Image-Enhanced Notes: Beyond “Just Typing” with Mobile Devices

Using OneNote, I took pictures and handwrote notes during an observation.

I recently observed a teacher lecturing for a period in order to watch students and their notetaking. In our Upper School, students are required to have a touchscreen device as well as a laptop– most often, either a Windows 8 hybrid device or combination of MacBook and iPad. Part of the reason that our faculty requested this was because of the difficulties in translating much of our academic content into keyboard-only notation (e.g. scientific and math notation). Having the touchscreen devices, then, should translate into students being able to include non-text (or at least non-QWERTY) input into their documents and products. At one point in the lecture, the teacher drew a graph on the board to illustrate a concept. I watched as the student in front of me switched out of Word (where she was taking notes) to a browser, did a quick Google image search for the concept being discussed, and pulled a generic (and similar) image off the web into her Word document. It was very fluid and competent use of her tools, but problematic from a content point-of-view: she had no time to analyze the source of the image for validity, and the image of the graph had completely different labels, axes and scale than the example that the teacher was referring to. Was that repurposed graph from online really helping her capture the content of the lecture?

Being able to include non-text input into notes is a major advantage of touchscreen devices. Advocates of paper-based notes frequently mention the importance of being able to use symbol notation to underscore important points, draw connections between topics, concept/cluster map, and illustrate visual points. All of these are possible with touchscreen devices using a hybrid notetaking approach that also includes the digital benefits of organizing/searching, linking to external resources, speed of typing and security of backup/storage. There are two ways that I’d suggest this student capture the graph on the board while typing her notes as she preferred, using the stylus and the camera.

The Pen Is Mightier

Reflecting the dual nature of our program (BYOD, laptop and touchscreen required), OneNote is a notetaking program which processes both typed and hand-written input. Students can organize notes into notebooks or categories and import documents or files. In short, it does what we need out of a notetaking tool, and has two major additional advantages for our program– it’s cross-platform, meaning our students can access it on Mac OS (no stylus input, obviously), Windows and iOS, and it can sync to OneDrive for cloud storage, meaning students with multiple devices can access their notes across all of them. Most importantly, it’s fast– while pen input is available in Word, switching from typing to pen input requires a couple of steps and is hard to do on the fly. If this student was taking her notes in OneNote rather than Word, she could have drawn the graph in question directly into her notes.

I believe that stylus input is the biggest advantages of OneNote at this point. I have been a huge Evernote fan for years and have collected volumes of my notes, writings and information in that program to this date, and I’m extremely disappointed with the lack of stylus support. As a result, I’ve been trying out OneNote this year to conduct all of my observations and am very excited about the capacity to produce hybrid notes both by typing and drawing as well as by handwriting all notes by freehand.

Pictures and 1,000s of Words

"Take a Photo" to insert a camera image while working in Notability (iOS).

“Take a Photo” to insert a camera image while working in Notability (iOS).

In our Middle School, students use iPads. While many have a stylus in their bags, most students don’t have them out and accessible during notetaking, and drawing graphs by hand while moving quickly may not be the most effective or efficient use for them. The other common way of getting images into a document involves using the camera present on mobile devices. The key here is to ensure that a student has a camera on the back of their device (facing the board). Students throughout our school using iPads, as well as most Upper School students on Windows hybrid machines, would have such a camera. Students using only their MacBooks for notetaking do not have the rear-facing camera (which eliminates the MacBook as a possibility for either of these methods).

Most apps or software in iOS or Windows 8 have the built-in capacity to insert an image from the camera. If our student were typing on her iPad or a Windows 8 hybrid device, she would just have to lift up the device and click the “Insert Image” button in her notetaking program (whichever that may be) to insert a capture of the image on the board as the teacher has drawn it. In this scenario, Evernote becomes an option again, as do other document apps.

Keep It Embedded

 

Using OneNote, I took pictures and handwrote notes during an observation.

Using OneNote, I took pictures and hand-wrote notes during an observation.

Conferences are full of well-meaning audience members taking pictures of every slide on their tablets and phones, and some students have tried taking pictures of every lecture slide as a notetaking strategy, only to find that they never revisit their Camera Roll to do anything with the assorted pictures. Similarly, it would be possible for this student to take a picture of the graph with her phone or tablet, send it to her MacBook later, and integrate it into her notes, or access it on the original device when it’s time to review/study, but this strategy seems doomed for failure of follow-through. I believe the key is to make sure that the image, whether hand-drawn or photographed, is embedded directly into the larger notes both for context and for ease of access later.

How About You?

Have you worked with your students on note-taking strategies that involve either mobile cameras or touchscreen input? What have your students found or reported about the experience? Please share in the comments below!

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