Getting Files Onto (and Off Of) Your iPad

Whether you’re using your iPad to annotate an article during class or recording a lecture over your Powerpoint slide deck, you’ll need a way to get documents onto (and off) your iPad.

The best set up for this depends on a number of factors like what cloud storage or iPad apps you already use. In general, though, the easiest option is Google Drive. It’s supported many apps, it’s already part of Macalester accounts, and it has unlimited storage. This tutorial will cover setting up Google Drive, accessing files through it, and from a handful of iPad apps.

Using Google Drive

Setting Up Google Drive On Your Laptop

First things first: you’ll want to move or copy whatever documents or files you’ll be working with onto your Google Drive on your computer. If you’ve never used Google Drive, here’s how to quickly get started:

  • In a web browser, to, and log in using your Macalester email and password.
  • From the left menu, select “My Drive” to go to your personal storage area.
  • While it’s not strictly necessary, using folders will keep your files organized. From the left menu, click “New” and make a folder for your class, or a subfolder for a unit:
  • Once you’re in the folder you want to store your files, simply drag them from a folder on your computer to the Google Drive window:

Setting Up Google Drive On Your iPad

Now that you’ve got your files onto the Google Drive cloud storage, you’ll need to set up Drive on your iPad, and find your files.

  • On your iPad, find the App Store, search for Google Drive and download the app by clicking the Get button.
  • Open the Google Drive app. The first time you open it, you’ll need to sign in with your Macalester email and password:
  • Navigate to where the files you need are.

From here, it’s just a matter of opening those files in the particular app you’d like to use them in. (Simply clicking the main folder will open it with whatever app Google Drive defaults too — often Google Docs, Google Suite, etc.)

  • Select the three-dot icon to open up a context menu:
  • From the menu, select “Open with”:
  • Select the app you want to use:
Optional: from that same menu, you can also “Save to Files,” if you’d like, which copies the document out of the cloud onto the iPad’s hard drive, and may make it easier to open from within certain apps.

Setting up the Google Drive app on your iPad will open up many options for how to access files stored there. The next section walks you through how to access Google Drive from within another app, which may save time if you use a particular app often.

Importing and Exporting with Notability

Like many other mobile apps, the note-taking platform Notability can also import from and export to Google Drive from within the app itself. If you’d like to import a PDF to annotate in Notability, you can:

  • Open the Notability app from your home screen.
  • From the main menu, select the Import button on the top right:
  • From the Import menu, select Google Drive:
  • Navigate to the file you’d like to import and select it.
  • From the “Send to Notability” menu, select the option to add to a new note, or to an existing one:

This will import the file into the Notability platform. Any annotations you make to the file will be saved and housed there.

If you’d like to convert the file back to a PDF format — for emailing it to a student, for example — you’ll need to export the file:

  • From the note in Notability, select the “Send To” button on the top left:
  • Choose “Google Drive”:
  • Select the folder you’d like to export it to on your Google Drive under “Folder,” what format you’d like to use, and then click the bottom button “Send to Google Drive”:

Again, this workflow will often be very similar in other apps like GoodNotes.

Importing and Exporting in PowerPoint or Word

Some iPad apps don’t integrate as well with Google Drive. One example is Office 365 suite, which includes PowerPoint and Word, two apps that might be useful for teaching. You can’t send directly open a PowerPoint file stored in Google Drive in PowerPoint, for example. But you can use the Files area of your iPad as a workaround.

  • Open PowerPoint on your iPad.
  • Select the “Open” option from the left hand menu, then click the “Files App” under “Other Storage”:
  • In the navigation window that opens, click the “Locations” option on the top left, and then “Google Drive” in the left-hand menu that this opens:
  • Navigate to and select the PowerPoint you want to open.

Again, please note that this works for other Microsoft Office mobile apps like Word.

Opening a file this way results in it being saved on the iPad. If you make changes to the document, and want to send them back to Google Drive — for example, if you annotate a slide deck and want to post it online for your students — you’ll need to export it:

  • With the file open, select the three-dot option in the top left:
  • In the menu that opens, select “Export”:
  • Navigate to your Google Drive in the same way you did to open the file (as above, through “Files” under “Other Storage”) and click the “Move” button in the top right:

Finals Notes

As mentioned above, Google Drive is not your only option — you can also get files to your iPad via OneDrive, Dropbox, or even AirDrop. Depending on what apps you already use or know well, one of these other services might save you time. It’s also worth noting that you can sometimes bypass Google Drive for content you create on the iPad by using the mobile version of an app, as is the case with VoiceThread.