Digital handwriting for teachers

Digital handwriting for teachers

We live in a world of slick ICT where teachers spend hours crafting slick and perfectly produced handwritten PowerPoints, handouts, documents and resources. I would like to show how to create handwritten digital resources.

Teachers can create handwritten resources using a phone or tablet especially if it is a device that supports active pen input for greater control and precision. Here is a summary of how I have experiemented with creating digital handwritten resources over the last five years.

Ipad

It has been a while since I last used IOS but I landed a job at my current school using an Ipad 2, a cheap microknit fibre stylus and the GoodNotes or Notability inking apps. The Ipad 2 does not support active pen input but microknit styluses have minimal friction for a capacitive pen and both apps have a zoom in option that allowed me to write big crayon sized text that was reduced in size to become neatly formed handwriting when viewed in the document. My finished worksheets would be exported into PDFs to be shared with students using Email, as a shared Evernote link or via a VLE.

This is a note I created using GoodNotes on my Ipad 2.

Samsung Note 10.1/ Note 3

I moved on the Android powered Note series to use the S-pen which is an active stylus using Wacom digitisers to offer greater control and precision compared with capacitive pens. It is the difference between writing in crayon and using a ball point pen. The workflow was similar to creating digital handwritten notes on my Ipad but I used different software and explored a range of note taking tools including S-Note, Squid(formerly Papyrus) and more recently Fii Note. I really like the facility in Android to share my finished document to any other application including Email without leaving the note taking app.

The Note 3 is a large 5.7 inch phablet which is a very large for a phone but it can still be too small and fiddly for meaningful work but that is mitigated by the convenience of having this device in my pocket at all times. The Note 10.1 is a better size but it no longer receives updates and is running out of storage space so its main use is as a games device for my seven year old son. FiiNote has an excellent zoom in feature that magnifies the screen, treats inked letters as wordprocessed characters for spacing , cursor control and deletions. FiiNote also guides inking entry so the screen moves left to right as you draw words on the screen.

I created dozens of resources using my Note devices over the last three years. This is a note I created on my Note 3 using FiiNote a few months ago.

Surface 3

I recently acquired a Surface 3 laptop/ tablet convertible. The experience of writing with the surface pen on the screen is the most comfortable experience I have had to date as far as writing on a screen is concerned. The device is light to hold and 10.8 inches is a good size for writing notes without sacrificing portability. Writing on a screen with a stylus is not the same tactile sensation as taking notes on paper but it looks like ink written from my own hand and the pressure sensitivity adds an extra level of nuance and authenticity. It looks like my handwriting but so do my documents written on my Samsung Note devices. The surface pen uses Ntrig active pen technology which is similar to Wacom technology in terms of precision and control and I love the smooth appearance of inked text in OneNote, which has now replaced Evernote as my universal capture and digital filing tool. I have an surface pen active stylus which is powered by batteries unlike the S-Pen. My surface pens have a bluetooth button which intiates OneNote with one click and two clicks start a screen capture. The pen is a £45 extra purchase but the Surface provides a friction free workflow for creating digital handwritten notes, which I can share with students because each notebook is updated and synchronised to a web based location, complete with an address that can be shared to students and colleagues.

I am still becoming familiar with notetaking on my Surface 3 but here is an example of a document I recently created for my students using this new device.

Smartboard

My classroom has a Smartboard, which is the brand of interactive whiteboard I have encountered at my last three schools. A projector displays my computer screen, which I control by touching or using pens from the tray of the large whiteboard upon which the image is projected. Smart Ink allows me to annotate any website or screen I am showing and the Smart Notebook software is an easy way of writing notes on slides which I can save for later use but it is not a good workflow for sharing resources with students. Students need to have a viewer to open the Smart Notebook files or I have to go through the extra steps of exporting my notes into a PDF, which is tend emailed or uploaded to a VLE. Smartboard is a great capture tool that may already be available to teachers but it is rotten as a seamless, friction free sharing tool, compared with OneNote or Evernote.

Write on Paper and Scan

It is perfectly possible to create digital handwritten notes without investing in expensive tablets or phones to run inking apps. One possibility I have experimented with is to write notes on paper and then to scan them using my Doxie One Scanner.

Another approach is to use a phone. Modern smartphones have excellent cameras for capturing high resolution images of written content on paper sheets or whiteboards, which can then be shared with students as image files or PDFs.

Whatever device or technology setup you have provides plenty of opportunities for a teacher or student to create a digital inking workflow, although the experience works best on devices that have active pen support whether it is a Samsung Note or Microsoft Surface. I have not tried the newer Ipads that make use of the Apple Pencil as an active pen and I am sure the experience is comparable.

My next post will look at the pros and cons of creating digital handwritten notes and I will argue that it complements other digital tools and resources available to students and educators.

Links

  1. Goodnotes 4 Ipad inking app 
  2. Friendly Swede microknit capacitive stylus
  3. FiiNote Android inking app for Note 3/10.1
  4. Doxie One Scanner
  5. Samsung Note 3 Phablet
  6. Samsung Note 10.1 Tablet
  7. Microsoft Surface 3
  8. Microsoft Surface Pen
Embracing OneNote and ditching Evernote

Embracing OneNote and ditching Evernote

I try to be paper free as much as possible because loose sheets of paper are a problem and I never know what to do with them. I have managed this issue for the last 8 years by relying on information archived in my ever expanding Gmail inbox and using Evernote as an online digital filing cabinet. Between the two services I have created a massive, searchable compost heap of data that stores all my important work and life digital documents, notes and snippets.

I have archived everything from passports, journal entries, workshop notes, teacher plans, resources, bills, insurance documents, payslips, receipts, clipped webpages and anything that I can scan or capture from my computer, phone or tablet.

I have recently moved from Evernote to OneNote for a number of reasons.

Save Money

I am a teacher and have just paid £65 for a 4 year subscription to Office 365 University. This allows me to install the latest version of MS Office on two Windows or Mac computers and I get 1 TB of OneDrive Storage included as part of the package. OneNote is an MS Office application which stores and syncs notes between all my devices and platforms using OneDrive. OneNote offers similar ubiquitous digital capture and storage but I do not need to pay any additional money for this service. Evernote Premium is £34.99 a year or £3.99 a month.

Better Workflow

I have recently purchased a Surface 3 tablet running Windows 10. While Evernote works well enough in Windows, I find OneNote is a better tool for capturing and writing notes on my tablet. I am using OneNote the stripped down universal app and OneNote 2016. Both applications support native inking using the Surface Pen and I can save new content into OneNote from any piece of software using the print tool. OneNote is supported as a virtual print destination. Evernote offers a print to Evernote feature in OSX but the Windows version lacks this option although automated workflows can be setup to achieve the same result.

OneNote Works at School

OneNote 2013 is installed at my school so I can use it with my classes. I do not have administrative privileges to install Evernote and I can only use EN on school computers using the web version. My classroom has a SmartBoard and I have found that I can use OneNote as a decent alternative to the Smart Notebook software which is bundled with interactive whiteboard. I can share content with students using Smart Notebook but I have to export and save my notes. New notes on OneNote are added to a notebook, which is synced and shared automatically to students who have been given the link. Integrating OneNote and the Smartboard is worthy of its own blog post.

A Few Caveats

OneNote is not perfect. It was problematic exporting 10000 notes from Evernote to OneNote but I only had to get this working once by exporting my notes in sections, a thousand at a time.

Evernote seems to sync quicker than Onenote and the OCR search facility does not always find my old buried, archived content. New OneNote content is naturally added to the bottom of a notebook, which is counter intuitive to me after working with Evernote’s stack model for eight years. New notes in Evernote are added to the top.

In spite of these minor issues, I am happy to have a tool I can use at home or school and it largely meets my needs as far as continuing my digital paperless-ish life.

Notes from the digital chalkface

Notes from the digital chalkface

I am an IT and Computer Science secondary teacher based in the UK and have spent the last twenty years playing with digital tools to figure out how to harness them for learning, work, entertainment, creativity and life in general.

I have worked as a school teacher all around the world and have held a variety of roles including a head of department and I have worked on a number of school based projects including developing and maintaining a reporting assessment system using MS Access, self writing report comments and a couple of self hosted Moodle sites.

During my fifteen year career as a teacher, I have played with a number of digital tools and I have witnessed the emergence of more and more ubiquitous technologies including broadband Internet, smartphones, tablets, apps, streaming, social media and web powered software. My emphasis has changed because I am now a single father raising my young son, watching him encounter and absorb these tools as he grows up.

I enjoy playing with technology and I like writing. I have had a blog before and I am kicking off this project to add value by sharing some of the tools, ideas, methods and experiences which I have as a teacher, parent and enthusiast.

This blog will be notes from the digital chalkface.