my tasks in perspective of calendar commitments. In addition, I strive to set time blocks for important tasks on the calendar.

# At the university

At the university, in a teaching-focused day, my workflow could be divided into four types; Class preparation and notes, in-class delivery, teaching management, Recalibration. Here’re the details:

# Class preparation

Before classes, I need to get acquainted with the class plan and the detailed discussions prepared for it. Few classes end up following the pre-set plan 100%, but having a plan makes it easy to manage the natural flow of classes. The setup is usually to have Apple Keynote occupying the left two-thirds of the screen and DevonThink occupying the right one-third of the screen. DevonThink holds the class notes (pre-class announcements, class title, review of last class’s topics, preview of today’s topics). Since every class is different, I need to double check from the Keynote slides the specific topics discussed and those planned for the upcoming class.

Other used applications in this setup include Safari (for the e-learning system and reviewing planned URLs), Photos (for class examples), and GoodReader (for documents to be used in class).

While walkinig on the way to the classroom, I usually set up Do Not Disturb on the iPhone via my Apple Watch or a Siri Shortcut. This is set to end by the end of the class.

# In-class

At the classroom, my usual setup is to have the iPad on the instructor’s table connected to the projector via HDMI/VGA cable dongle.

The iPad would be mainly set on Keynote. DevonThink would be floating in for the class notes. Once Keynote is in “Play” mode, the floating app (DevonThink in this case) would only be visible to me, and not shown on the projector. I would also be having Safari/Photos/GoodReads prepared as needed.

Since my class system involves me constantly moving in the classroom (and not tied to the instructor’s table), it is essential that I am able to remotely control the slides’ movement in Keynote. I do this by first setting a hotspot from my iPhone (more reliable than the campus Wifi for this setup!). The iPad, and an iPod Touch, would be connected to iPhone’s hotspot. The iPod Touch would be running Keynote in remote control mode. Keynote on the iPad would be set up to show current and next slides.

This way, I am able to freely move in class, remote control the slides, glance upcoming slides on the iPad, review quick presenter notes on the iPod Touch, and even use annotations/laser-beamer remotely via the iPod Touch.

# In-between Classes

Outside the classroom, I would usually be at my office managing teaching flows, like course and grades management and emails.

For course grades, I use Apple Numbers. The Grade Books are based on the excellent template provided by Apple, but enhanced over the years with my specific needs (specific cell design, participation grading, color coding, etc.). Numbers synchronizes well with my (Old!) MacBook Pro and my (relatively new) iMac at my home office. I do find myself mostly updating these files on the iPad rather than any of the two Macs.

For course communications, I use Drafts to send quick emails to students (discussed in the Automation article). For email reviews, I use Airmail to quickly archive emails (half-left swipe), delete emails (half-right swipe), or reply to emails (# + R on the my bluetooth keyboard).

# Re-calibrate/Overview

It is very likely that you get so entangled in daily actions and lost in the details of various tasks and projects. In order to centered and mindful, it is important to stop to re-calibrate with your goals for the day and the week.

To do that, and similar to the “Day overview” part at the beginning of the day, I open OmniFocus (left third of the screen) and GoodNotes to checkout where I am, what is completed, and what is more important to focus on for the rest of the day.

One other important organizing task is to go through my “in-basket” items of the day (in accordance with the “Getting Things Done” system by David Allen). These in-basked (or inbox) items are collected throughout the day via two apps; GoodNotes and OmniFocus.

For OmniFocus, the items are collected in the “Inbox” via the app itself. Alternatively, I add them quickly through Siri, without having to leave the app I am working on at the moment. The base principle for the technique is one I learnt from Federico Viticci. Basically, I launch Siri by pressing and holding the keyboard combination of (function) and (escape) at the same time. Since I have the “Type to Siri” feature enabled, I am able to quickly enter the inbox item (more on that in the bonus section at the articles’s end).

# End of day

Towards the end of the day, and if it was a weekend, I usually spend some time browsing the Internet casually (Safari), reading the news (Apple News or Medium) and watching a TV series (Netflix; I watch The Patriot Act by Hasan Minhaj and Star Trek: Enterprise). Interestingly, as soon as I plug the earphones into the iPad, the Netflix app shows up to the far right of the dock.

The last thing I usually do before sleeping, though, is reading from my Amazon Kindle Paperwhite until my eyes and mind refuse to continue anymore! I could alternatively read on my iPad via the Kindle app, but that is not something I recommend one does at the very end of the day (eyestrain, distraction, etc)!

So, that’s the end of today’s episode of MCB Slice of Life! I hope you got a good idea of some useful iPad usage scenarios, apps, and tips. In closing, I’ll give you below some alternative apps you could use in place of some of the ones mentioned above. In addition, you’ll see two setting tweaks to help you perform two tasks mentioned above.

Happy computing!



# Bonus:

1- Alternative apps

– Alternatives of OmniFocus

Apple Reminders



– Alternatives of GoodNotes

Apple Notes


MS One Note

– Alternatives of DevonThink

Apple Notes


2- Setting tweaking

a- Enabling type to Siri

– Go to: Settings -> General -> Accessibility

– Enable: Type to Siri

b- Adding to OmniFocus via Siri

* First: Setup quick Siri entry:

– Go to: Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> Text Replacement

– Add a new text replacement, like “aof” as the shortcut and “Add to Omnifocus” as the phrase

* Second: Setup OminFocus to

– Go to: Settings -> Siri & Search

– Enable: Use with Siri

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