Need to study for a big exam or have trouble keeping all of your notes together? Do you lose track of when assignments are due in different courses? Are you in charge of coordinating a team project? There are apps for all of that.
Whether you are an online or on-campus student, technology can play a powerful role in your academic success. Online students in particular rely heavily on software and web-based tools to communicate and collaborate.
Mobile apps are convenient resources, but with so many to choose from, where do you start?
Creating a List of “Top” Apps
This is the first in a series of posts I’m working on related to finding the best apps for online learners. These can supplement the technology you are already using in your online courses no matter the institution, level of study, or learning management system. So, with my own online students in mind I looked for a few affordable options to help with study-oriented tasks. My search was framed by the following considerations:
- Free vs. Paid: My initial focus was on free apps, but as the saying goes, sometimes “you get what you pay for.” Paid apps usually offer a free or “lite” version to test out before deciding whether or not to spend the extra money. Most of the apps featured in this series require no money to get started, and those that do require purchase cost less than your next latte.
- Operating Systems: It was my goal when I started reviewing apps to select only those that work across systems (i.e., iOS, Android, Blackberry, Chrome, Mac, Web, Windows), but that proved to be a much smaller list than I imagined. I’ve noted the appropriate system for each app featured, and tried to include a balanced offering so there’s something here for everyone.
- Reviews and Ratings: While I’ve tried most of the apps presented here on my own devices, I also looked closely at the ratings and reviews other users provided before deciding to try them myself. This kind of feedback provides a lot of insight about both the pros and cons of each app.
5 Top Note-Taking Apps
“Taking notes” should be something you can do quickly, but in an organized way. We often rely on notes, well after they’ve been taken, to pull together what we’ve seen, heard, and read from multiple sources. Before you download anything think about when and where you may want to take notes related to your online courses. Apps can help you collect your thoughts:
- During live online class meetings, webinars, and conference presentations
- While watching recorded lectures
- As you conduct a library database search
- When you need to outline a project or paper
- While reading textbook chapters and other assigned papers and articles
- Anytime an idea comes to mind – including those “eureka” moments that usually occur while we’re commuting, exercising, grocery shopping, etc.
You should also think about what a note can be. When you make the move from paper to digital note taking you can quickly add images, embed links, and even record audio. You may also want to take notes using multiple devices (e.g., phone, tablet, laptop, desktop) and be able to consolidate them at some point.
There’s a lot to consider, but the following apps (in no particular order) each provide a good starting point and a specific focus on taking notes:
- Evernote: This is one of the most popular apps among my students and ed tech colleagues. It offers a user-friendly interface and the ability to easily share your notes with classmates and group members. “Notebooks” organize your work, which can include text, pictures you take from within the app, and more. Sync your Evernote account across devices to access everything from anywhere. [Android, Blackberry, iOS, Mac, Web, Windows]
- OneNote: If regularly use MS Office, you might be interested in this app from Microsoft. You’ll need to set up a Microsoft account to download, but it allows a wide range of activities such as saving websites, adding notes via email, and collaborative editing. Paid access to Office 365 (see if your school or office has an account) allows cloud-based work on other Office files, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. [Android, iOS, Mac, Web, Windows]
- Fetchnotes: Similar to the apps already listed, Fetchnotes allows you to synch your notes across devices and share your text-based notes with others. What makes this app standout is its use of hashtags (#) to organize and search your notes, and the “@” symbol to share with other users. If you are familiar and comfortable with using these symbols with your social media accounts, you may enjoy having similar functions in your notes. [Android, Chrome, iOS, Web]
- Google Keep: Google is not new to most online students. You are probably using Google Search, Gmail, Google Docs and other related products to some degree in your courses. The Google Keep app offers yet another way to stay organized and take notes from your mobile devices, using your existing Google account sign-in. Create notes pages, schedule reminders, and set up interactive to-do lists [Android, Chrome, Web]
- Papyrus and Bamboo Paper: If typing with a small mobile keyboard is not what you had in mind, there are apps for “natural note taking.” Use a stylus, special pen, or your fingers to capture handwritten notes and drawings. Choose from among different paper types, pen colors, and additional features to customize your notes, then export them in different formats (e.g., PDF, .jpg). Try Papyrus for Android and Windows, or Bamboo Paper for Android, iOS, and Windows.
Finding the App That’s Right for You
A lot of the apps I’ve listed here, and many other note-taking apps, cover similar ground. After setting up a personal account you can type notes into the system, save images and other media, use folders or notebooks to organize your work, share your notes with other users, and work collaboratively on note-taking and writing tasks. The interface and navigation menus of each app vary widely, however. There are also a few additional considerations for use in your classes:
- Do you often share notes with classmates, a study group, or as part of team projects? If so, it will be helpful to find out which app(s) others are using to make sharing at a distance that much easier.
- Does your school have a mobile app for courses? Ask about related note-taking features and functions that integrate with what you are already using (the LMS, etc.), but allow you to access your notes from course to course throughout your program.
- Do you use other cloud-based applications or social media? Some apps have built-in connections between your notes and file storage or back up tools (like Dropbox), and social sharing tools (like Twitter and Facebook). If these uses are important to you, be sure to explore the options available.
Make a list of must-have features that would help you in your courses, with the understanding that your priorities may be different than your classmates’ priorities. Download and test several apps to see which one has the most appealing look and feel, and meets your needs. The goal is to find something that is both useful and easy to use, so that it becomes part of your regular study routine.
Have you tried any of these note-taking apps? There are many, many more note options out there. Let us know what has been the most helpful to you in your online classes.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog