June 20th in App Reviews by

iPad Apps for the Classroom – Part 3

This post is a part of a series. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

So I’ve talked about Flashcards and Math/Spelling Apps in my first two segments, now I want to touch on note-taking. I know I know, we all remember our teachers busting out that old overhead projector, markers, and transparency sheets. It was ugly, boring, and monotonous. We had notebooks full of text and doodles, lost pages, lost full notebooks, and had plenty of hand cramps.

More recently students endured ridiculous PowerPoint presentations via projectors that display a computer screen, this allowed teachers to reuse their notes over and over again, while giving students absolutely nothing but headaches and even more hand cramps. It’s easy to give students 30 slides of information when you don’t have to hand-write it each period. Today, students have other options.  Here are a few.

iPad Apps for the Classroom – Part 3

When the iPad launched there were a few apps that received attention simply because there weren’t that many iPad dedicated apps available. In April one of those apps was CourseNotes ($4.99). The idea that the iPad could be used for school and note-taking was something many imagined at the iPad unveiling. I would have put money on there being multiple apps available that would allow for this type of use, and there are, however there are also too many that simply get it 100% wrong.

One that gets it nearly right, is CourseNotes. And yes, you read that the way I intended…this app is NOT perfect, doesn’t do everything right, and has a long ways to go, and that’s exactly why I’m recommending it. See, since it’s release the developers have already made updates, and are striving to actually make it RIGHT, not settle for what they have and collect the cash they’ve already made. They want this product to change teaching and learning. They want users to feel they not only spent their 5 bucks well, but that the application is useful in school and in life. I’ve had a few long email exchanges with those working on CourseNotes and I have to say, it’s evident that this application succeeding is near and dear to their heart.

So what does CourseNotes do? Simply put it allows users to collect/take and organize notes. While it was designed for use by students in school, I can see how others would utilize it for meetings or a teacher might use it for lesson plans. Users can create multiple subject books and add note sessions to those subjects. Within each session users then add whatever notes they have for that particular topic. A recent update now allows users to create a standard text note as well as a sketch note. The sketch note allows one to draw or write on the pad provided as well as include text in type format beside and beneath it. In addition to note taking users can schedule an item as a TO DO list or create a reminder for homework. Also, while creating notes within the session the ability to add key terms to the subject Lexicon, with Wikipedia look-up I should add, is a bonus. When finished, your note sessions can be emailed in PDF format or shared among another CourseNotes user.

While I am recommending this app for users, that does not mean that it is without problems as I stated earlier. Particularly the fact that sketch notes can not be full screen and that sessions are arranged by date and can not be renamed nor rearranged. I also find the lack of bulleted lists or basic font formatting a little disconcerting. Third, while I do love the Lexicon as it is a valuable tool within the app, it would be nice to allow users to not only insert a term from the Lexicon in a note (which it does) but to link to that item in the Lexicon as well. This addition would allow a user to tap it and open up the Lexicon definition. And finally, on my wish list for CourseNotes is the ability to attach files to notes. Allow users to attach a document (word, spreadsheet, etc) that can be opened. Many teachers and professors provide key materials in PDF form and having these attached to a note session or subject would be beneficial.

All in all, CourseNotes is a win. They didn’t knock it out of the park, but the app is already good and with a few key updates could be great. Visit http://www.coursenotesapp.com/ for more information.

Another app that takes a slightly different approach to taking notes is Penultimate.  Penultimate ($2.99) is a hit and will continue to be a hit. Why? Because it just works. This is exactly what I wanted when I thought of taking notes on the iPad. I’m not talking about crazy organization of notes, with pictures, tables, and all sorts of built-in functions. Instead this is essentially an electronic notebook. Remember your spiral notebooks, perhaps a 1 subject, 3 subject, or maybe even a 5 subject if you were a power-nerd?! Well that’s what Penultimate is…only without the real pen and paper. The app isn’t overly difficult, which is nice because all you want to do with it is jot down your ideas, sketch out a thought, doodle, or copy something from a board.

The ink displayed looks great and actually makes my handwriting more legible. Note I didn’t say totally legible, but that’s my bad, not Penultimates. Recent updates have added the ability to turn on a ‘wrist protection” feature that allows users to set their wrists on the glass of the iPad while taking notes, this is a great addition. It’s not perfect yet, and can be turned off, but the designers know this and are working to improve it. After creating a notebook or page users can export the page or entire notebook via email from within the app…great for sharing notes with another person. Imagine if all those times you missed class, a friend could have just emailed you a copy instead of having to cramp your hand trying to quickly get it all down. Jeez, kids today, have it so easy.

For the sake of full disclosure I must admit I use a stylus (Pogo Sketch), and I know it’s considered a sin by some in the Apple sector, but I’ll be honest…copying down notes in a meeting using just my finger really got tiring and irritating. Using the Pogo Sketch made it a breeze and combined with this application makes the iPad just what I imagined it would be.

As I said there are a few additions I would love to see with Penultimate.  Specifically the ability to turn your pen into a highlighter, or just having a separate icon for a highlighter. Having the ability to highlight parts of text or anything else would be great for students taking down notes in class; when shown to a class of students, this was a feature HIGH on their list of needs.

Speaking of ink, an additional color of pen ink would be great, just a simple red would do…let’s not make it crazy difficult and have every color under the sun. I would also love to see a thumbnail grid view option to see all your created notebooks, as well as the ability to put the title of the notebook ON the notebook cover, with a few other fields…you know, like a real composition notebook has. But even with all of these “suggestions” missing, the app is great…and I’m sure the developers (Cocoa Box Design) are hard at work to improve it even more.





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  • Lee Costigan

    Fantastic article. I have been looking into an iPad specifically for going back to Uni — I commute, and cutting down on the weight of my bag is a major bonus to me. Given that Course Notes is already at revision 1.2, do you think they will continue their support of the product sufficiently that it would be worthwhile investing by September? I'm not assuming that the aforementioned features will all be in place by then but I think I could get by with some basic notes for lectures and a manuscript pad (Music student – the sketch looks far too limited for replicating staves and notes, no change of a paperless commute yet!).

    Thanks,

    Lee

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