Monday, 25 June 2012

Lecture Note Taking App - What Makes Good Lecture Notes

I have conducted an extremely informal survey with friends about what makes for good lecture notes and about the very purpose of taking lecture notes.

Firstly it would seem that, as most of the time the lecture slides are provided, like me most of my friends don't actually take much in the way of lecture notes. At best the provided slides will be annotated during lectures. It is only really during subjects where no notes are provided that note taking actually takes place. It was generally felt that it was better to be able to pay more attention in lectures rather than spend time writing down everything that is either put up or is said by the lecturer.

The principles I have derived for notes are:
  1. The purpose of lecture notes is to aid revision and to provide reference material for assignments.
  2. Lecture notes are a summary of the topics covered in lectures.
  3. Notes are not necessarily completed in lectures
  4. It should be easy to find particular topics and areas in notes (aka Notes are well indexed)
The goal of this app is to make good notes. The design of the app is intended to encourage the user to create good notes and to use them for later reference and study. This means that as well as pleasing our primary persona Andrew, I need to create a design that addresses these points.

I admit I already have a design in mind, but I would like your feedback, ideally prior to seeing what design I currently have in mind. What would you add to or change about these principles regarding good notes?

The best answer in the comments on this site will get a Steam code for Bastion.


  1. I'm not sure how to implement this sort of thing, but considering the features that most devices that use apps which would exist in a lecture have, I would love it if I could take photos during my notes (with zooming etc) to add visual aids. Same goes for recording snippets of audio. Considering we aren't just writing on paper it seems that you could take advantage of the features the devices contain to their full advantage and allow more visual and audio memory cues.

    1. Those are definitely things I was planning on taking advantage of. But I don't think they are necessary for good note taking.

      I think that they allow you to address point 2 a bit more easily. Though there is a cost to the searchability of notes (point 4).

    2. Agreed. As always, however, some sacrifices need to be made in order for projects to progress. Possibly allowing notes with tags to be used in order to allow these sorts to be findable, or levering voice-to-text or Document Reading software in order to somewhat map voice/images to text? Obviously this is getting to pie-in-the-sky land :D...

  2. aiya lost my comment

    Need to be able to put diagrams in - that could be awesome. Not sure how easy that is to do.

  3. At least for all the courses I took when I was a student, I could rely on the lecturer having at least a broad outline of all the things to be covered in the slides, and having those slides online before the lecture.

    That meant note taking was usually a "scribble explanations, elaborations and things that sounded important but weren't written down onto the slides" exercise. Annotation/expansion of the points that were already there. Really short scribbles, often definitions, things to look up, or important points that the lecturer hadn't written down.

    There were other subjects where the slides weren't available in advance, and there I'd just put the interesting bits down under headings, then typically lose that bit of paper before it came time to revise.

    A lot of my lecturers used to just put words or phrases on their slides and then explain what they meant and how they were important. This made the slides useless as a learning tool, but great for checking whether you could remember everything - essentially they had all the headings, but were missing the content. If that style of lecturing is commonplace and not just something that happened to me a lot (and something I do in my own lectures!) then annotation of slides with text/images/audio seems like the way to go.

    I couldn't tell you how generalisable that experience is, though. It would certainly have helped me. And it would probably be useful for my students now.

    In other situations what gets annotated to what might change - for example our Design Programming course has lecture slides with concepts and code snippets. The concepts are explained in place, but it might be useful to add notes to the code as the lecturer explains what's happening. Although perhaps not, as trying to grok a code snippet takes a lot of brain and stopping to write things might not happen. Or maybe it'll happen afterwards, in a kind of "Aha! I get it! I must write down what happens before this state of being passes!" way.

    1. I reckon this was the best answer on this post. I will send you a code for Bastion.