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Emily VanBuren is a PhD student in History at Northwestern University. You can find her on Twitter at @emilydvb or at her blog, dighistorienne.


It’s a bright and shiny new academic year, and for some of our readers, that might mean that it’s time to conquer a new role: teaching assistant. This time last year, I was a brand-new History TA, and here’s something I learned: it comes with a lot of paper. Between syllabi, lesson plans, lecture notes, midterm exams, attendance sheets, class rosters, quizzes, final papers, blue books, and essay prompts, I found myself juggling more overstuffed binders than I liked.

Here at GradHacker, we’ve spent a lot of time chatting with you about how to go paperless and get organized with digital tools. From your home library, to your research database, to your comprehensive exam notes, to your lab research, we’ve shared some of our favorite tips for keeping all of your ducks (or essays, or archival scans, or article drafts) in a row. Similarly, I’ve found that my iPad makes it easy for me to eliminate a lot of my TA-related paper trail.

So, in the spirit of the new academic year, I thought it might be a good time to start a conversation about helpful apps for new (and seasoned) TAs. (Because I’m an iPad user, these are iOS-friendly, but ProfHacker featured several helpful classroom apps for all you Android fans a few months ago.)

1. GoodReader ($2.99, iPhone and iPad). This app pops up frequently here on GradHacker. It’s a versatile PDF reader that syncs easily with your Dropbox account, so you can quickly store and mark up any class file that you can save in PDF format. I like to annotate using my stylus (Stephanie Hedge recommends this one), but you can also use your finger or Bluetooth keyboard (I use this one). GoodReader is handy for making notations on electronic essay submissions, reading assignments, and weekly attendance rosters. It’s also great for keeping reference copies of syllabi, rubrics, and lesson plans.

2. Pages ($9.99, iPhone and iPad). This is another app that resurfaces frequently here on the blog, and with good reason. It’s easily my favorite writing app for the iPad. Basically, Pages is a word processing app that allows you to import and export files, organize documents into tidy folders, and create projects (resumes, posters, newsletters) from built-in templates. I like to use Pages with my Bluetooth keyboard to take detailed lecture notes. It’s also handy for writing up lesson plans and assignments. Or, if you prefer Microsoft tools, you can opt for the Office Mobile app.

3. TeacherKit (Free, iPhone, iPad, and Windows 8). This app allows you to create rosters, monitor attendance and participation, and track grades all in one place. It also syncs with Dropbox, so you don’t have to worry about losing any important information. The interface is pretty simple, making it easy to store data about multiple classes (or discussion sections) in one place. Each session, you can mark students as absent or present with a quick tap of the finger, and rate their participation and make notes about it for your reference. TeacherKit also comes with a built-in gradebook, handy for calculating weighted assignments and grades. I like that this app is free, but the “Behavior” feature forces you to choose between two options for each student: “Positive” or “Negative.” While the notes option allows you to add comments to explain your decision, I think this either/or feature makes TeacherKit a bit less compatible with grading discussion participation.

4. Attendance2 ($4.99, iPhone and iPad). One of my fellow GradHackers declared this “the greatest app of all time.” Attendance2 is handy for tracking attendance and class participation. It syncs to Dropbox and also allows you to import names as a CSV file, making it simple to build your class roster and get started. I like that this app allows you to choose from several options regarding attendance each class, such as “Present,” “Excused,” “Late,” or “Absent,” as well as allowing you to add your own custom options. Attendance2 also features a second status field for each name, which is helpful for scoring participation. You’re also able to make notes or add your own custom status fields. I like how dynamic this app is, and that it permits you to easily import and export data. But I find its interface a tiny bit less intuitive than TeacherKit, so you might set aside a little more time to get acquainted with it. You can test out a demo version here.

5. Gradebook Pro ($9.99, iPhone and iPad). Back in 2012, Erin E. Templeton wrote pretty enthusiastically about GradeBook Pro on ProfHacker, and it continues to reappear around the web as a popular tool. It’s an all-in-one app for tracking grades, behavior, and attendance, as well as generating reports on these fields for your reference. Like others on this list, Gradebook Pro easily handles CSV files and syncs with Dropbox for easy data backup. It strikes me as a more powerful version of TeacherKit.

These apps probably won’t quell the butterflies that come along with your first TA assignment, but they might help to ease the stress of keeping track of all of your course materials, and they’ll certainly cut down on your stacks of paper. It’s probably a good idea to decide which apps you’d like to purchase after you’ve determined your individual course needs, but I hope you find something in this list that makes your first term as a TA a little more organized.

Which apps do you use for TA-ing? Share your suggestions in the comments below or on Twitter using the #GHTAtools tag.

[Image by Flickr user Jenni C and used under Creative Commons licensing.]