Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to School with Technology

This year we have not one, but two young scholars heading back to classrooms. And by young, I mean older--18 and 19. One is finishing high school and the other is in college.

This has made me think about the technology available to students and how they might make use of it in their education. I've put this post together by researching what others have thought of, some brainstorming on my own part, and talking with a few students and teachers. If I get any of this wrong, or you have additional ideas, please share them in the comments.

Here are the tools I've equipped our scholars with :

Hardware :

Wi-Fi Enabled Laptop: Preferable to a desktop. Takes up less room in a tiny dorm room, and easily carried to classes and library.

Scanner : We have a small portable one from the Neat Company. Evernote is partnered with Fujitsu and promotes their ScanSnap. They both are powered from the USB drive so taking one with you is easy.

Smart Phone – doesn't have to be the iPhone. We found the Instinct hooked to the Sprint Network to be affordable and good enough. These are important not only for communications, but they give the students a multitude of other tools : alarm clock, stop watch, basic calculator, camera etc.

Free software or services :

Evernote : “Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere. “ There are clients for Windows, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Pre, web and mobile web.

Dropbox : Let's you store files online, and synchronzes files among your various computers. Also lets you share folders with other Dropbox users. It is free and paid. There are clients available for Windows, Mac & Linux.

Google Calendar and Gmail – Google's own calendaring and email. Also Free and does not require any software on the PC.

Google Docs/ OpenOffice – Either works just fine for the college student, and is free. No need to buy Microsoft Office. But if you want MS Office, look at their Student Edition. It is much cheaper.

Audacity – a free audio recording and editing tool

In a perfect world I'd also set them up with :

Pocket Digital Camera - usually better resolution then the camera in a phone

Eye-Fi - Memory card for cameras that uses wi-fi to send photos directly to Evernote

Pocket Recorder - Very tiny audio recorders that record to solid state memory and uploadable to laptop via USB port

Pocket Video Camera - like the Flip.

Dragon Speak 10 - voice recognition software. I haven't tried this, but a possible use would be to transcribe audio from recordings

Premium Evernote - Increase amount of material uploadable to Evernote from 40 meg to 500 meg a month. Also allows you to store all kinds of files. The free account is limited to text, PDF, WAV and JPG files. The cost is just $45 a year, or $5 a month.

Premium Dropbox - Free account is 2 gigabytes but you an buy more space. Fifty gigs is $9.99 a month, or 100 is $19.99 a month. I wish they offered 25 gig for $5 a month.

Here's how I see a typical day for a technology enabled student:

Derek is a Journalism student. In addition to most of the tools listed above, he also has a good digital SLR and a video camera.

Derek has already had one computer break on him during the school year, and another was stolen. Redundancy of data, and off computer backup are now critical to him. As he sits in his first class, he types his notes into a text editor. He likes Notepad for that, but it could easily be Word, OpenOffice, or directly into Evernote.

He saves the file into a folder that he has Evernote setup to "watch". Whenever a new file appears, Evernote automatically creates a note with that information. Every 60 minutes (or more often) Evernote synchronizes itself with Evernote's on line database. Evernote keeps four or more copies of every note at its data center. So now there are six copies of Derek's notes. One in the folder, one in his local Evernote database and four then in Evernote's data centers.

As he files out of the classroom at the end of the class, he takes a quick snapshot of the white board with his cell phone's camera. His new phone has a good enough camera for that. If it didn't he could carry an inexpensive small digital camera with him. Every Evernote account has its own email address. He emails the photo to Evernote. Evernote indexes the words it finds in the photo, and lets Derek search for them later.

His professor for the next class has outlawed laptop use in class, fearful students are surfing the net instead of paying attention to his lecture. Derek takes notes the old fashion way, on paper. When he gets back to his room, he will scan the notes with his small scanner into Evernote. Evernote will digest the PDF file and make the text searchable.

This professor also hands out worksheets. Derek scans them in as well later.

The professor announces a guest lecturer coming to campus who will speak about topics Derek is interested in. He whips out his phone and texts his Google Calendar account with the event. He has Google Calendar set to send him text messages to remind him of events. Derek remembers the days before the family account had unlimited text messaging. He is glad those days are over; Dad is easier to deal with now. Besides communications with friends, he finds he is going text messages to add items to various on line programs like Google Calendar and Evernote, and have applications text him reminders.

Derek also takes a minute to text Evernote a reminder for himself to study for the upcoming test in this class. Derek uses Evernote to keep track of the tasks he needs to get done. He explored the possibility of using “Getting Things Done” (GTD), David Allen's methodology for tracking tasks. He read a blog post on GTD for students, but opted for his own methodology for planning his day, and remembering tasks using Evernote. He uses Google Calendar for events with specific dates. At the start of the semester he transferred all key dates from his syllabus for each class, to Google Calendar. That way, he can see tests and project due dates do not sneak up on him. He even went so far as to put in dates a week or more in advance to remind himself to start projects.

Much of his next classes knowledge comes from a rapid fire lecture. It is too fast for good note taking, although he tries. He uses the microphone built into his laptop and Audiology to record the lecture.

He is considering looking at Dragon Speak. He hears it does a passable job of transcribing the lecture. The resulting transcription he could record into Evernote. He is also thinking of investing about $40 in an inexpensive pocket recorder. They record digitally into memory in the recorder, and upload the audio to his laptop via the USB port.

Back in his room, the takes advantage of his roommate being out to get some reading done from a textbook. As he reads, he stops at the end of each section and types up some notes about what he has read. That act alone sets the material into his brain, he has found, but having it in Evernote makes it easy to find when time to study.

Later, he heads to the library to research a paper. He types notes directly into Evernote, and takes photos with his camera for email into Evernote.

Some of the material he is researching is for a team project. He moves the material for that project into its own Evernote Notebook. He has chosen to share that notebook with the rest of the team. Since he has a Premium Evernote account, they can edit the material though the shared notebooks web interface.

Of course, a lot of the research he does is on line. He can record bookmarks,and clip items from the web into Evernote so it is stored right along with the other research he has by using the various bookmarklets Evernote provides.

His girlfriend is competing in a gymnastics meet at the gym. He takes his digital SLR him. He added an Eye-Fi card to it recently. Since the gym has wi-fi, all the photos he takes go right into his Evernote account. Later, he'll post the best ones to his Facebook account.

While at the meet, he runs into someone from his work group. He tells him about the great quote he found that day for their project. He does not have his laptop with him, so he pulls up Evernote on his phone and finds the note with the quote so he can share it right then. Evernote has phone clients for the iPhone, some Blackberry's, the Palm Pre with others to come. Derek has a Samsung Instinct, so he uses Evernote's mobile web site instead. It works okay for him.

Just before going to bed that night, he moves a copy of his Evernote database to his Dropbox account. This gives him a bit of redundancy and more off-site backup. Since Evernote's 500 megabyte monthly quota is not big enough for video files, he moves some of the video he shot in his film making class off to Dropbox too for backup. A couple videos he's made for his joint project, he moves to a folder in Dropbox shared with the others in the group.

That weekend, he goes home to visit his parents. He forgets to take his laptop, so when he decides to do a little studying, he just brings up Evernote on his old desktop in his bedroom. After a quick sync, he has all of his notes there with him.

Additional Resources :

I wrote abut using Evernote to manage tasks and events here.

Many of the websites I looked at to research this piece are listed in my Public Bookmarks Notebook, tagged with "Evernote for Students".

Using Eye-Fi with Evernote is featured in Evernote's Blog.

And finally, my favorite Back-to-School video ever!


  1. School started for me this Monday, and as a Junior returning to my college campus once again I decided to make sure I was prepared for everything in front of me. Being a workflow and technology nut for quite sometime, I have dabbled in many different systems of getting-things-done before, and I feel as if I have a good system down for this semester.

    As I arrived on campus I pulled out my iPhone and took a look at the campus PDF map in Evernote to make sure I was going in the right direction in relation to my parking spot. Getting to class, I copied a few important dates from the screen into Appigo's ToDo iPhone app, and then went through the syllabus which I had already placed inside of Evernote. These are my two major programs, working together as my planner, notes, calendar . . . you name it. Any information needed for class can be added into one of two of those applications without much overlap. For my next class, where using phones or laptops instantly gets you ridiculed by the professor, I turn to the iPhone's Voice Memos app and take an audio recording of the lecture. This is still fairly new to my workflow, and I'm not sure if it will stay or go, but the clarity is typically sharp enough and the feature is easy to use. I listen to important lectures on the drive to and from school, and rarely feel the need to take the recordings outside of the application itself. I realize I could turn to Evernote for audio recordings, but I find Apple's version clearer, louder, and most importantly - without a time limit or space issue. During this class, I take notes on a sheet on printer paper, which is then uploaded into Evernote using my digital camera. After the lecture is over I open the Powerpoint presentations on my Macbook Pro, find slides which I think I need to review, and then convert them into a PDF presentation and throw them into Evernote as well. I do this weeding out process to conserve space on my free Evernote account and keep download time to a minimum. I can then review these notes from both my iPhone and my laptop. As the semester moves forward, Evernote will start filling up with not only notes and syllabi but reviews, presentations, and practice questions and answers. These will all be easily accessible and reviewable, with the bonus of keeping my backpack as light as possible.

    A few notes - I'd love to get a NeatReceipts scanner, but on my college budget this is simply not possible at this time. On the topic of "snapping a picture of the whiteboard" - I'm much to shy to do this. Pulling out a camera and taking pictures in a lecture hall simply seems a bit too odd, and writing down the information is proficient, allowing me to catalog it a little better than Evernote's ability with pictures. While I love Dropbox, I use it for personal use only, and have never found a need to use it academically. Writing essays, a rarity for my science major, is done in Apple Pages, but as you say, any program will do just fine these days.

    This article was great, and a very enjoyable read. It's good to see other people catching on to these ideas and methods - one of the greatest things about it is that it's truly "roll your own." Each student can choose how to use these applications in their own unique way - it's just finding out what works! Great stuff.