Running a math technology blog, I get requests for app reviews on a regular basis. One of the more innovative educational apps I’ve seen in recent months has been eNotebook, from WeLearn Educational Software. eNotebook is an app that turns your iPad into an electronic notebook, allowing you to use an iPad to write on PowerPoint, Word, and PDF files. I was very interested to learn that eNotebook was created by a current high school math teacher, who is also the founder of WeLearn, Kevin Giffhorn. Giffhorn was kind enough to answer a few questions for Tech Powered Math readers about his app and his vision for the future of note taking.
TPM: Why did you create eNotebook?
Giffhorn: I created eNotebook because of the lack of technology available for my students in the classroom. In my 15 years of teaching, I have seen my teaching style move from a chalkboard to overhead projector (allows me to save my notes, better utilize colors) to a whiteboard (can’t save notes but can better use colors) to an electronic whiteboard (best of all- I can now save my notes, use colors, and bring in anything from the computer). However, my students were still using the same spiral notebooks that their grandparents used. I saw eNotebook as allowing my students to have the same interactive whiteboard technology that teachers use.
TPM: What kind of feedback are you getting from students about eNotebook?
Giffhorn: The feedback has been very positive. During the three-month beta testing period, the student testers were invaluable in perfecting and fine-tuning the app. They really like the concept of having their teachers’ handouts in a digital format and keeping them organized by class. Additionally, the handwritten notes are also sorted by class and date. Several reviews on iTunes include comments like, “[I] don’t have to worry about spiral notebooks breaking or filling up” and also “This app is perfect for me as a college student. Being able to go over the PowerPoint on my iPad while the professor is doing the same or a PDF or Word document and being able to write my notes right on top is great.” Based on student and teacher feedback, we have already made several changes to the app with additional features on the way with later versions.
TPM: How are you able to balance a day job as a high school math teacher with WeLearn Educational Software?
Giffhorn: This one has proven to be a bit of a challenge. By teaching full-time and working with WeLearn Educational Software, I have had to optimize my time to meet both needs fully. It is not uncommon to work from 7am – 5pm, come home and eat some dinner, and then work on WeLearn Educational Software business from 7pm – 10pm. However, I believe this is an amazing opportunity to have a pivotal role in helping change the current paper-based classroom to the 21st century digital classroom that people have discussed for years. I am also very fortunate to have a wife with an MBA in Marketing who specializes in digital start-up companies and high-tech product launches. She is able to handle the marketing for eNotebook and WeLearn and allow me to focus on the eNotebook product and additional product developments.
TPM: Is your vision for eNotebook more as a supplement to traditional pencil and paper note taking or a replacement?
Giffhorn: Eventually, I see eNotebook replacing the paper and pencil just like my electronic whiteboard has replaced my chalkboard. As more and more teachers use electronic lesson plans and type their printed handouts, eNotebook users could download these files and help in several areas. By keeping a digital copy of the file, the school is saving money on paper and copier costs. Additionally, the completed handout is saved on the iPad in a digital format and cannot be crumpled into the bottom of a book bag or ripped out of a paper-based notebook. Lastly, by keeping these files in easily accessible class eNotebooks, students become better organized with date-stamped notes.
Giffhorn: I think the notebook twenty years from now will resemble the eNotebook app available today while incorporating various multimedia to enhance the curriculum. While the technology will change (I read an article about flexible LCD screens that seemed remarkable) and the interaction between the teacher’s digital handouts and the student’s digital notebooks will be seamless, it will still be the student’s responsibility to take notes that are appropriate and relevant to them. Twenty years from now a digital notebook on the American Revolution might include the student’s handwritten notes, a picture of George Washington crossing the Delaware River that plays a video depicting it when pressed, and student-created links to specific artifacts available digitally from the Library of Congress. However, these new components are only relevant if they help the student better comprehend the material. Technology’s role is to augment the curriculum, never overtake it, That is what I love about the eNotebook app—no matter the class, it helps the student better understand the current topics and never tries to overshadow the topics.