Fotor…more fun with photos

Name: Fotor
Cost: Free (upgrade for no ads)
Type: Internet tool (app available for iOS and Android); software download for Windows and Mac
Rating: 2/5 (Internet version) 5/5 (Download version)

 

Fotor logoI recently presented my blog to coworkers in order to not only bring attention to a resource that I think they’d find helpful, but I also wanted a sense of how my peers would respond to my blog’s content. I’m very fortunate to work in a very supportive environment. Through my presentation, I realized there are many options available for those looking to use free Internet tools to jazz up their classrooms (or whatever). Fotor was brought to my attention as a photo editor similar to PicMonkey. There are a few differences between Fotor and other photo editors, though they all offer the same types of options overall. At this point, I don’t have much of a preference for Internet photo editors, especially for my purposes. If I need to do any “professional” photo editing, I’m still likely to turn to Photoshop Elements or Lightroom. But, it’s good to have these options for times when I don’t have access to a computer with my purchased software. I have found that the free versions are likely to also be suitable for student use (as long as they aren’t in a graphic design course or the like).

Goal: create graphics to include in my online classroom, combining text and graphics; I’m also looking for an easy to use tool for enhancing the graphics I use in my blog

Defining terminology: The “Internet version” is the tool that you access through an Internet browser; you obviously need an Internet connection to use the tool. The “desktop version” or “download version” refers to the tool that you need to download from one of the links above to use the software on your computer rather than through an Internet browser. (I did not test the app versions.)

Fotor desktop workspace

This is what the desktop version of the workspace looks like. Can’t complain.

Benefits:

  • No log in required to get started with either the Internet or desktop version.
  • Font colors can be changed within the same textbox. (If I want to highlight a specific word, I can change the color without changing the color of every word or needing to create a separate textbox for the highlighted word.)
  • Able to save finished graphics as .jpg or .png. (No upgrade needed in order to download the graphic to your PC.) With the desktop version, you can also save it as .bmp and .tiff.
  • The graphics you create and download show up under the Import Photos section of the workspace. You can then add the edited graphics to the next graphic you create (e.g., for when you need to edit some photos before adding them to a collage).
  • Several share options: Fotor Forum, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+, or print or URL.
  • There is a preview feature that shows the graphic in the style’s intended environment. I created a YouTube cover, so the preview shows me the graphic as it might appear on a YouTube channels screen on a laptop, computer monitor, and smart phone. This way, you can see where the graphic might be cropped when put in that environment.
  • There is a download version of the software so you don’t need an Internet connection to use it.
  • Help is available, though it isn’t extensive. There are tutorials and a blog, with further insights.
  • The desktop version supports RAW image format. For those who shoot photos with a DSLR, this is a big deal since many photo editors only support JPG photo formats. (That said, most folks who take the time to shoot in RAW format have invested in Photoshop or Lightroom already.)
  • You can “batch” changes in the desktop version, so if you want to add the same border to a bunch of photos, you can do it at once.
  • The desktop version doesn’t seem to have ads beyond one in the right hand corner.
Fotor internet version workspace 1

This is the opening screen of options for the internet version of the tool.

Drawbacks:

  • Like most photo editing tools, some options are reserved for the upgraded version.
  • There are ads at the bottom of the screen for the Internet version, which can be distracting with they’re flashing, but I found it easier to ignore them as compared to tools with the ads in the right margin (e.g., Pic Monkey).
  • Some font colors don’t appear correctly (e.g., white font on black background). I had to change it to more of a gray-white in order for it to appear; for the yellow, I needed to slide the color picker to a brighter version of yellow. I identified this issue with the Internet version.
  • The screen freezes sometimes when it’s changing to a new banner ad on the Internet version.
  • Pictures over 8 megapixels cannot be uploaded to the Internet version of Fotor.
  • When creating a collage, I can’t seem to add text in the desktop version.
  • The Internet version sometimes doesn’t load, but reloading the page worked.
  • Some of the borders in the Internet collage tool will cut into your graphic. I think this is just a result of using a template that wants the graphics to be a certain size.
  • Undo in the Internet version seems to undo all the changes I made to a photo when editing it.

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Pixton…look out Calvin & Hobbes!

Name: Pixton
Cost: Free, Free Trial (Subscription $90/year)
Type: Internet Tool
Rating: 3/5

 

pixton logoDo you talk to yourself? Sometimes that’s the best way to have a meaningful conversation. As someone who dabbles in creative writing, I know the value of a short, engaging dialog to generate and share ideas. For several years now, I’ve wanted to share information with students via scripted dialog, which can be funny and insightful. Creating animated videos seems like a natural approach to creating dialog between characters, but animations are generally time consuming to create, even with tools that help you along with templates. Pixton allows me to create comics without needing to worry about timing the video correctly. The images are static, like a comic strip, graphic novel, storyboard, or poster. I believe I’m pretty funny with my comics, though I’m just hoping students think the graphics are different enough to pay attention.

Goal: carry on a dialog in a hypothetical situation in order to give my audience information they probably didn’t know they wanted to know

Pixton workspace 1

This is a combination of the views you go through when choosing characteristics of your comic.

Benefits:

  • Variety of backgrounds, characters, and character movements to work with. The background you choose will determine the characters you’re offered.
  • Contests are promoted so that comics can be voted into popularity, which might be enticing for student projects.
  • Buttons are “hidden” until you click a relevant object in your comic. If you select a character, then the buttons for changing movement or the look of the character. So, there aren’t dozens of buttons to sort through when you don’t need them.
  • There are tutorial videos, though there’s a note that the buttons and icons in the videos might be out of date. I found the tutorials helpful in generating ideas since this is not a form that I’m very familiar with.
  • I think it’s pretty cool that a Canadian husband-and-wife team cam up with the idea to create a website to allow (average) people to create comics.
  • More about “publication” is noted below, but I like that I can “unpublish” a comic if I no longer want it made public.

Drawbacks:

  • When typing dialog in the bubbles, backspace isn’t an option once you click away from the text. You have to delete it all and type again.
  • The free version does not allow for downloading (which is pretty typical). Also with the free version, you have to share it publicly. This is a big issue for me, since I can’t share specific information like my email in the graphic (without the world having access to my email address). There is a Code of Conduct posted and reporting method to keep comments from getting out of hand.
  • There is a limited number of characters associated with each background. For example, I can’t have an alien in the “fantasy” background. This is probably only an issue for me, since I like using odd characters in different situations for the sake of (dry) humor. It’d be great to have Calvin & Hobbes or other comic strip knock-offs…a nod to the originals without insulting them, perhaps.
  • You can only make comic strips and posters (not graphic novel pages, storyboards, or photo stories) with the free version

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Padlet…new school bulletin board

Name: Padlet
Cost: Free (subscription plans for $29/year)
Type: Internet (plus app)
Rating: 5/5

 

Padlet logoThere is something old school, yet appealing, with bulletin boards. Growing up, I remember looking forward to the beginning of the month since that was when the teachers would change their bulletin board content–new graphics, text, colors, and sometimes even new layouts. Some of the posters on the board might be funny, while other content might be a preview of what we’d focus on for that month. Ideally, the bulletin board would have “gold star” assignments posted for everyone to marvel at. I was always hopeful that mine would be up there, though I was more like a silver/bronze star student at the time, so my stuff was only posted if there was room or if it was parent/teacher conference week. Since I teach in a virtual environment and a college classroom on campus, I don’t get a bulletin board, which is probably fortunate since I’d obsess about what I would do with it each month. But, there are a few Internet options for creating a bulletin board sort of webpage, and Padlet is one of the more popular options. Padlet is an Internet tool that not only allows you to “post” text, graphics, and URLs, but also allows your users to add their own content. We used to get punished in school for “adding” to the bulletin board!

Goal: share text, graphics, and URLs in an engaging webpage (that would allow users to also post content, if I needed that feature)

Padlet workspace

This is a blank Padlet workspace. The “portrait” is just the icon that appears before the title and description at the top of your Padlet that you create. Wallpaper, Layout, and Privacy are the more important features under the setting icon.

Benefits:

  • Each “post” allows for a heading, whether the body of the post is text or a graphic. This allows me to label my graphics so the audience recognizes their significance.
  • There is a blog with insights and ideas.
  • The Padlet board can be exported to a file (e.g., PDF, JPG), which kind of takes away the appeal of the board, but perhaps it might make it easier for grading or offline distribution.
  • There is a Firefox add-on so that you can post Internet material to your Padlet boards as you explore the Internet.
  • Supports “audience participation” since you can allow users to post their own content to the board. For example, you can allow for classroom introductions, where students can post a photo and/or text about themselves; or groups can brainstorm ideas and post research for group projects.
  • The completely free-form, post-anywhere layout of a canvas makes me a little crazy, but some may like that chaos. Fortunately, I can choose a layout to be “stream” (one post under the next) or grid (lines them up in even rows). Even if you start with free form, you can change to stream or grid and the posts will be realigned accordingly.

Drawbacks:

  • This is just a reality of this type of tool, but you have to monitor what is posted since anyone can post anything (depending on the privacy setting). So, if you have students who cannot be trusted to act responsibly when posting, then you’ll want to have the “monitor” feature checked to approve additions before everyone can see them.
  • I can’t figure out how to change the font/style of the posts. I think it’s pretty much set for every type of Padlet to be the same. (There are some formatting options, but not as extensive as I’d like in the way of color or font style.)

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LiveBinder…no more paper hoarding

Cost: Free (subscription available)
Type: Internet
Rating: 3/5

 

LiveBinder LogoPlease tell me I’m not the only person who loves to collect information in actual (not virtual) binders. I’m a paper hoarder. I admit it. I love technology, but I still like to print things out or hang on to print items and punch holes in them so they can be included in a binder. Fortunately, technology has not only given me the opportunity to hoard less, but also share non-printed materials with students. LiveBinder is one option for sharing a variety of forms of documents and videos, without having to punch holes in anything. I had used LiveBinder first in 2013, when I needed to create supplemental materials for my students, but didn’t want to upload them to the classroom every term. LiveBinder was a way to create the collection of materials and just provide students with the relevant URL so they can access it on their own. Although LiveBinder seemed like a good idea, I wasn’t overly impressed with it’s appearance or functionality, particularly that I could not embed YouTube videos to play right from the binder page rather than just providing the link for students to click on and go to YouTube. Having started this blog, I decided to try LiveBinder again and happily found the YouTube issue resolved!

Goal: create a “library” of documents for students to access online (without having to log in to the classroom)

LiveBinder workspace 1

This is what your library will look like. I have a few binders already created. From here you can create a new binder or work on an binder you previously created.

Benefits:

  • You can restrict who has access to the binder you create by requiring the user to insert a ID and Password you generate; the user does not need an account with LiveBinders
  • You can personalize it to a certain extent, with a graphic for the binder cover and colors for the background or tabs.
  • You can “lock” the binder so users need the link and password to access it.
  • Easy for users to navigate (not complicated)
  • You can easily reorder tabs.
  • There are multiple sharing options, including embedding the binder as a clickable icon to access the binder or as an “open binder.”
  • There is help.

Drawbacks:

  • It’s pretty simplistic…not very flashy, though it has improved since 2013.
  • If sharing a website that is protected, it only provides a link to the website and a button to click that takes the user to the actual website. I realize that copyright issues are not the tool’s fault, but it’s still a drawback that the page is not more appealing to look at.
  • Cannot include some special characters in the tab title (e.g., apostrophe)
  • It takes a few seconds for the embedded content to appear on your screen after inserting the code. This originally cause me to panic and delete/undo the first few times. Don’t panic. Be patient. It should show up.
  • You cannot open a dialog box (e.g., Settings) on a tab with an embedded video because the video overlays part of the dialog box.
  • The free-version only allows for two levels (i.e., main and sub), whereas the pay-version allows for three levels (i.e., main, sub, base).

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Random Tip #9: Embed.ly

In an online environment, many of us have become accustomed with seeing “extra” content, such as videos or interactive content, along side the text we are reading. I find it necessary to embed content in my classroom announcements, which is the only place that my ecollege platform will allow me to embed content. You’ll also see embedding in my blog when I provide samples of digital media creations. Essentially, embedding doesn’t force your audience to leave your webpage in order to access the relevant video or other content. As an educator, I’m always afraid that my students will get distracted and not come back to the lesson content. If I give a link to a YouTube video, they might then continue to browse further videos that aren’t necessarily related to the lesson. Who can resist the “guilty pet” videos?

 

Embed.ly logo
I hope that you didn’t just prove my point in that video links take audiences away from my website and they don’t come back. Most video hosting sites and Internet digital media tools will provide embed codes for you to use, but there are times when they’re not available. I’ve found that I want to embed links to websites or documents in my classroom in order to have the same “don’t leave this page in order to access this other content” approach. There is an Internet tool to help create embed code for those who don’t have the programming skills to do it themselves: embed.ly. It’s kind of like a screen capture with a link, if you’re just embedding webpage content. It’s a better option for PDFs and videos. If you have some programming skills, or patience to figure programming stuff out, then the tool can do a bit more than just provide embed codes. For this tip, I just went with the basic version.

 

Here are a few things to know about Embed.ly
  • It’s free to use for up to 5,000 URLs per month, requests that are 15 seconds apart. I suspect there are some tech savvy folks who have great use for more URLs at a faster rate, but I know that I won’t intentionally exceed the free version. If you have many users accessing your content often, then you’ll probably max out. I’m happy when a few students access the content every once in a while.
  • There is help and tutorials available, though the tool is pretty easy to use for basic purposes. There is also a blog.
  • You don’t need to sign up or log in to start using the embed code generator. If you want to “customize” the embed code content, then you need to log in.
  • Really simple to use once you find the content you want to embed, since you just copy the URL into the embed.ly tool and copy the code.
  • The tool is not perfect. If there is a video on the page you want to embed, then only the video will appear in the embedded content, and users will still need to go to the link to access the full page.
Embed.ly workspace

After you click the copy to clipboard, if you’re signed in, you’ll see an option to customize your embed view. This is the workspace view for that customization.

 

Since most videos I create or want to otherwise share will provide embed codes, I mostly use this tool for embedding PDFs or documents that are posted on the Internet. The first sample is to a PDF. The second sample isn’t as helpful since it only provides a brief view of content, and then requires the reader to click the link for the full content; the advantage I see here is that the embed code at least entices the reader with a graphic and some content.

IEEE

IEEE.org serves technical professionals and students who are looking to both foster working relationships and gain access to the latest technical research and knowledge.

Haiku Deck…writing an actual Haiku is more fun

Cost: Free (pay versions are available)
Type: Internet tool or iOS app
Rating: 1/5

 

Haiku Deck LogoI’ve been on a kick with making single graphics that convey all the information needed, whether an infographic or just a JPG with an image and some text. But, there are times when I need to convey several related ideas and allow the audience to “click” through the ideas at their own pace. Yes, like a slide presentation. Okay, exactly like a slide presentation since I cannot (yet) afford the software that creates cool interactive training videos. I first encountered Haiku Deck as an app on my iPad. By “encountered,” I mean that I downloaded the app and then couldn’t figure out what I was going to use it for since I did all my work on my PC or laptop. Once I started my blog, I tracked down any presentation tool I could find with the hopes of finding the “perfect” tool. (There could be a unicorn out there waiting to be found by me.) Well, Haiku Deck is not my unicorn, though it’s simplicity might appeal to those who are easily distracted by too many options. While the name of the tool, Haiku, implies this level of simplicity, I find that Haiku poems have great depth and interest that is not constrained by the brief structure of the poem. I have not tried the app version yet, so this review is just the Internet (PC) version.

Goal: find an alternative presentation tool for online classroom announcements that needed more than one slide

Benefits:

  • No distractions from bells and whistles because there aren’t any.
  • There is an app version for those who prefer working with smaller devices.
  • There are a variety of share options (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, email, Pinterest, etc.) or you can get the link/HTML to embed it yourself.
  • It has a cool name and logo associated with the tool. (Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.)

    Haiku Deck workspace 1

    This is the workspace before you start adding content. You can choose a theme and layout from here.

Drawbacks:

  • There are few layouts provided, and you cannot modify them. For example, I had wanted a block of text that was left-justified, but took up the whole slide (not half the slide). I could not change the justification unless I chose a different layout, which would squish the text to one side or the other.
  • No undo button! I had to start over when I tried playing around with colors and couldn’t get back to the original coloring. I got in the habit of creating a copy of the slide I was going to change so that I could go back to the original if needed.
  • Free version allows public access and sharing of your slide decks.
  • There is a “sneaky” (technical term used in tutorial video) button at the top of the workspace for changing fonts, but I can’t find any specific button for making text bold, italicized, or a different color.
  • The Internet version does not always play well with Firefox (Flash), and may crash when going to preview the slides.
  • Cannot import PowerPoint slides directly as PPT files (you need to save them as images and put them in the Haiku deck)
  • There aren’t blank templates. Rather, you copy someone else’s presentation and swap out their text on each slide.
  • Haiku Deck adds a slide to the end of your presentation to advertise creating a deck and “featured decks” (which aren’t related to what your deck is focused on).

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Random Tip # 8: The Noun Project

Noun project logo

(Noun Project logo)

I think my favorite part about the website, TheNounProject.com, is their slogan (even though they don’t use the Oxford comma): “creating, sharing and celebrating the world’s visual language.” Not only does it appeal to my interest in photography and how stories can be told visually, it also applies to my love of digital media and the combination of text and visuals (…especially when the visuals are free).

The Noun Project is a collection of over 100K icons that are $0 – $1.99. If you pay for the royalty free icons, then you don’t have to give credit, but if you use a free version, then you need to give credit. There is a subscription version that allows for unlimited royalty free icons (no citations needed).

Why am I sharing this website since there are plenty of other “free” icons out on the Internet? Is there more to it than just the slogan?

  • Their security guard is cute
  • Easy search tool
  • Gives credit to the creator
  • No ads (pop-up ads or the like)
  • Simple website design, easy to navigate
  • Information for giving credit is provided upon download
  • My favorite reason: the credit is already embedded in many of the graphics (so I don’t have to worry about labels unless I edit out the credit)
  • No watermark
  • There is a blog

Caution: the website is addictive since it is very easy search and download a variety of icons. Do not blame me if you lose several hours in your day.

A previous student of mine used a bunch of the icons to symbolically represent key points from a novel we read for class. She layered the icons so that there were several symbols that worked together to make her point. (She also explained the symbolism to me, which was required.) I loved the simplicity of the images that held significant meaning. It was a great example of critical thinking and visual rhetoric. Beyond that example, I can see how the icons can be used as visual interest in slide presentations or posters, especially when simplicity is ideal.

The Noun Project is my second favorite image gallery. I still really like Pixabay because it gives access to photos and graphics without requiring credit, though The Noun Project does have more diversity when looking for icons or the like. Since the Noun Project embeds the credit, I will likely rely on it more often; it’s good modeling to show students that giving credit is necessary (unless told otherwise).

Noun project sample icons

Just a few icons I collected (…don’t look for deeper meaning in my collection since I chose them because they seemed either unique, relevant, or entertaining)

Noun project sample 2

Random Tip #7: Google Forms

Google forms logo

I had originally set out to write a full review of Google Forms, but I couldn’t come up with enough to write a full review. Besides, I’m biased. I love Google Forms.

I like gathering “data” and putting it into spreadsheets. Early on in my professional career, forms were created through MS Word, and were often ugly if the person didn’t know how to use the “fields” option. It drove me crazy to see a form where there was a “write your answer here” area identified by underscores that you had to either delete before typing there or watch the line grow and grow as you typed in your response. Seriously. Even thinking about how a form with a clean layout would quickly devolve into a mess gives me chills. If you had money, you could get the editable version of Adobe Acrobat and convert the Word document into a form. This was a tedious process since you had to create textboxes for each response line, and then modify the font size to make sure the answers weren’t 14 pt font while the rest of the form was 10 pt font. I have created forms this way. I didn’t like it, and I don’t want to do it again.  I have also done some database work, where you can create a sort of online form that puts the information right into Access or database software. This approach is not really for the non-IT person.

Alas, Google Forms addresses my “form” desires:

  • Free (really free, not free to create the form but have to pay to access the responses)
  • Easy to create and complete
  • Shuttles the responses automatically into a spreadsheet
  • Looks professional (depending on the theme you choose)
  • Able to embed the form in my online classroom (also, able to email interactive form to Gmail accounts)
  • Some questions can be marked required (and users cannot submit the form until completing those questions)

Google Forms can be a bit quirky. I found it is often easier to create a new form than reuse an existing form that needs minor edits in order to be used for a different population; not creating a new form means that all the responses from the old version and the revised version go into the same spreadsheet. Another factor to consider is you’ll need a Gmail account. Since Google hasn’t taken over the world yet, I suspect there are a few people who do not have a Google account (…not many people, but a few). From your Gmail account, you can create the form through the Drive app, which also stores the form and its responses, so there’s no way getting around committing to Google in the form of a Gmail account.

Google Forms workspace

This is the workspace for Google Forms with a few sample questions to show different options. There are a variety of question types, ranging from paragraph to check-boxes.

What might you use a Google Form for? I use it primarily for student surveys that go beyond the official end-of-term surveys. But, I also create peer review forms for my creative writing course; I can see the responses and then email students the portion of the spreadsheet that applies to them. Or, I create “writer reflection” forms to allow students to explain their creative writing process for the story they wrote.

I didn’t include interactive samples, but rather graphics of what two of my forms look like. You can choose your theme for the form so you don’t have to make individual choices about font, color, and graphics; this might be a drawback for some, but I would spend way too long perfecting my design so I appreciate Google’s preset options. That said, I do try a variety of themes before committing, though I can change the theme at any time.

Google Form Samples

Audacity….forcing me to hear my own voice

Cost: Free
Type: Software (download)
Rating: 5/5

 

audacity_logoThis is an oldie, but goodie. I’ve been using Audacity since the very beginning of my digital media adventures (about 10+ years ago). Beyond just a free tool to record audio narratives, this software has had a more significant impact on my life. Ultimately, after creating and editing hundreds of audio files, this software helped me accept my nasally, mid-western voice as it is. Sometimes I sound like a smoker (which I’m not). Sometimes I sound sick (which I’m generally not). Most times, as students have noted, I sound like a documentary narrator…soothing, but not generally sleep-provoking (which I suspect is not entirely true based on my in-person lecture experiences). The software is easy to use, so I had no choice but to continue to create audio narrations to my videos without excuse. Its’ free, but it looks like software you might pay to use.

Goal: find stand alone software to record audio narration for my slide presentations (…this goal was set when PowerPoint was quirky with recording audio in presentation mode)

Benefits:

  • Totally free!
  • Easy to use….just have a mic and start recording. You may want to double-check sound levels at some point since I often record too low.
  • There is a wiki help website, though I have not needed to use it.
  • It’s easy to chop parts out of the recording, such as the beginning (when you’re taking a deep breath) or the end (when you’re saying something like, “Finally! I got through this without the dog barking.”). Just highlight the section to remove and press the Delete key on your keyboard.
Audacity workspace view

This is the workspace, where you can see a recorded file. I don’t know what many of the buttons do because once I set up my mic and volume, I didn’t have to fiddle with anything. Editing as I go is very easy so that I can quickly remove flubs, rerecord that section, and paste the revised version with the first version.

Drawbacks:

  • It glitches and crashes sometimes without saving the recording, thus you can start all over again recording that clip. The most recent version of the software has addressed over 50 bugs, so perhaps the glitch has been fixed. (Recent use has not resulted in crashes.)
  • It probably doesn’t have the audio fine-tuning and editing options as other software. So, if you are planning on submitting your vocal recording audition to America’s Got Talent, then you may need more specific software (and a recording studio).
  • Exporting to MP3 is a total pain the first time, since you need to download more software (plugin) from an external site, and that site often has misleading links, though the author has recently provided insights on navigating the site. Once you install the plugin, you shouldn’t need to do it again unless you move the file.
  • There is one extra screen that I don’t feel is relevant when I’m saving a file…I just dislike having to click more than I have to.

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Evernote….ever a believer (now)

Name: Evernote
Cost: Free (subscribe for more features)
Type: Download, app, Internet tool
Rating: 5/5

 

Evernote logoWay back when I first started my dissertation research, I was eager for tools to help me organize my thoughts and research. OneNote was my first choice, as it was free and already loaded on the PC I was using. It mirrored my existing concepts of note taking since the interface was designed to look like tabbed notebooks or a binder with tabbed separators. My description here is dated since I started my dissertation eons ago, and have since moved on to trying different tools to organize thoughts and research. While I liked the notebook view of OneNote, I would spend too much time color coordinating and otherwise personalizing the notebooks, much like I did in high school (e.g., well-decorated Chandler assignment planner, with few assignment deadlines actually listed in the calendar). Now, you’re starting to understand why it’s taken so long to write my dissertation. When I abandoned OneNote several years ago, I briefly tried Evernote, and didn’t like it. Honestly, I don’t remember why I didn’t like it, though I suspect it was cumbersome or did not fit my way of thinking. But, a few months ago, I went to a training workshop for Evernote, and was encouraged to give it another try, even if I just used it for my grocery list.

I haven’t used Evernote for a grocery list yet, but I’ve used it for keeping track of ideas that would otherwise end up on post-it notes, notepads, journals, notebooks, Word documents, emails to myself, Google documents, notes on my whiteboard (…an actual whiteboard, not an app), Notes app, or junkmail envelopes. This blog would not have come to pass without Evernote. I draft all my ideas in Evernote weeks in advance of posting to my blog. I also have individual notebooks for course ideas, creative writing ideas, publication ideas, feedback on courses that should be revised, and (of course) dissertation ideas/research. I can easily save Internet articles to any of the notebooks I’ve created. By far, this has been my favorite tool for organizing my ideas and research. Graphic showing fireworks

Goal: find a tool that takes the place of ideas on post-it notes that make my office look like it is a sit-in for square-winged butterflies

Benefits:

  • Cloud technology allows for updating on a variety of devices, but Internet connection is not required if the software is downloaded to your computer…I can put information in my app version and see it on my laptop and PC
  • Simple, no-frills organization of notebooks and notes. I can bounce between notebooks very easily.
  • You can share notebooks/notes….I don’t, but you can
  • Search function looks in individual notebooks or all notebooks or tags
  • Reminder feature will send an email on a chosen day to nudge you to work on a task listed as a note
  • In a note, you can insert a URL, table, PDF, or graphic. You can then annotate the attached PDF or graphic.
  • Web-clipper….allows saving URLs, whole articles, and screenshots of websites. I don’t have time to read all the interesting articles in my Facebook and RSS feeds, so I can save them in Evernote to read later (i.e., after graduation). LOVE THIS FEATURE…especially since I can use the Evernote app on my phone and read those saved articles when I’m standing in line at the Post Office (for example)
  • You can combine notebooks into a “notebook stack.” I have several notebooks for my blog (e.g., “to post,” “posted,” “random tips”), and each have their own notebook since there are many notes for each. I can create a notebook stack for my blog, and all the related notebooks (and notes) are organized together. Think of it like a main folder with subfolders with documents.
  • You can put notes in the Shortcut section at the top of the Notebook list. I put the notes there that I rely on most or that I don’t want to forget about.
Evernote workspace 1

Here is one view of my Evernote workspace. the note has a table (…I love organizing information with tables). These notebooks are not stacked. I started with a simple layout until I figure out how I want to organize my notebooks better.

Drawbacks:

  • Evernote sometimes freezes for a moment when syncing or otherwise saving content. You can change the settings to sync less frequently if the momentary freeze is bothersome.
  • Every once in a while I’ll get pop-ups that I should invest in the pay version.
  • The blog doesn’t entirely focus on Evernote insights, but also has articles related to a variety of situations (e.g., running a small business, writer’s block). I don’t like having to scroll through articles just to find the gems related to using Evernote. (With some scrolling, though, I did find a helpful post: Tools That Write Well with Evernote. That’s on my list to read in the future.) They have an email newsletter that you can subscribe to. Most of the emails are about the perks of subscribing, but I do find a good tip every once in a while, especially if it’s a newly added feature.
  • There is a monthly limit to the size uploads (60MB) and note size (25MB), but I haven’t run into the limit as of yet. I suspect that if you clip many articles from the Internet per month or you have a group working all in the same account, then it’ll be an issue for you.

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