Mobile App Reviews for Educators

Each month we'll review a highlighted app for iPad/iPod/iPhone or Android devices. We also invite you to add your comments and share with other educators how you used the highlighted app in your school.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Taking Notes and iJournaling on the IPad and Android Tablets

Through my workshops and own classroom experience using tablets in the school setting, I've seen a lot of need for finding effective ways to take notes, write and journal on these devices. I instantly ran into some obstacles in trying to do this on my iPad or other Devices and soon found my peers running into the same issues. Taking notes using the on-screen keyboard on the iPad or Android Tablet can be loud (tippity-tippity-tap of fingers and fingernails on the glass), cumbersome and distracting compared to the traditional methods of pencil-writing or external keyboard typing. In an administrator's meeting where I was the only one to even bring technology at all nevermind a touch tablet to take notes on, I quickly realized that it could be distracting to my peers not accustomed to this new trend to hear the constant finger tapping on the screen as I tried to quickly take and type notes using the on-screen keyboard. Instantly, I switched to a lower tech and less attention-getting paper pencil option and then (to save face in the edtech world) I took a photo of them and uploaded them to my Evernote account. I was determined though to find a way to effectively take notes or write in general in any setting so they could easily be stored, shared or transferred to other documents or projects. Realizing how this would benefit my students as well, I began researching best ways of accomplishing this as a student, teacher and administrator in the different settings we all find ourselves in.

First, let's tackle taking notes whether its for research, meetings or task lists. I've already mentioned Evernote and posted a detailed description about it in a prior blog post. Evernote has expanded quite a bit even since my post about it. It works on any platform or device; iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry RIM making it very user-friendly to those of us who work on different devices and platforms between work, travel and home. It also works and integrates directly with many apps/programs for use on these different device platforms as well. The list is constantly being added to. Although you can read a lot more about it in my prior post, I will quickly summarize what it can do. You can take notes online using a web browser or app, you can take pictures of pencil-paper notes and upload them to the same account. You can save files or "clip" entire websites when doing research on a project and organize content into notebooks and not matter what device you log into, it's all there waiting for you. Imagine the implications for student group projects.

OK, that's a good resource for storing the notes but what about the actual taking of notes? I looked into different apps for both the iOS devices and Android Tablets. First, I tested out the following Phatpad, Writepad and Penultimate for apps that provided either handwriting recognition or just sketch handwriting capabilities so that notes could be taken either with a stylus or just drawing with my fingers which is much quieter than constant screen finger tapping with the keyboard. Also, faster for those who do not have strong traditional keyboarding skills to start with. Phatpad and Writepad are both from Phatware and work on almost any device. Phatpad I found at $4.99 to be a little more student-friendly especially with the lower grade students. It wasn't a super sophisticated or robust handwriting recognition program but for younger students and the price, I found a lot of use for it. Older students and fellow educators would something a little more robust. Writepad has a lot of great features not found in the latter such as a spell checker with its own custom dictionary, a context analyzer, auto-corrector, and a Shorthand feature that is able to fill-in words and phrases used frequently. Begin to sketch out your notes and either wait 2 seconds or use an Enter command and your sketches turn to text. You can also continue writing across multiple pages and over current recognized text where Phatpad only allows for 1-2 lines of sketching notes at a time. There is an option to type with an on-screen keyboard if desired, use hand gestures for commands, select, cut, copy, and paste text between different files as well as integration with Dropbox for file sharing. The iPad version is a little pricier at $9.99 but there is an iPhone version at $3.99 that I installed so I could also use on my iPods and it works just as well after expanding the screen. It even works well with a stylus. A sidenote on styluses would be to pay a decent amount if you truly want to effectively take notes or draw with one. I bought a $5 one and it wasn't super. I found a couple of better options for a little more and found a great difference (Nataal Premium is one) but still use my hand for the fastest solution. Perhaps, I just need practice. The third option does not have handwriting recognition but is excellent at recording handwritten notes and multi-color sketches. Penultimate is a great note taking program that allows for sketches with multiple colors, different papers such as graphing and music notesheets and has great sharing options. Good app for drawing out graphic organizers and mind-mapping charts. Each of these has different pros and cons depending on what feature you are looking for the most. If making sketches of concept maps, music sheets, math or scientific formulas and diagrams are more important than handwriting-text recognition, then I would use Penultimate.  For the most robust note taking tool that you can quickly translate to typed text for sharing in other text files, Writepad is my preference.

The second writing objective I had was to find effective way for students to work on daily or weekly journals and writing projects. Again, I use Evernote for collaborative projects but for journals I tried to find other options.Online there are two good collaborative writing resources of Type With Me and QuietWrite.  Type With Me is an online space that any web browsing device can access to write together as a group whether creating a writing piece or just jotting down notes on a shared project by sharing out a link or emailing invitations. Files can be imported or exported. In QuietWrite, you will find many of the same features of the latter but you can also create an account for extra features such as: export to a WordPress blog or post for public viewing with a QuietWrite link.  For iOS apps, I found iDiary for the Elementary students and PaperDesk Lite and iJournal for upper level students. iDiary is great for all types of digital projects including ijournaling. The app stores up to 6 password protected personalized journals per device. Each personalized journal has a child-friendly interface that is intuitive for younger students to operate with little instruction. They can customize the color, name and avatar for their journals. There are options for sketching, typing, importing photos, pre-defined stickers and exporting as a photo or email. I've used this and then exported a page as a photo to place into an eScrapbooking or Travelogue project. PaperDesk Lite and iJournal are better for older students and adults. PaperDesk Lite allows you to save a few journals (paid version offers more) but you can add as many pages as needed within the journals. This option also allows sketching, typing and importing of photos but also allows the user to record audio notes, change out paper type, import PDFs to annotate and export to options like Google Docs. I couldn't find a password protection option but have to look into the paid version to see if its an option. If you want a password protected option for your older students because devices are shared in most schools, then iJournal is a good option. At $2.99, it's missing some of the features such as recording notes and adding photos (except one as an avatar can be added) but it does offer some  features to create a personalized and protected journal your older students will want to write in.

With all of that said, more apps and online tools are coming out even as I write this. Writing notes and iJournaling is quickly improving on the iPad and other touch devices. I'm hoping with a little more time, practice and patience, I'll find a way that works just write for me.

What are you using for taking notes or iJournaling?


  1. Thanks for sharing nice information. You can review to remember, manage and keep track of your notes for free.

  2. Android tablets are easy-to-use devices that can be used for multiple purposes like: checking e-mails, playing games, watching videos, listening to music. It can also be used as a camera or camcorder.
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