Introducing Evernote to Graduate Students

This week’s FTI Guest Blogger is Dr. Christine Finnan in Teacher Education & Anthropoplogy.

Evernote was one of the many tools shared at the 2012 summer Faculty Technology Institute. I began using it after the FTI to clip articles that are relevant to my teaching and research. I like it because it is easy to use and the resources are available across multiple platforms (unlike bookmarking webpages). Because of my new-found love of Evernote, I thought that it would be a good resource for students in a graduate course I was scheduled to teach in spring 2013 – MTLA 602: Critical Issues in Contemporary Education. I selected this course to introduce students to Evernote because their major project is to complete a literature review, and I thought that they could easily store relevant articles and websites in Evernote and share the folder with me so that I could track their progress.

During the first class, I provided a brief overview of Evernote and told students that I would be tracking their use of it during the semester. They were interested and willing to try something new. I planned to return to it throughout the semester to provide additional help. During the second class, I arranged for Jared Seay, the library liaison for Teacher Education to provide an overview of library resources that are useful in conducting literature reviews. During his presentation, Jared introduced students to Zotero, another web application that not only stores sources but also automatically formats the bibliographical information into discipline-specific format. In our case, this was APA. Sorry Evernote, but the students were hooked. I’m sure my experience is not unusual, but my students, undergraduate and graduate, do not find learning to use APA fun, rewarding or necessary. It is one of those things you hate to hear yourself saying as a teacher, but I do find myself saying, “I know it doesn’t make sense, but you just have to learn to do it.” It reminds me of my mother making me sit at the table until I finished my lima beans. So here was Zotero, formatting sources for students as well as storing and tagging, and Evernote, which may be better at storing and tagging, but it can’t do the one hated task: formatting into proper APA format. I allowed them to use either tool to complete their literature review.

At the end of the semester, I created a short survey for my students to have them evaluate both Evernote and Zotero. I asked them to rate their familiarity and experience with both tools and to provide ways in which they helped with research, what their downsides were, and if they would recommend using the tools. None of the students rated their familiarity or experience with Evernote very high. Several commented that it is probably a good tool, but they liked Zotero better. One student admitted to not liking technology in general. Their ratings of Zotero were more mixed. The two students who admitted to resisting technology, preferred reading and marking up paper copies of articles and making written notes. The other five students were moderately to very familiar with Zotero. They all liked how Zotero helped them assemble literature links, organize their material, work in a more environmentally friendly way, and properly cite sources. Their experience with Zotero was not without problems.

The students that used Zotero listed the following issues:

  • Only able to download the link, not the entire article
  • The plugin with Word on the Mac was confusing; instructions were hard to locate
  • It had to be downloaded to a computer rather than working across platforms
  • The version of APA is not the one most often required (Zotero uses 6; some journals still require 5)
  • It was hard to keep track of notes and comments

In response to the question “Would you recommend that I continue using Zotero with future classes?” the five who used it enthusiastically said “yes!” and those who did not use it said it should be introduced and students can decide if they want to use it.

Back to Evernote. I worked with two graduate assistants on several projects this semester, and we used Evernote extensively. I asked them to conduct research for me in a number of areas, and Evernote was a very useful tool for saving articles and making notes on them. The graduate assistants determined that Evernote is better than Zotero for sharing documents and for casual reviewing of found documents. They used Zotero for citation purposes in their courses.

I find myself using Evernote exclusively. Zotero does not work using Chrome, which I prefer over Firefox and Safari, and I am comfortable with APA after many years of use. I am happy to have exposure to both tools and recommend that you introduce both tools to students, illustrating the strengths of each and how each may help in different phases of the research process.

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