Digital Note-taking

I was a pretty traditional spiral-notebook note-taker in college. My one organizational innovation was to color-code them by subject and then keep using the same notebook semester after semester until it was full. Also, of course, I still have them all. Why? I have no idea.

These days, there some great digital options for note-taking. You can use these tips for your own organization or share them with your students (Bonus: your students can hold dear your lectures without clinging to old spiral notebooks years down the road!).

Evernote: A free, cloud-based note-taking program / app with a premium upgrade option ($9 per month / $45 per year) that gets you collaboration rights, video privileges, faster uploads, better support, and increased offline access to all notebooks. In addition to text, notes can include images, audio and video files, and Word and PDF files. There’s even a web interface with a bookmark clipping tool. In addition, your notes are searchable, tag-able, and easy to share with others on a wide variety of different devices and via Facebook and Twitter. This is a succinct summary of Evernote and a profile of its use in the elementary/secondary setting. In my mind, use in such settings is a plus since it suggests that the program must be fairly user-friendly. However, don’t let the elementary/secondary use lead you to think that Evernote lacks functionality or reach: December 2012 is expected to bring Evernote for Business, designed with enhanced sharing, security, and clear content ownership rules.

OneNote: A Microsoft product, with apps for the iPhone and iPad (you can use OneNote on an Android phone, but some users claim functionality is limited). Note that you won’t find OneNote on the Mac version of Office, but it is included on the Windows version; if you want to buy it as a stand-alone program the cost $79, although student / university discounts may bring that price down. The web app is free and the mobile app allows 500 notes for free. Your notes can contain typed or stylus-written text, images, audio, video, and Word or PDF files. OneNote will even index audio/video files, making searching within your notes much easier. OneNote will sync your notes among multiple devices, and will indicate the contributions of collaborators in your shared notebooks by adding their content in a new color.

This is a very detailed comparison of Evernote and OneNote.

Google Docs: A cloud-based solution with a price that can’t be beat (free, although extra storage can be purchased). Accessibility to all types of content in Google Docs may be limited on some mobile devices, however. Unlike the other note-taking set-ups in which you are essentially adding text or files to pages, Google Docs lets you begin with different document types: spreadsheets, drawings, presentations, and the traditional document. This can be very useful, depending on what kind of information you’re taking down. You can insert images, links, equations, drawings, and special characters (and video, in a Google Presentation). Simultaneous collaboration is easy, and you can download your Google Docs into Word/Excel/PowerPoint, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip files for back-up.

Simplenote: Another free, cloud-based option (although $20 per year will rid you of advertising). The goal here is simplicity: you type, your notes are tag-able, searchable, and shareable, and then you can share you notes by exporting them to email (or using a third-party program to get them in other formats). There are no bells and whistles, but what it does, it reportedly does very, very well.

CourseNotes: A student-focused note-taking product for Macs and iPads (each version costs $4). In addition to typed text notes, drawing, and the ability to import and annotate photos, CourseNotes also allows lecture recording, the creation of to-do lists with assignment due dates (and alarms!), and note-sharing with others via Facebook, email, or over a local network. CourseNotes will also wirelessly sync between Macs and iPads.  (Although marketed for students, I actually see a lot of potential for instructors to turn this product on its head and make great use of some of its features.)

Penultimate: This $1 iPad-only app is designed for stylus users who want to able to hand-write notes on their iPad as if they were using a tablet (or even a piece of paper!). You’ll need a stylus, as there’s no keyboard option – but the program’s ability to capture detail combined with the variety of color, line-thickness, and paper background options (including importing / taking photos) means that you can produce clear and comprehensive renderings. And, for clumsy folks like me, there’s even a wrist-protection feature, so stray marks from your wrist are not accidentally recorded. Your notes can be exported to PDF and saved for back-up or emailed, and you can also share files via iTunes. However, there doesn’t seem to be a way for multiple users to actively collaborate simultaneously in one notebook.

From a device-specific standpoint, this is a thorough round-up of iPad note-taking options.

Are you a digital notes-taker? What are you using? Do you use a stylus? If so, do you have a favorite? If you’re on the stylus fence (and what a stylish fence it is! Sorry, I couldn’t resist!), this is a nice review of the many stylus options out there. If your students are taking digital notes, what products do you see your students using?


One thought on “Digital Note-taking

  1. Pingback: Digital Note-taking | Education and Learning Technologies |

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