Note Taking Refined: the Cornell Method: Updated 2 March 2008

I came across this neat way of taking notes some time back, but it’s come back again like a boomerang! Perhaps it’s the time of year when students in Queensland are starting to eye the calendar nervously. The jacaranda trees are putting out the first blue blooms … a traditional sign that exams are round the corner.

Here are a couple of note-taking systems; find the one that works best for you.

But here is my favourite. If you are interested in how to take lecture notes like a productivity guru, then check out the Cornell Method.

How Merlin’s Wizardry Saved My Sanity

I’m packing for the AUC Conference starting tomorrow. I’m packing anxiety too. Why? Because I haven’t done the killer Keynote slideshow to accompany the paper to be delivered Tuesday. So it was nice to re-read the marvellous Merlin Mann’s posting How I made my presentations a little better of some time back … and to stumble on Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule for presentations. In a nutshell …

a presentation should have no more than 10 slides, last 20 minutes, and contain no font smaller than 30 points.

I can do this before Tuesday! I can do this, I can do this …

And another gem from the comments on this post which probably explains why I do 20-something minute podcasts for my 20-something year old students:

A good rule of thumb is that your audience can sit still for the number of minutes equal to their age, e.g. if the average age of your audience is 35, they’ll remain in their chairs for 35 minutes before the shifting begins.

Well, I am time-limited with my paper presentation, so no sweat there. Bring it on!

If you don’t know about personal productivity guru Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders site (newly revamped and very cool-y now designated 43f for the hip crowd), then drop by.

Random Scribblings in a Busy Week

I’m being mocked by the hubris of a blogpost last week … something about making a habit of blogging etc. Just to keep faith in myself and you, dear reader, here are some quick observations from my part of the world and symptomatic of the busy week in which I find myself right now. Yes I am wearing joggers this week!

Problogger Darren Rowse posted the results of a survey “How long have you been blogging?” The results are fascinating and beg the next research question, “So what?” What I found fascinating however were the comments. They were all “Gee whiz! What fascinating graphics!” Yep, design matters! Thanks Keynote. FYI around 58% of Darren’s readers have been blogging for less than a year, if you count those with no blogs (!)

I’m deeply immersed in an intensive production week this week for a student production of 16 (count ’em) one-person shows written and performed by a graduating class of actors at USQ. It’s a great project which has been in the making since semester 1 this year (that’s March for you northern hemispherers). What’s exciting in this production week is seeing the great team work going on amongst the actors and technical production students. The sound studios, creative suites and rehearsal rooms are running hot. This project has provided a reason to get the laggards and the tech-resistant engaged with digital technology. If you are interested in this, read Sue Waters’ thoughtful posts on student-resistance to technology in learning. I love “Reasons Why IT May be Crap.”

Trying to find time to complete my ‘killer-slideshow’ (she hopes) made on Keynote (iWork 08) for next week’s AUC Conference at the Gold Coast. My paper has been accepted and published in the conference proceedings, but it doesn’t seem right not to have a great slideshow. No pressure here!

And so, dear reader, I sally forth into another busy, creative day.

The Proverbial Can

The week started so well … a first-ever videopost, the 31 Days were over, tidying up time in blogland had began. What could go wrong for Superblogger? The word hubris springs to mind … me thinking I could use the learnings from the 31 Days challenge to leverage the build of a new blog I’d been mulling over. That, and tidy up and post the SWOT analysis, and have it all done by week’s end. Easy stuff. And of course the fabulous team on the Building a Better Blog would be there as supportive stalwarts. I’d share daily with them all the great stuff I’d be doing.

See? I said hubris.

It all started to go horribly wrong when my smarts deserted me during the new blog build. This was for an advanced level Shakespeare class, pretty much a niche area, and I was going to tame Edublogs to my needs. My public whinings gave way to rants, and then to private curses as the nuances of edublogging hadn’t even arrived, let alone deserted me.

Then came the curse of Ning; no way could I get into the Building a Better Blog party. I couldn’t upload, edit posts or do more than read content from home; they were all having such a good time too. This impasse continued for a week; more whining and rants. No help from Ning land, nice supportive hand-holding from the team … but wait … there’s more. It comes in threes, right?

Frustrated by the Edublog experience (but not down and out … I am still working at it), I rebuilt my site using the new iWeb 08 application part of iLife 08 from Apple, itself very beautiful … easy but different. I started to calm down. By the time I had finished, the new site looked ravishing. I uploaded it to the University server. No soap. The site file hierarchy or gods of the underworld or some such had united against me. Heads round the office door, “Sorry it won’t download etc. etc.” We’re at Wednesday by now. Home that night (still no Ning, so no distractions), I uploaded the site to my own iDisk (.Mac account). Next day smiles all round from students who at last, could log on, download, read, comment, and listen to the podcasts on their mp3s.

What does all this mean? Yes, no progress in the first week of the Building a Better Blog, and no posts here since Tuesday. All such a let down from my high hopes a week ago. Putting on my educator’s hat, having swallowed several bitter pills this week, I’m going to put the week’s experiences down as a big learning. Isn’t that we’re constantly telling our students?

  • be realistic with your expectations (is there a hint of a whine here?);
  • always have a back-up plan (something about Murphy’s Law … if it can go wrong, it will);
  • audit what you learned and try not to repeat the same mistakes.

So, bring on Week 2’s challenge. Getting organised is going to take a little longer as I pick up the pieces. Back to the checklist!

Building a New Blog

Now that I am a fully-fledged member (survivor) of the 31 Days to a Better Blog Challenge team, I am ready to build a blog based on what I have learned since August 1. I thought that this could be a good personal challenge for me. The last few blogs I’ve built were from the ground up, and I thought were not too bad at all. That all changed as the days of August rolled by.

So what advice am I giving myself as I start a new ‘niche interest’ blog which I’ll use as a resource for my students? First, get a platform that works for me. I’ve been struggling with Edublogs out of WordPress and have felt like a dope because of it. I’m a Blogger kind of gal, and it’s worked like a treat for me … even though it doesn’t have the pages facility which I’d like to incorporate into the new blog. Still, I’m persisting with Edublogs … part of the personal challenge to learn another platform.

Second, will be to go through the 31 Days to a Better Blog check-list and incorporate the relevant tasks. These are the days and their tasks which seem most relevant during the build phase:

  • Day 3: Search for and join a forum (ok already in a discussion list so a good source of contacts and themes there)
  • Day 7: Plan and write a series of posts before it’s released into the great out there, and then plan a week ahead
  • Day 8: Comment on a blog I’ve never commented on before (find one in the niche)
  • Day 10: Make sure I have an uncluttered side bar and keep it that way
  • Day 12: Get out there and introduce myself to another blogger in my niche area
  • Day 14: Check out the ‘competition’ and build on their strengths
  • Day 22: Make sure new readers understand the basics of my blog and how to use it
  • Day 24: Make sure my titles and other bloggy tags and so on are optimised for search-engine use (hadn’t thought of this in former blogs)
  • Day 26: When I find one, link up to a competitor-colleague.
  • Day 28: Get a mission statement out there at the outset
  • Day 31: The SWOT analysis task … keep this in mind as the build progresses. What would I like the blog’s strengths to be? What weaknesses should I attempt to avoid? What are the opportunities a smart build can provide? Does this mean dipping a toe into advertising, sponsorship and all of those areas I am not inclined to consider?

Third, stay in touch with the ‘originals’ from the challenge and get them to check out the blog’s birth and development. We’ve come together again in a network ‘Building a Better Blog.’

Fourth, do the 31 Day Challenge thing again in a year or so. It will probably take a year to incorporate all of the above, forget it, and then have to refresh.

Open Source? Give me good design, or give up!

A frustrating day today struggling with a site that wouldn’t respond, and a much-admired open-source blog platform that gave me cause for thought and a stiff drink. Ning, a social network platform, set up to provide a discussion platform for a group, simply would not respond to request after request by me over the weekend to sign up. A help email fired off to the Nings brought a “we got your note” and 24 or so hours later another message to test things. By then I was at work, and not one to give up gracefully, had tried again to get into the land of Ning via my office desktop. Hey presto! Ning’s still not as elegant in design as it could be, and its instructions are hardly crystal clear, but then I can claim to be a smart cookie. Mmmmm! All that went down the tubes this afternoon as I took on Edublogs believing I could create a new blog from the ground up in a couple of hours.

Edublogs is an open source platform for educational bloggers, and it’s built on WordPress, a much admired platform, and maybe even the number one choice of some of my small blogging community of practice chums. Where I went off the rails with Edublogs was in trying to get an RSS feed set up on the home page. I know what’s important with this blogging stuff after 31 days of it!

Now getting an RSS feed going has to be one of the more vital and surely, simple tasks for any blog. Not for Edublogs it would seem, or for me. The result of my afternoon of anguish brought to mind Dorothy Parker’s droll bon mot on a particularly maddening book she’d endured: ‘This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly; it should be hurled with great force across the room!’ That’s how I felt about my first encounter with a ‘good-guy open-source’ platform. Oh please … make it intuitive, make it work first time if possible. That’s all I ask. Otherwise I’m staying with good old Blogger or paying Typepad.