Free iPad apps useful in education

English: iPads offer a variety of software

Image via Wikipedia

I have a couple years’ experience messing with iPads, including leading an exploratory group of faculty and staff using iPads at SDSU. While iPads are an exceptional device for entertainment and content consumption, they also can be a very useful tool for curation, creation, and productivity. Having now acquired a couple iPads for faculty to experiment with here at MiraCosta, I decided to create a list of the free apps that we should include on the iPads we make available to our faculty.

My hope is that exploring these apps will help faculty form their own judgements about how iPads may help (or not) in the teaching and learning process, helping them to not only decide whether an iPad might have utility to them personally, but also to consider how students might effectively use iPads in the learning process.

Please share in the comments if you have thoughts about any of these apps, or which additional free apps you’d include in this list. Note: while I think many entertainment apps are also worth exploring to consider the educational possibilities (or hindrances), I have decided not to include any in this “starter” list. Note 2: This list is of course time-bound; while many of these apps will remain relevant for some time, many will fade as new apps and new built-in iPad capabilities emerge.


  • Evernote – My favorite cross-platform, cloud-based, all-around awesome note -taking/-making/-keeping/-finding tool.
  • Other free note apps that some faculty have liked include: uPad Lite,
  • Use Your Handwriting, Simplenote, and Paperdesk LITE
  • Dragon is not magical, but with some time can be useful for those who want to use a speech-to-text capture tool.
  • Mendeley – a citation manager, PDF organizer, literature research tool, and social network for researchers


  • Dropbox – My favorite cross-platform, cloud-based way to store/share/access files. Integrates well with a number of paid apps for working with PDFs, Office documents, etc.
  • Teamviewer – Access/control a desktop computer from the iPad
  • VMWare View – MiraCosta has a virtual desktop available via VMWare – access all your MiraCosta apps and PC-based programs on the iPad
  • Airsketch Free – While the “official” ways of connecting iPads to computers/projectors for greater visibility continue to grow, this app continues to offer a way that may be simplest for some.
  • ScanLife – If you want to use your iPad’s camera to scan QR or bar codes, this app will help.
  • Unstuck – Honestly haven’t tried yet but it has many enthusiastic reviews as a tool for nudging you in the right direction when you are feeling stuck.
  • Tools for language translation include iTranslate and Google Translate – Google allows voice input; both provide both text and spoken output.


Each of these have slightly different features and approaches to creating screencasts (narrated videos of content displayed/marked up/created on the iPad):


  • Free photo editing tools include PhotoPad and Photoshop Express
  • Flixlab – video editing and creation of slideshows from images
  • Skitch – image markup and sharing; integrates with Evernote


  • Popplet Lite – arrange images on a bulletin board-like canvas
  • Idea Sketch – simple mind mapping
  • Whiteboard Lite – doodle on the iPad, and if you like, collaboratively create with someone nearby who is on another iOS device with the app

Communication tools

  • Facebook & Twitter are of course, the dominant social media channels.
  • Storify – combine images, videos, & social media conversations into a cohesive narrative for reference and sharing
  • Skype – Make voice or video calls
  • Blackboard – access MiraCosta’s Bb course management system

Feed Readers

  • Flipboard – contains many feed sources to select from; can add other RSS feeds and personal accounts from Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, and other sources; all in an amazing interface for browsing
  • FeeddlerRSS – The most popular free, simple RSS reader iPad app

News sources

Many of these offer not only news browsing but also local information through location awareness, and push updates of “breaking news” if you are interested.


  • TED – videos of ~15 minute talks from leading thinkers and innovators on subjects usually related to technology and design
  • iTunesU – audio/video shared by educational institutions around the world
  • Exemplary free science apps with amazing, interactive imagery include: 3D Brain3D Medical ImagesMolecules
  • Google Earth – explore geography in amazing detail
  • Wikibot – a simple interface directly to Wikipedia


  • Inkling is worth a look to see one take on the future of interactive “textbooks” – you can download some free chapters.
  • Other eReaders worth exploring (in addition to the native iBooks) include Blio, Kobo, Google Play BooksNook, and Kindle
I look forward to hearing about more free apps that you think are worth including with these!

4 thoughts on “Free iPad apps useful in education

  1. Jim,

    I don’t own an iPad, but I want to now that you posted this. Wow!! What a range of apps and tools! Thank you for sharing all of these resources. How comprehensive. This is an immediate bookmark for me to share with my teaching friends who do have iPads.

    Many thanks, Erica

  2. Pingback: Educational iPad Apps | TCU eLearning

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