Without doubt, I would recommend the iPad (& iPad Mini) to anyone in higher education. It’s a truly revolutionary device that can dramatically improve your productivity and transform the way you work. I’ve used my iPad – or more correctly, iPads – in every lecture I’ve attended at university. I’ll never go back to a notepad and pen, or a laptop. The impact is truly remarkable. Many people, however, fail to understand the true potential of the iPad for education and university use. In this post I’m only going to discuss the apps and ways I use the iPad in lectures. In later posts I’ll be discussing some of my other educational uses.
On the iPad you have two options – hand-write or type your notes. I do both, however, it depends on the lecturer. As many of you will have already experienced, some lecturers include very little information on the slides and speak at great length, other tend to include lots of detail on the slides and don’t speak at such great lengths. While the format differs, the amount of information is roughly the same.
In lectures with text-heavy slides, you don’t (usually) have to make lots of notes and you shouldn’t be copying the text from the slides. Your notes should be an addition to the information on the slides, not a replication of them. In these situations, I would advise hand-writing notes on the iPad. There many, many apps providing the ability to hand-write notes, however, I would recommend only two of them: Penultimate [iTunes Link] & Bamboo Paper [iTunes Link]. Both are excellent apps and simulate a realistic, elegant, and easy-to-use notebook and pen simulation. I personally prefer Penultimate because of its Evernote integration. I would advise you to try both (as they’re free) and choose the app which suits you best. You can find out more about Bamboo Paper in this Vimeo video and about Penultimate in this YouTube video.
While you can hand-write notes with your finger, a stylus makes it much easier and neater. If you are interested in hand-writing notes, I would advise you to purchase the Wacom Bamboo Solo Stylus. It’s well designed, durable, comfortable to use, and reasonably priced [Amazon]. There are many styluses available and some may suit you better than others. Accepting that no stylus is universally perfect, The Verge has produced one of the most comprehensive reviews available.
N.B. When hand-writing notes, I would advise you to turn off Multitasking Gestures and enable Guided Access Mode in the Settings app to avoid any unnecessary interference.
In some lectures you have to write lots of detailed notes, often as a result of text-sparse slides. Hand-writing might not be the most appropriate method of note-taking in these lectures. From my experience, you can type quicker than you can hand-write on the iPad. You could use the preinstalled Notes app, however, I’ve found the Evernote app to be far superior [iTunes Link].
Evernote makes note-taking effortless. You open the app, tap the plus button to create a new note, and start typing. It’s that simple! You can also attach photos, audio recordings, tags, and locations. Best of all, every time you save or update a note, Evernote automatically syncs it to your account and all of your devices. This means that you can create a note on your iPhone, and then access it the next time you launch Evernote on your desktop computer. All your notes are arranged in notebooks, and you can also create stacks of notebooks. My workflow consists of creating a notebook for each module (e.g. Geography of Life) and a stack of notebooks for each semester (e.g. Y4 S1). You can find out about the Evernote app by watching this YouTube video or by visiting their website.
I record every lecture. Why? Audio recordings take the pressure off note-taking and allow you to revisit the information through an alternative medium. I often play, and replay, the recordings whilst traveling to and from destinations as a replacement of music. On the iPad, like the iPhone, you have many options. I prefer the InClass app [iTunes Link] – the essential app for students. It includes a calendar/schedule, a planner, reminders, alerts, notes, and voice recording. I’ve used this app since my very first lecture and I’ve had no problems whatsoever. It’s reliable, the sound quality and size of the recording are reasonable, it’s easy to transfer the audio files, and free!
N.B. Make sure you follow your university’s policies on recording lectures. Some universities allow it, others attach specific conditions (e.g. deleting the files after the completion of the module, not publicly distributing the audio-files). It’s also courteous to ask the lecturer.
Sometimes you may need to annotate a diagram, chart, table, or illustrations that is displayed on the projector screen or white/blackboard. You could draw the item, however, time is usually against you. I’ve tried and failed, many times! By the time you’ve draw the item, the lecturer is moving on and you’ve missed the important information. If you’ve audio-recorded the lecture, you could draw and annotate the item after the lecture. While this works to an extent, the annotated item will be separated from the appropriate/relevant place in your notes.
The Skitch app, also by Evernote, offers the perfect solution to “in-class” annotation [iTunes Link]. The app allows you to quickly take a photograph of the item and add many different types of annotations. You can also sync your annotated item to Evernote and / or add it to your lecture notes on your iPad. You can find out more about the Skitch app by watching this YouTube video.
There are, of course, many educational uses of the iPad; too many to discuss in this single post. In coming weeks and months, I will be writing a series of additional article about the iPad in higher education. Stay tuned!