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After integrating the I pad into my regular workflow via Dropbox, GoodReader, Docs to go and Evernote, I was eager to find ways to expand the iPad’s classroom use. Some applications were obvious and easy: iAnnotate PDF for grading papers, Dropbox for distributing and sharing readings and assignments, Slideshark for classroom and student presentations, and the I pad itself for easy web access during lectures.

But what intrigued me most was the idea of using a graphing application to enhance my classroom lectures. Economists frequently rely on graphs to illustrate concepts and visualize complex models. But graphs on the whiteboard are often messy, hard to decipher, and complicated to adjust. If you have ever given (or suffered through) a lecture on producer and consumer surplus with shifts in demand and supply, you know what I am talking about…

Would a graphing app – with easy access to different colors and line styles – allow me to sketch more accurate graphs in the classroom? Would it correct my crooked attempts at straight lines, making graphs neater and easier to understand? Would it allow me to easily duplicate graphs to illustrate changes? Would such an app let me save and distribute my sketches to students at the end of the lecture?

One important note here is that I was looking for a program that would let me create graphs in lecture, in front of the students’ eyes, just as we moved along. Yes, I can prepare beautiful graphs in PowerPoint or other programs and bring them to class. But there is inherent value in sketching the graphs step by step in front of the students, so that they are able to reproduce and alter them to answer economic questions.

Enter Omnigraph Sketcher for iPad (The Omni Group, $ 14.99).  Omnigraph Sketcher has evolved to be a popular application for economists to produce classroom materials and colleagues of mine have been using its desktop version for some time. I had not used the program before, so the learning curve was steep, but the portable iPad version of the program fulfills all my dreams:

  • Sketching simple graphs is easy and straight forward
  • Line styles and colors can be adjusted
  • Areas of graphs can be highlighted in different colors
  • Lines can be rotated around different points to illustrate changes
  • Labels can be added easily
  • Graphs can be saved, copied, duplicated and e-mailed
  • Graphs can be saved as images and thus easily integrated into other documents

And more…

  • Omnigraph Sketcher even allows me to import data from excel, making it easy to bring real work data to class and seamlessly integrating it with the model sketches.

The app’s layout and use is simple, with a ‘sketch’, a ‘fill in’ and an ‘info’ button at the top of the screen. Highlighting specific parts of the graph, i.e. an axis, and then tapping the info button opens a menu of specific choices, such as axis style, label, and color.  Shortcuts – such as a double tap anywhere in the graph to add a label – improve workflow.

Only one note of caution: to replace the blackboard with the iPad for all classroom-graphing needs requires a high degree of familiarity with the app. So far, I have only cautiously veered into this territory, since I did not want to be stuck in front of the class not finding a certain feature. However, I anticipate that as my comfort with the program grows, I will rely on it frequently. I am already using it regularly to create beautiful graphs for assignments and exams.