Evernote – a personal e-portfolio solution for students?

Evernote - Remember everything
Evernote - Remember everything

Last year I highlighted the Evernote as a notetaking tool for the 21st century. Since then I’ve continued to explore this service and believe it could potentially be a personalised e-portfolio for students. In this post I want to highlight why I think Evernote fulfils this role and how it might be used.

First the why. In the JISC infoNet e-Portfolio infoKit highlight a quote by Sutherland and Powel (2007) which describes an e-portfolio as:

“a purposeful aggregation of digital items - ideas, evidence, reflections, feedback etc, which 'presents' a selected audience with evidence of a person's learning and/or ability”.

Evernote, which isn’t explicitly designed as an e-portfolio, describes their service as allowing you to:

“easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere.”

At the core of Evernote’s service is the ability to capture digital information (text, audio, pictures) from multiple platforms storing it either locally or on Evernote’s servers i.e. in the ‘cloud’ (definition of ‘cloud computing’).

Evernote have spent a lot of time in making it as easy as possible to capture and search information developing bespoke applications for desktops (Mac and Windows) and mobile devices (iPhone and Windows Mobile with Nokia’s Symbian in the pipeline). Users are also not limited to interacting with Evernote through custom applications and information can be captured/retrieved via web browsers (mobile and desktop) and even submitting notes using a dedicated email address.

One of the very impressive features of Evernote is the ability to search for information. As well as basic text searching Evernote utilise handwriting recognition and digital ink technology from their sister company, Ritescript. This means that any images or handwritten notes are indexed by Evernote and are searchable.

So hopefully the above description describes how information can be captured. Another key area of e-portfolios is the ability for users to share their evidence to a selected audience. This is achievable to a degree within Evernote by users making selected notebook public. Public notebooks some with a dedicated RSS feed (definition of ‘RSS’) which allows subscribers to keep up-to-date with the latest information the user has made available. The downside of Evernote’s current solution is public notebooks are visible to the world (there is the option of ‘security by obscurity’ – making the names of public notebooks obscure so that they cannot easily be found. Evernote however recognise this as a limitation of their service and have recently announced that there will soon be a new way of sharing assets).

Having a RSS feed for notebooks makes it easy to import information into other systems. For example if you are like Dumfries & Galloway College use WordPress as an e-portfolio solution then I've developed a plugin which reposts an Evernote notebook into WordPress. More information on this plugin is here.

It’s probably best to demonstrate how this all fits together:

Click to play: Evernote - a personalised e-portfolio solution
Evernote - a personalised e-portfolio solution from Martin Hawksey on Vimeo.

So Evernote is potentially a nice solution for a personalised e-portfolio. It is not without its shortcomings. Issues include:

  • the limit to only uploading pdf documents with the basic free service (premium members can upload in a number of formats)
  • lack of mobile application for non iPhone/iPod Touch and Windows Mobile users (although developments in this area are on their way
  • an easy way to privately share assests (again this is supposed to be on the way)
  • notes are stored in proprietary Evernote format (the service was never designed as an e-portfolio solution so it is unlikely to conform to any IMS interoperability standard, but this doesn’t rule out a 3rd party developing something using the Evernote API)

It is unlikely any e-portfolio solution is going to be perfect and I think Evernote ticks a lot of the boxes. A huge advantage of promoting a personalised e-portfolio solution is it truly belongs to the individual and not the institution, particularly important if you want to encourage and support lifelong learning.