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Published September 21, 2014 | Chemistry

Evernote and Teaching

Like all addictions, it started innocently. I heard so much talk about Evernote from others, that my journey simply began out of curiosity.  I wanted to know for myself what it was and how to use it.  A few years ago, I started using Evernote for my personal affairs and I fell in love. It was such a powerful organizational tool and that I was hooked. Evernote allowed me to have everything I could possibly need (such as documents, audio files, annotations and website clippings) stored in once place and synced across every device I used. I loved Evernote so much in my personal life that I decided to bring it into my chemistry classes.

My first pedagogical Evernote foray started with creating a notebook for each of my chemistry courses, and organizing all the files and materials related to these courses. These were my own private notebooks and nobody could access them. And then one day, I had an idea – ”Why don’t I try to use Evernote to share notebooks with my students and put material online?” And that’s how the pedagogical adventure with Evernote started. I threw myself into it, essentially.

Evernote Inside and Outside of the Class

Evernote can be used both inside and outside the classroom and has tremendously facilitated the flipped classroom. Outside of class, each student has access to the course notebook. For example, during my pilot semester with Evernote, I created an Organic Chemistry notebook and invited my students to join it. The notebook was semi-private, meaning, only those who were invited could consult it, but not the general public. In this notebook, I would add and organize course content such as course notes, assignments, laboratories, resource files, videos, and announcements. The students could access this on all of their devices. As soon as something new was added, it would synchronize automatically, and students instantly had access to the new content.

Another way that Evernote can be used outside the classroom is by setting up student notebooks that are shared between an individual student and the professor. These essentially act as student portfolios. Students could use their individual notebooks to submit assignments, lab reports, homework, and so on. They can upload pdf or word documents, or take a photo (or scan) of homework done on paper and easily add it to their notebook. Let’s say a student submits a lab report via their Evernote portfolio. I could grade that lab report, without leaving Evernote, by making annotations directly in their notebook. I could even leave voice comments. Evernote has those tools.

Inside the classroom, I use one of Evernote’s applications called Penultimate. During class, the students and I work on chemistry problems and as we do so, I write out solutions using Penultimate through my iPad. The students can see what I write since my iPad screen is projected onto the main screen in the classroom via Airplay and an Apple TV, which is connected to the projector. Anything I write using Penultimate is then automatically synchronized in the Organic Chemistry notebook, so the students can later consult the work we did in class.

This semester, I’m taking a one session break from Evernote in class because I’m revamping my course notes. At the start of this semester, my second year students expected to be on Evernote because we used it last year. They were disappointed, which made me realize that my students loved Evernote as much as I did! I am of course still using it on a daily basis in my personal affairs.

More than just a Cloud

There are lots of cloud applications out there, but what hooked me on Evernote was that it is easy to use and it’s more than just a cloud. It is a workspace where you can write, collect, find and even present. Plus, all the little features mentioned above (annotations, voice notes, etc.) and applications developed by Evernote (such as Penultimate) that make it like no other platform. All this is free of charge with the basic account. A premium account is available if more storage is needed for $5/month.

Another Evernote application that I’ve used is called Evernote Peek. It’s a study tool that can be used inside or outside of class. I can turn any of my written, audio, or image notes into questions with answers. Students partially lift their iPad’s Smart Cover (or a virtual smart cover) to see a question, then when ready, they fully lift the cover to see (or hear) the answer.

Evernote and the Future

All notes in Evernote can be shared and accessed by a URL, if this feature is enabled. This means that I can use any technology I want to share a note by pushing its URL to a device, such as QR codes or Near Field Communication (NFC) tags. An NFC tag is a small sticker that contains a chip inside to store a tiny bit of information that can be transferred to another NFC capable device (e.g. certain mobile phones). URLs for notes stored on Evernote can be added to NFC tags to share with students. For example, students can bring their phones close to an NFC tag as they enter the laboratory to get information on the experiment to be done that day. I started to play around with these tags but until recently, NFC was not supported on iPhones (which is the phone of choice with many students). So with NFC tags, I could not reach out to many students. This just changed this last week however, as the new iPhone 6 now supports NFC. All this to say, that Evernote has the capability to mesh with changes in the future, even with a simple URL.

Evernote and the AQPC

Here is a link here to a pdf file posted on the AQPC website. It’s from my June 2014 presentation, and I explain everything I mentioned here and share more ideas, including screenshots.

Caution: Using Evernote can be addictive! Feel free to contact me if you have ideas for using Evernote in the classroom or if you need some inspiration.

About the Author

Carole Emilie Baddour, PhD Carole Emilie Baddour is a chemical engineer and has a PhD in nanomaterials. She teaches Chemistry at Collégial international Sainte-Anne

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