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20 Types of Tablet Tools for Teaching

June 10, 2011

presentation app icons

UPDATE: September 17, 2015. Tablet sales are drooping worldwide. I’m not sure if higher education faculty are part of the trend, but it was time to update this post (again) in any case.

In May 2011, after a year of experimentation, I became sold on the idea of using a tablet instead of a laptop as a mobile computer. It was my turn for a workstation update, so I bought a tablet and replaced my laptop with a desktop. I know this is not the path for everyone, but I’ve been happy with the decision ever since. My laptop used to remain on the desk when I left the office; now I take the tablet everywhere.

What kinds of tablet apps are most likely to be useful to a college teacher? A complete answer depends on your subject area — there are apps for music, maps, the periodic table, star charts, frog dissection, and much more. I’ve tried to be generic on the list below, describing categories of apps that will be broadly useful.

The programs are NOT presented as “best of breed.” Under each category I name specific iPad and Android apps to explore as examples. Scan the reviews and try out a variety of them. If no price is given, the app should be free – but I may have missed one or two.

Full disclosure: subjective factors figured into my choices, including personal interests and outright whims. My tablet does not have a data plan (I have a phone that acts as a hotspot when necessary) and my Logitech case has an integrated keyboard.


This first group of tools is the one most directly connected to the act of teaching.

  1. Grading – iPad: Gradekeeper ($5),  Gradebook Pro ($4),  Android: Grade Book for Professors Pro ($5),  Teacher Gradebook. There are even rubric apps: Rubric Scorer for Android looks interesting.
  2. Annotation – mark up student-submitted PDF files with highlights, text and drawings. Both: Adobe Reader, iAnnotate PDF, and Skitch.
  3. Attendance  – some apps offer seating charts & photos – iPad: Attendance2 ($5),  Android: Attendance,  Both: TeacherKit. A pricier iPad app called iDoceo ($10) looks very interesting.
  4. Course Management System – there are mobile options for Blackboard,  Brightspace,  and Canvas.  Sakai is increasingly tablet-friendly.
  5. Polling – use tablets and smartphones like clickers in the classroom – Both: Socrative and Poll Everywhere


Use your tablet as a tool for course readings or to create materials for class.

  1. Reading – CourseSmart for textbooks, Kindle for books, and Pocket for articles (you gather them with a browser extension).
  2. Recording – there are built-in apps for capturing images, video and sound. Explore others, though, like Voice Record Pro on the iPad.
  3. Collaboration – share document editing in real-time with Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Draw for iPad or Android.
  4. Productivity – use “Docs to Go Free” on iPad or Android. Microsoft Word and its companion apps require Office 365; a University license is $79.95 for 4 years.
  5. More – there are many opportunities, including …


Plug your tablet into the classroom projector and off you go!

  1. Slideshow viewer – lots of apps play PowerPoint files and you can get Prezi for iPad or Android. I like to plug an iPad into a projector and control it with an iPhone, using Keynote ($10) on each device.
  2. Air mouse / remote – Splashtop ($) has apps that let a tablet control a desktop connected to a projector. Reflector ($7-17) is an alternative you install on the desktop. Here’s a useful article with 10 ways to project your iPad.
  3. Stopwatch and Timer – use the standard clock app or a specially designed timer to track time for a presentation or sound a buzzer after a five-minute writing period. I like Big Presentation Timer ($1) on the iPad.
  4. Media players are included for photos, video, & sound. There are also apps for YouTube, SoundCloud and Flickr (iPad, Android).
  5. Chalkboard/whiteboard – project onto the screen whatever you paint, draw, graph on your tablet – iPad: BaiBoard,  Android: LiveBoard.


These tools are less specific, but you will probably use them a great deal.

  1. Calendar – use the apps on your device to track dates and to-do lists. They should sync with your cloud-based calendar. I use Calendars 5 with Google Calendar.
  2. Notes – simple, quick text entry and note management. I use Evernote for this (either platform).
  3. Browser – it can be very useful to have more than one – Both: Mercury,  iPad: Chrome,  Android: Firefox.
  4. Document storage – save and organize files
  5. News – receive up-to-the-second info, images, and video: USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, NPR, and so on
I’d love to hear from readers who have identified other teaching functions where tablets are helpful. I’m also sure I have left out some of your favorites. Please share apps that you think many college teachers could benefit from.

More tablet app posts on NspireD2

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris Clark permalink*
    September 23, 2015 11:40 am

    Additional note-taking apps suggested by readers

    My friend Kristin Lewis says: “Try Noteshelf! [iPad, $8] Simple, easy to use, and now easily imports PDF and other file formats so that you can annotate over the file. I use it for presentation but think it would also work very well to mark up student papers. Fewer features than products like iAnnotatePDF etc, but I think that is a good thing.”

    Another educator wrote to me suggesting Notability (iPad, $6). I used to use this app before switching to the more widely accepted Evernote.

  2. July 22, 2015 7:17 am

    Hi, i feel that i noticed you visited my website so i got here to return the choose?.I’m trying to in finding issues to
    enhance my site!I suppose its ok to use some of your concepts!!

  3. February 11, 2015 5:54 pm

    Hi, thank you for the article. It was extremely informative and gave me a few places I could start looking at!

  4. Guilbert permalink
    May 26, 2013 1:53 pm

    Could you try my Android Application “Teacher ToOl” ? I think that it can help to manage classroom.

  5. April 30, 2013 5:57 pm

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my
    comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyhow, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  6. January 11, 2013 3:18 pm

    Your personal post, “20 Types of Tablet Tools for Teaching
    NspireD2: Learning Technology in Higher Ed.” ended up being very well worth commenting on!

    Simply just needed to point out you really did a tremendous job.

    I appreciate it -Coy

  7. November 17, 2011 1:23 pm

    very nice ….. thanks

  8. June 11, 2011 3:03 pm

    More great apps:)

  9. VickiC permalink
    June 11, 2011 11:44 am

    Hi Chris. I found this to be a wonderful post and it answered some of my questions relating to apps available to teachers and how well they work in the real world. I am currently in the process of completing my Masters degree and I am what I would consider a very techy (or some call us “geeks”) type of person. I know you tried to keep this as a generic post, and I appreciate that. I also see you have provided a well rounded list and I thank you for that.

    My question to you is relating to the Kindle you mention here – I have used a Kindle for years and I love it. It’s probably my favorite and most used device next to my cell phone (yes, I am a blackberry user – and yes, they are seriously limited so I see why you say we are on our own). What I find is that the books for my Master’s program seem to not be an option from the institution in electronic format.

    Do you see this as something that may change with the future of our technology growth or is that something you feel will always be in paper format from the institutions? Would the cost be the driver on that or would it be due to their own limitations in technological advancements?

    I don’t know if Student Docket is available on your platforms or not, but I have used that in Blackberry and it seems to be the best I have found out of the blackberry apps for input/tracking from a student point of view.

    I will be checking out some of the other apps you mention for the iPad and Android too. Again, thanks for the information. I love finding posts with great data and then doing my own research from that information. Thanks again and I hope all is well.


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