I began using the Notability app when I started requesting digital materials in high school (read more about why here) because I wanted a way to be able to access assignments on my iPad, not just my laptop. While my laptop is awesome (read my post on it here), it cannot be balanced in one hand or be carried around the classroom easily. Luckily, my school’s educational technology specialist helped me research the best note taking and document editing apps on iPad, and found that Notability worked great for my needs, and it has continued to be one of my most used apps in college. Here’s my full Notability app review- why you need to use Notability in the classroom, how to set it up, and how it revolutionized how I receive accessible large print materials for my IEP and disability services file in college- read more about setting that up here.
What is Notability?
Notability by Ginger Labs is an iPad productivity app that allows users to draw, write, and annotate documents and photos. While the content of the original file can’t be altered from within the app, it’s a great solution for completing assignments in the classroom as a result of this. Besides being able to annotate documents, users can also use it as a note taking app. It costs a one-time fee of $9.99 and all functions are included, though some themes are available as an in-app purchase. Download it here on the App Store.
Notability can link to different cloud storage apps to retrieve documents. I have accounts with Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox, and I’ve never had any issues retrieving documents from here. Users must have the cloud storage apps installed on their iPad in order for this function to work. My high school preferred that students use Dropbox or Google Drive, while my college professors have a preference for OneDrive or copying PDFs from the Blackboard Classroom app.
How to input a document
From a cloud storage software
To input a document from a cloud storage software, select the box icon with the arrow pointing down, the center icon on the right side. From there, select which service to use, and then Notability will open the desired app so the user can select which document to use. After the document is selected, it will redirect to the Notability app to be imported into the software and edited.
From another app
To input a document from another app, such as Blackboard or Google Chrome, use the “share” button for the web browser or other app with a PDF or .docx file opened. From there, select “copy to Notability.” The app will then redirect to Notability and allow the user to edit the document from there.
To export a document, select the box with the arrow pointing upwards from within the document editor, and then choose what app to save it to. I usually choose to email my files directly to my teachers, but users can also save completed documents to the cloud storage app of their choice. Files are also saved on the iPad itself (unless they are deleted) and users can upload the files to other services by going into the file manager on the iPad and selecting the Notability folder.
There are several different color themes to choose from for Notability, though some of them are paid- I prefer to use the dark theme/night mode as it easier on my eyes. There is also an option to add colored tabs to subjects and notes in order to distinguish them easier, and I strongly recommend doing this. For more on how colored backgrounds impact the readability of text, read this post here.
When a document is open, the user can choose to type, draw, or highlight on top of the document. There are several pen and highlighter colors available, and users can decide the weight of the pen tip. Users can also tap anywhere to insert text and resize the font and text box as needed. I tend to just use my finger when drawing or adding data, but others may prefer using a stylus. I have used the Pencil by FiftyThree stylus for math assignments and had great results with it. Users can also connect an external keyboard using Bluetooth, but I prefer the onscreen keyboard on the iPad.
While the app doesn’t use dynamic text, Notability’s layout is quick to master, even if there isn’t large print. I had trouble using the toolbar zoomed in, so I quickly memorized the layout of the toolbar and the location of different functions. However, documents and photos can easily be enlarged from within the app, and most functions can be accomplished with three taps on the screen- no complex menus here. Read more about what makes an accessible app accessible here.
Tips for teaching low vision users
When first learning Notability, I spent a lot of time just exploring the app and learned how to use it that way. For students who are not technology savvy, I would recommend connecting the iPad to a larger screen to learn the layout of the toolbar and basic functions of the app. Start by going over how to input and export documents, then how to draw, highlight, and add text. The app uses standard iPad gestures, e.g pinch to zoom in, so users will not find it difficult to navigate the app itself.
Notability is a feature-rich note taking app that has truly thought of everything. Users can add media to their documents such as pictures, charts, sticky notes, and links to external content- even gif files from Giphy are supported. Files can be exported as PDF, RTF, and Notability’s native format. This means that file conversion is a breeze- a document can be input as a .docx file and exported as a PDF.
What I’ve used it for
I use Notability inside and outside the classroom. Some examples include:
⁃ Doing a chemistry assignment that involved writing complex symbols
⁃ Filling out a testing form for the disability services testing center- read more about it here
⁃ Writing out my thought process for a math problem
⁃ Doing a science lab- read more about science projects here
⁃ Typing on a history worksheet
⁃ Making my music easier to read- more on making music accessible here
⁃ Inputting a map of the Metro system and annotating it- read more about the Metro cars here
A note on shared folders
When I was in high school, the educational technology specialist created a shared folder that my teachers could add work to, and I would save the finished assignments to this folder. This worked very well, though we ran into occasional issues, such as when two files had the same name, or when a teacher would put something in the wrong folder, or delete it by mistake. This system worked very well though, and everyone found it easy to use.
How my professors have reacted
My teachers and professors love Notability. It’s easy to just drop an assignment in the folder or email it to me, and just have me send it back. When I use it for exams, I submit the finished assignment, the professor confirms it is submitted, and then they watch me delete the file off my iPad.
Integrating with Microsoft
Notability integrates wonderfully with the Microsoft apps on my iPad, and I’ve found that is my favorite way to use it. I’ve scanned PDFs in using Office Lens (review here) and annotated them with Notability. I’ve also made documents more accessible in Word (more on that here) before importing them into Notability.
OneNote vs Notability
When it comes to choosing the OneNote app vs Notability, I use both an equal amount. I find it easier to type on the OneNote app and organize my notes into notebooks, so I use that for taking notes in my classes. If I have to work with a document or complete classwork, I use Notability because I find it easier to draw and write on files- though I often add exported Notability documents to my OneNote notebooks. For more on OneNote, read this post here.
I love Notability and can’t believe I hadn’t written a whole post about how awesome it is yet (read my first post on it here). It is feature-rich, yet easy to use. It can easily be integrated into the classroom as a way for students to complete assignments in accessible formats such as large print. It also can be used for any grade level, from elementary school all the way to college classes. Every student should use it, especially those who receive accessible materials!