Times have certainly changed since I was a student. There weren’t too many computers in the classroom, and mobile tech was a “laptop” as big as a suitcase. Students these days have a variety of choices, and the iPad looks like it belongs at the top of the honor roll. It’s extremely portable, has great battery life, and has thousands of app, all powered by an engaging touch-driven interface.
We already know that the hardware is great, and that the iPad is an entertainment powerhouse. So the question is whether or not the iPad can also serve as an educational tool when loaded with the right software. Read on to learn about a selection of some of the best student organizers and note-taking apps for the Apple iPad.
One of the most important (and therefore one of the first) things you should do when taking a class is read the syllabus — it fills you in on everything you need to know, from reading assignments and test dates to office hours and grading criteria. Entering all of that information into a calendar or a student organizer app is critical, because there’s not much worse that realizing you have a book report due tomorrow and you haven’t even read the book — much less purchased it.
iHomework for iPad ($1.99)
The iHomework iPad app is divided into five sections, with space for every assignment, reminder, course, and teacher, along with an archive of completed assignments. Everything is very simple and straightforward; you won’t find a lot of bells and whistles here. Once you enter your courses and instructors (teachers will be added to your contacts), you can start entering assignments. Each assignment can have deadlines, study partners, and notes. You also have the option of going back and entering your grade for each assignment when you receive it.
iHomework is easy to use, but it isn’t particularly powerful. It doesn’t show your classes on the assignment calendar, for example, and doesn’t offer much more functionality than the built-in calendar and contacts except for adding the ability to email individual assignments and track grades. If you use a Mac, you can download a free desktop companion application for your computer to synchronize your assignments. Of course the app is only $1.99, but I was expecting more.
iStudiez Pro for iPad ($2.99)
The iStudiez Pro for iPad app is similar to iHomework, in that it manages your assignments, but it also handles your class schedule and study groups and has a more graphically appealing interface. Once all of your information for a particular semester is added to iStudiez Pro, you can see everything you need to know for each day on a single screen.
The planner has your schedule on the left and your assignments on the right, with a larger calendar to the right (or the top in portrait mode) for faster navigation. Optional dots underneath the dates on the calendar let you know exactly what you’re in for on each particular day, be it just classes, assignments, or more. Icons in the top right corner of the app let you see your courses by semester, show a list of all assignments by due date, course, or priority, and see a list of all your professors, teaching assistants, lab partners, etc.
iStudiez Pro includes push notifications so you’ll never miss another assignment or class. It also includes a grade-tracking option and also allows you to do full backups of all your data via email. It has everything you need to keep organized as a student, and it’s just $2.99 in the App Store.
Using a computer to take notes is much faster than writing them out by hand, but what do you do when you need to add drawings and charts to your notes? The iPad has a variety of notetaking apps that can help you stay at the top of the class.
Course Notes for iPad ($4.99)
The Course Notes for iPad app attempts to replicate your typical spiral-bound notebook on the iPad, and it largely succeeds. Each subject is listed on the left side of the display, and the main screen is on the right. You can start a quick note session immediately, view the last one, export your notes, or create a new subject. Tap a subject to view all the note sessions for that subject, or to start a new one.
Notes can be typed text, a sketch, or a to-do. The sketching feature is relatively basic, but you can choose different ink colors and can also insert photos chosen from the photos already stored on your iPad. You can highlight specific terms to be included in your lexicon, and if you add quick notes or definitions to those terms for future review you’ll be in great shape when it’s time to study for your exams. Notes can be shared via email or directly between devices via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
It would be nice to see some additional features in the next release, but Course Notes works exactly as advertised. It organizes your notes by subject, allows you to take both text and sketch notes (though you cannot combine the two in the same note session), and sharing your notes is easy.
iThoughtsHD for iPad ($7.99)
Mind-mapping is one of the most effective notetaking techniques, because it forces you to think about and organize the information you’re receiving immediately, instead of trying to write down every word of a lecture and process it later. It isn’t for everyone, but those who think visually and work well with this method will be very pleased to find the iThoughtsHD app for iPad. The app makes mind-mapping a supremely pleasant experience, where you can focus on the content and let iThoughtsHD keep everything neat.
Tap the plus sign in the top left corner to create a new map, and you’re presented with a blank canvas. The icons at the top right corner are what you’ll use to add new parent, child, and sibling topics. You can drag topics to rearrange them; tapping the Inspector button allows you to change the shape and color of topics (including child topics if you like), as well as add start and due dates and progress information if you’re using iThoughtsHD to manage projects as well as class notes.
Expanding topics takes a single tap, which means that you can also quiz yourself on various points by expanding topics one at a time. It’s a good way to practice for final exams and determine whether your papers and essays are logically arranged.
Your mind maps can be exported via email (which is beautifully formatted in perfect outline form), via Wi-Fi to your computer or to a service like Box.net or Dropbox, or by a variety of formats such as PDF, PNG, OPML, or one of several desktop programs. It’s also compatible with the iThoughts iPhone app. At $7.99 it’s a little more expensive than some iPad apps, but if you’re a visual thinker and enjoy taking notes as mind maps, iThoughtsHD is a must-buy app.
Outliner for iPad ($4.99)
If you’re a linear thinker and prefer to take notes as outlines, take a closer look at the Outliner for iPad app. It does exactly what you think it does – create outlines — with a simple, easy to understand interface. Your list of outlines is on the left in landscape mode, with the outline to the right. All of the basics are here, including the ability to set items as tasks and move and rearrange items as necessary.
Simple export options via email or OPML are included, so you can share outlines with others. You can also sync your outlines with Outliner Online once you set up a free account. There’s nothing fancy here, but it works, and it’s well worth the price of $4.99 in the App Store.
Penultimate for iPad ($2.99)
If you like to take your notes in handwriting, as opposed to typing them out, or if you need to use text and sketches together, take a look at Penultimate for the iPad. It’s a simple app that includes three paper types (plain, lined, and graph), three pen thicknesses, and six colors of ink. If you make a mistake you can quickly undo it, and there’s also optional “wrist protection” which should help you keep your notes a little cleaner by protecting the edges of the screen. You can export your notes via email by tapping the icon in the top right corner of the screen.
The inking feature works really well, but I found the app to be frustrating because I tend to use my iPad in landscape mode — the notebook is longer than the screen, so I found myself constantly scrolling back and forth. If you use your iPad in portrait mode, it won’t be an issue, and you’ll have a much better experience. At the low price of $2.99 Penultimate is worth a try, but it may not work for everyone.
PaperDesk for iPad ($1.99)
If you want a fully featured do-everything inking app, PaperDesk for iPad is the one for you. It has all of the basic features you’d expect to find in an inking app, such as five different paper types, plus a rainbow of ink color choices and full control over brightness, opacity, and pen size. But there’s a lot more to PaperDesk than that: it allows you to combine text, sketches, and audio recordings on the same page. That means that you can record your class lectures and take notes at the same time!
This app also solves the problem I mentioned with Penultimate, because it slightly shrinks the drawing area and minimizes the toolbar when in landscape mode. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it greatly reduces the amount of scrolling necessary while still offering a large drawing surface.
You can sync your notes with myPaperDesk.com, ensuring that all of your notes will always be accessible. Notes can also be shared via email. At just $1.99 for the full version in the App Store, this is a must-buy app for anyone who takes notes by hand. If you’re still not sure, a free lite version is available, which limits you to three notebooks.