Since its release the iPad has garnered arguments regarding whether it is primarily a device for consumption or creation. I have always believed that it is a device capable of creation. One simply needs to consider apps such as Avid Studio, DemiBooks Composer, Pages, Keynote, Minecraft Pocket Edition, Art Rage, SketchBook Pro, Comic Life and many others. These and many other apps all allow the user to tap into their talents and produce output of which they can be proud.

Of course the iPad is also a worthy consumption device. Think of FlipBoard, Reeder, Safari, Guardian Eyewitness, The Elements, Solar Walk, and any other app that allows anyone to easily explore information, imagery and data on the web or embedded within the app.

[Note: A number of readers have begun adding comments below which may also interest you. John.]

Sharing Issues

Yet, the iPad has one challenging aspect at this time…  particularly for a teacher working with a class of students, each with their own iPad. Consider a teacher that simply wants to facilitate teaching and learning and does not wish to devote hours to dealing with an interface that can at times be clunky, inconsistent and simply involves too many steps to get it to work.

Which interface!? The conventional task of collecting, assessing and returning student works that were created on an iPad.

Imagine that the students have created an elegant report in Pages, a short movie in Avid Studio or a sketch in Art Rage. As a teacher you would like to assess the students’ output. Ideally the teacher would like to receive all of the students’ works in a setting that allows the teacher to verify all of the submissions in a single directory or folder and then to assess each item. In addition to that you require a facility that allows the students to submit their works in such a manner that one student cannot access the work of another. Some teachers are concerned that students may simply copy or mimic the work of others. Fair point.

Transferring files is not always easily accomplished

Why? The iPad’s proprietary iOS operating system does not possess a file system like the directory and file structure of Windows or the folder and file system found in the Finder of the Mac OS.

So, what are some of the stumbling blocks?

  • One cannot upload a file to a LMS or CMS via a conventional browser upload.
  • You cannot drag & drop files so as to save them to other computers, external hard drives or portable flash drives.
  • You are not able to export files via a simple drag & drop or automatically sync to networked servers and non-Apple cloud based file storage systems such as DropBox.

This is due to the fact that each app on the iPad manages its own files independently of all the other apps. Files are saved with the app. They are not saved to a system wide directory or folder structure. Transferring files is challenging.

Educators and other iPad users have written about this dilemma. Check out these posts and consider the steps or variety of apps that some of the authors have set out in order to establish a workflow.

This is madness. Some of the processes described in these posts are not workflows. They are obstacle courses. There is not an elegant solution to this dilemma. The iPad does not afford a consistent approach for the transfer of files from one device to any other device whether it be an iPad, PC, Mac or server.

Transferring files using an iPad

Let’s consider some methods for transferring files from an iPad to another device. This list is not exclusive. These solutions are designed for a single user of course. The iPad does not allow for multiple users and multiple accounts.


You can transfer files via the File Sharing window within the Apps tab of this desktop application. One device at a time. That is impractical with a class of 30 or more students. The File sharing is not consistent. Some apps only allow single files, others allow you to drag folders. Some apps only allow you to transfer files created on the iPad.

File App

This app allows for file transfer and sharing across a wireless network. One device at a time. The teacher would need to connect to each iPad wirelessly. Locate the file and copy it to their own device. There are many other apps similar to this.


A good app no doubt. One of my favourites. Yet GoodReader has a strangely complex user interface. You can link GoodReader to a Drop Box account that is shared by the students and the teacher. Students can download and upload files to DropBox via GoodReader. That works well for PDFs that are annotated within Good Reader itself or images that have been saved to the Photos app and are then accessible within Good Reader. Limited possibilities. Complex to set up. Read this post to review the steps outlined by this educator.

GoodReader iPad App

GoodReader App


One possibility is DropBox however it has limitations. After a DropBox account has been established folders can be shared with others.

One can access the same files on an iPad via the DropBox app on the iPad. The user can also access those files on the iPad using applications such as QuickOffice, GoodReader, MindNode, Photogene, WhiteBoard HD and OneEdit. A number of these apps also allow you to export to DropBox as well. GoodReader allows you to establish a two-way sync with DropBox. The problem is that although students can exchange files wirelessly with their teacher all the students have access to the works of the other students.

DropBox iPad App

DropBox App


Many apps allow you to email files to another person. Have you ever received 30 assignments from a class of students? How about 180 assignments from an entire cohort? Ridiculous. Sure, you could set up a smart mailbox that directs all of the incoming student emails to a particular folder within an email client. You could even create a shortcut to the attachments folder on your PC or Mac. This method requires discipline on the part of the students. Each submitted file needs to be logically titled so the teacher can easily identify the identity of the owner. In addition to this there are issues regarding file size limitations and the allowed server space for each email account. It is not an elegant solution.

Wireless file transfer

Some apps, such as GoodReader and MindNode, allow users to transfer files wirelessly. The app allows the user to set up the iPad as a wireless server. The IP address can be shared with others and users can drag and drop files between a computer and that app on the iPad. It is not a simple or elegant solution.

Third party desktop applications

There are a number of third party desktop applications that allow you to browse the apps and files on an iPad, iPhone or iPod.

These third party desktop applications include:

Each of these applications perform a similar function. They allow you to explore the apps and their contents. Your iPad can also perform like a thumb or flash drive. In addition to accessing the contents of apps on the iPad you can also access music files, podcasts, video, playlists, contacts, notes and images. You can transfer the contents from the iPad to a computer and vice versa via a simple drag and drop. You can drag and drop folders as well.

Disk AId Application

Disk Aid Application

These third party desktop applications are not perfect. Not their fault however. Dedicated Apple apps such as Pages and Keynote do not play well with these desktop solutions. They are useful solutions for an individual that wishes to gain greater access to their iPad yet the same issue applies… one device at a time. Not an entire class.

PhoneView Application

PhoneView Application

Transferring photos and images

There are numerous methods that one can apply to transfer images between the iPad, a computer and a digital camera. These include:

  • iTunes syncing (Computer to iPad only)(Mac and Windows)
  • Apple iPhoto (Mac OS)(iPad to computer only)
  • Image Capture (Mac OS)(iPad to computer only)
  • Import Image function in Pages (iPad to computer only)
  • Import from Camera function in Preview (iPad to computer only)
  • Apple Camera Connection Kit (Digital camera to iPad)(Expensive)
  • App to server (Photogene and OneEdit, etc)(iPad to server)
  • Bluetooth via Bluetooth Photoshare App (iPad to iPad)

You are required to ensure that the iPad is connected to the computer using the USB Dock Connector with all but the final two of those eight methods. Each method is different. Each require mastery of a varying set of skills. Most of them are designed for a single user simply transferring files. A teacher confident with information technology would probably find it an interesting challenge however a teacher who has been handed an iPad and told to teach will be frustrated and I do not blame them. You can explore these possibilities in detail in this document.

Apple Camera Connection Kit

Apple Camera Connection Kit

In essence there is not a simple and seamless solution that teachers can tap into to easily collect and assess students works created on an iPad.

Are there possibilities?

A school could set up a dedicated WebDAV server such as that established by Redlands College in Queensland. Shared folders on a WebDAV server may enable students to easily share files with their teachers. Not all apps on the iPad, however, allow access to a WebDAV server. The shared folder would need to ensure that is permissions settings do not allow students to access the works of other students.

Private companies are providing possible solutions. eBackpack iPad Module is one example. It is not free of course.


One can only hope that the operating system on the iPad evolves and allows this neglected aspect of its design to simply improve. Sure, one can conduct research and be quite creative on an iPad. Yet, if you have a class of students all creating projects and media I would like to take this opportunity to wish you good luck when it is time to collect, assess and return the projects.

Please share your solutions and workflows via a comment.

In the meantime you can read this iPad File Sharing document which I recently put together. It outlines in more detail some of the ideas referred to above.