Paperless chairing

This post is nothing to do with elearning but I thought I’d log my experience today of chairing my first meeting using just an iPad.

For years I’ve taken a laptop along to meetings and increasingly I’m not the only person to do so.  This has the advantage of having everything accessible, together with access to the Internet and other relevant documents which may help with the business of the meeting.

For committee meetings you’re often forced to read and bring with you a collection of papers, easily amounting to fifty pages or more.  For most people, having these on paper makes it easier to read them and write comments on them than working from a laptop or desktop computer.  The more senior people tend to come to meetings with wonderfully neat files of papers prepared by their secretaries in advance.  I’m sure many have rigorous paper filing systems for these documents but for me the whole lot simply ends up in the recycling bin.  I’ve always been uneasy about the cost and the environmental impact of this.  If I need subsequent access to the documents I have them digitally anyway.

Suddenly the iPad arrives and turns out to provide a reading experience arguably as good as paper so the main reason to print out meeting papers vanishes.  I’d been planning to attend meetings with the papers on my iPad but having to chair one today certainly concentrated the mind and made me think through some of the issues.

How to get the documents onto your iPad
The first challenge was to transfer the meeting papers to the iPad. I created a folder in the Dropbox application on my computer where I placed all the papers for the meeting.  This is then accessible over the University’s wifi network on my iPad.  I’ve also installed this application on my secretary’s computer so she can set up relevant meeting notes in the future.

Folder structure
I’ve settled on the following folder structure:  Groups:Name of Group:Date of Meeting e.g. Groups:LISG:2010-09-07.  This means I can instantly find any group alphabetically and any meeting chronologically.

File naming
It’s vital to have files listed in the order in which you’re going to encounter them in the agenda.  The files I had for the meeting, while named logically, did not appear in the right order when listed alphabetically.  This was partly due to the inconsistent use of spaces, underscores and hyphens between words.  I thus renamed them with unique names incorporating the group and the date.  During the meeting however I realised that the names were so long I couldn’t read them properly.  As the files are stored within a unique folder structure I’ve decided that calling them by simple names will suffice e.g. 00-Agenda.doc, 01-Performance-Report.doc etc.

Note taking
This is one thing I didn’t manage.  Dropbox doesn’t allow documents to be annotated so I need to find something which does – and which makes it easy.

Handling multiple documents
The lack of multitasking (or windows) on the iPad didn’t prove too much of a problem.  I was able to move back and forth between the agenda and other items easily from the pull-down menu.  There was a slight delay as each document was opened and there is no doubt it’s less convenient than being able to take a quick glance at the agenda on a bit of paper in front of you while you’re scanning through another document.

Logistics
I displayed all the documents in portrait mode and found it easier to read from the screen with it tilted at an angle towards me than with it simply lying flat on the table.  The standard iPad case allows you only to tilt it towards you in landscape mode.  I found an upturned coffee cup tilted it at the perfect angle, though my administrator just about jumped out of her skin when the cup shifted at one point and clattered onto the saucer.

Overall the experiment was a success and I’m aiming to try to do this for future meetings I’m both chairing and attending.  Bye bye paper.

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