Taking Notes and iJournaling on the IPad and Android Tablets

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Through my workshops and own classroom experience using tablets in the school setting, I’ve seen a lot of need for finding effective ways to take notes, write and journal on these devices. I instantly ran into some obstacles in trying to do this on my iPad or other Devices and soon found my peers running into the same issues. Taking notes using the on-screen keyboard on the iPad or Android Tablet can be loud (tippity-tippity-tap of fingers and fingernails on the glass), cumbersome and distracting compared to the traditional methods of pencil-writing or external keyboard typing. In an administrator’s meeting where I was the only one to even bring technology at all nevermind a touch tablet to take notes on, I quickly realized that it could be distracting to my peers not accustomed to this new trend to hear the constant finger tapping on the screen as I tried to quickly take and type notes using the on-screen keyboard. Instantly, I switched to a lower tech and less attention-getting paper pencil option and then (to save face in the edtech world) I took a photo of them and uploaded them to my Evernoteaccount. I was determined though to find a way to effectively take notes or write in general in any setting so they could easily be stored, shared or transferred to other documents or projects. Realizing how this would benefit my students as well, I began researching best ways of accomplishing this as a student, teacher and administrator in the different settings we all find ourselves in.First, let’s tackle taking notes whether its for research, meetings or task lists. I’ve already mentioned Evernote and posted a detailed description about it in a prior blog post. Evernote has expanded quite a bit even since my post about it. It works on any platform or device; iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry RIM making it very user-friendly to those of us who work on different devices and platforms between work, travel and home. It also works and integrates directly with many apps/programs for use on these different device platforms as well. The list is constantly being added to. Although you can read a lot more about it in my prior post, I will quickly summarize what it can do. You can take notes online using a web browser or app, you can take pictures of pencil-paper notes and upload them to the same account. You can save files or “clip” entire websites when doing research on a project and organize content into notebooks and not matter what device you log into, it’s all there waiting for you. Imagine the implications for student group projects.OK, that’s a good resource for storing the notes but what about the actual taking of notes? I looked into different apps for both the iOS devices and Android Tablets. First, I tested out the following Phatpad, Writepad and Penultimate for apps that provided either handwriting recognition or just sketch handwriting capabilities so that notes could be taken either with a stylus or just drawing with my fingers which is much quieter than constant screen finger tapping with the keyboard. Also, faster for those who do not have strong traditional keyboarding skills to start with. Phatpad and Writepad are both from Phatware and work on almost any device. Phatpad I found at $4.99 to be a little more student-friendly especially with the lower grade students. It wasn’t a super sophisticated or robust handwriting recognition program but for younger students and the price, I found a lot of use for it. Older students and fellow educators would something a little more robust. Writepad has a lot of great features not found in the latter such as a spell checker with its own custom dictionary, a context analyzer, auto-corrector, and a Shorthand feature that is able to fill-in words and phrases used frequently. Begin to sketch out your notes and either wait 2 seconds or use an Enter command and your sketches turn to text. You can also continue writing across multiple pages and over current recognized text where Phatpad only allows for 1-2 lines of sketching notes at a time. There is an option to type with an on-screen keyboard if desired, use hand gestures for commands, select, cut, copy, and paste text between different files as well as integration with Dropbox for file sharing. The iPad version is a little pricier at $9.99 but there is an iPhone version at $3.99 that I installed so I could also use on my iPods and it works just as well after expanding the screen. It even works well with a stylus. A sidenote on styluses would be to pay a decent amount if you truly want to effectively take notes or draw with one. I bought a $5 one and it wasn’t super. I found a couple of better options for a little more and found a great difference (Nataal Premium is one) but still use my hand for the fastest solution. Perhaps, I just need practice. The third option does not have handwriting recognition but is excellent at recording handwritten notes and multi-color sketches. Penultimate is a great note taking program that allows for sketches with multiple colors, different papers such as graphing and music notesheets and has great sharing options. Good app for drawing out graphic organizers and mind-mapping charts. Each of these has different pros and cons depending on what feature you are looking for the most. If making sketches of concept maps, music sheets, math or scientific formulas and diagrams are more important than handwriting-text recognition, then I would use Penultimate.  For the most robust note taking tool that you can quickly translate to typed text for sharing in other text files, Writepad is my preference.

The second writing objective I had was to find effective way for students to work on daily or weekly journals and writing projects. Again, I use Evernote for collaborative projects but for journals I tried to find other options.Online there are two good collaborative writing resources of Type With Me and QuietWrite.  Type With Me is an online space that any web browsing device can access to write together as a group whether creating a writing piece or just jotting down notes on a shared project by sharing out a link or emailing invitations. Files can be imported or exported. In QuietWrite, you will find many of the same features of the latter but you can also create an account for extra features such as: export to a WordPress blog or post for public viewing with a QuietWrite link.  For iOS apps, I found iDiary for the Elementary students and PaperDesk Lite and iJournal for upper level students. iDiary is great for all types of digital projects including ijournaling. The app stores up to 6 password protected personalized journals per device. Each personalized journal has a child-friendly interface that is intuitive for younger students to operate with little instruction. They can customize the color, name and avatar for their journals. There are options for sketching, typing, importing photos, pre-defined stickers and exporting as a photo or email. I’ve used this and then exported a page as a photo to place into an eScrapbooking or Travelogue project. PaperDesk Lite and iJournal are better for older students and adults. PaperDesk Lite allows you to save a few journals (paid version offers more) but you can add as many pages as needed within the journals. This option also allows sketching, typing and importing of photos but also allows the user to record audio notes, change out paper type, import PDFs to annotate and export to options like Google Docs. I couldn’t find a password protection option but have to look into the paid version to see if its an option. If you want a password protected option for your older students because devices are shared in most schools, then iJournalis a good option. At $2.99, it’s missing some of the features such as recording notes and adding photos (except one as an avatar can be added) but it does offer some  features to create a personalized and protected journal your older students will want to write in.

With all of that said, more apps and online tools are coming out even as I write this. Writing notes and iJournaling is quickly improving on the iPad and other touch devices. I’m hoping with a little more time, practice and patience, I’ll find a way that works just write for me.
What are you using for taking notes or iJournaling?

Flash Content on the iPad

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Recently I delivered a training session on using the iPad in the classroom. I was especially  excited to inform my participants about one specific tip…..how to view Flash content on the iPad.Whenever I hear discussions on the “iPad vs. Android tablet” debate, there is always the one definite dividing factor, the iPad’s inability to play Flash. My first attempts to view flash on my iPad were a little too complex and way too unreliable for either myself or other teachers to want to deal with in a classroom with 20-30 impatient faces watching. I was finally able, however, through long internet searches and lots of trial and error able to come up with three different ways to easily view flash content on both my iPad Classic and my iPad 2. The three apps that make this possible are Skyfire, Splashtop Remote and Cloud Browse.Skyfireis a browser app. It offers a couple of features that the Safari browser app that comes standard on the iPad does not. It offers different sharing options for images, links and content beyond the very limited list given in Safari. The biggest difference is that it also will play most flash movies embedded in a web site. The app isn’t perfect however. The way it works is to go to the website, then click on the little “movies” icon on the bottom left of the screen. This will switch to analyzing and then tell you if there is a movie on the site that can be previewed. If there is, a small box with a thumbnail of the movie will appear and then it is possible to click on it and another screen will open to view the movie outside of the website. Basically, you are not looking at the flash content within the website but pulled out into a viewer separate than the site. It doesn’t seem to recognize Flash or Java-based games like “Lemonade Stand” from the Cool Math Games website, for instance.  This was disappointing as I know many of the teachers would want students to be able to access some of the great learning games on the web that are flash-based. If you’re looking for something to just view movies, then this app is pretty decent for the $4.99 but still has a way to go in recognizing other web-based flash content such as learning games.The second way to view flash is to use an app that will control your desktop computer or laptop. An app such as Splashtop Remote works quite well and was easy to set up. Download the Splashtop app on your iPad and then install the free Splashtop Streamer onto your PC or Mac. It works very easily if you’re in the same network as the computer you want to control. There are directions for firewalls and proxies if you want to try remoting into one while on a different network but for the purpose of showing something on the iPad that your computer can do easily, using a computer in the same network works well. I was able to completely control my computer and my iPad appeared to be a Windows-based tablet as it showed all content and actions happening on my PC. The downside is you may not always be somewhere that allows you to remote into your PC and your PC may not always be turned on.

The third option that is right now my absolute favorite is Cloud Browse. This is another browser app that was priced at $2.99 when I purchased it recently. Although the browser itself does not have a lot of advanced features found in other browser apps such as Ultimate Browser that has the ability to open multiple tabs, emulate other browsers and share out content in social media platforms, it does do one thing very well…. play Flash and Java content. I was able directly within the browser look at websites with flash movies playing such as Wiffiti.com. Even better, I was able to go to the same site, Cool Math, and successfully play flash and java-based games such as Snorzees or Lemonade Stand without any special setup or additional steps to follow which means it would be intuitive for the teachers and the students. It isn’t completely perfect either as it can suddenly knock you out and close the app on occasion and it has to constantly connect to a server due to how the app is set up. The way the app works is a company by the name of Always On Technologies has to host a desktop Firefox browser on an independent server. For the basic $2.99 app, you have a 10 minute connection to their server and then it can drop and you need to refresh which can be annoying when conquering the final level of that game you were playing. They offer an upgrade to the service which states will take care of these minor glitches but the upgrade is currently a little steep for most educators at $5.99/month. I’ve been using the basic app just fine and don’t intend to upgrade currently as its competition, the release of HTML5, could make the need for such apps obsolete and perhaps their premium prices might drop. For now, I will remain using the $2.99 basic app happily watching my flash content and playing Flash games on my iPads.

What do you use to view Flash or Java content on the iPad? Join my blog and let me know.

May’s Highlighted Apps: ReelDirector and FlipBoom Lite

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I’ve been working on digital storytelling projects with my elementary ESOL students. The first app I was using was FlipBoom Lite.  FlipBoom allows students to draw their story, one page at a time, capture each frame with a photo and play the frames like a flipbook. There is a shadow feature so they can trace the shadow of the last frame onto the next with slight differences to emulate motion.  The play feature is a slideshow almost that can have the speed settings altered. There is an option to load it to the web but not to export it otherwise. My younger primary students took to it because it was very simple. The older ones liked it to but I could tell that they wanted to do more with it. FlipBoom was a good start but I really wanted a more robust video editing tool that could be used by primary and secondary students alike. I finally found it in ReelDirector.

ReelDirector, from SynapticLight, is found in the iTunes App store for $1.99 and is worth every penny if not more. I was able to take the frames the students created in FlipBoom plus regular photos that I had and import them onto the storyboard area of ReelDirector. From there, I could add in more photos, videos and create transitions between slides if desired. I like the transition customization tool’s interface. Simple feature but nicely done.

Adding sound is another welcomed feature. In the other apps, I couldn’t add sounds easily or couldn’t add them at all. Students were frustrated by this. With ReelDirector, students (or teachers) can record their own voice frame per frame or across the entire story. They can also add music and from there I found another great tool. If you don’t have music on your iPad, don’t worry…. they have a feature for that too. Maybe you don’t have music on your iPad but you do on a PC or Mac. There is a button titled “My Music”. From there, click the plus sign over the wireless signal icon and it directs you to type in a URL, or web address, in the browser of your computer. On the following screen, there are simple directions to choose the music file on your computer and then upload. You’ll see the music transferring on the iPad within the ReelDirector app. Now you can send music to your iPad directly over the wireless. Nice feature and simple to use.

Editing, compressing and rendering are icing on the cake. Before editing was just an eraser in other apps. Now I have a crop, subtitle, text and closing credit tools. To edit music or sounds added, just touch and hold and then you can either delete or slide and move the sound to where you want it. There is the option to fade sounds in and out and adjust the volume. The ability to pan and zoom in on a still photo adds another touch. The students like zooming in on a still picture and then panning out as if the still photo was moving.

There are a few items to comment on although they didn’t impair use very much for us. To play your movie, even if you are still working on it and want to add more, you’ll need to render it. You can still edit it again but a preview play would be nice instead of just for the panning in a particular slide. You can preview when looking at the Zoom and Pan in feature but allowing the students to record themselves and quickly preview their story with their narrations from where they are would allow them to work more productively. Also, it doesn’t automatically import videos from the video library.  In the help topics, it is mentioned to go to settings under the Photos app and choose “include video as well”.

Overall, I found this app to be very useful and user-friendly for my students at each grade level in developing their stories. This is one I plan to use for other projects as well.

GMPDC App Review for April

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This month’s app review talks about Evernote. I can’t say enough about this app… I love it!

Whether you use an iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android Smartphone, PC, or Macbook in your daily journey or (like me) all of the above, this is the app for you. I used to have the irritating issue of taking notes for different meetings and projects only to store them in some folder and then find myself somewhere needing those notes but without that folder. I tried typing things on a laptop or netbook but this could be cumbersome and many times there was an impromptu meeting with no laptop in sight. Now, I never worry. As soon as I’m done taking notes, I take a picture with my phone or iPad and instantly upload them to an Evernote Binder. You can also email photos or documents with a provided Evernote email address. With Evernote, my notes for all meetings and all projects are with me no matter where I am and what device I have with me.

The other time-consuming task was finding websites related to a specific project and keeping them organized with my other notes and files for that project instead of in my bookmarks. With Evernote, there is a toolbar add-on that automatically captures any website and adds them to an Evernote notebook with all of the files you’ve collected for a project or meeting. There are more add-ons and other features with the paid version that I’m sure are worth looking into but I’ve been quite happy with the free version from evernote.com.

Have you used Evernote? Tell us about it!