Hacking Evernote as a “Loose” Grade Book

As much as I might have to say about Elluminate, Google+, Vyew, and Voicethread (all of which I’ve used in the past), what really captured my attention this week (speaking from the past, of course.  This is week 9, right? ;)) was the article Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: specifically, the loose grade book developed (and apparently now finished and up and running) at Brigham Young University.  If we’re going to use distributed tools that are (by definition) not tied to a school’s centralized system there are a few problems–some that should be of concern to instructors and others that should be of concern to administrators.  And this kind of integrated grade book that pulls in work from outside the system seems, if not a necessity, a pretty good idea.

What the “loose” grade book does:

  1. Allows students to submit urls of assignments directly to a central location.  The plus of this is that instructors don’t have to worry about collecting all of this work themselves from the various locations around the web.
  2. Makes permanent copies of this work available so that even if the locations where the work is hosted disappear (as can happen with third-party tools), the work remains available.
  3. Completely integrates students’ work with the tools of assessment.

Upfront: I’m not going to be able to pull off 3.  Someone might be able to do it using the Evernote API, but at that point you’re better off contacting an actual educational software developer to get something professional done and truly centralized.

But 1 and 2?  That I can do.

What you’ll need: an Evernote account; the Evernote Web Clipper for your preferred browser; basic html knowledge (real basic!)

Note: This can work for any cloud note service that allows email updates, as well as most browsers.  My instructions assume Evernote and Chrome, but the basic principles should carry over.

How to do it: View in Fullscreen to see the details! 

(Step-by-step instructions below the video)

1. Create a new notebook in your Evernote account.  Keep it simple: I’m naming mine Phil149win12.

2. Create all the tags you will need.  This includes a tag for each student and assignment.  So, my tag (as a student) would be “davis-shannon” and the assignment would be, for example, “week08.”  If you do not set up the tags ahead of time, the notes will not be automatically sorted by those tags and you will have a little extra work on your hands organizing the notebook.

3. Find your Evernote email address.  This will allow you (and, more importantly, your students) to email notes to your account without needing a password or username.  You can find it under Settings > Account Summary, at the bottom under “Emailing to Evernote.”

4. Learn the syntax of “Emailing to Evernote.”  These instructions are taken directly from Evernote:

1. Select a destination notebook for your email by adding @[notebook name] to the end of the subject line.
2. Add tags to your note by typing  #[tag name] at the end of the subject line. This feature works with existing tags in your account.
3. To designate a destination notebook and add tags, be sure to list the notebook name before the tags.

5. So, my hypothetical email would have the subject line: Test Assignment @Phil149win12 #davis-shannon #week08

6. Here’s the html: Create an email link for the students to use.  You need to create a “mailto” link, fill in the subject line automatically with a template for the students to use and, for security, hide that link from spambots.   If you’ve never used html, this sounds like a lot, but it’s actually fairly straightforward.

Make a “mailto” link:

<a href=”mailto:youremailname@domain.com”>Submit!</a>

Replace the mailto and @ with special html characters.  “mailto” becomes &#109;&#097;&#105;&#108;&#116;&#111; @ becomes &#064;.  This makes the original link look like this:

<a href=”&#109;&#097;&#105;&#108;&#116;&#111;:youremailname&#064;domain.com”>Submit!</a>

[Instructions taken from here.  They accidentally drop the colon after “mailto”.  If you do that the link won’t work!  Be careful.]

Insert a preset Subject Line for the email.  This involves altering the link further.  Add “?subject=” immediately after (no spaces) the end of the email address (usually a .com, .edu, .net, etc.).  After the “?subject=” add what you want the subject line to be.  So, I want the subject line to read “Your Title @Phil149win12 #yourlastname #assignment”.  Therefore, I should write “?submit=Your Title @Phil149win12 #yourlastname #assignment”.  This will help guide the students in filling out the subject.  (see step ? below).

So, the link from above should now look like this:

<a href=”&#109;&#097;&#105;&#108;&#116;&#111;:youremailname&#064;domain.com?subject=Your Title @Phil149win12 #yourlastname #assignment”>Submit!</a>

It’s getting pretty long!

[Instructions taken from here.]

7. Finally, insert the code onto your site.  I made mine a lovely button in a sidebar, but you can figure out how to make it look like whatever you prefer.  My final code:

<center><button><h3><a href=”&#109;&#097;&#105;&#108;&#116;&#111;:youremailname&#064;domain.com?subject=Your Title @Phil/Envi149win12 #yourlastname #assignmentname”>Submit</a></h3></button></center>

For ease, you can simply copy this code and replace the placeholders with your info.

8. Your students can now click the link.  This will (hopefully) cause their preferred email client to open with a blank email with the subject line all filled in with the template.

Update [2011.10.31]: As an alternative to steps 6, 7, and 8, you might instead create a contact/feedback/comment form.  This would more effectively hide the email address, but would also require more html (thus, why I didn’t include it).  WordPress users can use plugins to replace the html work.

The Student’s Side:

The email pops up with your subject line template.  In this case, Your Title @Phil149win12 #yourlastname #assignment.  They should have clear instructions, regularly repeated, on how to replace the right parts.  So, I might fill this out “Distributing the Classroom! @Phil149win12 #davis-shannon #week08.”  I copy and paste the email address of my blog post (for example) into the body of the email and click submit.

The Instructor’s Side:

All of your students’ assignments show up in Evernote tagged (and so searchable and filterable) by student name and assignment.  Click the link to start grading, use the Evernote Web Clipper plugin to clip the entire page (don’t forget to tag the assignment and student last name, and choose the correct notebook–you can make it default if you are only using it for one course), and voila! you have a permanent record of the students’ work for the future.  For extra security use the desktop client to export all of the work to your computer.

This takes care of the need of the instructor to go through each student’s blog as the work is done.  And it takes care of the more administration-centered concern that there will be no permanent record of the course.

Hope this helps!

If you have any comments, questions, corrections, or additional help, please leave it in the comments section!

Comments 4

  1. avatar Ron Toledo wrote:

    Hello Brandon. This is Ron from Evernote. This is such a great idea. Thanks so much for putting this video and description together. We really appreciate all the support. We just added a brand new Teaching Forum http://discussion.evernote.com/forum/49-teaching/ Would you mind adding this as a topic? Or if I went ahead and started the discussion.

    Posted 31 Oct 2011 at 1:21 pm
  2. avatar Brandon wrote:

    @Ron: Hi. Thanks for the kind words! Please feel free to start a discussion, if you’d like. And I’d welcome any suggestions that might improve this.

    Posted 31 Oct 2011 at 1:27 pm
  3. avatar Andrei Thorp wrote:

    Nicely done! If you want to get fancy, you could expand the web form to let people select tags / assignments / names from drop-down type lists so that there’s no chance of them mistyping them in the e-mail subject. Nothing super hard to do, but might take a tiny bit of JavaScript.

    Posted 31 Oct 2011 at 1:46 pm
  4. avatar Brandon wrote:

    @Andrei: Good idea! One thing I didn’t think of when originally writing this was to use a basic web form, but I think having a drop down list would avoid a host of problems.

    Posted 31 Oct 2011 at 1:49 pm

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 1

  1. From The Conference of the Birds - Open Learning Network on 03 Nov 2011 at 2:21 am

    […] The article brought to my attention that LMS aids the teaching –as- knowledge- transfer paradigm.  LMS is centrally managed, hierarchical, content-focused and teacher centric. It makes sense! But I had not thought about it before. The Open Learning Network can easily “talk” to any application that does the same and supports community-building tools. Also, I found interesting that in the OLN’s loosely coupled grade book instructors will only see a list of student’s names and links to the artifacts they published on the web. “This allows learners to author and publish content where it is most natural and appropriate to do so in the learning process”. Again, this is something I had not thought before but it makes sense to me. It gives students greater control over content and learning. It gives agency to the learner. Thanks Brandon for the post to track student work and assessment: http://parenethical.com/blog/2011/10/30/hacking-evernote-as-a-loose-grade-book/ […]

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