Guest Post: GoodNotes in the Math Classroom

Tom Kunkle, an Associate Professor of Mathematics at CofC, and all-around good guy, writes here about his experiences with GoodNotes in the Math Classroom. For instruction, he balances the tech gamut from chalk to the iPad, and (spoiler alert) the technology does not necessarily win out in the end.


Of all the applications we saw during the FTI institute last May, GoodNotes is my favorite. I’ve used in class in MATH 220, 203, and outside of class in MATH 111 and 203.

I generally use chalk in class. I think my handwriting is most legible on a blackboard, and a blackboard displays a huge amount of information at one time. On top of that, I enjoy all the motion involved in using the blackboard and feel awkward whenever I’m forced to stand in one spot in the front of class.

That said, there are times when I want to show the class a slide I’ve prepared. For instance, sometimes a computer-generated graph illustrates something that I couldn’t possible achieve by hand. With GoodNotes, I can take whatever slides I’ve prepared in pdf format, project them on the screen, and add handwritten notes to the slide. It’s like writing on a transparency except that when I’m done I’ve got a document that I can share with the class by posting it on my webpage. Adding notes to slides during class time, has taken some practice, but I’ve gotten to where I can do it reasonably well, and when I don’t, my students seem to get a chuckle out of it.

This went particularly well on the last day of MATH 203, when I reached a subject that I really love because it’s connected to my area of research. I went through several slides on the subject using GoodNotes and I’d say it was best presentation I’ve made of that example, as well as the smoothest use of GoodNotes that semester.

I’ve used GoodNotes outside of class to write long hand-written documents (such as exam solutions). I typeset all of my exams, but typing solutions (which are several times longer than an exam) takes me forever, and I prefer to handwrite these. Before GoodNotes, I wrote solutions in pen, which necessitated a lot of physical cutting and pasting, and then scan the result into pdf format, which I then post on my webpage. With GoodNotes, I can create the handwritten document directly on the iPad. To get the document in pdf format on my laptop, I export it from GoodNotes to my Dropbox account, then lift it from there to the my MacBook.

There are pros and cons with writing in GoodNotes. The pros, of course, are that one can erase one’s mistakes, cut and paste electronically, and export the result to pdf format. The cons, for me at least, are that I can’t write as neatly and quickly in GoodNotes as I can in pen and paper, and I can’t draw nearly so well in GoodNotes. When I draw a figure in pen, I do it over a pencil sketch, which I erase when I’m done. There’s a way to replicate this on the iPad, but the end result still doesn’t look nearly as good as what I can accomplish with pen and paper.

Although I’m a huge fan of using GoodNotes in class, I’ve decided after many trials that, with my handwriting, the cons of using GoodNotes to create documents outweigh the pros, and I’ve gone back to writing them with pen and paper. (Sorry trees!)

I really enjoyed the FTI and learned a lot from it. Thanks to everyone at TLT and my fellow participants for making it a great experience.

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