A new school year is upon us, and that can only mean one thing. Homework! The thought of it is still enough to send shivers up my spine even though I have been out of school for well over a decade. Today, instead of working on my own schoolwork, I help my children with theirs. It is now my son's lack of organization, rather than my own, that provides an endless font of frustration. Fortunately, the iPad is here to help.
Sadly, despite all my research, I haven't been able to find an app that actually does your homework for you. However, there are apps to help you get organized, take notes, track your classes, and even learn the material… just about everything you'd need to complete your homework on your own and succeed in school.
(Note: Unless otherwise indicated, these apps are available for all iOS devices.)
When I was in college years ago, my school published a simple day planner that just about everyone used to track their schedule and to-do list. I was struck by how much the iPad versions of these organizer apps mimicked the look and feel of those old paper planners.
This app brings the familiar format of a paper day planner into the 21st century, with quite a few digital twists. The main screen features a standard day planner opened to the selected date. On the left-hand page is your class schedule for the day; on the right are your assignments/to-do lists. The interface is intuitive and easy to navigate. You can use the two top center buttons to toggle between the day and week views of your schedule; the latter shows all of your classes on a weekly calendar (but not your assignments). The three icon buttons in the upper right corner of the display give you complete control over the information contained in the app.
The leftmost of the three icons is the Planner button, which allows you to add your scheduled courses to the app. Input the information for each class, and it will appear on your calendar. What is nice here is that you can color-code your courses, allowing you to see which one has scheduled meetings or assignments at a glance. You can also specify the type of class (lecture, lab, study group, etc.) with different icons.
The middle icon lets you add to your homework and assignments list. You can control the organization by due date, course, or priority. This is a fantastic way to keep track of all of your pending assignments; it sure beats trying to read that sloppy handwriting in tiny calendar blocks.
I absolutely loved the third button, which lets you enter information about the class instructor. When I was in school, the instructor would share their contact information on the first day of class. This would promptly get written down on a piece of paper and almost immediately lost. The ability to store it right there on the iPad is perfect. Tap the icon to display a list of your instructors. Select any one to show their contact information as well as the courses assigned to them. The developers seem to have found the perfect combination of design and features, giving you a look and feel of a paper planner along with an incredible degree of flexibility and customization.
Complete Class Organizer
$4.99, iPad only: app2.me/3200
This is the most comprehensive organizational tool available for your homework and studies. Unfortunately, the user interface made it extremely difficult to use effectively. The main portion of the screen shows your current to-do/assignment list. However, there was an awful lot of wasted space on the main screen. In addition, the course schedule in the left sidebar is too small to be read easily. Finally, the semester calendar is hidden beneath the course schedule, making it difficult to access.
Once you get passed the user interface, this one really stands out because of all of its extra features. Tap on any class to go to the course notes section of the app. From here, you can enter and track your notes from any course or even calculate your grade. The slider system of inputting grades was not terribly effective; I would have preferred a system that allowed you to enter individual grades for each assignment or test.
The real main attraction is the session notes section. A "session" refers to any class meeting, whether it's a lecture, lab, study session, or something else. I loved this feature because it lets you add written or audio notes, drawings, and tasks or homework assignments. It even lets you paste in a website or PDF document, or sync with Dropbox and Google Docs.
This is an incredibly robust and powerful app that offers all of the tools you need to get organized for the semester. However, the developer needs to work on simplifying the interface and make it more effective.
If all you need is an attractive app to track your homework assignments and tests, iHomework offers the perfect solution. Like iStudiez Pro, iHomework mimics the look and feel of an old-fashioned day planner, including six tabbed sections. These six tabs allow you to switch quickly and easily between assignments, reading, reminders, courses, teacher information, and completed work.
Again, I really liked the idea of merging the traditional day planner format with the new features allowed by the iPad. This allows the app to offer quite a bit of flexibility while maintaining a familiar look and feel. I also appreciated some of the more visual touches. For example, when you add an assignment, not only will the entry appear on the assignments tab, but also a color-coded icon will appear on the calendar.
While I thought this app did a fantastic job of organizing and tracking your homework and assignments, the app was significantly more limited than the other apps in this category. There is no way to add class notes and had no general calendar showing your class schedule.
While I was thoroughly impressed by the various apps available to help you track your assignments, courses, and homework, none of that is going to do you any good if you don't actually know the material. For that, you will need to pay attention (or at least stay awake) in class and take notes. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent note-taking apps available.
$0.99 (iPad only), app2.me/3202
Notability has one of the cleanest and most intuitive interfaces I have used. It allows you to sort notes by name, date, or subject. In addition, you can filter notes to show one subject at a time. What really sets this one apart is that you cannot only add text and photos to a note, you can also add audio recordings. So if you're having a hard time focusing in class, turn on the recorder and review the class later.
This is a robust note-taking app that lets you create a separate notebook for each subject. This makes it the functional equivalent of that five-subject notebook we used to carry in high school. Just flip to the correct section to access all the notes you have created in that subject (organized chronologically). What really impressed me about this one were its social interaction features. Course Notes lets you share your notes via Facebook, e-mail, and even directly with another device on the same network. You can also upload your notes and make them available online. In other words, you can join your study group across town or across the world, without leaving the comfort of your dorm room's basement lounge.
$2.99 (iPad only), app2.me/3204
While iStudious may not have been the most robust note-taking app available, it may be the most useful. In addition to taking notes, it also allows you to create flashcards. I thought this was fantastic because it stops you from switching back and forth between your note-taking apps and flashcard apps like Flipside HD (iPad, $1.99: app2.me/3205; iPhone/iPod touch, $0.99: app2.me/3830) or Study Aid ($1.99: app2.me/3207). This app allows you to enter your notes during class and then go back to your dorm room and create flashcards—all from the same app. This not only streamlines the process, it allows you to store your notes and flashcards side by side in the same app. Before you set foot in a classroom .
These apps will help you excel in your studies. They allow you to organize your studies even before you set foot in a classroom; they help you take, organize, and review classroom notes; and they help you stay on top of your assignments. Some of these apps are available for the iPhone and iPod touch, but smaller touch screens limit their utility.
These apps are not quite enough to make me wish I was back in school, but I certainly wish tools like this were available way back then.