Some students write feverishly to keep up with the teacher, copying down verbatim what is on the board or projected via slideshow, while others add annotations to notes provided on slide handouts. Over the years, classroom teachers have modeled note-taking skills to their students in many ways. Taking full advantage of available note-taking technologies and presentation modalities, the evolution of teacher and student note-taking has made its way from blackboards and chalk into the digital era with mobile devices and apps. Although each note-taking model has had its own benefits and disadvantages, a question still persists:
How might teachers and students optimize the note-taking workflow in classrooms?
In the beginning, it was chalk on a blackboard (or greenboard, depending on where you’re from) and students copied notes into notebooks. Then came whiteboards, and the same transmission pattern took place. Everyone had their own separate notes. At some point, teachers began to print slideshow slides and provide students a handout that they could annotate with their own notes. This was a big step forward, until the dawn of interactive whiteboards allowed teachers to save their notes as PDFs or image files. Teachers could post copies of their notes online, and students could then visit their website to view or download the teacher’s notes. It sure seemed like the time was coming where students could combine their own notes with the teacher’s to have a more complete account of ideas from class; however, these note-taking options were limited in two ways: 1) the workflow to combine teacher and student notes is not maximally efficient, and 2) there is a limit to the type of notes that students can take.
Fast forward to the mobile era, where current technologies, such as laptop computers, tablets and other mobile devices, allow for digital note-taking. Notes can be kept in digital notebooks and kept locally on a device or in cloud storage. A transformative program called Evernote has revolutionized the way that teachers and students can take notes. Combining text, photo, URLs, and audio recorded memos, Evernote gives the user full ability to generate notes and organize them into their own digital notebooks–all stored online and synced across devices. Evernote even allows you to share individual notes or entire notebooks online publicly or with specified users. Creating a shared notebook allows two users to see the same set of notes in a notebook updated in real-time. Sounds like the perfect solution, right? Well, it almost is, except that there was originally a critical missing component to the note-taking potential of Evernote: handwritten notes.
Though one could still sketch hand-drawn notes onto paper and then capture a photo of those notes to include in their Evernote notebook, the unifying ability to create handwritten notes for an Evernote just wasn’t possible on a device. Then came along an app to the Evernote family called Penultimate. Penultimate is a note-taking app for handwritten notes. You can write in a variety of inks, include photos into your Penultimate notebook, and even annotate your photos. This “handy” app paved the way for creating handwritten notes to add into your Evernote notebook, because it had Evernote exporting ability; however, the workflow for getting your Penultimate notes into an Evernote notebook was comprised of several clunky steps. After a barrage of feedback from Penultimate/Evernote users, a new Penultimate update was released yesterday that now allows your Penultimate notebook to automatically sync to your Evernote account and keep your handwritten notes in the notebook updated on Evernote.
Teachers and students alike can benefit from digital notes, and with the latest update to the Penultimate app for iPad, a powerful workflow exists that can streamline the process of taking and sharing notes for classrooms of all types. Teachers who use an iPad to take notes in their classroom, students who use a device to do the same, and 1:1 classrooms will love this workflow. It could work in many ways, but two main procedures seem to exist for getting started with it right away: one for teachers to create and share notes with students and another for students to create notes and combine them with their teacher’s notes. Your separate notebooks in Penultimate will sync to Evernote as individual Evernotes that update automatically. Initially, these notes (Penultimate notebooks) will be synced to a sinble Penultimate Evernote notebook called “Penultimate;” however, you can then send those individual Evernotes (a.k.a. Penultimate notebooks) to any Evernote notebook once synced to your account.
***A word of caution: Evernote has a limit on the size of Penultimate notebooks that can be synced automatically; however, it does enable a feature that will auto-split your notebook in Penultimate into separate, smaller, syncable notebooks.
Here are the steps for creating a classroom note-taking workflow using Penultimate & Evernote:
- Teacher gets the Penultimate and Evernote apps, signs up for an Evernote account and links the two apps using that account
- Students sign up for an Evernote account
- If the student can use a device in class for digital note-taking, they also get the Evernote app (& Penultimate app if using iPad)
- Teacher creates a shared Evernote notebook for class that they share with the student via Evernote or a URL
- Student joins the shared notebook
- Teacher creates a notebook in Penultimate for class that is synced to their shared Evernote notebook for the class
- When the teacher takes handwritten notes on the iPad using Penultimate, they are automatically synced to the shared Evernote notebook that the student automatically can view through their Evernote account.
- Students can have their notes and the teachers notes together in Evernote automatically updated in real-time across devices
- Teachers and students can combine hand-written, text, photo, URL, lists, and audio notes all in one digital notebook for class
- **Using Evernote Premium accounts, the shared notebook could be edited by the teacher and the student; however, with the free Evernote accounts, the sharing feature is one directional for the “sharer” and view-only for the “sharee”
This Evernote-Penultimate workflow can be beneficial even if students are not allowed to use devices in class to take their own digital notes. Having this setup in place for a teacher could allow them to post the URL to their publicly shared notebook on their website and have students view it at any time. This would be especially helpful to students who miss class. Minimizing the number of steps a teacher needs to take to get notes updated and online saves time that could be better spent focusing on great instruction. Digital note-taking sometimes gets a “bad wrap” from those who do not yet have experience with its advantages. In the end, digital note-taking with Evernote is a powerful tool that has the potential to pervade classrooms and enhance the efficiency of teacher and student note-taking.