Top 200 Tools for Learning: Time to Vote again!

It is time again already for Jane Hart to begin soliciting votes for the top tools for learning.  This will be the 10th year for this valuable resource, and I highly encourage all  my readers to take part in identifying the top 10 tools for your productivity.

I am particularly excited about several of the changes to the program this year.  Jane is going to segment the Tools ranking between Education, Workplace Learning and Personal Learning & Productivity.  Three lists instead of one!  I find this especially wonderful for those of us in education as we will be able to delineate the uses of tools more appropriately, though tools of high use for K-12 are most likely very different than those for use in Higher Education.  That being said, I have always felt that our K-12 educators have much in the way of new, creative applications for productivity tools that those of us in Higher Education could learn a great deal from.  I am also quite eager to see what the Personal Learning results will be.

Go to http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/voting/  to submit your vote.  I suggest you take a look at the voting form and do some advanced planning of exactly which tools you want to list (be specific!) for the different categories before actually filling the voting form out.  Then check back in October for the final results. (I’ll post links to them also!)

If you haven’t yet reviewed Jane’s Best of the Breed 2015  lists, now is a great time to do so.  Find a new tool or be reminded of an old favorite that you haven’t used recently (and why might that be?).

Tuesday Tool Tip: IFTTT

monkey computer toolsToday I thought I would re-introduce you to the tool IFTTT.  This is one of those productivity tools that you don’t remember that you are even using till you find a need for it again.

Perhaps, like me, you think of IFTTT as that cool little tool that lets all of one’s social media accounts stay in sync… what I post on Twitter magically appears on my blog, on Facebook, etc.  True.  Those tiny little pieces of IFTTT code do accomplish those tasks, but, if you are like me, that might not be a big deal.  I don’t have a Facebook account, and I prefer to be separate and selective regarding what I post where.  But to relegate this tool to a social media distributor is to seriously shortchange what this little productivity powerhouse can do.

With a plethora of services (which IFTTT refers to as Channels) already on board, practically any cause and effect sequence you can think of between services can be automated with an IFTTT recipe.  Just browse the IFTTT site for many slick ideas of ready-made solutions to problems you have been manually solving, or create your own personalized recipe to solve just the “if then…then that” scenario you want to automate.

Consider the following IFTTT solutions to some common productivity problems:

  • “I’m constantly being distracted by Twitter posts with links to articles that sound like something I need to be reading.”
    • Solution: Don’t stop and read now! Use an IFTTT recipe to send those links that you favorite on Twitter directly to Pocket for reading later when you can schedule an appropriate time for that activity.  (Twitter to Pocket IFTTT)
  • “Colleagues send me great Youtube videos of TED talks that don’t have time to watch, but then I lose the email with the link.”
    • Solution:  Mark that YouTube as “watch later” and IFTTT will create an Evernote entry of the video for you! ( YouTube to Evernote IFTTT)
  • “I have a bunch of pdfs and WORD docs saved to my Dropbox.  I wish they were formatted for my Kindle for reading on the go.”
    • Did you know that you can set up a special public folder in your Dropbox called “convert2kindle” and then use an IFTTT recipe to automatically send items added to that folder directly to your Kindle?  Check out that, as well as a few other Kindle IFTTT recipes (RSS To Kindle!) in this handy little post from the Epubor site.
  • “I have several great library technology blogs set up for RSS feeds, but I never get around to reading my stored feeds.  Wish I knew what the topics were so I could weed them out easier.”
    • Send those RSS feeds to your email with this IFTTT recipe! Then move the emailed blog posts that you want to read more carefully to your Pocket for later.  You can even set up a Weekly Pocket Digest to be sent back to your email to remind you of what is still waiting to be read!

These are just a few of the useful ways that IFTTT can help your productivity.  If you are new to IFTTT, this older article from Guiding Tech will introduce you to the main concepts so you can get started. PC Magazine still lists IFTTT among their Editor’s Picks and they also just ran a nice article in March on the application that is worth checking out: Read it here.

What are your favorite IFTTT recipes?  Share with us your IFTTT productivity hacks so we can all progress on our paths to better productivity.

Journaling as a Professional Writing Tool

If you read enough articles and books on writing, you will come away with the key message that the secret to successful writing is… to write!  Consistently.  Every day (or at least on a regularly scheduled basis.) Most writers will also advise developing a habit of jotting down insights along the way throughout your day.  Both of these concepts allude to the idea of regular journaling and establishing a common practice for capturing your daily writings and occasional jottings in a (at least somewhat) organized way.

A search in library catalogs or bookstores will yield a variety of books offering to teach us the best way to make journaling a way of life for us, and even how to become best selling novelists through our journaling.  Resources focusing on the use of journaling for academic writing (or even non-fiction!) is less abundant.  Regardless, I found a few blog posts offering some helpful viewpoints on journaling:

At the Live to Write – Write to Live website, we have the blog “10 Ways Journaling Makes You a Better Writer.”  I resonated with the idea of getting “stuff” out of my mind down onto paper freed up my mind for clearer thinking and creating on other topics.  PKM Readers of this blog will recognize this concept as one of David Allen’s rules for Getting Things Done… get it out of your head and onto a todo list.  This author extrapolates that very useful concept to the need for writers to also clear their heads of other ideas or concerns that are cluttering their minds and making concentration and creating more difficult.  A good reminder!

Joanna Penn, author of The Creative Penn site, writes a post, “Journaling Techniques to Improve Your Writing.”  In it, her guest author reminds us that journaling is a means to an end; it is not intended to be anything other than “raw, unpolished expression.”  As a warm-up exercise, our journal is a place for experimentation, exploration of tangents and personal reflection.

Social Work Tech offers a nice blog entry, ” Journaling for Professional, Personal, and Academic Development.” This author looks a little differently at journaling.  For him, “Journaling helps me to take a snap-shot of what is going on in my professional, academic, personal, and clinical goals.”  In the post he lists a number of writing topic prompts for your journal.  I found the last category, “All of the Above,” to have some of the best suggestions for academic writers. Of even greater interest, he then discusses some of the tools available for journaling writers, from blogs, to the app Day One, and our personal favorite PKM tool, Evernote.

While we are on the topic of journaling tools, take a quick side trip over to the Easy Journaling blog.  They are a valuable resource when considering digital journaling tools.  Per their site: “Our mission at Easy Journaling is to provide you with the best app reviews, recommendations and ideas that we possibly can. We combine your input along with our own experiences and frequent communication with journal app developers. This combination of education and experience helps us bring the best information on digital journaling you will find anywhere.”

Also on the topic of digital journaling, over at the Bakari Writes site, Bakari outlines “10 Reasons I Prefer Digital Journal Writing Over Pen and Paper.”  I can resonate with him regarding his claim of digital writing being faster (and for me, more legible!) than hand writing.  For those of us from ancient days who actually took typing (for you of later generations, that would be “keyboarding”) in school and can touch type at a fairly quick speed, digital writing can almost become a stream-of-consciousness form of writing.  Many times I have found myself later going back to read what I had written and not remembering some of what I had captured.  I personally found that to be rather cool.  🙂

Next we have an entry from one my favorite bloggers.  Michael Hyatt has long been a proponent of journaling.  In his podcast, “The 7 Benefits of Keeping a Journal” Michael discusses some of his insights on the topic. In it, he discusses three different tools he has used in the past.  His key takeaway is an important one for us all… don’t get so hung up on the method… just write!

And finally, just for fun, we have PROCESS: Coloring Journal for Writers by Kristen Joy, author of one of the top 50 writing blogs (by Positive Writer) called The Book Ninja.  This 136 page coloring book has a combination of pages to color with inspiring quotes and black pages for your journaling and notes.

Happy Writing!

Professional Development: Dealing with Writer’s Block

Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creationLast month we discussed the ever present need for continuing professional development for librarians, especially as it relates to professional writing and presenting.  Every librarian, indeed every writer who has attempted to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as the muse prefers), has experienced at one time or another the dreaded “Writer’s Block.”

So how do we tackle this frustrating state of being?  Especially as we near writing deadlines and feel the dread of nothingness assail us every time we attempt to work on our manuscripts. Books on writing and writing blogs abound with ideas concerning defeating writer’s block.  “Don’t let your fears paralyze you,” advises Paul Blobaum 1 in his “Pep Talk on Writing the Awful First Draft.”  The goal is to get ideas on paper, not to have good grammar, correct spelling, or even accurate facts throughout.  All that comes in the many later drafts. “The first draft,” he continues, “is a labororatory for working things out.”  To this, I would add, don’t feel compelled to start at the beginning.  Just start SOMEwhere…start with your favorite part, capture ideas and phrases, sketch out structures for your article, don’t hesitate to put in place holders that say “I will talk about “x” and “y” here and how “z” is different here.  You can always go back and tackle those areas one at a time later.

There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough. - William Stafford

Another common technique that some people use is called “freewriting.”  The University of Richmond’s Writing Center describes the priming-the-creative-pump exercise on their website, Writer’s Web.  This technique is also somewhat like Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” technique which was made famous in her best-selling book, The Artist’s Way.  She calls it her “bedrock tool of a creative recovery.”  (Listen to her short 2 minute explanation of Morning Pages on the link above.)  While Ms. Cameron is addressing a more basic problem of lost creativity, it relates to us when we are stuck trying to start or continue a professional writing article as well… the freedom to write whatever crosses our mind for a measured period of time can free up our creative juices so that we are better able to concentrate and create on the scholarly subject at hand.

Other ways to kick the writer’s block are explored by our friends at Purdue OWL: “Symptoms and Cures for Writer’s Block,”  and Dora Farkas at Next Scientist offers PhD students hope with “12 Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block for PhD Students”.  I found this article to contain a number of helpful ideas for those of us working on complex research writings.

Charlie Anders wrote a fun article called “The 10 Types of Writers’ Block (and How to Overcome Them”.  While directed at fiction writers (you’ll love all the old vintage sci-fi pulp fiction book covers throughout his article), he makes several points that can be extrapolated to those of us working on Scholarly articles:  “#2  You have ton’s of ideas and can’t commit to any of them”; “#3.  You have an outline but can’t get through one part of it”; and my personal favorite “#9. You had this incredibly cool story in your head, and now you’re turning it into words on a screen and it’s suddenly dumb.”  We all have experienced these and many other frustrating feelings related to writer’s block at one time or another.  It is good to know we are not alone in our feelings; regardless of how things might seem, the very simple, and oh so hard solution is to just keep writing anyway.

 

 

1Blobaum, Paul. “A Pep Talk on Writing the Awful First Draft,” in Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook, edited by Carol Smallwood, ALA Editions, 2010. pp 18-19.

 

Increasing Our Professional Development

writing_image_512px-CreativeJanuary often encourages us to reevaluate our goals; indeed, our annual review and subsequent goal-setting process that many of us are required to undertake at our places of business forces this time of reflection upon us. Like many of the rest of you, I just participated in setting my professional goals for 2016. As well as job related goals, I was asked to determine my creative goals, both in terms of presentations I hoped to develop and present at conferences as well as my writing goals. This process, along with the subsequent discussions with co-workers, had me thinking more about the creative process.  Several individuals were struggling with coming up with ideas for their possible articles and presentations, and I recognized that I, myself, had been struggling with ideas for topics to post on this blog recently.

So, where do ideas such as these come from?  For me, it is not so much idea creation, as idea recognition.  Over time, I have developed a sort of lurking attention in the back of my mind that jumps out like a child calling “BOO!” ghost-572534_640when it recognizes something I encounter during my day as a possible blog post, article or presentation topic. Rhoda Israelov from the Say It For You blog had another interesting idea.  She suggests, “when you put two things together that don’t seem to match – that can be a good technique to capture people’s interest.”  I liked this idea and plan to add it to my “idea starter’s” list. There are all sorts of other ways that ideas can originate:

  • A question from a patron
  • An article, blog post, tweet, or even a picture that makes you ask a question or What if? or What next?
  • A story of what happened to you when you tried something and it was a great success… or even better, a great failure.  What did you learn?  Everyone loves a good story!
  • Our Library Professional Development group is actually planning a conference topic brainstorming session for librarians.  Many heads make for lots of ideas.
  • Browse some key journals in your field.  What are the hot trends?  What do you have to say or what do they spark you to research further?
  • Look at those same journals.  What isn’t trending anymore?  Why?  Do you agree?  Do you have something to suggest to explore there that might change the way that trend is going?
  • Browse some journals totally OUTside your field.  Look at top business journals or what internet content marketers are doing.  How might those skills or ideas be applied to your field?  What do they have to offer to the academic audience?
  • ASK for ideas!  Poll your audience, talk to people.  What do they want to know about?
  • Be alert to conversations going on around  you.  All those “yeah, that would be nice to know” comments could alert you to a question that nobody else is taking the time to investigate.
  • Choose a person, holiday, event that intrigues you and share what you learn about it. For librarians, this is a great way to slip in teaching about a resource the library has… hook them with an interesting story, then tell the reader how they can find more!
  • Interview someone interesting… and almost anyone can be interesting if you find the right question to ask them.  Start with a question like “what inspires you?” or “5 things don’t most people know about you.”  You’ll be amazed at what you uncover.

Neil Gaiman had one of the best discourses on the topic of “where do your ideas come from” and I’d like to close this post with a teaser from his own words.  I encourage you to go read the whole article. On his website, neilgaiman.com, he talks about the important questions to ask yourself:  “What if?”  “If only…” and “I wonder…”  He muses, “Those questions, and others like them, and the questions they, in their turn, pose (‘Well, if cats used to rule the world, why don’t they any more? And how do they feel about that?’) are one of the places ideas come from. “

October was the month for conferences

October seemed to be the month for conferences and presentations for me.  I presented twice with colleagues at the Georgia Library Association’s annual conference (COMO) and also late in October at Internet Librarian.  With so much traveling and being out of the office in October, November got away from me and here we are, already rushing through December.  Rather than try to create a new topic for this month, I’d like to post links and reflect on some of my presentations in October.

First up was the Annual Georgia Library Association meeting.  Kennesaw State University was out in full force at this event with many presentations, often at same time from one another.  The guys from Unshelved were keynote speakers.  I love their comic strips,  but I had a presentation slot directly after them and was not able to attend their presentation.  I could hear the laughter from the room as well as the roar of applause at the end, so I know it was a great session, and one that I was sorry to miss.

My first presentation was with my previous manager from Georgia Tech, Lori Critz.  We presented: “Reaching the Forgotten Demographic: Customizing Services for Graduate Students.”  Because our PowerPoint was mostly a collection of screenshots from other universities as a kind of smorgasbord of the types of graduate programming occurring in libraries around the country, we did not post it online after the conference for copyright reasons.  We looked at other research institutions’ library websites to discover what types of unique or interesting services and spaces they were offering for graduate students.  We hope to expand our research in the coming year to look at comprehensive universities (like Kennesaw State University) as well.

I also presented with my new co-worker and past collaborator for this blog, Elisabeth Shields.  Our presentation: Knowledge Mapping Tools: Visualizing Research was an overview of the different kinds of knowledge mapping useful to academics and the different uses of each.  We considered concept mapping, mind mapping and argument mapping.  Each of these tools, while often lumped together, actually have distinct features and applications which are most effective for creating each.  Elisabeth has studied Knowledge Mapping extensively and posted several wonderful in-depth articles here on this blog on the topic, and I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about concept mapping and argument mapping which are used more extensively in the humanities and social sciences which she supports.

Finally, I rounded out the month with a trip across the country to present at Internet Librarian in Monterey, California.  There I presented Content Curation: Academic Outreach Opportunities Beyond the Institutional Repository. This is a topic that I feel really strongly about and see great opportunities for librarians to step up and help our faculty and students organize their personal research content.  There are so many content curation tools on the web and those who effectively use these tools have a networking advantage to their peers who do not interact or follow the content produced on these tools.  My presentation gave an overview of several examples where academics were already incorporating content curation tools in their instruction, and I provided several ideas on how librarians might begin to become involved.

As the Christmas and New Year’s season continues to rush toward us, I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you continuing to follow this blog.  I am looking forward to returning next January energized and ready to explore PKM with each of you.

Happy Holidays!