The Top 2011 Note Taking Applications of the Year for Teachers and Students

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2011 was a great year to introduce the Apple iPad into the classroom. Most teachers first consider keeping a calendar and taking notes during workshops. Students are drawn to the iPad for taking notes during lectures. My students also use the iPad to review for their AP exam in May of this year.

Interestingly, despite a plethora of applications, a single note taking application does not stand out as a winner for all students and teacher. No, this year brought many choices and sometimes the choice is up to interest in features: handwriting, typing, image manipulation, exporting/importing, or synchronization.

Because of the plethora of applications and feature reviews available in the blogosphere, this article is an attempt to share my experiences using note taking applications on the iPad and iPad 2. It is one thing to write about a product, sharing wonderful features, versus actually telling how to use the product, and then choosing which application is best for a teacher or student.

First, as a teacher, I love using OneNote for lectures synchronized with iCloud. I also love using another product which I believe deserves winning the note taking application of the year.

Number 5: Draw Pad Pro ($1.99),  PenUltimate ($0.99), and UPad ($4.99, UPad Lite Free)

Two applications for note taking worthy of mention are Draw Pad Pro and PenUltimate. PenUltimate was the original pen based note taking application. I installed PenUltimate in the first quarter of 2011 and used it for note taking during several dinner meetings. My daughter and I would pass the iPad between us as we would jot down ideas for an iPhone application. I never finished the AP Chemistry review application but the notes are still on my iPad.

AppAdvice published a wonderful review and images of the Draw Pad Pro application so there is no reason to duplicate it. I would emphasize that Draw Pad Pro is a wonderful sketch application. Regardless, let’s focus on why this application is different from PenUltimate in terms of note taking.

Consider the following image shown to the right. This image within the note was taken with my iPad’s camera and easily embedded into my notes. Image manipulation is a key distinguishing factor between PenUltimate and Draw Pad Pro. Both applications allow pictures to be taken and added to the notebook. Notice the image of Ellie and Pascal to the right of this text is angled. I tried this on PenUltimate and just couldn’t get the image to stick; it would rotate but not stay at the angle.

UPad is similar to PenUltimate and Draw Pad Pro, in that it is simple. In fact, the product beats out the first two because of its simplicity. Opening up a note is the same as reaching for a piece of paper. It also benefits from a rest area for the wrist – something that is important while writing on the iPad. Finally, teachers and students will appreciate the password folder protection.

Number 4: Evernote (Free)

The blogosphere is rampant with fans of  Evernote. As a Tablet PC rival to OneNote, Evernote development continues to expand into numerous platforms. Sadly each time I have installed Evernote, then I never get to using it. I am not sure if this is laziness or loss of interest once the product is installed. Synchronization is a plus but formatting issues is a reason some people rate this application poorly.

[media-credit id=6 align=”alignnone” width=”560″][/media-credit]As you can see from the image above, a strength in the Evernote app is logging into Evernote web. This premium service is either $5 per month or $45 per year. Personally, I’m not going to pay $45 for keeping mynotes but that is up to you.

Number 3: Microsoft OneNote (Free)

I started using OneNote while writing my dissertation. It was easy to import PDFs then mark them up while reading. I also used OneNote while writing out scripts for lectures on AP Chemistry.

[media-credit id=6 align=”aligncenter” width=”533″][/media-credit]The latest iPad optimized version of OneNote is perfect for teachers to keep lecture notes. Students may want more room for doodling. I love this app because I try to script out each lesson and keep the lesson consistent between class periods. Some students who’ve sat through two lecture periods on the same topic notice the words are similar. It’s because I try to memorize the script. This helps me focused on the content development and not on practicing in front of students.

Runner Up: Apple Notes (Free)

Apple Notes is part of the iOS applications installed by Apple. It’s meant to be a quick way to type notes.

The choice as runner up is simply because I use this application all the time. No, I can’t add images and this is why the application is not the winner.

The image to the left shows a note taken the other night while looking at vBulletin add-ons. Even though, we ultimately decided on XenForo forums, these notes helped us look at options for vBulletin. The ease is the copy/paste from Safari.

However, synchronizing notes taken in Apple Notes is easy with iCloud enabled. I can easily switch between my iPhone, iPad, and iMac – sadly my poor TouchSmart is left out because I do not synchronize the notes through iTunes. Sorry, I do not have experience with the iTunes synchronization – but – it just seemed like an extra step that I’m not willing to take. Besides, I can never remember which machine I’ve synced the iPad with in the first place.

With iCloud, you can create or edit a note on iPad, and it automatically updates on your Mac, iPhone, or iPod touch.* You can also sync notes to your Mac or PC through iTunes.

The lack of image support is why I’ve been looking for a good note taking application and maybe have found it in the winner for 2011.

Number 1:  NoteShelf

Documentation for NoteShelf is fantastic and earns first because of the numerous features, 14 pages of extensive help is vital to getting started.  A favorite feature is grouping notebooks by a simple drag and drop. Another feature that helps is the password protection. I don’t need prying eyes for some of my work and ideas.

The best feature, though, is a simple wrist protection. A small pointer allows you to adjust an area to rest your wrist. Wow. This helps avoid the blotches you can get in PenUltimate and Draw Pad Pro. But maybe you are curious about exporting your notes. In that case, sit down. NoteShelf can export as an image, PDF, through email, iTunes, Dropbox, Evernote, iPad album, and even print.

Oh – but wait. Recall that I wrote at the beginning that this article is for teachers and students. NoteShelf has a Cornell Notes template available for taking notes. Teachers will find the Day Timer template useful.

In fact, the only thing I miss is being able to type notes.

The ugly truth is that none of the available iPad applications is perfect. There are problems with images, inking, or synchronization across multiple platforms. This makes the choice very challenging and why I almost listed two apps for number 1: Apple Notes and NoteShelf. However, UPad and Draw Pad Pro are worth your downloading and trying. Both may work for you.

* Yes, for those of you keeping count, I did not write about only five note taking applications. I suspect you have a favorite, too. If it wasn’t listed then let us know why you believe it is the best of 2011.