Academic designs new app to revolutionise revision


Students could be revising more efficiently than ever, thanks to new software designed by a senior lecturer at De Montfort University (DMU).

Alex Stothard, from the university’s Interior Design team, was inspired by research which showed that existing digital apps for notetaking can be detrimental to a student’s learning.

Alex Stothard
Alex Stothard, senior lecturer in Interior Design

He found that students who type notes directly into a digital device find it harder to interpret their meaning at a later date when compared with those who handwrite them.

Alex’s research showed that students benefit more from technology that enables them to efficiently store and manage their handwritten notes, opposed to interfering with the notetaking process.

“Notes are much more difficult to interpret when they have been typed in the first instance,” explained Alex. “And students often become distracted on their laptop or tablet.

“Studying for a degree takes three or four years so it’s important that students can record valuable information efficiently so they can revisit it later on.”

After conducting a literature review of notetaking methods and a product analysis of existing notetaking technology, Alex developed a new academic note management programme for the Higher Education sector, which he called ‘Notebuilder’.

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He presented the concept at the DMU Teaching Conference in 2017 and, after a successful TIP (Teaching Innovation Partnership) funding application, he began to develop a working prototype.

“Unlike other notetaking apps currently on the market, which get involved with how students make their notes, Notebuilder is a unique post-lecture programme which brings together all of the learning material from the taught session and encourages them to reinterpret the content to make it easier to revisit,” he said.

The app is based on the ‘Cornell Notetaking Method’, a widely-used system for collating, organising and storing notes. Traditionally it works by dividing paper into three sections – one for the student’s handwritten notes taken from the lecture, one for key points and questions, and one for a summary of what they have learnt.

Notebuilder Screenshot
The Notebuilder app is being trialled by DMU students

“I wanted to use technology to bring the Cornell method up to date,” said Alex. “The screen is broken down into three sections using a docking system and you can drag and drop items from the iPad or cloud storage. You can either type the key points and summary or use the dictation tool on your tablet. There is also a colour coding system to show what has or has not been completed.

“It is designed so that students can import all of the information they need and store it in one place – from handwritten notes and lecture slides, to images and factsheets. It can also be organised by modules and lectures and there is a window which indicates how much of the note-building process has been completed.”

Alex worked with Dr Eric Tatham, a former lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Informatics at DMU, to bring the Notebuilder app to life. He also consulted students in the development of the design, co-creating the look and feel to ensure the app was appealing to them.

Notebuilder Screensot 2
Notebuilder is a post-lecture app to help manage revision notes

The first working version of Notebuilder is now being trialled by a group of students at DMU and Alex has just received funding from the HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund) to test the BETA version – software that is generally considered ‘complete’ by the developer but still needs to be tested for its performance and to identify any issues.

Alex added: “This is a beautifully simple idea and there is nothing else out there like this – it is the first of its kind.”

Posted on Wednesday 15th May 2019

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