Tag Archive for notetaking

Stylus PDF Markup Apps for Win 8

Drawboard has an interface very reminiscent of OneNote.

Some members of our iPad faculty have gotten very comfortable with marking up papers using Notability on the iPad. Those teachers who use electronic submission through our LMS and have experienced some success with Notability have been able to take full advantage of electronic submission and feedback– archiving, organization, and timely response to students, and easy organization for themselves. As the non-iPad faculty are now using Surfaces, many are asking for the same capacity within Windows 8. There is no Notability for Windows, but I ran a quick trial of four other PDF markup apps to find a suitable equivalent. I’m focusing solely on the use case of our teachers looking to download PDF papers from Schoology, comment upon them as quickly as possible and get them back to students. This obviously ignores a huge range of PDF markup features and is a limited case, but at this point our need is quite focused.

Drawboard PDF – $9.99 (3 day trial available)

Drawboard has an interface very reminiscent of OneNote.

Drawboard has an interface very reminiscent of OneNote.

Drawboard has an interface very similar to the Win 8 version of OneNote. Menu options are presented in a multi-level palette, which can take some getting used to if you’ve not seen it before (in, for example, OneNote). As I’ve been playing with OneNote for a few weeks now, it was totally natural for me to dive in, but I anticipate that it’ll raise an eyebrow or two if I give it to a complete Win 8 neophyte. As with eBooks or Kindle, you swipe horizontally to navigate the pages. It has the most features of any of these apps (recording and attaching sound, for example), thus the more layered interface and higher cost.

Multi-layer palette menu in Drawboard.

Multi-layer palette menu in Drawboard.

Drawboard was also the only tool of these to support using the trigger button on the stylus as an eraser– one of my personal favorite UI touches of the Win 8 stylus.

PDF Touch – 2.99

Far fewer tools in PDF Touch, but everything's immediately accessible. Where's "Erase?"

Far fewer tools in PDF Touch, but everything’s immediately accessible. Where’s “Erase?”

This is a much simpler interface, although much more limited. There’s no nuance to access here– the tools you see in the initial menu are what you get, although you can customize size, color and opacity of pens, for example. Use the navigation arrows on the side of the screen to click through each page.

While this was a 1-minute impression, I could not find an eraser, nor any way to remove previous marks. You can undo your last mark, but you cannot step further back than that. Also, the document autosaved, so when I tried to open it up in my next app, all of the marks were retained. I could have missed something very basic, but the inability to erase marks would be a non-starter for me.

Xodo – Free

Selecting tools in Xodo. You'll do this a lot if you want to use anything besides the pen.

Selecting tools in Xodo. You’ll do this a lot if you want to use anything besides the pen.

Xodo gives you the pen tool by default, and allows other tools to be accessed by the edit menu. The input defaults back to the pen tool after every mark, though, which makes highlighting inefficient. In other words, if you were to highlight two separate words, the tool defaults to the pen when you lift up the stylus– you have to reselect the highlighter to continue using it.

Perfect PDF - 2.99 (2 day trial available)

Markup tools are a couple of levels deep in the interface.

Markup tools are a couple of levels deep in the interface.

This is the only interface with vertical scrolling. I found the interface here a bit non-intuitive for our purposes and desire to get to markup as quickly as possible– pen and markup tools are two layers deep in the menu. While that may make sense for a generic PDF reader, it’s a bit slower for our purposes. Out of the box, the pen and highlighter are set much too thick– they have to be reset to a smaller size under “Show Properties” to be useable for paper markup. The settings do persist to subsequent files, though– once reset, they don’t have to be configured each time. Also, a minor pet peeve– the eraser tool is a graphic-style eraser which erases specific points, not entire lines. In other words, if you circled a word and wanted to erase that circle, you have to retrace the circle with the eraser rather than simply touching some part of the shape.

Paint-style erase if you want to clear your marks.

Paint-style erase if you want to clear your marks.

Conclusions

Unfortunately, of these four apps it’s clear that you get what you pay for– my recommendation to our faculty looking for a quick and efficient paper markup tool would be Drawboard, even at $9.99. Frankly, thinking about the number of papers involved and the frequency with which our Humanities staff would be using this, I have no problem from the program perspective justifying the extra cost (Drawboard does offer volume licensing).

If the cost is too dear, my second choice out of these four would reluctantly be Perfect PDF. While the interface will be a touch slower than PDF Touch, the inability to erase marks in the latter program completely disqualifies it in my mind and I use the highlighter often enough that Xodo’s resetting after each stroke would slow me down more.

There are obviously myriad options for PDF markup in Windows, and this only includes some of the most common apps for Windows 8, not the desktop programs. Are there others that we should consider? What did we miss?

Freehand Thinking in French with Tablets

Posted at U Prep Technology Integration Exchange (UPTIE): Visual notetaking and vocabulary in French classes.

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!