How I manage my course materials

When I started classes this semester, I resolved to use my iPad to manage all of my cases and course materials. Over the past 4 months I’ve been experimenting with a variety of applications and technologies and I’ve settled on a collection of tools and a workflow that are working for me. Inquiries from classmates and a recent conversation with Chet Clem and a read through of his post detailing the tools that he uses on a regular basis inspired me to jot down my approach.

Step 1. Setup sync

I want access to my course materials as well as the annotations and marginalia I’ve created not only on my iPad, but on any device or machine. How do I manage the pain and trouble of synchronizing files? Cloud storage!

 SugarSync  &  DropBox

SugarSync and DropBox are both fine choices in the evolving world of persistent cloud storage. At their core, both of these applications do the same thing, save files on one machine (a word doc, a pdf, an image, etc.) and have them magically available on your phone, your tablet, your work computer, or even a browser. Share folders with friends and much more. Even though DropBox is the brand leader in this space, I’m partial to SugarSync. Where DropBox gives you 2GB of free space to start, SugarSync gives you 5GB. SugarSync also gives you the ability to limit what others can do with the files you share with them (read only vs. read/write), something DropBox lacks. It also helps that Gizmodo ranked it best this past September.

Close contender: Google Docs (to be discussed in an upcoming post) and the rumored Google Drive.

Step 2. Download and organize

I’d recommend doing this step on a desktop or laptop. While theoretically possible with the iPad, it would be painful

Now that you’ve signed up for a SugarSync or DropBox account, it’s time to grab those course materials and get them synchronized. Course materials come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s the digital course pack sold through the bookstore (downloadable as a pdf), web articles, etc.

At the beginning of the semester I create a folder for each course that I’m enrolled in inside my SugarSync folder. At the root of this folder I place the course syllabus, course pack and a series of subfolders; one for each class session. I then download each sessions materials into the appropriate folder. The process is a little labor intensive but worth the effort.

Step 3. Read and Annotate


This semester I’ve made the iPad my preferred reading device. As a result I’ve had to sift through an ever expanding field of great PDF/Document annotation apps. These apps allow you to connect to cloud storage and then highlight, underline, add notes, bookmark, etc your course materials. I’m constantly chasing the latest and greatest, whether it’s been Notability (on sale for .99 at the time of this writing) with its handwriting and audio annotation capabilities, GoodReader (with comprehensive cloud sync options) or my most recent obsession, Readdledocs. Why Readdledocs? Simplicity. In addition to most the options that I had in GoodReader, Readdledocs has an integrated web browser with save capabilities. As faculty and peers share links each week, or if I forget to download a web based article, Readdledocs allows me to open those links and save them as pdf documents in my course SugarSync folder.

Whatever app you end up choosing, make sure it integrates well with your preferred cloud storage solution (Readdledocs and GoodReader both integrate with SugarSync, DropBox and Google Docs, Notability only integrates with DropBox).

Bonus! – Printing to PDF on your iPad

If you choose to go the route of Notability or GoodReader and want to print to pdf on your iPad, I’d recommend JoliPrint. JoliPrint will show up as a bookmarklet for your iPad/iPhone (a bookmark that executes a little bit of Javascript code) that creates a PDF of any web page that can be opened/saved in the cloud storage or annotation app of your choice. And the best thing about JoliPrint is it’s price, Free!

How do you manage your documents? Share in the comments.

3 thoughts on “How I manage my course materials

  1. Pingback: Google Drive/Docs – Cloud Collaboration | My Life in Beta

  2. Hi Matt,

    How well does the auto sync feature work with PCs? I have a Mac and PCs at home and a PC at work. If I annotate on the PC, any idea if there will be any hiccups when I open it on my Mac?

    • Chris,
      The beauty of the sync is it works everywhere. You just need to install the appropriate client. If you can’t install software on your work machine, you can always view by browser. The one thing to make sure of is that you hit the sync button on the iPad from good reader or readdledocs.

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