Using Evernote for Ethnography

Written by the Instructional Design Team

Evernote is a great application for taking notes in text, audio, and photos using your mobile devices and computer. It is one of the most popular note-taking applications that is used increasingly in education.

Sensing_TimDr. Tim Sensing (Graduate School of Theology) uses Evernote for a student ethnography assignment. In the course BIBM 657: Context in Ministry that he taught, he required students to go into the field (contexts) to study. In the past, students had had to use pencil and paper, or tape or digital recorders to gather field notes from various contexts. It had been a time-consuming process to gather, code, and sort such data as it came in.

The last time he taught this course, students took their iPads with them in the field to take notes. The class explored using Google Docs, Audio Notes, Pages, and Drop Box. Sensing discerned that each of these applications had various limitations. They used Evernote accounts to have student groups working in various contexts take notes in text, photos or audio recordings. All the notes were saved in the cloud for immediate access by other group members. If further editing was needed, students could also use laptops to edit as Evernote can be used on different platforms. None of the other apps were as flexible or as powerful for group projects according to Sensing.

While utilizing this tool for group field work, Dr. Sensing suggested the following factors for better results:

Critical Reflection: After gathering the field notes, students could tag such notes and count the frequency of such tags to facilitate coding. Teams were engaged in tagging too. By doing this, they were able to compare trends with the literature they had read about specific topics for consistency. They sometimes discovered new themes or trends. This turned out to be a tool for critical reflection which allowed students to have more in-depth analysis of the literature.

Faculty Presence: Dr. Sensing also recommends that as a professor you have to be “present” in the use of any out of class assignment. He enrolled himself in each student group account in order to see student progress. He also provided comments and feedback using a separate folder in their group account. This way, he keeps interacting with students as they collaborate on their field work.

Work Tracking: Evernote does not have a version control or tracking feature (e.g., Quip (https://quip.com). It is difficult to find out who did what as each group would have a shared account. Dr. Sensing recommends students include their names or initials in each of their contributions to keep track. This, in turn, provides accountability and motivation for various members in the group to participate.