Ditch the Spiral Notebook with CourseNotes

Apple products have long been hailed as great tools for education.  It hasn’t been too long since I was a student myself, and even since then some of my favorite Mac software has been apps aimed at students.  Because developers see the market for this, students have access to great apps like iProcrastinate for task management, Papers for project management, and even Schoolhouse for all-in-one student productivity.  If your academic app arsenal lacks a good note-taking app, Dear Panda aims to fill that gap with CourseNotes.

CourseNotes is a lightweight, yet robust note-taking app for students.  It is designed to eliminate the hassle of keeping track of your notes by organizing them into subjects and sessions, as well as making them fully searchable.  CourseNotes also has a companion iPad app that syncs with the Mac counterpart, but more on that later.

Interface and Usability

If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I put a lot of stock in interface design.  If an app looks good, you’re more likely to enjoy using it, and more likely to benefit from it.  CourseNotes had me interested at first launch by it’s clean, iPad-resemblant interface, complete with sliding animations when transitioning between views.

For input purposes, CourseNotes is organized hierarchically.  Information is broken down and organized into three tiers: subjects, sessions, and notes.  Subjects are self explanatory: create one for each class you want to take notes in.  Sessions are best thought of as class days, and each session can include several notes.  Each note has a title and a body, and images and other files can be attached.

Session commands allow you to create new notes, bulleted lists, and navigate through large amounts of notes.

Once you’re in a session view, three session commands are aligned at the top of the CourseNotes window.  The interface effectively does away with labeled buttons in favor of icons whose meanings are clearly communicated.  To create a new note in the session, click the first button.  Bulleted lists are common in class notes, so the second button will create one without the hassle of aligning or stylizing.  If you have a lot of notes in a session, the last button will let you jump to a specific note, organized by note title.

Note commands allow you to create to-dos, attach documents, or delete notes altogether.

Each note in a session has a few buttons on the side that only show up when you hover over them, effectively keeping the interface clean.  The second button down from the top will allow you to attach an image or file into your note, and the bottom button will delete the note and all of it’s contents.

Attachments appear in-line with the notes as expandable images.

CourseNotes takes somewhat of an object-oriented approach, and allows you to turn any note into a to-do.  Clicking the top button in a note (the calendar icon) will create a to-do item and let you give it a due date, allowing you to keep track of assignments and tests.  Once an note becomes a to-do item, it is automatically placed in the “To-Do Items” lists.

Converting a note into a to-do item adds it to the to-do list.

I mentioned that CourseNotes is organized hierarchically for input purposes, but where it really shines is in its search functionality.  Notes are searchable globally as well as within a specific session, so you won’t have to thumb through a spiral notebook looking for your notes on a particular topic.  Simply type a keyword into one of the search bars, and CourseNotes will find all of your notes and assignments regarding that topic.

Search globally or within a note session.


I mentioned above that CourseNotes has a iPad companion app, and the good people at Dear Panda were kind enough to let me give it a spin.  While I’ll leave the more in-depth review to our friends at iPad.AppStorm, the iOS counterpart is an integral part of the note taking process, and in my opinion, worth a mention here.


CourseNotes for iPad

CourseNotes for iPad, once paired with CourseNotes for Mac, will sync notes over your WiFi network, allowing you to come up with your own system for studying and note taking.  Perhaps you want to take your iPad to class to collect notes, and the sync them to your Mac for archival purpose.  Or maybe you prefer taking notes on a full keyboard, and want to sync them to your iPad so you can study on the go.  With CourseNotes for iPad even more feature-rich than the Mac version, you can take notes and study any way you want.

Last Words

CourseNotes may not have all the bells and whistles or flexibility that can be found in apps like Evernote or Curio, but it succeeds as a lightweight and streamlined note taking app.  The often time-consuming tasks of stylization, tagging, organizing, and formatting are done behind the scenes, allowing you to capture your notes as quickly and as simply as possible.  As I said, I am no longer a student.  However, I found CourseNotes a joy to work with, and certainly anticipate using it to organize my non-academic notes.

Do you have a favorite note taking app?  How does CourseNotes compare?


Note-taking, assignment tracking, and classroom organizing for students.



Add Yours
  • What’s the name of the annotation software you use in this post?

  • I like nvAlt – http://brettterpstra.com/project/nvalt/ – a fork of Notational Velocity – http://notational.net/

    nvAlt syncs with http://simplenote.com to take your notes to the cloud and it can be easily backed up/synced with other computers with .dropbox

    I use nvAlt because it’s SUPER quick to find or create notes. It also includes tagging, instant autosaving, and fullscreen mode features.

  • I downloaded this program last night, since I enjoyed it on the iPad. As a simple database for keeping track of all your notes – instead of several word document (or Pages) files – it’s a good idea.

    Sadly this thing is terribly executed. I don’t need a plethora of formatting options but I do need some (more than bullet lists). The problem feels way to crowded on an 11″ MBA – unlike Pages which, even without full-screen blends away to let you right.

    Except for very mild database management, a word processor of any type works better. Plus you can share it with class mates, unlike CourseNotes which only exports as HTML. I’ve already asked the App Store for a refund since this software is just bad. Stick with a Word Processor since it will be needed for writing papers anyway (less software anyway, that is more capable).

  • I still don’t own an iMac or iPad, your article inspired me to buy one eagerly.

  • i really want to download the application you refer to but it is a pity that i do not have a mac or an ipad.i will try this app once i own one.

  • Clearly I’m an idiot. I do not have an iPad, but I really want to try CourseNotes on my MacBookPro… how do I download the program/app?? I went to iTunes, then to AppStore, and purchased the CourseNotes app but it is for iPads only (I guess?) so I just wasted $4.99 >=( …. like a dumba$$…

  • okay yeah… just found it. *smh* please ignore previous comment.