Evernote as a Portfolio: changing the way we document, share and manage the learning happening in all aspects of a student’s life
Organising complex resources
Students with specific learning needs often struggle with issues related to the complexity and range of learning technologies they encounter during their studies. They may find organising work and resources provided in different electronic formats a complex, difficult process. This is particularly important when taking and managing notes. At Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) we have been exploring ways to enable students with specific needs to use a single technology to help them collate, organise and annotate a wide range of resources in different formats (e.g. MS Word, MS PowerPoint, .pdfs, Websites and other online/electronic information). A successful pilot project used Evernote, an online multi-platform tool which makes it easy to record, remember and organize big things and small things encountered in everyday life when using computers and mobile devices.
The pilot study
In July 2013 eight students from a number of schools – Physiotherapy, Architecture, Art & Design, Photography & Architecture and Food Technology – were recruited to the study. Four students had specific special educational needs including dyspraxia, ADHD and dyslexia. The aim of the study was to help participants use Evernote to create an ePortfolio of resources and notes to support their learning. This was achieved by supporting them to:
- gather complex, multi-format learning resources in one location with a single technology (Evernote) using any computer and a range of mobile devices
- share learning resources and notes with their peers and supporting tutors, and
- develop skills and expertise in using Evernote and associated add-ons to enhance their experience.
Kate Woodward-Harris (Learning Development Advisor) made initial contact with the students and Dee Vyas (Learning Innovations (LI) team) provided ongoing technical support, training and advice to participants over a six month period.
Embedding the technology
At an initial face-to-face session students discussed the main issues they faced using technologies, organising learning resources and managing their own notes. A member of the LI team showcased Evernote features and participants were set up with individual accounts and provided with basic training. This covered how to collate, organise, and add personal notes (in audio and written formats) and how to share content from their Evernote accounts with other participants and tutors.
An Evernote notebook (similar to that above), was shared with all the participants. This contained resources and ideas for refining and developing their skills and expertise. Participants were then encouraged to use Evernote independently. The LI team member was available, via email or phone, to support students, but participants were also encouraged to support and help one another. The group met every 6-8 week to discuss progress and share their experiences. This helped the group as a whole to develop skills and expertise in using Evernote. At the end of the 6 month study period all participants had developed an Evernote Portfolio of learning resources in multiple formats along with personal notes.
Evaluation of Impact
After the trial period three of the participants in the group had withdrawn from the University for a variety of personal reasons – perhaps a reflection of the wider difficulties faced by students with specific educational needs. The five remaining students were interviewed informally (one-to-one) to explore their experiences. All five were very positive about Evernote.
Students reported that they had been initially unsure of the functionality of Evernote. The initial showcase event had been essential to explain what Evernote was and how it could be used, and this built confidence that they could use it effectively and to their advantage. The ability to use a variety of mobile devices to collect and synchronize information into one location was reported as the most beneficial aspect of using Evernote. Students valued the opportunity to include resources of interest to their studies away from a traditional computer. Bringing together resources from Moodle relating to a particular lecture, and being able to associate these with relevant web sites, academic papers or other resources that they had discovered themselves, was also considered to be highly beneficial to organizing their studies.
Most participants had shared aspects of their portfolios with their tutors and considered this a positive aspect (particularly as tutors did not need an Evernote account to view their content). Sharing between peers was not considered a high priority and participants had not really explored this feature of Evernote. Very few and only minor technical difficulties were reported. These related mainly to internet connectivity but to some extent they were offset by the ability to use Evernote offline.
Overall, the participants in the study were very positive about their experience of using Evernote and had become accomplished users of the technology and many of the available add-ins. Evidence that the technology was effective, and that participants had gained confidence with it, is supported by continued use after graduation. The study participants have also recommended Evernote to their peers.
Our recommendations for others considering integrating Evernote as an e-portfolio tool are to:
- provide guidance on how to use Evernote and evidence of the benefits of using it
- make Evernote a recommended apps for staff and students
- provide a Premium account to all undergraduates as part of the recommended apps
- integrate Evernote with your institutional VLE
- develop an integrated approach to implementation across the University
- help students work with staff to show ‘good practice’ using Evernote.
As part of the support provided to students a number of resources (e.g. User Guidance, Advice on Evernote Add-ons) have been created, collated and shared in Evernote.
Dee Vyas, Classroom Technology Teaching Advisor, Learning Innovations, Manchester Metropolitan University D.Vyas@mmu.ac.uk
Kate Woodward-Harris, Learning Development Advisor, Learning & Development, Manchester Metropolitan University K.Woodward-Harris@mmu.ac.uk
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