Paperless Data Collection | iPad + Pencil

I’ve long been looking for an easy way to make my data collection paperless. Technology has come quite a long way, even in the last 7 years of my working as a public school SLP, and this year, I have finally been able to achieve my dream of reducing paper.

To begin, let me share why I have wanted to decrease my paper use.

First, is the obvious plea for environmentalism. Although paper is, on the surface, perhaps one of the easiest materials to recycle, there is a lot of questioning about how much of our recycled goods actually end up recycled – and how much ends up in our landfills anyway. Recycling is good, yes, but reduction is always better. There’s a reason the slogan has for so long been Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Now, there is worthy concern over how environmentally friendly an iPad is as an alternative. I feel that concern deeply. In the course of a single year, 2 separate articles purported Apple as simultaneously the greenest in the tech business and not as green as we think. I truly don’t know what to make of much of the information that hits me on a daily basis. For myself, I reasoned that with the limited use the iPad would be getting (I’m using it exclusively as a data collection/email device while at work), it will hopefully last several years. When I consider how much paper I use in the same time frame, I hope it will amount to a good decision. My original iPad (the iPad 2) is still kicking for basic functions, so I think I’ll get a good bit of time out of it.

Second, is the plea of my back. By May 2020, I’ll have spent 5 of my 7 years as an SLP as one of our district’s travelers. From preschools to elementary schools to high schools, I’m all over the place. With funds always tight, I’m already transporting my most-loved materials from place to place (it’s always amazing to me that I can sometimes use something with a preschooler and a high schooler). Adding a binder full of student data pages only adds to that. Having everything on the iPad makes my travel load much lighter and gives me access to so much all in one place

I bought my iPad this summer on Amazon. I’m currently borrowing an Apple Pencil but plan to buy my own soon. I bought it with the full knowledge that if it did not do what I wanted it to do, I would be returning it. I have no need of extra tech in my life! What I wanted from the device was simple. I wanted to make data sheets on my laptop and save them as PDFs. I wanted those PDFs to be opened on the iPad, written or typed on, and then saved/synced to both the iPad and my laptop so that I could view in either location. I wanted to be able to make changes in both places and easily sync between the two. At first glance, I thought what I wanted was impossible. I Googled many different phrasings of what I was hoping for and kept receiving a “sorry, probably can’t do that” response from the Internet’s tech helpers.

But oh, was the answer simple. I stumbled upon it, quite literally by accident. You see, I use a MacBook Air as my personal and professional laptop. I had saved all of my PDF data sheets in my iCloud folder of my laptop so that they were ready and waiting for whatever trial and error I had to endure in my quest. One day, by accident, I opened Files on my iPad instead of the app I was intending to test out. Within seconds, I had popped open one of my PDFs from the MacBook Air folder within the app, tapped the pencil tool, and started writing. After closing the PDF out, I opened it up on my laptop and, voila! There was my handwriting.

Really, it was as simple as that. A little bit of looking showed me that this could be done with pretty much any cloud system you employed. Make sure you have it on you iPad (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc…) and it will shop up in the locations tab. Find your document, write, and you’re all set! Within the app, you can duplicate files, move files, and create folders. All of these changes will show up in the laptop version of your cloud folder.

Just like that, data collection is paperless!

A couple of caveats:

One, I recognize that buying an iPad is an investment. I was fortunate enough to have extra money this summer from PRNing at a local SNF. And I’m extra fortunate that I was able to use that money here rather than on necessities. I’m excited to be able to use my resources in this way, to make my traveling SLP life a little easier. But it is definitely a privilege NOT a necessity!

Two, privacy is always a top concern when I’m using portable technology of any kind, especially cloud services. I did a fair amount of research on this before purchasing. Apple has some pretty hefty privacy features that I don’t even begin to understand enough to explain but which made me feel pretty confident keeping my information in my iCloud drive. However, I have still made the decision to avoid any personal/identifying information in my documents. I don’t store copies of IEPs, reports, etc.. in the drive. I never add SSNs or any other identifying numbers to my data pages. All data pages that are in this drive are made by me, with just the bare minimum of information that I need in order to keep my schedule, take data, and keep a personal progress page for my planning. IEPs, evaluations, progress reports, etc… are all created and stored on a local hard drive on my computer. To most people, these will look like gibberish. To me, they’re invaluable.

How do you take data? Have you considered going or already gone paperless? Would you enjoy this method or are you an old school, pen-and-paper kind of SLP? Let’s hear from you!


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