1: Digital Note Taking and Pencasting

In this episode, we talk with Casey Raymond, the 2017 winner of the President’s Award for Teaching Excellence at the State University of New York at Oswego, about his use of an iPad to create, display, and disseminate live digital notes in his chemistry classes.

Show Notes

  • Adonit Stylus – A variety of styli, recommended by Casey and John. The clear plastic tip variant gives you precise information on location (but be sure to keep the tip clean or it may scratch the surface of your tablet). The bluetooth variants are more expensive, but provide accurate control and pressure sensitivity.
  • Apple Pencil – A pressure sensitive bluetooth stylus made by Apple that works only with the iPad Pro (recommended by John)
  • Econocast.net – A collection of pencasts created by James Murray and John Nunley for 6 economics classes
  • Goodnotes 4– The Goodnotes app, available only for iOS
  • How to Create a Pencast – A 1/24/2017Teaching in Higher Edpodcast on Pencasting
  • Livescribe – A commonly used tool for more traditional pencasts.
  • Sensu artist brush – A brush stylus that simulates a paintbrush.


Rebecca:Today’s guest is Casey Raymond, the acting director of the Honors Program, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Geochemistry, and recent recipient of the President’s Award for Teaching Excellence at the State University of New York at Oswego. Welcome Casey.

Casey: Hi Rebecca and John

Rebecca: Today our teas are:

John: English afternoon

Casey: Elderflower Roobios

Rebecca: Jasmine green tea.

Rebecca: I know that you’ve been using your iPad in interesting ways to engage your students. Can you tell us a little bit about this?

Casey: So I’ve been using my iPad for teaching lecture and writing my notes live for the students for probably the last seven years now. Originally, though, I started with a graphics tablet. The difficulty with the graphics tablet was that I couldn’t see what I was writing at the pen tip. it was plastic on plastic. So when the second generation of iPads came out and they would project everything and I could connect them to the digital system, I was happy to shift because then I could see at the pen tip, live, what I was writing.

Rebecca: Can you describe what the experience is like for students while you’re doing your kind of live notes.

Casey: So, the experience would be similar to someone using a document camera and writing with a pen on paper or really even writing at the chalkboard or on the whiteboard. I’m writing as I talk, as I present information. I’m just writing now on the iPad and it’s projecting. There’s a very small lag between what I’m writing and what the students see, really less than a second but you know it’s no worse than me writing at the whiteboard and then stepping out of the way so they can see what I’ve just written. And the advantage, though, doing it this way is that, with the app that I use, Notes Plus (and other apps I’m sure will do this), – it’s the one I’ve settled on I can export the file as a PDF or in other formats and share with the students, whether it was a student that missed class that day for an athletic event or some other university event or they were just sick they can see what I wrote. What I do now is I just keep updating the file in blackboard for any student in the class to see if they want to go back and try and redraw a figure that I drew because I’ve had a lot more practice drawing these figures, or check the math from a problem… you know they don’t have it quite written down in their notes or all the steps. They can go back and see exactly what I wrote. It’s not a substitute for their own notes, because I don’t write everything down that I say, but it does serve as an additional tool and resource for them to go back to.

John: And it also has the advantage, perhaps of letting them see the process of working through it because if you just put things on Powerpoints or some other presentation they’d see it as a fait accompli and they wouldn’t have a chance to see how the ideas devolve or the equations develop and and that’s part of it.

Casey: The other part of it is when I first started teaching I did do some things with PowerPoint, and the ability of students to keep up with PowerPoint isn’t so great… or they just say “well, okay, that’s all I need to know” whereas this way you know I’m writing basically at the same pace that they’re writing so hopefully they’re keeping track of their notes all the way along… and then I’ve got a digital record as well.

Rebecca: And you’re slowing down for the non-expert?

Casey: Yeah, one other benefit that I encountered a couple years after starting this was I had a lot of students that did poorly on an exam, and the comments that I was hearing was, “we never saw questions like this,” and I knew better, but I was able to go back through my digital record of notes and find the exact pages in the file that had almost identical questions and so I went into class and I said, “so okay people are concerned about the midterm and the questions. Which question, students?” “Well we never saw anything like question six.” I said “okay,” so I put up question six and then I pulled off that page in the notes and I got some pretty long faces by students I said so what else? They gave me another problem. Same situation. By the third question they pretty much quit asking more and, well, realized that it wasn’t that foreign… and so with that digital record, unlike a whiteboard or chalkboard, it was very easy to go back. “Yep, here it is.” How the students responded to using this technique… I think, by and large, the students have liked it. They’ve embraced it. Occasionally in class I will have students working on problems. It might be different rows working on different questions and I’ll tell them come up share your answer. That’s always an experience because they haven’t had very much practice, if any, writing on the iPad or writing digitally like this and there is a little bit of practice that’s required to do it neatly and cleanly in an organized way. That’s the one hurdle I think there is. To other people doing this, is there is a little bit of time to get comfortable with doing this digitally.

John: How do you share the recordings with them?

Casey: So, I don’t right now have what I would call a live recording with audio and in processed text like a movie. Right now, all I do is share it as a PDF file as an electronic notebook basically. Particularly with the new iOS 11 and the ability to do screen recording on the iPad, I kind of want to play with that to see if there are ways and if it’s effective to make in effect short movies and video tutorials to help work through solutions. I have done that some in the past with a graphics tablet- plugged into a computer and QuickTime and recorded sessions and I still use some of those movies and so in that case I am recording audio and the strokes as it’s being written out and can walk through a problem.

John: One nice feature of sharing it as a PDF is they can skim through directly and easily to the point that they need to go back and review it, I imagine.

Casey: Yeah, exactly. And it’s just page by page and I date each day’s lecture so it’s easy to hop through and by posting it just as one file that continuously gets bigger and bigger they always have everything.

Rebecca: Have you seen learning gains as a result of of this technique or is it more kind of customer satisfaction?

Casey: You know I’m it’s hard to say, I’ve never done the sort of control group experiment where I did all Powerpoints instead of this or I did only chalkboard instead of this I certainly have received a fair amount of positive feedback from students of having the ability to go to notes, go back and look at these files. I know some just keep printing it out and having it as a supplement to their notes. The one thing that does surprise me a little bit especially with the first-year students is how reluctant they are to actually go use it as a resource. You know when I asked them “did you go back and look at the notes?” “Well, no I didn’t know I could,” it’s right there in Blackboard, go look at it.”It usually takes them a few weeks and then they catch on and start using it.

Rebecca: Is the perception because they think it’s like cheating or something?

Casey: I’ve never really gotten a good answer, or you know understanding why they’re reluctant to actually look at the notes that I post. That’s why they’re there.
Rebecca: Do you have any tips for how to help others who might want to get started?

Casey: I think the besides, you know, getting the tablet that does it and an app that does it, the key thing is finding a stylus that’s comfortable to you and that writes smoothly. Anybody can reach out and ask me. I’ve got several versions, I think John’s got some versions. Build on our experience. But after that it really is practice, and once you are comfortable just doing it as practice without projecting it it’s just a simple act of plugging the device into our projection system and it’s the same. So if you’re comfortable doing it just locally on your device you can use it in lecture easily.

Rebecca: Great, we’ll make sure we put this stuff in show notes.

John: We’ll share some of the resources. One thing I’d recommend for people using an iPad Pro is the the new Apple Pencil that has lag which is measured in milliseconds.

Casey: …and I will say that I’ve played with an Apple Pencil a little bit and I recognize there’s little lag, but they seem top-heavy to me compared to other styli that I’ve used. The way I’ve described it to others is if you remember writing with a pencil that had one of the huge giant eraser covers on the top- that’s what it feels like to me. Now others might not notice and it might be comfortable but that was my initial impression of the Apple Pencil as they’re top-heavy.

John: So what what equipment would someone use for this- they need a tablet.

Casey: So I’m using an iPad you need a tablet. You need a stylus. You need an app that will allow you to record this writing and then some way to output it with the Apple iPads you need an adapter to go from lightning to HDMI and then a cable to plug it into our Advanced technology classrooms. So depending on the device, if you’re using a Windows surface it might be a little different but whatever you need to get to an HDMI cable- that’s it.

John: And one other possibility is as as we’ve talked about a little bit prior to this is using an Apple TV, where you can wirelessly project to it and then you become much more mobile in the classroom so you could wander anywhere and share the advice more easily without worrying about the cables or dongles disconnecting.

Casey: Exactly, and at this point I’m still doing the hardwired connection but I’m definitely intrigued with this idea of using the Apple TV in the front of the classroom and then being able to just wander the classroom and be untethered, and really be able to- for student work group work set the device down and from them said here share your answer.

Rebecca: What a great startup guide. So that all leads us to asking you what are you going to do next?

Casey: The simple thing that as far as next on this is is playing with the new operating system and learning how to use the device and my app and develop short tutorial movies working through problems. I know other faculty at other campuses have been doing it for several years through a computer. You get the fourth or fifth question from a student about a problem, then it’s probably time to make a short video and just post it for everybody because there’s probably others that have it too.

Rebecca: Great! Thanks so much for joining us, Casey.

Casey: You’re welcome.

John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts, and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.