Evernote

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Back in April 2009 I posted  Evernote – a personal e-portfolio solution for students?. In the post I highlighted how the features of this young start-up potentially made it a nice solution for a FREE ‘personal’ e-portfolio (that is, removed from the shackles of institutionally bought systems). At the time though I did point out some potential shortcomings:

  • lack of mobile application for non iPhone/iPod Touch and Windows Mobile users
  • an easy way to privately share assests
  • notes are stored in proprietary Evernote format
  • the limit to only uploading pdf documents with the basic free service 

Over time these original issues have been whittled down.

Mobile - In May 2009 it was announced Evernote for BlackBerry Is Here and then in December Evernote for Android: It’s here! and there have been been numerous software updates and enhancement for tablet devices when they come along.

Sharing – From January 2010 there have been several updates adding note sharing with Mac, web, Windows and mobile apps. Sharing isn’t done privately instead using ‘security by obscurity’ (having publically available notes accessed via an obscure url). Update: Oops You'll see from the comment below that it is possible to share notebooks privately. From the sharing knowledge base:

Evernote allows both free and premium users to share notebooks privately with other Evernote users. Notebooks shared by premium users have the option of being editable by the users with whom the notebook is shared. In other words, if Bob the premium user shares a notebook with Fred the free user, Bob may choose to allow Fred to edit the contents of his shared notebook.

Export – When I started presenting Evernote as a personal e-portfolio system back in 2009 one of the questions I usually got asked is how could a student back-up or export notes stored on Evernote servers. At the time the desktop clients for Mac and Windows, which synchronise with Evernote so that you always have a local and remote copy of your files, could export your notes in a proprietary XML format. This meant you could import them into another Evernote account but that was it. In May 2009 Evernote however started rolling out html export for single or batches of notes starting with Mac (May 2009) and eventually getting around to Windows (November 2010).

File types – Back in April this was the deal breaker for me. With the free account you could only upload text, image, audio and PDF files. Having a place to also backup word documents and other electronic resources as well as making this searchable was the one thing I thought would put most tutors off of suggesting Evernote as a tool for their students. Fortunately this month (September 2011) Evernote announced that they had Removed File Type Restrictions for Free Accounts.

So what’s left? Will you be recommending Evernote to your students?

PS Here's a collection of links from Purdue University on Evernote in Education and not surprisingly Evernote themselves ran an Evernote in Education Series.

PPS I recently downloaded the free Android App Droid Scan Lite which lets me snap and reshape pics of docs which I can then share to Evernote as a JPEG (Evernote OCR's images to make them searchable ;)

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I’m always on the lookout for educational examples of Evernote. I came across a great set of resources put together by Emily Marie Strong and co. at Purdue University. Links to what they have put together are below:

PS I’ve finally got around to putting together a screencast on setting up the Evernote plugin for WordPress, which is available on my EverPress Plugin page

Click on one of the following links to learn more about Evernote (taken fromhttp://wiki.itap.purdue.edu/display/Social/Evernote).

Created with ... Evernote.com

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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.

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Notetaking is an inevitable part of any students life. It might be taking notes from lectures or books, planning essay structures, to-do lists and much more. Arguably the most mobile notetaking form is pen and paper. While this medium has many affordances such as micro-mobility, read-write-rewrite and personalisation, there are a number of notable limitations. For example, written notes aren't easy to index, organising them can be time consuming, sharing notes for collaboration is limited, transportation of large amounts can be troublesome. More students are using electronic devices to supplement  'traditional' notetaking and there is a growing number of specialised notetaking software and web services. Many of these solutions also appear to dovetail nicely against new study styles and ways of working.

One such solution which I've been recently test driving is Evernote. Evernote is designed to allow you capture notes (including typed text, handwritten notes, web clippings,  photographs, sound recordings and much more) on a wide variety of devices and platforms, allowing you to synchronise with their online web service. The basic signup is free which gives you a 40MB monthly allowance, which is more than enough for me. Your notes remain private and there isn't currently a system to share them with other users, you can however email them to friends or theoretically directly to other web services like Flickr and Google Docs (I was unable to directly email from Evernote to Google Docs. I think Evernote is struggling with the upload email address provided by Google).

It is possible to organise notes by tagging them and putting them in different notebooks. All of this information is accessible and searchable by any device with a browser and an Internet connection. Even text in images is indexed where possible making it searchable.

There are of course other note taking tools and other web services you could use. For example you could use a basic text editor and use your email inbox as a repository. There are also standalone packages like Microsoft's OneNote which you can synchronise with a Window's Mobile device. What I like about Evernote is they way they have tried to cater for multiple platforms and devices integrating it with an online service which gives me access to my notes anytime, anywhere.