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Evernote For EFL Teachers In 2017

[Update: mere minutes after I published this post I noticed this article saying Evernote’s new (completely lack of) privacy policy means employees of Evernote can look at your notes…to improve their AI suggestions. This is enough to convince me to move over to OneNote.]

One of the first things I started blogging about was using Evernote as a teacher. It was my hook into Ed Tech and made my first tablet an amazing tool. Fast forward a few years and I’ve had my ups and downs with Evernote, yet I still use it and think its a great tool that you might want to consider. So here is a review of Evernote for efl teachers in 2017. It includes a brief history of my use of Evernote, 5 practical ideas of why you (and your students) might want to consider it (as well as some alternatives To Evernote).

Getting into Evernote

In 2012 I heard about the idea of Evernote, an online notebook which you could access anywhere. As someone with a terrible memory this really appealed to me. I was already writing lesson plans in word documents and then printing them off, but as someone who at least likes to think they care about the environment and likes technology, the idea of saving paper really appealed to me. As did the idea of adding notes as I taught so I could change my lesson plans later on.
I got hooked. Then I started using my tablet at conferences and taking notes of the sessions there. Evernote, was a great tool which was simple to use, could have photos included and attachments. Then I discovered the web clipper and realised how useful this was for saving great ideas from other blogs, keeping resources and materials which I could print off later (with correct copyright…of course) and finding great articles which I could then adapt for lesson ideas. This was great for a long time until things started to go downhill.

The decline of Evernote

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that evernote started to get worse but about a year ago I remember really not liking evernote anymore and avoiding it. There were a few key features that annoyed me such as the constant reminders telling me about features that I either didn’t care about or used all the time. These reminders never went away even if you dismissed them. They just kept coming back.
Then there was workchat.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used workchat on occasions and found it kind of useful, but the constant reminders and attempts to force me to use it were beyond annoying.
Finally, there was the change in pricing.
One of the things I used to do with evernote was to save my invoices and tax related documents into an Evernote notebook called “freelance business” and then I’d have all my documents ready to send over to my accountant easily. I could forward emails, scan invoices and so on. It was incredibly simple. But then Evernote removed the ability to forward emails for free and it became a paid feature. Now my system with my accountant either required me to pay for a subscription (admittedly not a high price) or swap.
I wouldn’t mind paying for a new service, but Evernote had moved from offering something previously for free to requiring you to pay. That is not a way to win me over to their side.
I still used Evernote for a few things but I was moving over to other options for a lot of tasks I had done on Evernote before and investigating options to switch over fully. Then Evernote moved the free version to only being for two devices. This broke the main reason to use Evernote (I could switch between my tablet, computer, phone or work computer) and I was all ready to give up on Evernote…until.

The resurgence?

At the start of this new academic year I was looking for an old lesson plan to adapt which I had…that’s right, in Evernote. I realised that I could either do a complicated work around to get to these lesson plans (searching on my tablet, downloading/copy pasting to another service, getting them on the work computer) or I could pay for a subscription OR I could move everything across. Having searched for a while for an alternative I still hadn’t found anything which offered as good search functionality or OCR scanning for photos of notes and so on. I looked into a subscription and found that Evernote offers a lower price in Poland. In fact it is only $5 a year in Poland. I felt that was worthwhile and a simpler solution to my problem.
After paying I noticed that those old annoyances had disappeared. The constant reminders and notifications were gone, the great search tools were still there and Evernote as a company seemed more focused. They also have promised Markdown support. That appeals to me a lot. So while this still isn’t perfect, It looks much better to me than the past.

6  practical Ideas for EFL teachers

Here are a few practical ideas that you can use Evernote (or a similar tool) as a teacher.

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1. Save your lesson plans

If you write your lesson plans in Evernote (or a different tool) and then save them in Evernote, you can search them later. This can provide you something to work off, adapt or find ideas. It can be really interesting to “plan the same lesson” and then compare with your old lesson plan. Sometimes you come up with different ideas that are great (both in the original plan and in the new one).

2. Keep a Professional Development Notebook

If you read a good article on the web, you can use the web clipper to save it to a professional development notebook and then you can easily search for it later. This also helps you avoid a website going down and then that article being lost forever (unfortunately it happens).

 3. Keep a reflective practice notebook

One idea I’ve done to various degrees during my career is to keep a reflective practice notebook. I’ve tried doing it after every class but that can be really difficult. Now I tend to do it at the end of the week and record what worked, what didn’t and importantly why. When I have a class or student that I really struggle with, I’ve found keeping a reflective notebook often leads to me realising why a student is acting in a certain way.

4. Save articles for lesson ideas

I love using authentic materials such as articles and videos. Evernote helps me save what I find and then I can simplify articles (as well as keeping a link to the original) and start creating a lesson plan from there. Sometimes I don’\t have a clear idea at the time but I can revisit them.

5. Save notes for your taxes

As I mentioned earlier, saving tax related documents isn’t fun but it is very important. Using the scanning tools in Evernote as well as email forwarding or share extensions on the Mac/windows/android/iOS etc is incredibly useful and often leads to saving a lot of time later when you have to find where on earth did you leave that piece of paper!

6. Save pictures of your whiteboard

If you haven’t checked out #ELTwhiteboard on twitter then you should do. It’s a fun way to gain a glance in other people’s classrooms. But on that topic, it can be useful to save a picture of your whiteboard and reflect on your use of the whiteboard and how you lay things out or demonstrate something. Plus it’s useful for keeping track of emergent language.

4. Evernote alternatives

As great as evernote is, there are some alternative you might want to check out.

4 evernote alternatives
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1. OneNote

OneNote started before Evernote and was a large piece of inspiration for Evernote. Unlike Evernote, it is much more of a mesh of different formats. You can put audio, typing, handwriting and more all on a single page. It doesn’t look like a word document (unlike an evernote document) but more like most IWB charts. You also have different tabs which you can use. It’s free with a Windows account.
I’m pretty interested in OneNote and really considered switching across but I’ve had some issues with my account that I can’t explain. such as my notes just not appearing.

2. Apple Notes

Apple notes works only on Apple devices. It is more simple than some note apps but can have links, sketches, typing and attached documents. This makes it an okay simple tool for lesson plans.

3. SimpleNote

Simplenote is free from the people behind WordPress. It lacks some of Evernote’s features (like OCR scanning) but is really good for a cross platform note taking application with collaboration features.

4. Google Keep and Google Drive

Google keep is a simpler note application which has grown to be more connected with google drive (a much more robust document management system). Google drive uses up your free 15GB account storage which also includes Gmail, google photos and so on. If you go beyond that, you have to pay for storage. On the other hand it is a simple free and covers many services. I believe it also has some OCR technology built in.

What note taking tools are you using?

Are you using a note taking app with your teaching? What are you using and how?

About Chris Wilson

I’m an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

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