Google releases “Google Keep”, an Evernote-like smartphone and web app

Google has just announced a new product called Google Keep (see the original blog post here):

google keepAt first glance, it looks like it’s a cross between Evernote and Google Now. It’s similar to Evernote in the sense that you can quickly and easily add notes, audio clips, photos, etc. to a general digital scratchpad, but it’s also similar to Google Now in the sense that it’s well-suited for ephemeral things like to-do lists which you only want visible for a short period of time. From the phone interface, you can “swipe away” items to archive them and remove them from view, making it easy to avoid clutter without actually deleting things. There’s also an “archive” button in the web interface which offers the same functionality.

I’m playing around with Google Keep on my phone and laptop right now, and I can tell that the quality is a little bit rough. It would make sense, for example, for Keep to have separate “folders” or “channels” to place items in; however, as far as I can tell, all new items go in the same general slush pile. Ideally, a teacher could create a “folder” for each class and be able to click into that folder to automatically file away all notes, photos, and audio clips as belonging just to that class, but it doesn’t look like this is implemented. Until something like that exists, this might be a better tool for general productivity purposes, not for individual per-class collections of materials.

The homescreen widget for Google Keep is pretty amazing. The smaller option, a 3×1 widget, consists of four “input” buttons- new note, new list, new audio recording, and new photo. The larger option, a 3×2 widget, uses the top half-row for the input buttons while the lower 1.5 rows is a scrollable mini-window which lets you see your recent “kept” items. You can scroll down ticker-tape style to see your kept items in reverse-chronological order, all completely seamlessly and with no loading time that I could detect. The “swipe to archive” feature kind of breaks here, though. Obviously, you can’t swipe to archive on the widget because you need the same gesture to navigate from one home screen to the next, but even if you tap on an item to open it in the Google Keep app, it brings up a details/editing screen which also lacks the swiping functionality. On this screen, you have to hit Menu > Archive. Pretty clumsy.

I’m excited about this new tool, but until it’s been refined a bit more, I don’t think it’s ready for classroom use. I encourage you to give it a try, though, and let me know what you think in the comments!

PS: Here’s a Google Play link to the Android app and a QR code of the same!


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Evernote: A Virtual Swiss Army Knife

This guest post by Derrick Waddell was previously published in his blog, Teach the Cloud.

Many of you are like me–constantly on the go.  Whether I’m out of town using my Android phone, in a meeting using, my iPad, at work using my Windows PC, or at home using my Ubuntu machine, Evernote is always there offering a plethora of tools like a virtual Swiss Army knife.  Here are just a few of the ways Evernote can help you become on online MacGyver!

Stay Mobile

Evernote offers a version for every platform.  On Windows and Mac OS X, there is a desktop version of the software.  For those Linus junkies like me, the web version is a great experience.  There are even versions for Android, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows Phone that add extra functionality when you’re on the go.

Take Notes

If you’re in a meeting or at a conference, you can easily take notes in Evernote and since Evernote is available on a variety of platforms, all of the notes are synced across  all of your devices.  If one goes dead halfway through a conference, just pick up where you left off on another device.  When the conference is over, you can then go back and organize all of the notes into notebooks or add tags to make things easier to find.

Share Notes and Notebooks

After you’ve created a note or a notebook, you can share it out to others.  Create a shared notebook to collaborate with your PLN.  Use a shared note to share links or information with students or parents. Since you can share to either view or modify, the possibilities are endless.

Clip the Web

The Evernote Chrome and Safari Extensions and Firefox Add-on allow you to easily clip or bookmark websites you run across in your travels.  You can send an entire webpage, which then becomes interactive inside your notebook.  If you don’t need the entire page, you can use Evernote for a quick and easy bookmarking tool then go back up to #3 and share those bookmarks with others.

Take Pictures

The mobile versions of Evernote allow you to take quick snapshots and add them into your notes.  You could use it to take pictures of the slideshow you’re seeing at a conference for later reference.  You could take a quick picture of class projects and then share the  note out for the world to see.  What you do with them is only limited by your imagination.

Record Audio

Again, on the mobile versions, you have the ability to record audio.  In your note that you’re taking in that meeting where you’ve already added a picture of the PowerPoint slide, you can easily record what the presenter is saying so that you have an accurate record.  Principals could use this on walkthroughs to accurately recall what was taking place in the classroom when he/she was taking notes.

Whether it’s organizing web content or taking notes on the go, Evernote has become an invaluable tool for me.  Head over to and see for yourself, watch the video below, or check out the Evernote Education Series for more ideas of how you can use Evernote in the classroom.  As always, let me know how it works for you in the comments!

Creative Commons License
Evernote: A Virtual Swiss Army Knife by Derrick Waddell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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Smartphones: smartfriends or smartfoes?

Photo by CERDEC, CC-BY 2.0
Photo by CERDEC, CC-BY 2.0

The war over smartphone use in the classroom is a particularly uncomfortable and murky area of emerging educational policy. Different schools have different contradictory policies, and individual teachers may or may not adhere to those policies. More traditional-minded educators often distrust the notion that students can use technology in a mature and productive fashion, and even evangelists of cutting-edge educational technologies might argue that students should only use locked-down, supervised devices provided to them for limited use during specific lessons, such as school-owned iPads from a communal cart which can be wheeled from classroom to classroom.

J. Robinson from The 21st Century Principal is not one of those educators. He just wrote a piece called Let’s End the Administrator War on Mobile Devices arguing that focusing on smartphones as a problem is a red herring which impedes the development of better educational practices. He notes that many educators “believe fiercely that cell phones are nuisances and have no place in education,” but asserts that “it is that same possibility and potential for mischief that make mobile devices powerful tools for learning and powerful tools for the classroom.” He goes on to argue that policies should focus on behavioral issues rather than devices themselves, and he suggests that school policies ought to foster the “healthy” use of mobile devices in order to “capitalize on their educational potential.”

Photo by CERDEC, CC-BY 2.0
Photo by CERDEC, CC-BY 2.0

Robinson’s experience is with K-12 students. Educators at the K-12 level have the added burden of being in loco parentis and must both educate and discipline students. Where those two priorities clash is an eternal point of friction, and nowhere does discipline grate against education more fiercely than in the cultural struggle over mobile and personal computing devices in the hands of students.

I taught several sessions of the Etymologies course at Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth program. Although CTY can be a very progressive and permissive program in certain regards, the policies regarding technology were always draconian—at least, as of 2010 when I last taught. The general message from the administration was that during the entire three-week session, students would ideally never use a piece of technology unless it were directly related to an educational activity. They especially should not be allowed to access the Internet during those three weeks unless in a computer lab and under the direct observation of a faculty member. If we would ever catch a student with a cell phone—or heaven forbid, a smartphone—we were to confiscate it and turn it in to the site director. As a digital native myself, I felt sympathy for my students, but hey—rules were rules. I gave warnings instead of doing immediate confiscations, but on more than one occasion, I had to play the role of Meanie-Teacher Phone-Snatcher.

Currently, I teach ESL to adults. I encourage my students to use their phones in class. I tell my students at the beginning of the semester that I’m interested in how we can use technology to help us learn and that I want them to feel comfortable using their devices for productive purposes. If they want to take a photo of my whiteboard or of my presentation slide, for example, then that’s fine. But I also tell them that we’re all adults, and I expect that they will be mature and trustworthy in their phone usage. If I do catch a student on Facebook or otherwise goofing off, I ask them firmly and politely to get back on task, but I’m not in loco parentis—I have the luxury of knowing that my students are adults who are ultimately responsible for their own actions and their own learning.

What’s your perspective? Should students be trusted to use their own devices in the classroom? If so, under what conditions? How can the use of a personal smartphone or tablet enhance a student’s learning in your classroom?

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Continuing price wars leading to absurdly cheap tablets; what should educators do?

As any reader of this blog knows, tablets have been attracting great interest from educators and administrators alike due to their low cost, small size, portability, multimodal input, and general versatility for educational purposes. While the iPad has been the undisputed leader in being adopted by educational institutions (perhaps out of inertia in trusting Apple for so long in the desktop computer business?), competitors do exist. While Apple is content to price its iPad up somewhere in the stratosphere, Google and Amazon have been price-warring with one another on tablets. Thanks to the latest round of extreme price cutting, it’s now possible to get two tablets comparable to the iPad for the price of one name-brand iPad itself.

Here’s the bottom line: Amazon just cut its 8.9″, 32 GB Kindle Fire HD 4G-connected tablet from $499 to $399, and it also cut the 8.9″, 16 GB Kindle Fire HD WiFi version from $299 to $269. (The 8.9″, 32 GB Kindle Fire WiFi version weighs in at $299.)

By comparison, Google’s 10″, 32 GB Nexus 10 (WiFi only) still costs $485. Don’t get me wrong—$485 is an absolute bargain compared to Apple’s $580 32 GB iPad (WiFi version)—but by this point, it’s clear that Amazon wants to make its money only in media and services, not in hardware. Apple is still positioning itself as a premium hardware company, and Google is straddling the difference.

Those are all prices listed above, by the way. If we go by what each vendor lists on its own website, the difference becomes more stark: when it comes to larger-format, 32 GB, WiFi-driven tablets, Amazon’s pricing itself at $299, Google is at $499, and Apple is at $599. That means you can get two 32 GB Kindle Fire HDs for $598, versus one 32 GB iPad for $599.

Granted, Amazon’s tablet is a tiny bit smaller than the Nexus 10 or the iPad, but not so small as to warrant its tiny price tag. It’s like Apple and Amazon are living in two different universes—or their customers are, at least!

I own an iPad because no worthwhile Android tablet existed on the market when I made my purchase, but I’m reasonably sure it will be the last iPad I own. In terms of capabilities, Android tablets have truly come into their own in the past year, and their price points are so far below what Apple insists upon charging that there’s really no question in my mind as to which is the wiser purchase.

What do you think? Do Android tablets’ lower prices warrant a shift away from iPad-centric tablet programs in educational institutions, or are you still sold on the iPad as the superior product for education? Have you gotten a chance to play around with both types of tablet? Sound off in the comments!

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