I am looking for a workflow and a set of apps that will allow me to collect and organize research. This research is both formal and informal. So the research might be about air filters or from academic journals. I want to store websites, pdfs, videos and anything else really. I also need the system to work on the go. At first someone in this situation might turn to Evernote or OneNote for all these research needs. However, these notation tools don’t work very well sorting, annotating, or tagging pdfs. So instead I use citation managers like Mendeley or Zotero for those tasks (I’ve used both and am still deciding.)
But what about saving web research? What about annotating websites with notes and highlights? To be honest until a few weeks ago I didn’t know web annotation was even a thing. I was searching around for a better way to save links and stumbled on Diigo, which I had heard of years ago, but never really checked out. I had tried Delicious briefly, also several years ago, but never really got into social bookmarking. However, I found that Diigo now features web annotation. This discovery led me to Hypothes.is which featured and article on the new web standards. I remembered meeting someone from the company a few months ago and was curious about which other tools or other methods are around to annotate the web.
This brings me to OneNote. I’ll likely review the other apps in the future, but for this week I will take a look at how OneNote addresses saving and annotating websites. Let’s start with the browser version. Downloading the OneNote Clipper is the best way to save web pages. I have used OneNote for quite a while after switching from Evernote, but didn’t know about this browser extension. I’ve included a screenshot here.
As you can see on the right, there are 4 options for saving a webpage. Full Page saves a screenshot of the entire webpage. Region lets you take a screenshot. Article converts the page to links and text. Finally Bookmark creates a rich link. So there is no true web annotation happening in this system; versions of the site are saved for annotation and safekeeping. The iOS app is a little more basic, you can only send a link to a particular section of a notebook. That said I like the Article method. You can save the text to a note with live links. Then you can annotate all of that content. The orignal link is still there too for reference. It’s not ideal, but I do like having everything in one place.
Why would you want to use this with students or for conducting research? First, many Universities have enterprise access to Office 365 so it may be a tool you already have access to. The tool does a great deal of other note-taking tasks as well, so it’s a central note ‘hub’ if you’d like it to be. Note-taking is a key part of the task strategy construct in self-regulated learning research. So research supports the value of note-taking generally. Note taking can also support ISTE student standards. Choosing, researching and annotating websites supports Standard 1 Empowered Learner and Standard 3 Knowledge Constructor. This tool can also support the collaborative aspects of the ISTE students standards since the notebooks can be shared. In terms of the ISTE Educator Standards, I think web annotation and notetaking support the following portion of Standard 5: “Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.”
So, for saving websites and integrating them with other media, this tool does a great job. The broad organizational features also are helpful. However there is room for improvement. First, the tool is not truly annotating as the other apps listed above do. Screenshots and text versions of the site are not the same as notes and highlights on the actual webpage. This is a tradeoff for the more powerful media affordances OneNote offers. Also, the tagging functionality is a little weird. There are tags in OneNote, but they appear to be predetermined. Tagging and annotation work well in Diigo, however the downside is you then have a bunch of links existing on an e-island. I looked at integrating OneNote and Diigo through IFTTT or Microsoft Flow etc, but didn’t find anything. So for this review, weblink saving and annotating in OneNote is good but not great. It integrates with my existing notes (since I’m already a OneNote user), but there is room for improvement. Web annotation is an exciting development that should be utilized more broadly. If I were to speak to the developers I would definitely ask for richer tagging and integration with websites directly for annotation.