Data collection with an iPad

Watching Star Trek in my youth, I came to think of the space-age technology used in the show as falling into two categories: 1) “that’ll never happen,” and 2) “ohhh, I hope so!” In the first category I put things like warp drives and matter transporters: “advancements” that were either impossible by the laws of physics or so complicated that they would never be developed in my lifetime. The second category was full of items that were less showy perhaps, but highly practical.  That magic combination is probably what inspired gifted men and women to develop real-world applications of gadgets like communicators, tricorders and handheld computers.

Modern tablets like the iPad have a lot of showy media features, but the reason why they are here to stay is because of the “boring” ability to get things done. That includes collecting, storing and displaying data of all sorts. Consider the following uses for the pastoral ministry:

Record keeping. A church is not a business, a pastor is not its CEO, and the “bottom line” isn’t what steers its ministry. Still, the Lord requires faithfulness and good stewardship, which demands a certain level of organization. A pastor can find help with the chore of record keeping with a number of iPad apps. Apple’s iOS spreadsheet app, Numbers, is not as easy to use as its desktop version, but it can open up Excel files and modify them as necessary. Numbers comes with built in templates which include: Checklist, Auto Log, Budget, and Weight Loss & Running Log.  Other, more targeted apps could prove more helpful. One example is Attendance. Although the main intended use is for classrooms, the app can easily track attendance at any type of event, recurring or otherwise.

Note taking. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to write everything down. Whether I’m at a Church Council meeting, at a pastors’ study club, or a planning session with the Evangelism team, if I don’t take notes I’m likely to forget a good share of what was discussed — and more importantly, what I’m supposed to work on next. To me, this is THE most practical use of the iPad and the one which most clearly justifies its expense. I still use pen and paper in some instances, but then I find I usually have to transfer that information to a computer anyway.

There are any number of note taking apps available. Which one you choose will largely depend on things like input method, syncing ability, and aesthetics. Most people find that the onscreen keyboard works fine for taking quick notes, for example at a meeting. But you can also use an external keyboard, or even a stylus if you have good handwriting or like to make drawings or doodles.

The iPad comes with a built-in Notes app which is barebones but adequate for tapping out quick thoughts. Apps like PlainText and Simplenote don’t offer much more in the way of formatting, but they conveniently sync with your computer or iPhone via Dropbox. If you’re an “outside the box” thinker, maybe you’d prefer something more freestyle like SketchPad HD or Penultimate that allow you to sketch with your finger or a stylus. Or perhaps a mindmapping app like MindNode. Even the famous Moleskine has its own iPad app.

Voice recording. I guess this is really a sub-category of note taking, but I’ve been surprised at a) how well this works on the iPad and iPhone and b) how infrequently I remember to use it. Voice Memos is just a simple voice recorder. Notability merges recordings with note taking in a very attractive package. One thing to keep in mind when looking at data collection apps is that you’ll probably want to export that data to your computer, another device, or to a printer. Notability offers to export your notes via email, syncing to your computer or onto the “cloud” and even converts the data to pdf or rtf formats! Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dragon Dictation (amazingly free) which does a fantastic job with voice recognition. I almost feel like I’m talking to the computer on the Starship Enterprise!

One Response to Data collection with an iPad

  1. Pingback: So you got an iPad for Christmas. Now what? « iPad in Ministry

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