Evernote is one of those tools I really wanted to like and use when I first heard of it, but after playing with it for a while, I decided I really had no need for it. I was teaching then, and I had all the files I needed organized neatly in folders and synced between my tablet and my home desktop. Cool concept, right tool, wrong time.
Fast forward to September 2008: I’m now a school psychologist, responsible for a case management load of over 70 students. I started using one of my first “Web 2.0” loves, Tiddlywiki, to help keep my notes on each student organized. As much as I liked it for maintaining plain text notes, that’s really all it could do without further tinkering. Linking to local files was too time-consuming, and God forbid I move a file – broken & useless link.
When I switched schools in January, I also switched note-keeping tools. Looking for something a little more robust than Tiddlywiki, I dusted off my Evernote install, updated to the latest version, and began to play. My trial period turned into a love affair.
How We Roll
Within a given account, Evernote allows you to create “notebooks”, and within each notebook, you have “notes” – think of them as a neverending stack of index cards. Like Tiddlywiki, these notes can accommodate plain text, hyperlinks, bullets, number lists, etc., but Evernote also allows you to drag and drop files into your “index cards”. Users with free accounts are restricted to dragging and dropping images, audio, ink, and PDF files, but if you are a paying user ($5/mo or $45/yr), you can drag any kind of file AND have Evernote synchronize so that your files are accessible from any computer with Evernote installed, the Evernote website, or your mobile phone (via either a mobile site, Windows Mobile app, or iPhone app).
In my quest to go as paperless as possible at work, I scan a lot of documents to PDF. When I drag them into Evernote, I can view the document directly in Evernote via their baked-in PDF viewer (courtesy the good folks at Foxit, maker of my PDF viewer of choice).
Relevance to School Psychology
Ours is a profession that depends greatly on paper trails and written documentation. Evernote is a convenient, paper-free method of storing information in just about any medium you may use. From an organizational standpoint, here’s an example of how I’ve set up some notebooks on general topics:
This screenshot is from my home computer. The notebooks with greyed-out icons are local-only; the green icons indicated synchronized folders (I access these from my computer at work, too). As you can see, I’ve set up separate notebooks for business cards, documentation regarding my certification status in both NJ and PA, information on doctoral programs, our local Polytech program, and even a repository of research articles I have encountered over the years.
Beneath these notebooks are individual notebooks for each student on my caseload. Any time I need to record pertinent information for or about a student, it goes directly into Evernote. I have a clipboard & pen that saves my written notes as PDFs, so even when I am without my computer (e.g., a classroom observation), I can still write down what I need to, save it to PDF, and drop it from the clipboard’s SD card right into Evernote.
I have even been able to digitally record important information, compress the wav file, and archive it here. Who needs a stack of cassette tapes lying around when you can keep it all here?
Even if you don’t wish to set up several notebooks, you can use Evernote as a “brain dump” and use their search function to find what you need when you need it. Their OCR technology even allows you to search the text in PDFs and photographs.
Evernote has been a great organizational tool for this psychologist over the two months I’ve been using it. It’s essentially a digital file cabinet that I’ll never even get close to filling – I’m a paid member, and even after syncing a ton of PDFs and quite a few zipped .wav files, I still only used 160 MB of my 500 MB monthly limit this month (free members get 40 MB/mo). Maybe a good analogy is to think of Evernote as an iTunes for your notes and documents – sure, you could open up separate folders and click on individual mp3s to listen to music, but isn’t it easier to manage them all in one central location?