Group vs. Individual Accounts for Students

When you decide that you want to take the leap and start using Evernote for portfolios one of the first major decisions that you have to make is weather you will create individual accounts for each student or if you will make a group account in which all your student accounts live.  Or do you want to do both?

This is a very important decision as it sets you off on a course that determines just how you and your students interact with the portfolios themselves.  Before you make this decision there are several important questions to ask.  I’ll cover these main questions and then give some pros and cons of each option.

  • What is the purpose of the portfolio?  Portfolios can be developed for a variety of reasons.   Portfolio as Storage/Collection. Portfolio as Workspace/Process .  Porffolio as Showcase/Product.  Portfolio as Assessment tool.  I believe portfolios can and should be used for all of these reasons, but how you and your school determine  its use will determine how you want to set up your portfolios accounts.
  • How do you want students interacting with the portfolio?  Do you want students to be using it on a daily basis at school and at home?  Do you want students to be able to make choices about what goes in their portfolio or is that something that is done by the teacher?  Or perhaps that is done jointly with staff?  Do you want students to be able to scan materials into their accounts from more than one device?
  • Who should be responsible for uploading artifacts?  Are you going to have students doing most of the uploading of artifacts?  Will teachers serve that role? Perhaps parents will help adding artifacts?
  • How much technology is available in the school and at home? Does the school have an abundance of technology that students have access to?  Are students able to access technology, especially the internet from home or mobile devices they have themselves?
  • What are the ages of your students and how capable are they of using technology (such as computers, scanners, mobile devices, tablets, etc) in the classroom?  Will students (especially younger ones) be able to access and maintain their own accounts or will they be better served with notebooks within one account?
  • What issues of privacy are in existence at your school?  Can  or should students have access to each others portfolios?  Do you want to keep the portfolios private or do you feel that open sharing of work is important?
  • What kind of financial support is there for student portfolios?  Can the school support the cost of Premium Evernote memberships for each student?  A class?  A grade?
  • Do you believe students should take their portfolios with them beyond the classroom or their present school?

There are no right or wrong answers here, but having thought through how you will be using your portfolios is vital in helping you decide if you want to go individual, group or a mixture of both.

As a context for my comments I feel that I should clarify how I have used the portfolios and how I have made decisions about what works best in my environment.

One of the biggest reasons that I started using online portfolios was to give students more control and voice in their own learning.  I wanted the portfolios to be the vehicle through which students could be the authors of their own learning narrative.  With that in mind I wanted to give them as much control and access as possible to their own accounts.  I wanted them to be able to access them both inside and outside of school.  In addition, I wanted to make sure that the maintenance of the portfolios, in the long run, was up to the students and NOT the teachers.  I didn’t want to make the portfolios an additional workload for myself nor for other teachers or adults.  If I am suddenly in charge of uploading and maintaining the portfolios they won’t last long.  It would be easier just to keep paper portfolios as the uploading of images, audio, video, text, etc can be time consuming if you are doing it for a large group of students.  With that in mind I will say that I  have always been an advocate for the individual accounts.  However, everyones environment is a different one and you should choose for yourself. And now for some pros and cons. I am sure there are many more to fit into each group.  Let me know if you think I have missed some.

Individual Accounts: (each student has their own personal account)

Pros: Student controlled so less teacher uploading.  Easier to use tools like the Lexmark Scanner that work best with individual accounts.  Easier access for students.  They have their own password and don’t have to worry about having teachers log them in.   Long term viability as students see the portfolio as their own.  Easier to take the account with them to new schools, college, life.  Students can download their entire account for safe keeping at home.  Easier for students to share with people they want to.  If using the Premium account they have a lot of storage space.  Students can access accounts on their own devices.

Cons:  Teachers have less control over what goes into the accounts.  Teachers have less control over who sees/shares the accounts.   If you want accounts to be shared with full capabilities you will need Premium accounts which cost more. Harder for teachers of younger students (pre-k through 6 or 7 year olds) to add work to accounts.  Harder for teachers to add work into student portfolios (they need to log in and out)

Group Accounts: (students have a shared account (usually controlled by the teacher) but separate notebooks within the account.

Pro: Teachers of younger students can more easily access and control the accounts.  Its a cheaper way to have Premium sharing for a group of students. You can cluster students together by class or grade (for instance all the kids in one class or grade all have the same account and that is passed on from teacher to teacher) and pass them on more easily.  You can restrict access to student accounts if that is important. It can save some time when teachers are uploading student work as they don’t have to be logging in and out of individual student accounts (they can upload to one account and a specific notebook).

***One teacher I spoke to in England was using a joint account for all his students and each student knew the password.  Each student had access to all the other student portfolios.  This was a policy that the school was following as they believed that students should be able to see each others work.  They had built level of trust within the school culture where they felt that students would mess with other student work.  This might bring up issues of privacy within many schools but it is an interesting way to consider the portfolios.

Cons:  Teachers need to be willing to give students the group password or constantly logging in and out of accounts (if you have different groups in a particular class.  For instance if you teach a multiage classroom and have accounts based on age or class.  In that case you might have several accounts).  The Lexmark scanner’s touchscreen account access becomes useless.  There is the potential that teachers become in charge of adding some or a lot of student work , especially if there are required artifacts to be uploaded by each student (this isn’t sustainable).

A mixture of group and individual:

At my school this year I am experimenting with both group and individual.  The school is embarking on its first year of using Evernote as portfolios and the administration felt that the group set up would be the most appropriate.  Within each classroom there is a single grade (kindergarten and 5th) or two grades (1st/2nd and 3rd/4th).  Each grade is given an account with each student having a notebook.    In addition I will be giving each of my students their own account (I work with 3rd and 4th graders).  The group account notebook will be the “presentation” account and the individual account will be used for their ongoing and work in progress learning.  The group accounts and individual accounts will be shared together so students can “share” final pieces into their presentation account from their work in progress account.  It will be interesting to see how this will work in the long run.  I’m sure I will be blogging about it.




11 responses to “Group vs. Individual Accounts for Students

  1. Great post—I use EN, (and have Premium), but want to use it for portfolios for my 2nd graders—which Lexmark scanner do you use? Thanks in advance!

    • I use the Pinnacle Pro 901. It has the touch screan which allows for individual Evernote widgets. This makes it easy for students to scan work directly into their accounts.

  2. Thank you for this blog! I teach at a K-12 school and I’m trying to start an e-portfolio program that will follow the kids from Kindergarten on. I am curious how you set up the individual student accounts? Did parents set the email? Did you create “sub-accounts” through gmail (

    Thank you!!

    • Holly,

      I’m glad the post was helpful. It’s always exciting to hear about people that are jumping into to making e-portfolios a reality, especially school-wide. The rules are setting up personal accounts with Evernote (COPPA rules that is) is that students must be 13 years old to create an account. However, COPPA, allows schools to be surrogates as long as parents sign an agreement. The benefit of setting up accounts through the school is that you have some control over them, especially if students forget passwords. Eventually, if students leave, they can take their accounts with them by changing the email account associated with their Evernote account.

      As far as setting up the accounts, I did it one at a time. This was before I knew about setting up sub accounts. This is the way I will be doing it in the future.

      Please let me know if I can help in other ways. Let me know how things are going with your project. I would love to know more about it. I’m working on a database of teachers and schools that are using Evernote for portfolios so I can help build a connection between schools.

      • Rick Christiansen

        I will be starting a computer based course next year for 6th graders and want to make sure I have all the necessary forms and precautions in place. Our district has parents sign a fair use policy at the beginning of the year and a couple other permission slips for web/comp use but with the new laws do I need to look into them also signing a COPPA agreement? If so, is there a link you could provide to such a document?

      • Here is a sample form letter that you might consider using. This should cover you for the COPPA requirements.

        Dear Par­ents,

        In order for [INSERT SCHOOL NAME] to con­tinue to be able to pro­vide your stu­dent with the most effec­tive web-based tools and appli­ca­tions for learn­ing, we need to abide by fed­eral reg­u­la­tions that require a parental sig­na­ture as out­lined below.

        [INSERT SCHOOL NAME] uti­lizes sev­eral com­puter soft­ware appli­ca­tions and web-based ser­vices, oper­ated not by [INSERT SCHOOL NAME], but by third par­ties. These include [LIST SOME EXAMPLES OF SERVICES], and sim­i­lar edu­ca­tional pro­grams. A com­plete list of the pro­grams with the pri­vacy pol­icy for each can be found at [INSERT URL].

        In order for our stu­dents to use these pro­grams and ser­vices, cer­tain per­sonal iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion, gen­er­ally the student’s name and email address, must be pro­vided to the web site oper­a­tor. Under fed­eral law, these web­sites must pro­vide parental noti­fi­ca­tion and obtain parental con­sent before col­lect­ing per­sonal infor­ma­tion from chil­dren under the age of 13.

        The law per­mits schools such as [INSERT SCHOOL NAME] to con­sent to the col­lec­tion of per­sonal infor­ma­tion on behalf of all of its stu­dents, thereby elim­i­nat­ing the need for indi­vid­ual parental con­sent given directly to the web site operator.

        This form will con­sti­tute con­sent for [INSERT SCHOOL NAME] to pro­vide per­sonal iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion for your child con­sist­ing of first name, last name, email address and user­name to the fol­low­ing web-operators: [INSERT NAMES OF CURRENT SERVICES] and to the oper­a­tors of any addi­tional web-based edu­ca­tional pro­grams and ser­vices which MKA may add dur­ing the upcom­ing aca­d­e­mic year.

        Please be advised that with­out receipt of this signed form, your enroll­ment pack­age will not be con­sid­ered com­plete as [INSERT SCHOOL NAME] will be unable to pro­vide your stu­dent (s) with the resources, teach­ing and cur­ricu­lum offered by our 1:1 Learn­ing Program.

        Stu­dent Name:


        Parent/Guardian Name (PLEASE PRINT):

        Parent/Guardian Sig­na­ture:


  3. Those guiding questions are SO critical. Great way to start the post.

    I’ve been using Google sites for portfolios, but will be working on Evernote for the remainder of my vacation. Looks good!

    • Thanks for the comment. I looked into Google years ago and know they have so many options and it is all free. However, for the portfolio work that I do with students I just find Evernote to be so much better for a number of reasons, including ease of use and integration with other software and hardware.

      I’m working on a book which I hope to get out in the next month.

  4. Pingback: Top 10 Posts of 2012 |

  5. Thanks so much for your post. I was wondering if there is a way for me to add notes/comments to student work that is in their portfolios (I had students share their notebooks with me). I teach IB 11 & 12 and would love to use Evernote as a forum to provide feedback, information, comments, etc. Is there a way to do this? Whenever I look at a student’s notebook, I get a message saying I have read-only access. Can this be changed at all? Thanks for your time! 🙂

    Uzay Ashton

    • The adding of comments has always been a bit of a problem with Evernote and something that I have been suggesting they work to improve. One way to solve this problem is to connect an Evernote account to a blog, then you can add comments. Of course this is a second step that might become a burden over the long run. I haven’t gone that way with my students.

      To access more than just “read only” the person who is sharing the note or notebook needs to have a premium account. At this time the portfolios are mostly just a place to create and display work. You CAN send comments in the form of e-mails to the students Evernote accounts, but you will need to have the e-mail associated with their account.

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