Note-taking Applications for the iPad: Part 1

Notetaking apps for iPads have been a game-changer for my low vision students. With the use of these applications and online resources, the students can adapt documents according to their own visual preferences and greatly reduce the amount of paper (including cumbersome enlarged copies) that they have to manage. If the students maintain good electronic file management, the use of a notetaking app can increase their organization of instructional materials and resources, as well as decrease the weight of those heavy backpacks! I also frequently use notetaking apps myself. I am finding them particularly helpful with the readings for two Read 2 Succeed courses that I am currently taking!

This Notes and PDF Expert link will take you to an excellent Paths to Technology post showing how a student uses the Apple Notes app in conjunction with the PDF Expert app to scan and complete a job application form.

In Part 1 of this post I will discuss the various ways in which students can use two iOS applications, PDF Expert and Noteshelf 2, including a list of several of the features available in both apps. I have also attached to this first post a checklist template for progress monitoring of notetaking skills, which is based on the list of features and options in the Noteshelf 2 app. This checklist can be modified to align with PDF Expert or any notetaking app of the teacher’s choosing. In Part 2 I will compare the two apps and discuss the pros and cons of each app. In Part 3 I will discuss different types of styluses which can be used with the apps (although most of my students elect to just use their finger to interact with the screen, so they don’t have to keep up with a stylus; I prefer to use a stylus to do my annotating because I can be more precise with it).

Screenshot of PDF Expert in the App Store with text, " PDF Expert by Readdle $9.99 with in-app purchases 4.7 rating with 18.4K ratings, ages 4+" Screenshot of Noteshelf 2 in App Store with text, "Noteshelf 2, handwritten notes, PDF Markup, $9.99 4.4 star ratings with 872 ratings, ages 4+"

Screenshot of Readdle Bundles in the App Store, with text, "Readdle Productivity Pack by Readdle Inc for $1.99 offers in-app purchases, Scanner Pro, RDF Expert by Readdle, Printer Pro by Readdle, purchased separately, $20.97.

The following is just a sampling of some features which my students and I find particularly useful; it is by no means an exhaustive list. For complete information about using each app and features available in each app, you can access the app’s user guide by clicking on the following links:

Here are some examples of what students can do with both apps:

  • Scan and save hard copies of documents such as handouts, supplemental reading materials, and tests. Both single-page and multiple-page documents can be scanned. One advantage of scanning a document in a scanning app as opposed to just taking a photo of the document with the camera app is that the app can sense the corners and edges of the paper and automatically crop out unnecessary visual information from around the document. I also find that the final PDF version of the document often “flattens out” any creases in the document and removes shadows, both of which can be visible in a photo. However, it should be noted that when using the iPad for scanning it is important that the student holds it as level with the document as possible (meaning that the surface of the table or desk that the document is resting on is parallel to the iPad screen) in order to achieve the best scan. This can be tricky for some younger students to master, and it is best completed in a standing position. *It should also be noted that the Noteshelf 2 app has a built-in scanning function, whereas PDF Expert requires the user to scan the document with another app and then open the scanned file in PDF Expert. I provide further information about this difference in Part 2 of this topic.
  • Open and save existing PDF files from various locations (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) as a note. 
  • Create new, original notes with one or more pages. With both apps the student can choose the type of “paper” that is preferred for the note: blank, ruled, grid, etc. PDF Expert also offers a choice of three colors for the paper: white, yellow, or “blueprint.”
  • Mark-up/annotate/draw on saved notes with highlights or text (handwritten or typed), and add pictures, shapes, and audio.
  • Choose from various types of “pens” and highlighters and modify the thickness and color of each.
  • Use pinch-and-zoom or Zoom magnification features of the iPad to enlarge text and/or blank spaces (such as answer blanks). This is especially beneficial to my students who need to write letters very large in order to see them, because they can make the blank space so much larger than with a standard hard-copy large print version. However, when using pinch-and-zoom there is a limit to the level of magnification that can be achieved, so sometimes the Zoom feature of the iOS operating system will be more practical for this purpose.
  • Organize notes within the app by using file management tools (renaming of files, creation of folders, etc.).
  • Share/export notes to other apps, online storage, and specific people. Some examples of options for each are as follows:
  • Noteshelf 2: Email, Dropbox, Google Drive, FaceBook, Twitter, iTunes, Evernote, Photo Album, box, OneDrive, Google Keep, Apple Notes, Outlook, Acrobat Reader, and iBooks. In addition, shortcuts for the Siri digital assistant can be created in this app using personalized recorded phrases.
  • PDF Expert: Email, Apple AirDrop, Outlook, Google Drive, Apple Books, Dropbox, Apple Notes, FaceBook Messenger, Acrobat Reader, iBooks.

Many of my low vision students this past year used one of these notetaking apps, and I heard many positive comments from them about ways in which the app has made it easier for them to complete, organize, and submit their assignments. That is the best testimonial I can think of regarding the use of this technology tool!

The following link will take you to the checklist of note-taking skills for progress monitoring:

Note-taking Application Skills Checklist

These links will show you the current information (at the time of this writing) for the apps discussed in the Apple App Store:

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, Part 2 of this series will address differences between the two apps and pros and cons of each app.

Collage of note-taking