Paperless Study on iPad

I stumbled across the following YouTube channel, Paperless Student, while I was looking for a solution to a problem with PDFs on the iPad. It inspired me to write this post describing what I do to organise and carry out my study. This is a really long post so go ahead to the next page in your RSS feed if this isn’t of interest to you.

I am studying my degree via distance learning, with all of my lectures and assessments provided and submitted across the internet. I wanted to be able to study wherever I went, without having to lug textbooks or spending much money on stuff,  like a new laptop. I already had an iPad and wanted to see if I could use that as a focus, with minimal expenditure. I generally DO NOT use the iPad when I’m at home as I use a multiscreen iMac there. Though sometimes I use both at once, you can never have too many screens!

BUT, I have not been able to go completely paperless. I am studying Teaching, so that has required me to do some things on paper, visual arts, for example. In these cases, I have had to use paper or create objects, outside of the computer, but these have ended up in videos or images which have been submitted online.

Distance Learning

In some ways, it’s a little easier than if I was attending University as all of the information is already online for me. I view and respond in my own time. The teachers have generally provided a list of readings, usually including the textbook, perhaps some links to videos or websites of interest. I don’t know how I would go trying to take notes in class, live. Though the Apple Pencil and Stylus has already worked well in work meetings.

The university uses a system called Blackboard to provide these lessons. Alongside the pages providing each week’s topic, or assessment details etc, there is also a discussion board and the provision to join live tutorials (or view the recording). It is a little behind in its design and layout, however, it is pretty functional.


Assessments are submitted through this portal, and it also provides access to the university’s library. Obviously, library items that are physical cannot be read through the portal, but thousands of articles and readings are available online.

My Setup

I use the following software on the iPad. I’ll list them with a brief description, then give you some more details on how I use them further down.

  • Safari – Used to read all of the lectures.
  • OneNote – This is the core note-taking software that I use.
  • Word – This is used for writing my assessments.
  • Vitalsource Bookshelf – here are my textbooks
  • Stylus – this is a software keyboard that you can write and it converts to text (OCR)
  • Apple Pencil
  • Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard.

Using this and one or two speciality applications for particular assessments I can do 90% of my work on the iPad. The little bit left, I can still remain paperless, but I usually switch to my iMac. I expect that I could get the appropriate software (mostly creating PDFs and editing video) on the iPad, but it is already on the iMac and these are uncommon tasks.


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Microsoft provides this free. This links in well as the university provides us with an Office365 subscription and OneDrive space. I use a single notebook for each course (in this case Master of Teaching). I split that into a tab for each unit (so Practical Placement 1, Teaching Arts in Primary School, etc). Then pages as I require, including subpages. Usually each week’s notes, lectures and questions get a single page.

I copy the weekly lesson information from the Safari page into OneNote. This allows me to access it offline and it means I have it saved for after the unit is completed. It also allows me to write notes immediately alongside or below questions posed in the text. This is just copied straight from Safari. OneNote also allows the inclusion of links to videos and webpages so these are not lost when I copy.

I did use the Bluetooth keyboard almost exclusively, but since switching to an iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil, I’ve started to use the Stylus system more. I will still use the keyboard when I want to do lots of typing, but sometimes I can’t or don’t want to have as big a setup as this (such as doing some study when I’m in a work meeting!), or I just have a couple of things to write I will use the Pencil.

Another advantage of OneNote is that it syncs quickly and completely across every platform I use. I can access my notes on iPhone, iPad, iMac, PC and I think even Online (but my work systems don’t let me access OneDrive at work – still I suppose I should be working anyway!)

Vitalsource Bookshelf

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WOW, eTEXTBOOKS are so awesome. So far my success in finding the correct ebook version of the prescribed text has been 100%, but I dread the day when this doesn’t work. So far they have also been compatible with Vitalsource’s Bookshelf application. Currently I have about 9 texts in my iPad and my iPhone. Imagine carrying that pile of books to work everyday! I’d need a second motorcycle (I need one anyway though!).

The next two advantages of etext are ease of searching (and Bookshelf allows you to search each book or your entire library) and highlighting/notetaking. Just as you might (I was NEVER one to do this) get out your highlighter as you’re reading – you can do just that in Bookshelf. Then you can read through the list of highlights/notes and find what you were looking for, without having to read the whole book. And these sync across devices/web access.

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 09.53.06This is great for writing assignments. You can quickly find references, even across multiple textbooks. And by having other books available, you can build a better assignment by providing multiple sources. For example, even while using the Creative Technologies text, I can quickly switch into searching and referencing a text on Educational Psychology or Assessment Techniques. And I can do this even when I am not at home as I have all the texts with me.

Lastly, eTexts tend to be cheaper than purchasing new. Most are lifetime though I’ve noticed a couple are 5 or 10 year “rentals”.

Other Pieces of the Puzzle.

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The Apple Pencil was initially pretty disappointing actually. I found that I was only using it to make the selection of text in texts easier. It was also handy for sketching and brainstorming in OneNote, however by adding Stylus OCR Keyboard, it’s really starting to shine. I almost feel as if the iPad is finally as easy to use as my ancient Palm devices were (I really got used to writing quickly in Palm’s Graffiti)

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Blackboard, the system the university uses, has recently updated its applications (I suspect the impending release of iOS 11 and it’s lack of support for 32bit applications was the catalyst). I really only use it if I want to join in the online class discussions when I’m not at home (where I would do it on my iMac).

Difficulties, Current Issues

Submitting assessments – I’ve only done this once on the iPad. Blackboard’s submission portal would only accept files from the PC, or from Google’s Drive or Dropbox. Not the OneDrive that they provide for us (go figure that!). The iPad doesn’t have a “Files” (wait and see with OS11 and the Files application), but you can select things from your iCloud. I can’t remember exactly how I did it, but I saved my OneDrive file to iCloud (I think through Pages on the iPad) and then uploaded from there into Blackboard. It was complicated, but the assessment was due (on Christmas Eve no less!) and I was on an overseas holiday, so I couldn’t just get onto the iMac.

Highlighting PDFs – Currently, if I open a PDF in Safari (from the university library) I can save it into iBooks. However, once there, I can’t highlight any of the text. I’m writing this on the 17 September and on 20 September (I guess 21 September down under) iOS 11 is released and one of the new things they have added is the Markup feature. In iBooks, it appears that you will be able to highlight text. I will pause my hunt for a solution to this until after I upgrade to that.

*this is how I stumbled across Paperless Student in the first place.

Word on iPad vs Word on Desktop – There are a few formatting features that are either not available on the iPad version or just more difficult to use. Subsequently, I tend to finalise my assessments (usually it’s about formatting the reference list, they have a particular indent setup they require). This is where I also convert to PDF and sometimes put several PDF together. I think that there are probably ways I could do this on the iPad, but I don’t (haven’t yet anyway) need to. I am still paperless, but just not locked into the iPad. It also links into being easier to submit from here too.

Last words

I may not have headed down this path if I already had a light notebook but I haven’t owned a laptop for about 8 or 9 years. I’ve occasionally considered it, but I converted from Palm to iPad (long before I had an iPhone) with the release of the first iPad and haven’t really been convinced to go back to a laptop. I will admit that in some cases, if I’d had a MacBook (or Air) I would have found things easier, but then somethings, such as built-in cellular, and the stylus input are a distinct advantage for the iPad.

I store all my assessments and work on OneDrive, however I also keep a copy on my iMac (which is also backed up through Time Machine). I figure that between me and Microsoft, I’m unlikely to lose an assessment in those critical panicked few minutes around submission!

Paperless wasn’t the goal, having all my notes and references available in a small package that I could easily take to work or on travel was the goal. Paperless is a happy side-effect.




Prac Complete

Two weeks of prac are over and do I really have to go back to my real job on Monday?

Please, can I just stay and teach kids?

I was reading some of my older posts in the study category and I may not have mentioned that the degree I am studying in order to change career is to become a Primary (Elementary) School teacher.

My first prac is now done and I really had a great time. The class had its challenges. There were kids who had attitude, kids who had too much energy, kids who struggled with basic reading and maths. I helped out around the class and took some small groups for reading or writing. In the second week I took the whole class for some maths lessons.

By the end of the week, it was clear to me that I really enjoyed it. There was some tough moments, and it’s tough trying to control someone else’s class when they’ve had half a year to build a rapport.

Another thing that was clear was that I HAD ACTUALLY TAUGHT THEM SOMETHING! Even the students who struggled seem to have understood the maths that I had taught them. Very happy with that result.

The written assessments from the two assessors were very positive. Of course there are things to work on, but this is my first prac of four over the two years, I’m not expected to be perfect. Heck, all the teachers made it clear that every year their classes required different management, a different style because the kids are a different collection of personalities.

Do I HAVE to go back to work?

Prac Week 1

So the first week of my first practical placement ends tomorrow. I’ve been placed in a year 3 class. A whole class of interesting personalities! While due to whole school activities I haven’t actually seen much teaching in action I have certainly seen classroom management and behavioural management in action.

I am enjoying it which is the first hurdle over. I think I’m on the right track in my career change choice which is another plus. I can see a lot of work and a lot of love for not great pay. The school has a pretty good feeling about it. There are about 6 other prac students there, all in their last prac.

I’ve taken a group for some remediation maths which was hopefully somewhat successful but was sure hard work. I have to take 4 lessons next week which will be very eye opening I’m sure. It’s a lot easier to know what level to pitch at now that I’ve met the kids. But knowing the kids it’s also more of a challenge as I now know some of thier attention spans and capabilities.

Overall it’s been positive so far. Ask me next week after I’ve actually “taught” the class.

Study – a solid start

A term or so ago I was over the moon about getting 75% on an essay. The post is here

I’ve managed to top it in an essay. 78%. A longer essay as well – 2500 words. I had run out of time and while I had done the research and a skeleton of the paper it wasn’t until I took a day off work and wrote it that I managed to finish it. 

But even better that should give a high Credit for that unit overall. Pretty good. Pretty happy. 

But I topped that in the other unit. 84% on the final assignment (not an essay) and that gets me into Distinction for the assignment and maybe for the unit overall. 

So a solid start to this Masters caper.  

Next units have me doing a second “make my own lesson, recruit a few kids, and make a video of me teaching that lesson, then critique it“. I actually really enjoyed this last time and did pretty well (78%) so I’m looking forward to that one. 

This term I also have my first practical placement at an actual school. So for two weeks I’ll be a full time teacher, so to speak. Scary and excited. 

Hope it goes well. 

Study – Changing degrees

So I’ve spent about 3/4 of a year studying online. It’s the first year of a 4 year bachelor degree. I already have a bachelor but there were not any postgraduate options available online. Certainly if I took 2 years off work I could have attended a local university and studied full time. I even applied and was offered a place in my preferred university. 

But that would have put unimaginable strain on my family’s financial situation so wasn’t really an option.

In late February, just as I was finishing a unit for my study I discovered that starting this year there is now an online post graduate degree available in the field I am studying. Still be finalised but open for enrolment. 

By the time I found out, it was already a week past the application closing date, but with some advice from the university I submitted the application and was accepted. And then, with less than a week to go before classes started I managed to get enrolled in classes.

Now it is a bit of a risk. The degree isn’t yet accredited (it has had preliminary accreditation) and is under development. It is also significantly more expense (each unit is $2000 rather than $700) per term. And because my previous study was at Bachelor level and this is a Masters, even though the subject matter is the same, it cannot be counted for prior study.

However being able to finish around a year earlier than the other, which fits in well with my timeline is a huge positive. 

And the previous study isn’t completely lost. Even though its a long way from anything I have done before I found the first year really interesting and I’m happy with my choice. I have also gotten a lot better at managing my study and somewhat better in my essay writing. There is some initial overlap in what I have studied as well. 

The assessments are harder and the units cover twice as much material as the Bachelor ones, but it is Master level after all. 

Week 2 has started now and I’m encouraged with how it is going (and so far no assignments are essays! Or concept maps!).

No rest over Christmas

Another study period is coming to a close. I think I have done okay in this session, but we’ll see in about 2 weeks when the last results start to filter in. One unit was very different from my others – Performing Arts had me writing AND singing a song and ALSO making up and dancing a dance. Very different from anything I have done before. But actually an enjoyable unit. The other unit was alright, but the assessments were somewhat vague (though I did get 75% on the first one).

I’m not sure that I wrote about this, but I did end up failing a unit in the previous session, so I have decided to repeat that unit this next period. I’ll only do one unit as it appears that there is no break over Christmas. With each period being 13 weeks, there are only 52 weeks in a year… do the maths…. there are only about 3 days free all year.

So by my calculations, my first assessment for the next unit will be due on December 30. Ouch.

So doing one unit, and it being a repeat I hope to be able to get stuck into the assessment early and really make a solid start of it well before then.

A busy lead up to Christmas then.

Assignment Success



That’s the mark on my most recent essay.

Pretty sure that it’s the best mark I have ever got in an essay. I mean ever! 

So I was pretty stoked with that. I think it might be the best I get but it was sure nice to get such a positive response.

Only the first assignment of 3 for that unit, and there’s a whole other unit right now, so onwards….

Another end of Session

Means another exam and another struggle to get my marks up.

Not sure I can make it to a pass this time in one paper. I haven’t yet got the marks for its major assessment, but I don’t think I did too well. I also stuffed the first paper this time in the same subject, so I probably have to get 120% in the exam.

Good luck eh.

I still find the two major sources of my struggle are

  1. Finding time to study properly. Again, family intrudes here, work intrudes here, exercise intrudes and I do have to sleep sometimes…..
  2. I struggle with the way that this unit, same as one of the previous session, asks me to present my assignment. I just struggle with that – I understand the topic, but getting it on paper is awkward.

The other paper I think should be ok. It won’t be pretty, but it will be ok.

Next session will be interesting. A literacy one and then one to really bust me out of my comfort zone – Performance Arts.

I just realised I’ll probably have to sing as a Primary School teacher….. ha, the poor kids will be traumatised.

I’ll probably do the exam Thursday. Then I switch off for a couple of weeks.

Study -Results


I  may have passed both units. The exam results have been published and I did well in both. I’ve added up my marks for all assessments and the combined total is more than 50% for both units. Considering how poorly I did one assignment in each unit, I’m pretty happy. I guess that official results will be in a week or two?

Study – exams done

So the 2 hour one took 1 hour, that’s ok. I desperately need a high score to drag my overall up to a pass. I totally screwed the major assignment and am likely to fail if it’s a poor exam result. It was an open book multiple choice so I was able to check the answers as I went. But no backtracking was a bit rude.

The other one, 90 minutes, only took me 15!!! I admit to be a bit worried, but again I was able to check references for each one, and because I could backtrack I could double check the answers. Not so desperate for a good mark, but it would be nice.

Fingers crossed.