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Tech for Teach

Writing Tools for the Self-Directed Learner: Evernote

Today I’m going to talk about the various ways my students and I have been using Evernote for writing assignments. Evernote’s motto – Remember Everything – encapsulates the business model of the company’s array of products and services available on desktop and mobile devices. Essentially, the main app called Evernote is used to archive and organize a note in a variety of formats.

My introduction to the Evernote world all started one day with tagging a photo of one my students pointing to the “F5” key on a keyboard. While working in a CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) classroom with students who were not so digitally  native I repeatedly found myself asking them to “refresh” their screens in order for them to see the changes I had made to a webpage that we were all looking at. To make a long story short, to get my students to press the “F5” key and NOT the “F” key and the “5” key, I needed the photo which was buried in among other photos. I eventually created a note in Evernote where I attached the photo and tagged it “F5”. I still use that same photo today.

If you’re interested in more sophisticated uses of the app, by all means read on.

Of course, the whole point of needing to remember everything is to use the information for some purpose.  Evernote could just as easily change its motto to Share Everything you Remember because the app makes it really easy to share individual notes or whole folders.  In fact, when I email my homework to my students I always start it off with a note of photos of all that I had written on the blackboard.  Click here to see a sample of what I mean.  For student research papers, I ask each of the students to create and share an Evernote folder with me where they keep an ongoing record of the sources they have clipped from their web searches.  To manage all those notebooks, I put them into a stack which is a folder of folders. (See photo below).

Screenshot 2014-05-06 14.11.29
A screenshot of a stack of folders – Evernote for Mac

You have a choice of following parameters for sharing: “View notes and activity”, “modify notes” or “modify and invite others”.

Screenshot of sharing options for a folder
Screenshot of sharing options for a folder

Adding a message is also optional.  The note can be shared with multiple emails at a time. For example, I have my students share their notes with their peer reviewers, too. Mac users will be happy to know that updates to the folders can be viewed in notifications.  I have mine set up to display a banner whenever a student makes changes to their contents.  Caveat: Unlike Google Docs, there is no revision history, so once changes have been, such as deleting a note then there is no way of retrieving that information.

Chrome browser users will also like the Evernote extension available in the Chrome Web Store which allows a user to clip a webpage and even add annotations to the content before saving it. I generally encourage my students to add tags and comments for easier retrieval as notes can easily pile up quickly thus becoming hard to locate when they settle down to write their papers.

A screenshot of Evernote Web Clipper extension for the Google Chrome Browser
A screenshot of the Evernote Web Clipper extension for the Google Chrome Browser

More recently I have been taking full advantage of Evernote’s sharing feature by taking screenshots of resources on the web and cataloging a list of notes in a folder dedicated to the most common writing errors that my students make. My students are using Google Docs for their writing portfolios because it is easy to share and especially great for commenting on.  Whenever my students produce one of the common errors I have a note for, I simply add a comment with a link to the Evernote note.

A screenshot of my comments to a student's writing portfolio on Google Do
A screenshot of my comments to a student’s writing portfolio in Google Docs

For example, in the screenshot above, I highlighted a contraction and added a comment simply saying “contractions” and then I attached a link to an Evernote note that has an explanation about not using contractions in academic essays.  (Please note that the student has since made the correction, hence no more contraction). I have also shared this folder of most common mistakes as “view only” so that the students can review some of the mistakes that other classmates have generated.

These are just some of the ways that I have been using Evernote with my students that I believe fosters a more self-directed approach to writing.  Do you think you might try any one of these techniques in the near future? If you do, let us know how it worked out.


3 thoughts on “Writing Tools for the Self-Directed Learner: Evernote”

  1. Thanks for another great post on writing tools, Dan, illuminating uses of Evernote. I especially liked the bit suggesting that students are “not so digitally native” (¶1), though they may be quick texting with their thumbs;-).

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