The dangers of committing to one technology in the classroom – Evernote’s Penultimate

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In the modern classroom, there can’t be many of us who only use the white/blackboard and the textbook for every lesson. To a greater or lesser extent, the convenience and liberating nature of the digital age has become part of our classroom workflow. For more than two years now, I have shunned the board and used Penultimate (since bought by Evernote) on an iPad, put through the VGA connection to the projector. It was great, basically like a digital board where I could write but have other media baked in too. I had all my textbook pages scanned in there, I could write on the scans and add new blank pages for corrections. It had this great ‘drift’ feature that allowed you to zoom in and the zoom focus would follow at the speed you wrote. Best of all, what was projected was just the page itself, so no one in class could see me changing pens/colours or zooming in for the drift. It wasn’t perfect, but it was easily the best of the ten-or-so note apps I’ve used. You notice I am using the past tense here. Unexpectedly, a few weeks ago, the app was updated. With the new changes, Evernote didn’t so much drop the ball as jettison it directly into the sun. It was AWFUL. Instead of pages, there is now “infinity scroll”, which is like two-finger scrolling down an endless toilet roll. Therefore, it’s impossible to jump from what was page 1 to page 50 without having to scrub through every page between them. The special ‘projector’ view has gone, so now students can see everything I do – zooming, changing pens, choosing erasers etc. Very distracting. I’m not alone. The Evernote message board melted down with fury, to the extent that their was an official apology issued. I could fill a phone directory with every problem I have with the ‘updated’ version. The bottom line is that I have over two years of classes, including every lesson for the current semester, trapped inside one app (it saves in a proprietary format .pen so it’s not possible simply to port into other note-taking apps). I updated on a Sunday night and only then discovered to my horror how unusable it had become, making Monday morning a particularly unwelcome scramble to reproduce the materials I had embedded in Penultimate. So learn from my naivete: technology can fail, apps change, machines breakdown. We don’t need to go back to the days of print-outs for every class, but we should have a crash plan if your trusty tech decides to pull an R5-D4 five minutes before class.   R5d4

2 thoughts on “The dangers of committing to one technology in the classroom – Evernote’s Penultimate

    tesolwar said:
    December 2, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    None of the note-taking apps have got it completely right yet. I was in love with onenote until I realized it doesn’t work through the proxy server at my school. Evernote is okay but the pen options pale in comparison to onenote. How is the penultimate pen? Is it really the best fine-tip option for the ipad?

    Oh, and how did you finish your lesson?


      Masters of TESOL podcast responded:
      December 2, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      I didn’t buy the Penultimate pen – not worth it (only 3-star reviews on Amazon, and a lot of 1-star). I use the Wacom Bamboo Solo. It’s pretty cheap and writes beautifully (plus the nib is replaceable!).

      Penultimate is actually a separate app to Evernote. It’s just owned by them. As I mentioned in the post, I’ve tried quite a few note apps, but Penultimate was on the edge of being unbeatable. Unfortunately, they stripped out everything that made it that good in a ground-up rewrite.

      I finished the class with a combination of the projector and the whiteboard. I still had the original scans of the textbook pages and the extra materials in Dropbox, so projected them and used the edges of the board around the screen to write notes. Quite clunky in places, but not the disaster it could’ve been.


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