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Apr 05


Posted by John Kuckens in Graduate Admissions on Apr 05, 2014

Ironic, really. Here I am, the graduate student blogger, and I have to say that I truly prefer a pencil and paper approach to note-taking in class. You’d think I’d be multitasking on several devices at once while sipping down foamy macchiatos. The truth is, as much as I love new gadgets and technology, I just get too distracted by all of the bells and whistles, and I know I would be off task in seconds while taking notes. The facebook app, NPR music app… there is just too much distraction! Call it old-fashioned, or call it self-restraint, but I am clearly in the minority on this one because several of my fellow graduate students use laptops or tablets to take notes in class at some point in the year.

So, what exactly are they using? What are the advantages? What are the drawbacks? I have been paying closer attention lately and have also been asking around a little. Here’s what I’m finding:


I’ve mostly seen Macbooks or Macbook Pros in class. Fellow students report that their school provides them a Macbook Pro via the DOE, for use at home and in school for writing reports, lesson planning, and making materials. It would make sense to see some teachers are using them here in class. I own a Macbook Pro, but I am scared of dropping it in transit to class - that thing was pricey after all.


For note taking on the MacBook Pro or Apple laptop, it seems MS Word is most popular, but others report using Pages or Notepad. One graduate student remarked that “MS word is easy enough, and I just have one file with all the class notes for the semester.” Another used Pages because it is less cluttered looking on the screen. Another grad student I asked uses Google Docs, because it is accessible via Google Drive at all times. She said she can “use [her] ipad in class and then have the notes ready on her laptop at home.”

When discussing specifics of an assignment due, students will often be able to type notes and ideas into their document, rather than transferring notes from class - that’s one clear advantage to using your laptop! However I’ve also heard, and agree with, the fact that it is distracting to have all of your personal files so easily accessible - especially other assignments which are due soon, or photos from last weekend, and most distractingly, access to Facebook.

I haven’t seen any PC laptops this semester, but I think someone had one last year. They were always searching for an outlet to charge it with, which was a big drawback considering we don’t really “plant” ourselves in Bank Street graduate school classes - often we’re moving around or splitting into different groups. One clear advantage of the MacBooks in this realm is battery life - no charger necessary during class!  

iPad vs. Surface:

I have yet to see or talk to any graduate student with a SurfacePro at Bank Street. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to use one. The Surfaces are nicely built and come with what is basically a fully functioning computer. A friend of mine who is in an MBA program at Pace has grown to like hers, although it had a bit of a learning curve to get a hang of the operating system. There is a note taking program on it where you can write with a pen and it is converted into text for you - pretty neat! Another cool thing is the ability to multi-task. You can have a PDF file open alongside a window where you are writing notes, something the iPad certainly cannot do.

But despite it’s multi-tasking limitations, the iPad seems to be king here at Bank Street. Either mini or full sized, it is without a doubt the most popular technological sidekick for the Bank Street graduate student. One of my professors uses one too. For those those with Macbooks or Mac desktops at home, and an iPad for class, the syncing of calendars and mail accounts is very smooth. The iPad has apps instead of installed programs. Note taking app options include Notepad, Google Drive, and Pages. A few others that come in handy are “Easy Annotate” for highlighting and putting notes on PDF files, iBooks, Google Drive, and dropbox.

One graduate student remarked that “I use google drive so my notes stay saved in google docs, that way I can access them from other devices and they won’t get lost, torn, or have coffee spilled on them.” That’s a great point. I definitely have some class notes with the telltale brown ring of coffee cup stain on them.

The major disadvantage for the iPad is the onscreen keyboard. While some are used to it, others turn to cases with attached keyboards keep screen space big and be easier on the hands. Next week’s technology post will talk about which of those case/keyboard attachments are popular for Bank Street’s graduate students.

tagged graduate school, graduate school classes, list, technology
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