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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Use New Technology to Reinforce Instruction

Make Note of It: Using Online Note-Taking in the Classroom
Sandy Scragg

Even within our highly technology-infused world, note-taking still remains a highly-relevant skill both in and out of the classroom. However, it can seem somewhat passé to balance a notebook and pen on top of a keyboard. Word processors can be used for note-taking, but aren’t that much of a leap forward: there are still issues with retrieving the notes and integrating the files with web-based material. Now, new Internet services have made the note-taking process much easier to accomplish.

There are many online note-taking services available (see “50 Ways to Take Notes” for a long list of options), but a powerful combination is Google Docs with Google Notebook. Google Docs is an online replacement for a word processor--it does everything a word processor can, but since it’s an online application, also adds compelling perks, such as the ability to share resources, collaborate on documents, store material online, and access work from any computer. Google Notebook is a way to take notes on the fly--like interactive sticky pads. You can instantly jot down short notes while working or surfing the web. Google Notebook also integrates with your web browser to quickly save information found on the web with one click--a great research tool. Used in tandem, these two applications combine powerful features of word processors, while also being relevant to how students find and access information today.

So what are some of the advantages of taking and storing notes online? They are available to others: students taking notes can instantly share them with each other, with their teacher, with group members, and with parents. It can also work in reverse: teachers can share notes with students--a great way to keep absent students up-to-date with class work. Any cooperative work is now a snap--forget photocopying notes and printing out web pages. Not only can any collaborator read the original notes, they can make edits to it (if permission is granted by the original owner first) and pool resources to complete a finished team document. Online notes are also easily accessible; students can retrieve their items from any computer--at home or at school. Notes on research conducted at home can be accessed in class; notes taken in class can be accessed at home for studying.

Real-world skills, such as typing, listening and classroom note-taking, can be fostered. Teachers can practice research skills with students: summarizing, brainstorming, categorizing, organizing, and main ideas. Online notes also open up new possibilities for classroom collaborations and cooperative work. Groups can now truly author work as a team. Students can work together to share notes with the rest of the class--so knowledge is built from the students, rather than just top-down notes given verbatim by the teacher.

Of course, privacy settings are important. Google Docs and Notebook allow the original creator to act as administrator; users can pick and choose who has access to their work, and who can actually edit a document. These notes are not made public on the Internet without the permission of the original writer. Check the privacy settings first for any note-taking service you use--these issues are crucial when working with a student population.

See these links for more information on online notes and web note-taking services:

1) Google Docs online tour: http://google.com/google-d-s/tour1.html
2) Google Notebook online tour: http://google.com/googlenotebook/tour1.html    
3) “Taking Notes with Google Notebook”:
4) “Google Docs for Class Notes, Group Projects”: http://ericmacknight.com/wordpress/?p=67  
5) “7 Apps for Online Note Taking”:
6) “Online Note-Taking: Free Tools for Building Your Own Knowledge Base, Starting Now”: http://webcommunicate.net/notes

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail Sandy.


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