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How To Use Evernote to Manage A Class
(with or without iPads)
The following picture of digital collaboration between teacher and student was first conceived as a method for managing a class of high school students in an iPad 1:1 pilot situation. But because Evernote (and the other tools one might potentially add to this flow) is cross platform and cross device, you could implement this in a variety of situations, including a laptop program, or even in a non-1:1 situation. Students really just need internet access.
Here is a graphical version of the flow:
1. Teacher –> Student
I realize that this move is “old-fashioned” in the sense that it implies that learning begins with a teacher directive. If you are uncomfortable thinking of a teacher as a “sage on the stage” and want more “guides on the side”, well, think of this model as “sage on the side”. Teachers are sages, but for most of this flow they are well out of the way. Students working, creating, writing and communicating are at the center.
In any case, my picture begins with a teacher passing out some materials to the students as an entry point to learning. This could be in the form of a daily plan or outline, a series of web links, an attached document, PDF, or image, or a combination of all those things. It could even be a movie file, or a link to a youtube flick. This could happen the day before (flipped classrooms) or as the students come to class. However it happens, as class begins, students have before them some raw material to work with.
All of this information and raw material is contained in a simple Evernote note, which is stored in a notebook that is shared individually with every student in the class. Students would have “Viewing” access to this notebook, which means that they can open all the document attachments, view all the notes, click all the links, etc. They just won’t be able to edit the note (think of it as a handout), or delete it, or add their own notes. This applies to the class shared notebook only. They can add all the new notes and create all their work in their own workspace.
2. Student Work
Again, the word “work” is rather utilitarian, but I can’t think of a better term, so calm down.
What I mean is, critical reading, active listening/watching, collaboration in small groups, collecting information into outlines, creating original media (audio, video, photo, drawing, narrative, etc.) and draft writing. Basically, all the fundamental activities of the modern classroom happens at this stage.
The nice thing about the iPad is that it fits so well in this space as a classroom tool. Teachers I have talked to often decry its awkward word processing abilities. Two things: first, it is awkward until you practice enough, and then it isn’t awkward any more. But I agree, physical keyboards are faster and better in almost all cases, so have a Bluetooth keyboard handy if you are a heavy-duty word processor. Second, in my experience (as an English teacher) most of the heavy-duty word processing was done outside the class time. What we did in class was drafting, outlining, annotating, brainstorming, mind-mapping… and for those things, the iPad is more than sufficient. It even shines.
But beyond defending the iPad as a word processor, so much more can occur at this stage than typing text. Students can take still or video images and edit them quickly and efficiently. They can attach their work to an Evernote note to “hand it in” to the teacher (I’ll explain this step next, but this method works well if you don’t necessarily want to publicize your work on a blog or website) or they can upload it quickly to Youtube and embed it in their blogs should they wish to publicize their work. Students can do traditional things like read and annotate a PDF. But they can also easily copy those notes and share them with a group, or again, hand them in and/or publicize their thoughts online. They also happen to have a tablet in front of them, so visual art is both simplified and made more powerful. No, it is ultimately not a total replacement for fine arts techniques, but the range of things a student can accomplish with graphic arts apps is astonishing. And because it is all digital, it can be anthologized, made into a portfolio or kept safe for later.
No matter what the student wants to do with their work in the end, they should save it in Evernote at this stage of the flow. They can file the work in the proper notebook (for a class, or for a unit within a class – this is something the teacher and students can work on together, how to manage digital resources). Images and documents are OCR’ed, which means that Evernote’s servers “read” the text in images and documents to make them searchable. Note: this process is delayed, while the computers that run Evernote crunch through your data. It can take a few hours to be able to search an image. The process is sped up if you sign up for a Premium account.
3. Share back to the teacher
At this point, you have a bunch of students with new work, new content, new thoughts and new writing. The teacher wants to see all this work and assess it. To accomplish this, the students simply attach their work to an Evernote note and save it to a notebook that is shared with the teacher (and not the rest of the class). It might look like this:
Teacher’s Biology 1 notebook —> Read only access given to Joey, Bobby, Trixie and Sue
Joey’s Biology 1 notebook —> read/write access given to teacher
Bobby’s Biology 1 notebook —> read/write access given to teacher
Trixie’s Biology 1 notebook —> read/write access given to teacher
Sue’s Biology 1 notebook —> read/write access given to teacher
Note: this is the end of the line for free Evernote account users. “Read/write” access isn’t possible with the free accounts, only the premium accounts. So feedback and comments would have to happen via email, a course manager online, or printout. Alternatively, you could set up yet a third shared notebook between teacher and each individual student to specifically house the student work plus teacher feedback. This just seemed a little complex. But it is possible, if you are willing to think it through in advance by setting those shared notebooks up properly.
But if you have a premium account, the teacher can take that work, edit the note in which the work is housed, and re-save the note. The changes will be available to the student on the next Evernote sync. The teacher could include typed comments, they could re-annotate a pdf or document using an app like GoodReader, they could insert a table with rubric marks and suggestions, whatever.
While the internet is full of app recommendations and reviews for iPads, I would like to outline my real-world experience with a few apps that have worked (or not worked) in classroom situations. Let me say that again: we’ve been running an iPad pilot, and I’ve been using an iPad for my professional work, and these apps are field tested, we didn’t just dink around with them.
Evernote: It’s an amazing service that gets steadily better over time. Sometimes their development process is frustratingly slow. For example, until a month ago iPad users couldn’t access shared notebooks. And they still can’t share the notebook from the app – you have to use Safari to begin sharing a notebook. Why this is, I have no idea, but it seems dumb. You also can’t create a new notebook from the app. Huh? But beyond that, it handles files and notes very well. You can edit and input rich text, audio and capture images from the app itself. It has a built in web browser that pops up when you click a link, so quick research jaunts into cyberspace are highly efficient. And backing things up in the cloud is a necessity. Using it as the platform for student work and teacher handouts is working very well. We are going to invest in a group premium account, and that will enhance the service even more. It is not very expensive for schools and educational institutions.
Noteshelf: I used to be convinced that handwriting on the iPad was a waste of time, but I’m changing my mind. I own a AluPen stylus, which is the best I’ve used so far, but I haven’t tried them all. It is the most responsive at different angles. Handwriting with your finger works for about 10 seconds and then you get tired of it. Drawing with the finger works well in most situations – it’s like finger painting. But for writing you want a stylus. And you also want Noteshelf. Of all the popular note-taking apps I have tried, it has by far the smoothest and most agreeable handwriting experience. Note: I am talking about note apps that allow you to zoom in so your handwriting doesn’t look huge and ungainly so that only ten words fit on a page. Specifically, I’m comparing Noteshelf to Notes Plus, Ghostwriter, and Penultimate (which doesn’t zoom, but has other handwriting specific features).
The only drawback to Noteshelf is that it doesn’t handle typed text (like Ghostwriter does). But its handwriting capabilities are so good that I never feel like I need typed text. If I do I would either paste the text into a text editor, take a screenshot and paste it into my Noteshelf note, or I would fall back on Ghostwriter. Noteshelf allows you to capture an image directly from the app, import images from the photo roll, change the pen and paper qualities, zoom for better writing, and export in a pleasing variety of ways, including Evernote, but also Dropbox, iTunes, Email, and a choice between image files and pdf.
Here are some notes I took as I was designing this Evernote workflow:
GoodReader: Again, there are alternatives to this app, but it does such a large variety of things so well, that I can’t recommend anything else seriously. It’s annotation features have gotten much more robust over time. It is a full featured file manager. It hooks into all the important cloud storage services, plus custom storage options like intranets. It will open anything from Evernote, and once annotated, will save and open files back in Evernote. Really handy.
WordPress: Another app that has gotten better since it first came out. We use WordPress blogs (in a multi-site, self-hosted arrangement) to allow students to blog, create portfolios, and create learning communities. The WordPress app is fast and furious, and works well with most simple themes. Enabling blogs to allow the WP app to work means logging in via Safari, heading to Settings > Writing and “enabling XML-RPC” and then Save Changes. Once the credentials for the blog are saved in the app, creating web content is hilariously efficient. Students need to have a very basic understanding of what the code means: WP posts and pages are displayed as text and code, and you can preview the visual version. But embedding things is as simple as pasting the embed code and clicking “Update”. Blogsy is a nice addition to a blogger’s aresenal, too, but it is not often needed if all you want to do is publish something that you have been working on in another app. One nice thing about Blogsy is the ability to easily insert Youtube videos from your own Youtube account (drag and drop, as opposed to visiting Youtube, getting the embed code, copying it, going back to WordPress, pasting it in the proper place… which is fine, but is a lot of steps.)
Explain Everything: We haven’t actually implemented this app yet, but I have a teacher who is becoming an expert in creating flipped-classroom content with this app. He is turning his extensive PPT collection into streamlined video tutorials and review items. We will be making this part of the pilot after the Winter Break. Stay tuned for a report on this.
I would like to add Wunderlist to the tool box, but our pilot program isn’t ready for it yet. It has some nice sharing features that I think would work well in a classroom. I’d also like to incorporate Google Apps at a more fundamental level – set each student up with Google Calendars hooked into the stock Calendar app, get them on Gmail hooked into the stock Mail app. But we aren’t ready for that yet, either. We are just in the process of rolling out Google Apps, and many people are still using FirstClass. The FirstClass app is fine, and we’ll deal with that for the time being.
Feel free to comment below if you have questions or suggestions. Cheers.