07 July 2007

Clash of Old and New

Part of my undergraduate degree was a full-year survey course of Philosophy...one designed just for people in my degree program. I ended up enjoying it far more than I thought I would. The reading was intense and the ideas were fun to ponder. The graduate students who led our small discussion groups were a kick. They didn't talk about their work very often, but there were always interesting stories to share. I remember one about reading Hegel, who has some pretty difficult ideas to try to digest, but I hadn't thought that would be literal. Apparently, one poor student was so intent that she actually threw up all over the book. My favourite story, however, was the one about a grad student who was consumed with his analysis of Plato's The Republic. His dog, who eventually tired of being ignored, got up on the table where the book and notes were...and took a big dump right in the middle of them.

At the time, I did not picture myself as a doctoral candidate. I had a hard enough time picturing myself as an undergrad...but nearly 20 years on, here I am, gearing up for the biggest project and paper I have ever attempted. I totally understand the feeling of nausea that is generated by reading one. more. paper.

Reader's Guide by 917press CC-BY-NC-SA
Some things have changed in the intervening decades (oh, it makes me cry to realize how much time has passed...). Instead of a brick and mortar institution, I'm working with an on-line one. I don't sit down with all the green "Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature" books at the library. (Remember those? Good times....) Instead, I use the EBSCO database to instantly search through hundreds of peer-reviewed journals and can download articles. If there is something I need that can't be had there, I fill out an electronic request for the university library to find it and send it to me.

from Smead
Even with all of the new possibilities for learning in today's world, one thing I haven't been able to figure out is how to manage all of this information in a digital format. I'm not talking about making folders on my computer's hard drive for storage---I'm talking about the actual work that goes into reading the information, taking notes, and being able to note the connections and "A-ha!"'s generated. I have to print the articles. I have to think about pulling out ye olde index card file. For me, there still has to be the tactile piece to the research. I need to be able to physically move things around...to highlight at will and pencil notes in margins. It seems to be at odds with all this new-fangled way of learning on-line, but I just can't seem to find a way around it. My best friends right now are the Smead No. 10344 folders. They have printed lines on the interior which are perfect for notetaking. Each of the articles I have (and I'm up to about 75 at the moment) has its own folder. The APA citation is on the label. I note the keywords on the outside of the jacket along with any connections to other things I've read. On the inside, I capture the main points highlighted in the paper so that I have a quick glance reference. Beyond this, each folder is organized in a hanging file with like ideas...and then those are ordered by how I want to (eventually) write about them.

I'm sure that I'll have a lot more to learn as my older and newer ways of learning attempt to mesh into something roughly approximating a dissertation. Maybe everything can peacefully co-exist...maybe we can all just get along.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

I've been experimenting with The Journal, a combination diary-notebook.


You can keep a running, dated journal or in another section, keep notes on whatever you want and arrange them however you like, loose-leaf style.

So far, this tool has provided me with the security to know that my thoughts are private (certainly more so than in any kind of physical journal), and although the notebook part might get a little cumbersome after a while, it's convenient for simple projects.

Both sections offer a fully functional word processor (I wonder if it connects to WORD somehow?).

In any case, I feel it was worth $40 for what I've been able to do with it.

If I run across anything better for academic references than folders and notes, I'll let you know! :-)

ms-teacher said...

I have a template that you might find useful that I used in writing my literature review for my master's program. If you're interested, e-mail me ms_teacher(@)comcast.net (remove the parentheses obviously!)

The Science Goddess said...

Repairman---this looks like a very interesting tool! I'm going to download the trial version and play with it for a bit and see how if this is the tool I've been needing.

Ms. Teacher---I will definitely be contracting you! The more help, the merrier. :)

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Comment con'd:

The one thing I haven't been able to digitize yet is mind mapping. The programs and on-screen diagrams that are keyboard generated don't connect to my brain like a pen in my hand moving across good paper.

Keep us posted on your quest to tame the information torrent.

The Science Goddess said...

I guess I'm even more old-fashioned: I like to use a pencil. In fact, I've been rather sad recently as I lost my favourite longpoint sharpener. I just ordered some more to sprinkle around the house, but in the meantime, I'm reduced to using...sniff...a mechanical pencil.

One of my friends at work says that a pencil is my favourite accessory...because I'm always wearing one behind my ear. :)

I'm guessing that you have tried the "Inspiration" software. It's okay---but like you, I need that actual contact of pen(cil) to paper to help make the connections stick amongst the neurons.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Inspiration left me dazed. Just a bit too much in the graphics department.

I have used a program that was endorsed by Tony Buzan (supposedly), but is not the one he sells on the net. I lost it in a meltdown last year. It was downloaded, and the email with the code disappeared too! Truthfully, I haven't missed it.

Although I don't care to ideate with those programs, they are pretty cool for presentations of complex ideas.

As a side note, when I tried to introduce mind mapping at my school in the late 70s, our uptight LA teachers were scandalized that I taught the technique to my social studies students. "Messy notes," I heard. "That's not a proper outline!" So I taught the kids how to produce a hierarchical outline from the mind map and the language arts harpies never bothered me again. (Not very PC to refer to them like that, but it's the right word. Heck, they gave double zeros to kids for missing or late homework! Drove me nuts.)

In the early eighties, when graphical organizers began showing up in language arts textbooks, it was suddenly the cool tool. Isn't that the way?

Glad you're trying The Journal. I really haven't pushed its limits as a notebook, but I'm working on it.