iPad Notes and Simple Pleasures

iPad Notes and Simple Pleasures

If you know me you know I use my iPad quite a bit and have really since the device came out a couple of years ago.  I even gave my laptop up for a month to just focus on understanding how the iPad could fit into my workflow.  I have written several times about what I’ve learned, but wanted to dive into how functional it has become for me all over again in the last few days.

I have stayed away from getting a stylus as I felt like I wasn’t going to go against the intended design of the device — remember Steve hated the idea, so naturally I listened to him.  But, I’ve been watching friends and colleagues switch to working with the iPad with a stylus and felt it might be time.  What pushed me over the edge was a post by my old friend (and still my goto edutech blogger and idea man), D’Arcy Norman who wrote about his own iPad note-taking workflow … and just like I have for nearly a decade, I listened.

My biggest challenge with the iPad has been around its utility as a note taking device.  I have tried to make Evernote my home as well as the built in Notes app.  Neither really worked.  I am not going to switch to one of those keyboard cases that so many people like — I already use an 11″ MacBook Air so I don’t need a setup that looks and works almost just like that.  I am good at typing on the onscreen keyboard, but I find typing to be only a very small part of what I need to do on my iPad.  I need to be able to grab screenshots and quickly annotate them, I need to draw interface ideas, I need to draw graphs and other representations of data, and I need to make sure I can find it at a later date. From D’Arcy’s post …

I had a bit of a holy crap moment the other day, in a vendor demo. I was taking notes, and wanted to capture a diagram that was on the screen. So I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a quick photo of the screen. I waited maybe 5 seconds, and then clicked the “insert image” icon in noteshelf. I went to my iCloud photostream, and there was the photo I had just taken on my phone. I selected it, and it was in my notes. Holy crap. Couldn’t do THAT with my old notebooks…

So when I read D’Arcy’s post I figured it was time to break down and try a new way of interacting with my iPad. Quite frankly, I have been floored by how well it supports a whole new level of my workflow. I bought a super cheap Pogo Sketch pen to see if I would like this approach … and while the “pen” isn’t up to my standards, it was an $11 investment into moving towards a new workflow.  I will probably quickly switch to the well liked Wacom Bamboo Stylus as I move forward.

Here is an example of how I was able to instantly take advantage of this new approach … I am teaching Disruptive Technologies graduate course again this semester with colleague Scott McDonald and we are engaged in a project that I really need to share more broadly called, “Occupy Learning.” The idea is that teams of students go to specific classrooms on campus and occupy them for a couple of weeks to document the overall affordances of the space — what kinds of practice does it support, what are the limitations, how do faculty use it, etc.  The idea is that they will produce an integrated artifact that is published on the web.  Well, yesterday the two teams shared their first efforts … they were good, but the students wanted more guidance on what the actual outcome or artifact should be.


Since the room we were using has a killer Steelcase Mediascape system in it, we can have a whole bunch of machines easily connected to a huge display at the same time. Switching from my laptop, to Scott’s laptop, to a student laptop, to my iPad is a matter of tapping the switching puck.  Well, with my new stylus I was able to show everyone in class what the artifact might look like … easily drawing and highlighting the difference between embedded media and original text.  Being able to effortlessly do that within the flow of sitting around and having a discussion was a serious “ah-ha” moment.  It was in that moment that I realized just how powerful these types of technologies can be to alter and support discourse, engagement, and workflow.

iPad Sketch


While the sketch itself isn’t much, it was an amazingly simple way to make the point in the moment in as natural a way as I could think of.  Moreover, the sketch and the simplicity in which it was produced created a framework for the right kind of conversation around the ideal way to present such dynamic content.  It also pushed us down the path of deeply considering the notions of audience (administration, faculty, students) and purpose (build awareness, help drive decisions, creation of a long term repository of outcomes) in ways that wouldn’t have emerged by trying to draw the picture in their minds with words alone. A simple example.

I have now gone full D’Arcy and started using Noteshelf for note taking and the combination of drawing directly to screen and the ability to insert any picture to annotate now gets me to where I need to be.  If I see something I want to describe I can snap a photo with the iPad and annotate it.  If I have an idea about something we are working on, I can do a quick screen capture and mark it up.  Then I can instantly push it to Evernote for longer term curation, post it to Twitter, or send the old fashioned way via email.  Really simple, but really very powerful and what a joy when our tools actually go beyond just supporting our workflow towards enhancing it.  Thanks, D’Arcy (again).

4 thoughts on “iPad Notes and Simple Pleasures

    1. How do you like Wacom stylus? I hear great things … I have used skitch — primarily as a desktop application. I have it on my iPad but haven’t really used it. Is that what you use? Sort of crazy that I am just now getting into this mode with the iPad.

    1. That thing looks very nice … one issue is that it requires something plugged into the dock connector. I wonder if there is a pass through so you could also connect the VGA or HDMI cable? Once we get AirPlay working in podiums that will be less of an issue, but that work is ongoing … lots of hurdles to jump until we can get an Apple TV in the podium to enable AirPlay … but when we do, that will be very nice.

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