Monday, February 10, 2014

Student portfolios with Evernote

It took me a while to become an Evernote convert. When I first made an account in 2011, I didn't touch it for about six months because I didn't know what to do with it. It's so versatile and easy to personalize that it seems like a blank slate at first, and if you don't have a clear purpose for using it, it can be hard to realize its utility. But once I began using it to develop unit and lesson plans (see my previous blog post), I became a hard-core junkie. I use the Evernote app every day, mostly to create lesson plans, clip useful websites and PDFs, and take notes at meetings and conferences. This year I've begun using it to create student portfolios, with some mixed results.

First of all, I want to make clear that Evernote has enormous potential for portfolios, and any difficulties I've had stem from my particular circumstances (which I'll get into later). Evernote's cross-platform, multimedia and sharing capabilities make it a robust option for creating paperless records of student work, as well as providing feedback to students.

Here's what I did to create the portfolios:

  • I created notebooks for each of my students, and then "stacked" them according to class. 
  • For every major assessment (mainly speaking, writing, and reading), I created an individual note in each student's notebook. If anyone knows how to automate this process, let me know. I only have 45 students, so it wasn't too time-consuming to do this, but I never would have done it in previous years when I taught 100 or more students. 
  • For assessments given on paper, I used the iPad to take a picture of the student's work using the Evernote in-app camera. You have to tap the paperclip on the note toolbar and choose "Camera" or, even better, "Document Camera." 
  • If I used a paper rubric, I took a picture of that too. 
  • For speaking assessments, I recorded conversations right within the app. Again, to do this, you tap the paperclip and choose "Audio" to record. For the benchmark oral assessments (one at the beginning of the year, one at midterm time, and one for finals), students have one-on-one conversations with me. 
  • Here comes my favorite part: To give students feedback, I recorded audio instead of writing them down. I find that when I talk, I tend to give much more detailed feedback then when I have to write it down. You could also type feedback right into the same note. 
  • I shared a student's notebook with him or her. (You may need a Premium account to do this.) I used students' school email addresses to share the notebooks, and gave them editing permission, thinking that I would eventually progress to having them upload their own work to the notebook. 

The benefits--for both students and teacher--are numerous. All important assessments can be stored in one place, allowing them to monitor their own progress. Students can keep track of their work easily; no more worries about misplacing papers. The multimedia feature provides for many types of work to be attached to the notes. And in recording my comments on their work, rather then scrawling them on a rubric, I give more specific feedback and suggestions. 

The problems that I've encountered don't have anything to do with Evernote; the app works like a dream. However, I don't think my students are accessing their notebooks or listening to my comments much. If more teachers in my school used Evernote, or if the students had school-based Evernote accounts, it would be more natural for them to view, modify and upload their own notes. But my school uses Moodle for course management, which comes with its own host of challenges. It's overkill to require students to log in to one website to find and submit assignments and view grades, and another website to see their work and get feedback. Plus, Moodle does have the capability of providing multiple modes of feedback as well as keeping records of student work. In the future, I'll probably just use Moodle to assess, evaluate, comment on and keep track of student work. But I'll definitely miss Evernote's clean, user-friendly interface.

What are you using for student portfolios? What challenges have you met along the way? 

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