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In the perfect scenario everyone in my class would use the same cloud apps that I use - Google Docs - and we would all save time writing the basics, not to mention we'd all benefit from key details that is harder to be missed by everyone in the group

I'm talking about a group of around 6 people - me included - to which I want to suggest a collaborative deal of taking notes during lectures but I'm not sure how. It's very likely that most of them will continue using pen&paper so it's not a matter of setting a standard app or software.

What is the best approach to implement this?


  • I always take the laptop to classes, unlike all the others in the group.
  • Most of them will probably continue using paper&pen.

Solutions so far

  • The rest of them only take note of what they think is important. I'd be in charge of organizing and copying whatever is dictated. Afterwards, I'd organize everything in a single document properly adressing who wrote what. Similar informations would be up for discussions and each one of us would customize our own way. The problem about this solution are the classes that I happen to miss.
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Thought so, but was unsure, thanks for editing it in. I think that the reason they would continue using pen & paper is because note taking can be different from person to person; some write more or less down than you, some include details on the board or from the teacher. Not to mention the collaborative note size and discussions about what is important. Also, a collaborative environment might not always be feasible to write personal side notes at home when studying or summarizing, tha latter can be done in collaboration but might not be feasible... – Tom Wijsman Oct 7 '11 at 23:39
Can you record lectures that you miss for transcribing later? – Jeanne Boyarsky Oct 8 '11 at 2:13
@Jeanne I'm pretty sure it's possible with a recording-only device. – Renan Oct 8 '11 at 15:48
@Renan Smile. Of course it's possible. I was trying to suggest it for those lectures :). – Jeanne Boyarsky Oct 8 '11 at 21:28
@Hauser I think the close vote is because the question is "what is the best approach" which is subjective. I think this question is fine because it is still more answer based as Tom illustrated from a clear technique answer. (And the close vote isn't mine.) – Jeanne Boyarsky Oct 8 '11 at 21:29
up vote 4 down vote accepted

You should really go for simultaneous note taking; whether it's Google Docs or something Wave, OneNote, MoonEdit, Gobby, SubEthaEdit, UNA Collaborative or whatever fits your group's style.

I think that up to 3 persons should be simultaneously note taking given that if you add more people they'll just be duplicating or interrupting each other; so, if you have trust on each other's note taking skills you might switch turns with each other. Or, you could form two groups of 3 persons, then battle and compare.

Afterwards, you could collaboratively discuss whether sections you wrote are important or not. I would heavily oppose to doing this by yourself as you will be introducing a single point of failure, you will waste a lot of time on it and might burn out or make mistakes along the progress and you don't want others to blame you for that. Of course, I don't know the course's size, so it might be feasible but in general I think it's not...

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If you have a good scanner and software you should be able to turn your copies into digital copies. If they have good enough handwriting it might be able to turn their writing into text. You'll want a good auto-feed scanner so you can just set the stack of papers on the scanner and do them all at once. I have an OfficeJet 6500 which works great for this. It will turn all the pages into a single PDF.

Another alternative is for everyone to get digital pens (e.g. IOGEAR). The pen will be able to turn whatever they write/draw into an image file. They cost around $50 but you might be able to find one cheaper. I've used a digital pen especially in math classes to do my homework.

To put it all together I would recommend Onenote. You can also "print" any document you want to Onenote.

If you professor allows recordings, have someone take a recorder or camera to class (maybe built in to a phone or laptop) so you won't miss anything when not there.

If you have to manually transcribe the notes you can trade notes and have each person transcribe another person's notes. This will help you all learn the material from another point of view and divide up the work.

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I would recommend OneNote for the following reasons.

  1. It has a desktop app and webapp so you don't HAVE to be online to use it. You can also use it with paper (see 3)
  2. Sharing settings to share directly from the native application with other people via the web app.
  3. It has fantastic OCR functionality built in for pictures of typed documents as well as hand written. I used OneNote 2003 on a tablet for a couple years in college and found it to be almost as easy as paper. My problems were sensitivity of hardware typically. You would then scan hand written notes and import them into OneNote for everyone else to see.
  4. There are OneNote apps for iOS devices and Windows Phone 7 devices. No Android to my knowledge, but I you can still view notes via the web app.
  5. If other people do bring their laptop you can collaboratively take notes during class. I don't remember where this is in 2010, but I used to do it with 2003 and 2007. We had one master note tab for the main outline (someone was in charge of this) and then everyone else had individual tabs to write notes we found interesting.

There are lots of other apps you can use, but short I have found OneNote to be the most flexible when you are trying to manage typed documents and hand written. A couple of downsides would be if people use Android devices or Macs as there are no native clients and they are forced to use the web interface.

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I take as many of my notes as possible using a laptop or iPad, but when I'm stuck using paper I later either scan these paper notes and send them to my Evernote account. I'll either use something like CamScanner for the iPhone or our office copier that allows me to email a scanned image in PDF format directly to Evernote. I haven't tried to collaborate using Evernote, but it's discussed in this article:

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Use Evernote to store and share data. For real paper notes, I use CamScanner Android app (there are many other similar) with which you can very easily scan your notes in great quality and in a sec upload to Evernote and even have search capability on your notes, etc. Evernote can be run on every platform that have more than like 0.5% users so everyone can use it.

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