Adventures of a Note-taking Warrior

Adventures of a Note-taking Warrior

I recently attended the 2013 Joint SELF Biennial International Conference and Educational Research Association of Singapore (ERAS) Conference. I wanted to go more digital in my note-taking so I tool along a Samsung Note 10.1 which includes a stylus. I also had my usual pen and notebook as I wasn’t sure if I would end up going all digital in my notes.

The argument for digital notes is an easy one – more legible, searchable and easily transferred from one digital source to another. But what about writing down notes? Apart from being faster, words stuck on page are just stuck on page.

During the conference, I used Evernote to store my notes. With a premium account, I could work on my notes offline which is important when you may not always have internet access. For me, Evernote has been the best note-taking app/software for desktop, phone and tablet without a doubt. What is not so clear, however, is the best way to make those notes.

Evernote
Evernote (Photo credit: /Sizemore/)

Here are the results of my experiment with different note-taking ways:

1) Using tablet with on-screen keyboard

Two words: hand cramp.

A non-tactile, flat and smooth surface is really not the best input source. As much as predictive text was helpful, I was still typing more slowly than if I had a regular keyboard. Then there were times when I hit other keys instead of space bar, or when serious mistyping led to incorrect suggestions. In addition, not being able to type fast enough also meant missing some info on the slides when the presenter moved on.

Apart from taking notes from the presentation, I also searched for the presenters, found pages related to them and the main theories and ideas they were presenting on, and copied and pasted the links into my notes. If I didn’t have time to do that, I would just bookmark the sites or save the link directly to Evernote.

All in all, while I captured the notes digitally, I’m not convinced the on-screen keyboard is worth the discomfort.

2) Using tablet with stylus

The stylus was a smooth operator, but a bit too smooth.

The S pen was good for some quick scribbling, a few sentences, but certainly not for anything longer or more complex than that. After taking down a few sentences, I switched back to the keyboard.

The stylus, however, was good for making annotations on pdfs or images. I used two apps to try out the stylus for that purpose: iAnnotate and Skitch. I didn’t do a whole lot of annotations during the conference but will be experimenting more with PDF annotation with iAnnotate in the near future.

So the stylus is good for adding details or comments but not for a long stretch of writing.

3) Taking snapshots of slides

If you can’t beat them, join them.

This was actually the most common way of note-taking at the conference, judging by the number of phones and tablets bobbing up and down throughout the presentations. I resisted at first as I was not keen on having a bunch of photos stuck in my phone. Then I discovered Page Camera in Evernote. I could include my photos of slides in my Evernote notes, whether by importing from my phone gallery or taking the photos directly from Evernote. The tablet was not great for taking pictures of slides, so I used my phone for this.

With the slides in my notes, I could also add comments in the notes, or annotate on the picture of the slide using Skitch. The challenge, however, is to multitask between capturing images and taking down notes. Sometimes I found myself taking down notes but missed the chance to capture the slides.

Page Camera is a great addition to Evernote and I’m looking forward to more enhancements.

4) Taking snapshots of handwritten notes

Have pen, will write!

I ended up using my trusty pen and notebook most of the time for quicker note-taking. But not content with the non-digital nature of physical notes, I took photos of my the pages in my notebook and added them to Evernote.

With the premium version of Evernote, the search function includes picking out text from your images. As long as you write legibly, Evernote can highlight words in those pictures. I haven’t tested this fully, but then again, my handwriting is not the most legible to the human or Evernote eye.

Evernote Smart Notebook
Evernote Smart Notebook (Photo credit: AhBook)

In the end, the winner is …

With the limitations of an on-screen keyboard on the tablet, I think the Mac Air would solve that problem. Personally, I would go for the 13 inch version so I can read documents and long stretches of text more comfortably. I did consider a bluetooth keyboard for the tablet but the weight probably adds up to that of the Mac Air. Furthermore, I’m a heavy user of Mendely to organise articles (PDF documents), and so far, both iOS and Android apps do not have full functionality of the desktop version. So for serious note-taking, I’ll be going the way of the Air.

I’ll also be complementing digital note-taking with snapshots of slides and regular handwritten notes. In fact, I don’t ever think I will give up physical notes. Sometimes, you just want to write and doodle or just not have any clunky devices around. I’m going to get the Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskin which comes with three months subscription to Evernote Premium (brilliant marketing move!). Evernote Premium is valued at US$7 per month (US$21 for three months), almost offsetting the cost of a 3.5 by 5.5 notebook (US$24.95).

Previously, I didn’t think a physical Moleskin notebook would gel with the digital Evernote but it now makes sense to me, wonderful digital sense.

My Last Class – Reflections on the MAT@USC

My Last Class - Reflections on the MAT@USC

“Please hold while I confirm your passcode. Thank you. Your passcode is confirmed.” That’s the automated message to the virtual classroom I’ve attended every week for 6 semesters in the past two years. As I attend my last class today, I know I will miss that familiar buzz through my headphones which welcomed me to a community of learners from various continents including North America, Europe and Asia.

I started the Master of Arts in Teaching (TESOL) with the University of Southern California in May 2011. It is a wholly online course and like many others, I was skeptical of how learning could take place. But as I examined the course program, comparing it to other education-related Master programs I could take in Singapore, I was attracted to the subjects it offered, fieldwork requirements, and the convenience that comes with online learning. I could access the classroom from any computer with camera and mic and for me, that meant not having to travel to and from classes, and being able to go home for dinner, attend to my kids, and settle them down to sleep before I stepped into my study.

Master of Arts in Teaching (TESOL) at USC

The most important part of the program was that it was interactive – real time video conferencing lessons and study group sessions was something that other distance education programs did not offer. (Read more about the Adobe Connect platform that the program used.) While other programs had intensive weekend lessons, the MAT program was paced like a regular program with weekly classes. Like most distance programs, students were required to submit forum postings and term papers, but the MAT program  (as opposed to Master of Education programs) also required students to be involved in fieldwork, observing and video recording classes.

Adobe Connect Meeting Room
Adobe Connect Meeting Room

As I started virtual classes, there were technical glitches now and then but overall, the learning experience was the best I’ve experienced. Most of my schooling experience in Singapore followed what Paulo Freire calls the banking concept where the teacher deposits information into us to be remembered and regurgitated. In the MAT program, on the other hand, true to the impression many have of American education, learning depended on peer discussion and in the process, respecting and embracing the diversity of opinions and ideas. It was liberating for me and I valued and enjoyed every opportunity I had to engage in discussion with professors and classmates alike.

Apart from attending classes, pouring over readings and honing my teaching skills, I spent time with 3 or 4 classmates in study group sessions. In our cozy groups, we clarified our understanding of the readings and concepts, worked on our group presentations, and had fun bonding with one another. Study group was key in connecting me to fellow classmates on a more personal level. I have made friends with kindred spirits and while it is difficult to maintain long distance friendships, I have great hope that we will all meet one another at some point in the future.

As I complete my MAT journey in the Spring of 2013, I have already begun another journey to be a reflective educator and researcher. (Read about my Teacher Leadership Project.) To my professors and classmates, thank you for these two precious years. No goodbyes, just good memories.

When the last bell rings

When the last bell rings

 

I prepared my lessons to teach you

What you have to know

I think I’ve said what the books says I must

But I hope I’ve told you more

I’ve told you stories which may connect

And some quite random I must admit

But all these stories, I know they will,

Stick more than what the pages reveal

I took the lessons for granted

Knowing that I will see you all again

And then suddenly, but surely,

There was just one lesson left

The lesson had to end

Just as I got to know you better

Just as I had more things to say

Just as I had more tears to shed

I hope I’ve made a difference in your lives

I hope you’ll  become a better version of yourself

As I become a better me

Because of who you are

Understanding your

Personality

Passions

Pain

Have made a difference in my life.