How I Use It
Personally I used it to help prepare for my comps in much the same way I described above: storing pdfs, transcribing quotations, responding to them, summarizing a text, freewriting about my own ideas, and tagging everything. I love being able to tag entries and use the app across platforms.
I'm looking for more ideas on how to use it in the classroom, since I haven't done it too often yet. I also haven't been using it with my dissertation because although I like the notes, they become a little clunky when there are so many (I probably need to spend more time with tutorials to better use the app).
I think Evernote is a great tool to help students organize their research. I haven't had a chance to use it much in class yet, but I highly recommend it for a few reasons. It's cloud-based, works without an internet connection, can incorporate multi-media notes, is an indispensable research organizing tool, and helps transfer notes into essays.
I first used Evernote in a research-writing based class for international students. We spend the whole semester working toward one 10-12 p critical analysis essay, where students begin with a thoughtful research question (typically a "why" or "how"), analyze the range of answers they find about it, and evaluate those answers. It might lead to students formulating their own answer to the question -- but it's more about thinking deeply about their sources than identifying a solution. Consequently, students are only required to use about 5 sources, but what typically happens is they use around 4 for to analyze and several others to supplement their background understanding of the situation. Because my students were from around the world, their criteria that semester was to select a project dealing with a global issue. Examples include economic effects of the war in Iraq on refugees, fair trade coffee, revisions to nuclear policy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, etc.
Evernote is most useful to my research-writing classes because it allows students (and me!) to be organized. When a student finds a pdf, she can save it in her Evernote notebook. She can highlight passages, annotate them, write her own response to the text, and tag the notes/notebook. Students can search through their notes for tags or even phrases, which is really helpful -- rather than flipping through pages of notes strewn across a desk (or is that just me?) or even trying to remember what name a Word file has, we can simply type in the phrase, keyword, author, event, etc. we're searching for and find all our research on it.
After the note-taking stage, students also found Evernote to be helpful in compiling their research to begin writing about it. Again, they can search for tags to flesh out a section in their essay, to make sure they haven't forgotten about a source, and use those tags or keywords to assist further research to fill in any gaps. I find this aspect of the organizational tool indispensable. Students have a tough time maintaining coherence at times in a longer, research-based essay. Evernote can help provide some guidance for students, so they feel like there's already a structure they're just filling in, rather then having to face this daunting task on their own. It's also loose enough (unlike an outline) so students don't feel bound to or restricted by a structure.
When we're in a computer lab, the web-based app helps -- students can just sign in and access their account. It provides them with flexibility and some security, knowing they won't have to email notes to themselves or remember which computer they sat at last time. It's also helpful since Evernote is available across platforms -- students can sign on to their mobile devices when a burst of inspiration hits at any time, and record it via typing or audio (which I think is pretty cool!). I'm looking forward to learning more about Evernote.