Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Write/record notes on iPads

This post is the first of a series written about different types of iPad apps that can be used in educational settings. It summarising elements of the workshop Using iPads in Educational Settings which is running throughout 2013 at the Institute of Education, London, UK. You are welcome to explore the web resource - http://ipadsioe.weebly.com/.

Set 1: Annotation/note-taking
This set is about types of activity they are realised traditionally by some form of pen/pencil and asome physical surface to write on.  The iPad affords or lends itself to the replacement of these practices - and, crucially, does it well.  What I've learnt over the last few months about iPads is that lots of things that can be achieved clunkily or messily with other devices can be achieved with ease and comfort.  As a result, people will do these things.  For the types of apps in the below mindmap this is most definitely true.

Represented below is an embedded mindmap which groups types of activity and then identifies individual iPad apps which fit within this category.  Find the best fit for your context by exploring them.  With the many 1000s of apps out there the list can only be introductory.  However, all those listed have been tested and some recommended by colleagues.

Write/record notes
This is a crucial area because this process is often the gateway application of iPads into this type of devices and its use in any context.  As this process applies to any meeting, any lecture and any class this is a core function.  The key strength is its multi-purpose use as any self-respecting note-taking app will perform a number of functions which previously would require a number of devices or objects.

Firstly, the usability of typing on an iPad is surprisingly good.  I have played with an external keyboard but I prefer the onscreen keyboard display (just remember to turn the sound off to avoid annoying others).  It's really no different than a laptop in this regard and the eye strain is less.  Most apps allow for finger/stylus drawing and the easy creation of simply shapes.  If you stopped there it would still be worthwhile using an iPads for these functions as the integration to cloud computing services (described below) save time. 

However the additional functions are the real selling point.  With an iPad I can take photos.  My app of choice is notability.  With this app I can take a photo of a detailed, wordy slide to save me frantically typing it.  In addition, I can record the audio.  I no longer need a dictatphone for this.  Of course, everyone in the room need to agree for this but to have this available easily is great.  From the iPad 3 onwards there is a record button on the keyboard.  If you have an iPad 2 you'll find record options within most of the note-taking apps.  Then there is this thing called the internet.  Embedding screenshot, adding hyperlinks and simply accessing the internet during a meeting is of real value.

In the below video a UK university student reflect on her use of notability for note-taking:

How I use my iPad - Emma Vaccari from Manchester Medical School on Vimeo.

Of the apps listed in the relevant mindmap section above my favourite is notability.  I often export in pdf format by the old school email route but increasing I am taking notes and then simply storing then in the app for future reference.  This shows that the iPads is becoming embedded into my practice.  I also use Pages because this is the only one I've found that allowing for exporting into word for continued editing.  However, the price of this annoys me so it makes scaling onto numerous devices a costly business.  Of the free one, paperdesk is a good starting point as well as the native notes app.  Also, I could see a scenario where I switch to evernote which is also free.  Evernote is a fantastic , established note-taking, archiving service and the iPad app they have created is a good one.  The synchronisation with your evernote account means that if you are an existing evernote user there is no need to email or use a cloud computing service for extraction.

It's worth mentioning a couple of write to text apps - Smart Writing Tool and WritePad.  However, it would be wrong to comment further as I have not played with them (the costs is pretty high).  On this subject, the fact that most note-taking apps cater for stylus or finger writing means that the perceived threat the handwriting need not be the case.  You could even perform handwriting classes using the iPads.  Although I can type faster than I can write these days I try to use my stylus every so often just to keep this core skill up to speed.

As note-taking is of value in workplace as well as classroom settings this type of activity is easy to practice in a risk free but authentic context.  You can simply ask a colleague to try a note-taking app in a meeting. It's easy to pick-up and demonstrate and the benefits will speak for themselves.  Pick a context where the ability to take photos, go online or draw shapes would be useful.

Next time - Annotation. 


The structure of the forthcoming blog posts is listed below:

Set 1: Annotation/note-taking
  1. Write-record notes
  2. Annotation
  3. Drawing
  4. File Management
Set 2: Creativity
  1. Digital Storytelling - Cartoon/Comic creation
  2. Digital Storytelling - Flipbook animation
  3. Digital Storytelling - Story from research
  4. Drawing
  5. iBook creation and reading
  6. Image Creation
  7. Poster/Collage Creation
Set 3: Mobile Learning
  1. Location-based
Set 4: Creativity - Multimedia
  1. Audio - Record/edit/share
  2. Digital Storytelling - Narrated slideshow
  3. Digital Storytelling - Narrated Cartoon
  4. Screencasting
  5. Narrate over drawing/image/text
  6. Video - Stop-motion
  7. Video - Analysis
  8. Video - Create/edit
Set 5: Classroom Management

  1. Fun classroom management
  2. Computer Connection
  3. Projecting an iPad
  4. Teacher Organisation
  5. File Management
  6. MS Office/Windows Connection
Set 6: Reflective or critical thinking development
  1. Audio - Record/edit/share
  2. Blogging
  3. Mindmapping
  4. Noticeboards
  5. Narrate over drawing/image/text
  6. Quick brainstorming
  7. Revision - Flashcards
  8. Screencasting
  9. Social Networking
Set 7: Research/Aggregation
  1. Bookmarking
  2. Research - Browsing
  3. RSS - Aggregation
  4. Research - Tailored Browsing
Set 8: Teacher presentation/Resource creation
  1. Audio - Record/edit/share
  2. iBook creation and reading
  3. Mindmapping
  4. Narrate over drawing/image/text
  5. Poster Creation
  6. Presentation
  7. Printing
  8. Screencasting
  9. Video - Create/edit
  10. Revision - Flashcards
  11. Video - Analysis
Set 9: Real-time class collaboration
  1. Class collaboration - viewing lesson on each device
  2. Computer connection
  3. Q&A - Real-time
  4. Webinars


  1. I recently started to use Notes Plus - a paid app with full annotation capabilities, including audio - to provide feedback on students' essays. I either had them submit the essays as PDF or converted them from word processing docs to PDF on my desktop or laptop, then saved them in Dropbox, then opened them from Dropbox on my iPad and annotated them in Notes Plus. The latter integrates with Dropbox directly, so I can export the annotated document as a new PDF to Dropbox and share it with the student from there.

    1. That's really interesting Ed, that's sounds like a good process and I wasn't aware of notes plus. It seems that this app could be used for both note-taking and annotation so that there is no need to switch between apps for this these two processes. I'll add it to my mindmap.

      Thanks for taking the time to share this with me. It would be interesting to hear what your students think of receiving feedback in this manner.