Year for Productivity Session 23: Productive Meetings; or, Oh, No, Not Another %$*&%^& Meeting!

year_productivity_graphic_23Most people at least profess to hate meetings.  They do, however, seem to be a necessary evil at this point, and they are a more confusing topic than ever, given that now, besides the traditional kinds of meetings, we now have online meetings, webinars, web conferences, etc.  So let’s consider the topic, from organizing meetings, to presenting at meetings, to tools to make more productive meetings.

The Mindtools article Running Effective Meetings gets one thing exaclty right:  there are good meetings and bad meetings.  We’ve all beein in meetings that went well, and in others that were a waste of time.  The article discusses what makes an productive meeting:

Effective meetings really boil down to three things:

  1. They achieve the meeting’s objective.
  2. They take up a minimum amount of time.
  3. They leave participants feeling that a sensible process has been followed.

If you structure your meeting planning, preparation, execution, and follow up around these three basic criteria, the result will be an effective meeting.

The literature on the topic of running effective meetings is immense, especially since the advent of blogs and managment consultants.  Not surprisingly, they sometimes contradict each other, and the problem is that different types of organizations find different kinds of meetings useful.  Moreover, the same organization may find different kinds of meetings useful for different kinds of projects.  Jill Duffy, whose Getting Organized Column for PCMag is a favorite, discussed four types of meetings in her post More Productive Meetings:  informational, discussion/collaboration, check-in, and working.

In the informational meeting, information is disseminated by one or more people, and there is not much interaction.  Several articles on meetings mention that informational meetings should be rarely, if ever held.  Information can be disseminated effectively by email or other means.   However, if a manager has important information to be given to everyone, and it is important that it is given to everyone at the same time, an informational meeting can be useful.  Discussion/collaboration mettings are probably the most common, often for problem-solving or brainstorming.  Information flows in all directions.  Check-in meetings are often most useful for a team working on a project with specific deliverables, and allow the project manager to gauge if the project is on track and what problems are causing delays and what the possible fix might be.  In working meetings, work actually gets done.

In my organization, I have participated in all of these kinds of meetings with different groups of colleagues.  My department has twice-weekly meetings that combine all four types.  My library has committees around varying functions, such as meetings for everyone involved in collection development.  There are campus committees that librarians can be elected to, and there are state and national professional organizations that have committees that one can join.  In this respect academic librarians are not much different from faculty and students.  Public, school, and special librarians can also have committee work as part of professional development.  Meetings therefore are ubiquitous, and most professions have an abundance of them.

One of the more difficult problems with meetings is highlighted in Paul Graham’s post:  Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.  A couple of friends who are IT professionals have pointed me to this article.   It points out that managers work with a meeting-heavy schedule, as they need to understand the progress being made on the projects they oversee.  But for knowledge workers whose job centers around creating something, meetings interrupt the sustained workflow necessary for that process of creating, whether it be writing a computer program, creating a class, writing a dissertation, etc.  Managers really must be sensitive enough to this to hold meetings as infrequently as possible, and scheduled such that their workers have at least 3-4 hour blocks of time free during the day, two of them per day on those rare occasions this is possible.

When meetings  are required, making them productive means having a plan in mind for that meeting that fits best with the type of meeting.  Create an agenda that explains (a) the topic for the meeting, and (b) the items to be covered.  Share the agenda with the participants at least a day before, so they are prepared with any information they need to provide.  A good meeting organizer follows the agenda, and acknowledges remarks that would throw the meeting off-track, promising to come back to that topic later.  Another nice idea is from 4 Expert Tips for a  Productive Meeting.  It is the idea of having a closing round, where each participant speaks for 30 seconds, ensuring that everyone has a say and can give their best thoughts on the topic of the meeting.


Everyone is bored by Powerpoint, and has seen joke presentations that make the point of how bad it is.  Microsoft over time has over time made improvements to Powerpoint, but effective presentations still come down to effective design.  Other presentation software is appearing, such as Prezi, which can make for more dynamic presentations.  Personally I dislike Prezi because I have vertigo and Prezi presentations literally make me dizzy – and I’ve heard this reaction from others who don’t have inner ear problems!  Covering presentation design and tools would be a post in and of itself, which we will do at some point.  For now, if you have to give a presentation, just remember everything you’ve hated about presentations you’ve seen and don’t do them.  😉


Notetaking in meetings is an art.  The post How to Take Notes in Meetings by Stever Robbins is a bit overly cute in tone, but has excellent advice that includes useful links and a summary at the end:

Use a pencil and paper so your attention stays in the room, not in your lap. Record a summary at the end of the meeting. If you need your notes electronically, type them in. Review as you type, and group the to-dos, decisions, and reference information so it’s easy to view at a glance. Consider using fun technology to capture hand-written notes electronically, and file everything labeled and tagged in your filing system.

Why use paper and pencil?  There is some evidence that writing something improves recall better than typing it.  However, it is not clear that this evidence is solid and, if typing works for you, by all means type.  If handwriting works better for you, then how best to digitize the notes?  You can, of course, type from what you have written, which gives you the chance to organize the notes better and to be sure your notes emphasize the decisions, to-dos, reference information, people assigned to tasks, and has a summary at the end.

The note-taking technologies that Robbins suggest are (1) Evernote, because you can scan or take a picture of the notes and Evernote will search words within the image (OneNote has similar capabilities); and (2) Livescribe digital pens.  Livescribe digital pens are the most popular brand of digital pen in the U.S. and will save what is written for downloading onto a computer.  Similarly, a lot of tablets and even smartphones can be used with a stylus so that you can write directly onto the device.  Evernote has teamed up with Penultimate, the handwriting app for iPads.

Mario Armstrong in a post suggests two other useful software programs for meetings. One  helps schedule meetings, and the other tool he suggests is mind mapping software.  If you have read this blog for any length of time you already know that we are all big fans of mind mapping, as it can bring clarity and organization to ideas.  As applied to meetings, it can present clearly what was discussed and the decisions made, capture action items and who is assigned to accomplish each, and export the resulting maps into word processing or slide software.

Another post, The Complete Guide to Taking Notes Effectively at Work, also  makes a lot of excellent points.  One is that not everyone is good at taking notes and listening at the same time.  I know this first hand, and don’t usually take notes for this reason.  However, I am not good at recalling what happened later, either; some of the audio recording technologies can be helpful for people like me.  The post suggests to individuals leading a meeting that a brief break after each agenda item increases note-taker’s ability to capture the important points of a meeting.

So what makes an effective meeting?  Preparation, effective presentation design, and efficient capture of important decisions are the strongest elements.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

(1)  Write a comment on your best tips for effective meetings.

Selected Readings:

Baker, S. C. (2013)  Make Library Instruction Zoom: Prezi as a Presentation ToolULS Blog.  For those interested in using Prezi, this post provides a good introduction.

Bates, S. (2013).  5  Steps to Pain-free, Productive Meetings.  Bates Communications.  This post focuses on the interpersonal aspects of meetings, such as making sure that everyone provides input.

Cobert, A. (2013).  From Chaos to Control:  How to Lead Super-Productive MeetingsForbes.

Duffy, J. (2013)  Tips and Tools for Managing a Project.  PC Mag.  Different from the Duffy column listed above, this has additional good tips on effective meetings.

Hedlund, U.  (2012).  How to Take Good Meeting MinutesBusiness Productivity.  Some good tips, including the tablet with stylus for taking notes, and a mention of the Cornell Method for taking notes.

Norback, J. S. (2013). Oral communication excellence for engineers and scientists: Based on executive input. San Rafael: Morgan & Claypool.   Written by a Georgia Tech professor, this book has many ideas for creating effective communications.

Wikipedia.  Comparison of Notetaking Software.  Compares around 40 software programs.




Links Roundup #14

western saddle with a lasso on it


Academic Blogging

Since my last post was on academic blogging, the post A New Science Blogging Scandal:  Deja Vu All Over Again from the Scholarly Kitchen blog points to a problem I did not have room to cover, the difficulties of paid bloggers being limited in what they can say.

Adobe Presenter

I have not used Adobe Presenter, but this offer looks interesting – Educators Get Adobe Presenter for Free (for 12 months) if acted on by the end of November.

Attention and Focus

Getting More Done in Less Time – GradHacker post on having the energy to maintain your focus, and on apps that help you manage distractions.

Chromecast and Video Streaming

Need to stream videos from your computer to a TV?  ProfHacker has a post on how easy and cheap it is with Chromecast.

Computer Buying Guides

One of Bob Rankin’s Geekly Updates pointed me to something on the Laptop site.  Despite its name, it isn’t limited to laptops, but has information also on tablets, smartphones, ultrabooks, software, and apps.  Features include news, reviews, and video.  In each category there is a best ranking that stays updated.

Conference Tips and Tricks

In From the Archives: Academic Conferences, Natalie Houston gives links to a lot of past ProfHacker posts on presenting at a conference, getting ready for it, using social media while there, and more.

Digital Workflows

In an article with a title almost as long as the content and abbreviated here – In Pursuit of a Digital Academic Workflow – Shanti Zaid describes using Zotero and associated apps to create citations, store pdfs, annotate them, and store the annotations as a separate file, all in the cloud so that the materials sync across multiple computers.

 Evernote Updates

What’s New in Evernote 5 for Windows Desktop – excellent overview of new features.  And the associated Tips for Updating to Evernote 5 for Windows Desktop has a half hour video tour of the product.  I have been using the shortcuts feature in particular and love it.

Evernote Search, Saved Searches, and Syntax – excellent overview of Evernote search syntax.  As the author suggests at the beginning of the article, clip this into your Evernote account so you’ll always have the syntax available easily.

Jamie Todd Rubin, an Evernote ambassador who writes a blog column called Going Paperless, has another good article on Evernote called A Framework for Searching Evernote which describes how the author uses searches in Evernote more than organizing by notebooks and tags.   It is also interesting that he uses Scrivener to write and considers it the best writing tool available, as that is also what we hear from a lot of academics.

Scott Bradley offers a series of YouTube videos on using Evernote.  You can subscribe to get an email notification of new videos in the series.

IFTTT Updates

IFTTT has added three new triggers for Facebook and Facebook Pages that are activated when specific hashtags are used:  “Now you can create Facebook Recipes that work only when a specific #hashtag is present in the message or caption. Perfect for selective cross-posting!”

iGoogle Alternatives

At least one of you was interested in this topic earlier in the year.  ProfHacker has a post Open Thread Wednesday: iGoogle Alternatives.  This is specifically meant for discussion, so be sure to read the comments too.

Miscellaneous Updates

Trouble with Malcolm Gladwell – interesting article about Gladwell’s misuse of science and that this is important because of his influence.  Makes an important point of choosing your sources carefully and how difficult this is when not an expert in that subject,   I have used Gladwell myself in this blog, and will be more careful hereafter.


GradHacker now has Pinterest boards.  Mixture of serious and fun items.

Search Tips

Visualize Your Keywords – an article from LibraryTechTalk about Snappy Words, a free visual online dictionary that allows one to look up a word and see how it relates to other words.  Great for searchers needing to find synonyms.

 Security Updates

How I Cleaned Up My Passwords in 5 Weeks  – another great column from Jill Duffy, who writes the “Get Organized” column for PC Mag.  She discusses how she used Dashlane to analyze the strength of her passwords and to change them to something more secure.

  Twitter Updates

Tweet2Cite is a very simple site where you can put in the URL of a tweet and get back a citation in properly formatted MLA or APA style.  If you click on the word “URL” in the site’s description, it explains how to find the URL of a tweet (click on details, then copy the URL in the browser’s toolbar).

 Windows Updates

No Office for iPad, but Microsoft’s Remote Desktop App for iOS is Out – title says it all pretty much, except there are also new versions coming out for Android, Windows, and Windows RT.

Year for Productivity Session 22: Revisiting PLNs


My post on September 2nd only scratched the surface of the mammoth topic of Learning Networks and why they are important to academics and librarians.  In particular, since I published that post, I have come across several resources that explore the concept and help participants to identify and grow their own networks.

One of the most significant discoveries was that there is currently a five week program occurring which the developers (Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott of Northwestern University’s Master’s in Learning and Organizational Change Program) are calling an Open Online Seminar.  Entitled Exploring Personal Learning Networks , the program’s structure alone is a prime example of network building.  There is a website, a twitter channel (#xplrpln), a Scoopit curation , a Google+ Community, a compilation of all the individual blogs that participants are creating with their reflections and insights as well as archived video chats from Google Hangout.  I was just one week too late to actually sign up for the seminar, but with all the resources they are providing, I feel I’m getting a good deal of the benefit regardless.  If exploring the concept and practical implementations of PLNs is of interest, I highly suggest you check out some of Merrell & Scott’s program.

One of the first things several of the participants did was to try to illustrate their own PLNs as they exist at the moment.  Just beginning to think on this for myself brought into clear focus the wide variety of channels I use for information. It will take me some significant time to actually capture all the different feeds I get via email and my very under-read rss feeds.  I follow a number of blogs and many are written by individuals who are not librarians and not even always in the academic world. Google alerts are also a good way for me to find tidbits on topics of interest.  For example I have alerts on onenote and “personal knowledge management”.  Because Google searches such a wide sweep of the online landscape, I can often find new individuals talking about topics of interest to me via those alerts. I also can almost always get at least one interesting source from the American Libraries email newsblast and also from a similar email from the Chronicle of Higher Learning.

This exercise has also pointed out to me that the network of people with whom I actively exchange ideas is much smaller and less targeted than I would like.  was one way that my co-bloggers and myself were trying to foster such a network around the topic of Personal Knowledge Management.

The importance of the interchange of information between members of a network  is one point that has been discussed frequently in the readings: A PLN is not just about curating knowledge.. it is about relationships between groups of people who share a common focus and who come together for the express purpose of furthering their own learning about that focus.  Your PLN is only as effective as you make it through developing meaningful connections with others that endure.

You don’t have a PLN, you say?  Start by looking at your workplace with fresh eyes.  Chatting with co-workers can help you find other people right in your own backyard that you can learn from, and also some you might be able to help as well. How about professional organizations?  Are you a member of any professional committees?  Committees are great places to find people that might become an important part of your network.  Listservs? Blogs you read?  Make a point to comment and talk with the bloggers you follow or to start develop professional relationships with others who have similar interests.

At this point, we should talk about the Echo Chamber syndrome that Steve Thomas discusses in his Carterette Series Seminar.  It is human nature to gravitate toward people who have similar views as ourselves.  If a network is made up only of people with the same experience or the same view, then the network will begin to sound like an Echo Chamber… where the same thoughts are simply echoed back to the group and no real learning is taking place.  It is important to have a wide variety of backgrounds, expertise level and viewpoints in your network. Sometimes it is only by hearing someone that has totally opposite views from ourselves that we can clarify in our own minds what our viewpoint will be.  Sometimes they might even change our stance and broaden our understanding.

Still looking for people with your interests?  Check out some of the popular curation sites:, Scoop.It, and blog aggregators.  Look for pre-existing networks on your topics that you might join.  Google+ is one place you can look for communities that are already in progress.  Twitter is another source.  Search by topic or hashtag.  For the topic of plns, for example, there is a #pln hashtag as well as a #edtechchat just to get you started.  See who is posting interesting links and follow them. Steven Thomas gave us a great list of his favorite pln twitter contacts.  Check the Resources section for a link.

A personal learning network is a living thing.  It morphs, it grows, it contracts at times , it might even change direction.  The center is the only constant and that is YOU.


For Further Exploration and Insight:

1. Try sketching out your PLN as it exists right now. Group individuals by the major topic of learning that they contribute to your PLN. Where are your strengths? Where are the holes? Keep these in mind as you go through your day and look for additions to your network.

2. A number of readings cite Twitter and Twitter channels as central to individual PLNs. Are you a Twitter user? What hashtags have you identified as belonging to networks of interest? Are you a lurker or a participant? Explore Twitter for a few individuals who are posting tweets in an area you want to explore and tweet them back! Start a conversation and then keep the connection going!

Selected Resources:

Resources for teaching notetaking at the graduate level

I’ve been looking at ways to help graduate students cope with reading and taking notes as they deal with more, and more complex and subtle, material.  As a librarian working with graduate students in the humanities and social sciences, I deal with them as they make the transition into graduate studies.  In general, we warn them that more will be expected of them – more reading, more originality in their research, more independence – and leave them to figure it out on their own.  Professors give them guidelines for research assignments, they take research methods classes, and professors and/or librarians may tell or show them how to perform more sophisticated literature reviews.

But then what?

I recently gave a ten-minute session on active reading for graduate students during “Grad School 101,”  a four-hour session on aspects of being a grad student that aren’t discussed in class.  I will be giving a longer session on reading and note taking in a couple weeks.  I focused on reading and note taking because of two comments I heard from academics who work closely with grad students.  One said she thought we need to put more emphasis on developing advanced reading skills than on writing skills; another said he is struck by how unprepared graduate students are to cope with the amount of reading expected of them.

We’ve dealt in this blog with note taking software, but only touched on the process of taking notes.  Because it is such a highly personal process, I have always sidestepped this, but someone needs to help students figure out how their note taking should evolve as they move through academia.

I have found four resources particularly useful to me in formulating guidance for students on reading and notetaking:

  • How to Read  a Book (revised editions, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Dorn, 1972)
  • Effective Notetaking (Fiona McPherson, Wayz Press, 2nd edition, 2007)
  • Effective Note Taking for University Coursework (Ruth Ford, Jagged Edge Press, 2012)
  • How to Read for Grad School,” Miriam Sweeney on the weblog  feminist research in critical information studies, posted on June 20, 2012.

I first looked at the classic How to Read a Book, which lays out such an excellent how to readframework that is still in print, though it dates from 1972.  Adler and Van Doren suggest using the road map of the author’s structure (table of contents, section heads, index, introduction and so on).  They go on to discuss levels of reading including understanding the work as a whole, understanding the argument, filling in the details, and making connections to other, related works.  Anyone who wants a broad education and expects to have an enduring interest in reading should probably get a copy, because Adler and Van Doren explain how to read different types of books, from pleasurable fiction to the most difficult nonfiction, and to derive maximum value from each reading experience.

Miriam Sweeney has posted a short, focused bit of advice for graduate students as “How to Read for Grad School,” using the term “strategic reading” to emphasize the need to understand one’s goals before undertaking any reading.  While I can’t agree that a single read through will always be adequate, she’s correct that students need to prepare for reading by establishing what their purpose is; not read straight from beginning to end; not focus equally on everything in the work, and bring critical perspectives to bear on the material.

In Effective Note Taking for University Coursework, Ruth Ford addresses taking notes from both lectures and written works. The work (a Kindle book) is short and practical. Ford also emphasizes the role of preparation and establishing goals in note taking.  Students need to think ahead about the work in relation to other material, including lectures and discussion.  They have to establish what they need to gain from reading a work and how they will use the notes they take and the knowledge they hope to acquire. To solidify learning, once they have read and made notes, they should review their notes, make sure they understand the notes, find gaps and, once again, relate what they have just read to other material.

This kind of active note-taking helps develop analytic, information processing, reflective, and writing skills.  It is more time consuming, but more effective, than simply opening a book and starting to read in the expectation of being enlightened.

Ford identifies four methods of taking notes as well as a number of purposes for note taking (to understand, remember, focus, identify key areas for study, etc.).  Of the four ways to Cornell note4take notes, two are variations on lists, one more hierarchically organized than the other.  The third is using mapping techniques.  The fourth, the Cornell method, was new to me.  In addition to a main note taking area on a page, one creates an separate area each for  comments and questions on the notes and a summary – active processing of the notes.

All in all, this was a cheap and practical guide, with the limitation that it apparently exists only in Kindle format.

I’ve saved the heavyweight for last.  Those who want theory with application should pick up Effective Notetaking by Fiona McPherson.  McPherson’s more complex work  draws on the literature on memory.  She looks as note taking as part of cognition, covering different ways of taking notes as well as how to choose when to use which strategy.

effective notetakingMcPherson categorizes note taking methods by the degree to which they help you assimilate the material.  Foundational techniques allow you to select key material: highlighting (useful only if used sparingly), writing your own headings through the text, and making factual summaries.  Graphic organizers represent a different level of learning, since the reader re-organizes the material as well as summarizing it.  Visual imagery may help integrate the material more deeply.

Concept maps require you to fit new information explicitly into your existing framework of knowledge and to specify relationships.  McPherson notes that concepts maps are difficult and frustrating to build because they typically require much iteration to achieve a satisfactory result.  However, they can be extremely useful tools, especially with ideas that will be elaborated over time (such as thesis and dissertation proposals).

McPherson’s sixteen pages on concept maps are what I will assign as background reading from now on.  She walks her readers through developing a map for a passage she has used as an exercise throughout the book; she shows the steps in developing a concept map using complex examples; and she addresses some of the difficulties that typically arise.

Toward the end of the book, McPherson offers tables to assist in matching different types of note taking with different conditions or situations.  However, there’s a separate table for each factor, and my head was spinning when I tried to put all the factors together and come up with a choice (let’s see, the task is organizations, the text difficulty level is complex, the text structure, is comparison, my goal is comprehension, my personal style is wholist-verbalizer – but should I pick the method that’s comfortable for me, or the one that would be comfortable for someone of the opposite style and which would compensate for the weaknesses of my style?).

I learned a lot from McPherson, and there is much in here that I can use.  Using example texts was a great way to illustrate different methods of note taking.  However, the intended audience isn’t clear to me.  The most likely audience seems to be educators.  Most students wanting to learn how to take notes more effectively won’t want to plow through 230 pages of material that is often fascinating but may turn out not to be very useful;  McPherson describes a series of methods in detail and then reviews the literature on each, and in some cases I concluded the evidence on results didn’t make it sound worth the trouble.  Very few people are likely to learn fifteen techniques and run through an analytic framework for every work they read.  However, it was a most valuable reference book for me, and I do recommend it for anyone who is interested in helping students process knowledge more effectively.

I hope to teach a course on reading and note taking for graduate students in about two weeks.  At the moment, I’m stymied by laryngitis.  A neighbor said it took her two weeks to get rid of it so I hope I’ll be safe in scheduling for two weeks from now!






Year for Productivity Session 21: Blogs – Their Care and Feeding

year_productivity_graphic_21Blogs are an enormous topic, in part because there are an enormous number of them – including this one, which makes this topic very meta.  The focus here is, of course, blogs as personal knowledge management tools and on their role in education, primarily higher education.  If you are a researcher, this discussion is meant to clarify why you might blog or follow blogs given any one person’s limited available attention.  For librarians, the focus is that as well but also how to help researchers find useful blogs, and help them in deciding whether to blog themselves or how to select tools for blogging.

Why Blogs?

Since blogging first appeared, the value of blogging for academic researchers (including librarians) has been a contentious and continuous debate.  A large part of discussion concerns the kinds of activities that not-yet-tenured faculty should focus their attention upon.  The critics point out  that those seeking tenure need to put their limited amount of available attention to publishing peer-reviewed articles and books.

Blog enthusiasts argue along a couple of tracks.  One, they think that tenure committees will over time begin to value blogs as an important part of the growing altmetrics field.  They point to such venues as, arguing it provides a valuable post-publication peer review, and that the peer-review process itself is not without flaws.

Secondly, they point to other benefits of writing blogs.  Blogs in part grew out of people keeping diaries online.  A blog can provide a record of one’s research life, pulling together sources and ideas, adding one’s own ideas, that can be later used to structure a peer-reviewed/edited publication.   Another benefit is that simply writing something down clarifies thoughts.  Knowing that others will read your blog forces one to work through clarification and revision, and improves one’s writing abilities.

Starting a blog has a variety of professional development benefits.  It can attract readers who are interested in the topic, and may result in collaborations on research that will produce peer-reviewed publications.  The networking opportunities are excellent, and produce not only the feeling of belonging to a community (even more pronounced in Twitter), but some report opportunities such as invitations to present at conferences – another product tenure committees look for during tenure review.

An academic, like other professionals, must pay attention to his or her personal brand, and how they manage their online personal identity.  A professional portfolio these days often will include a CV or resume, a LinkedIn profile, and one’s participation in blogs or Twitter or other social media relating to one’s profession.  These can be put together on a site like Impact Story.  The blog University of Venus (GenX Women in Higher Ed, Writing from Across the Globe) is particularly sensitive to the issues of minority students and faculty and is an excellent example of how blogging can give a voice to those too often marginalized.  It also,has the potential to create a backlash that may endanger a career.

Reasons for using a blog are nicely summarized in this quote:

There seem to be many different motives behind science blogging: to share content and express opinions, to improve writing skills, to organize thoughts and ideas and to interact and create relationships inside and outside of the author’s home discipline. Science blogging can give the blogger room for creativity and the feeling of being connected to a larger community. It is a means of establishing an online reputation.
(Shema, 2012)
Blogs can also be used in instruction.  Many professors are creating class blogs so that everyone in the class can participate in discussions.  It should be noted that such uses of blogs are happening in K-12 education as well – the Edublogger site is a primary site for information on K-12 education blogging.

Blogging Networks

Once one appreciates the value of blogs, then one is faced with how to find blogs that are (1) on one’s topic(s) of interest and (2) high quality.  This is a necessity given that there are hundreds of millions of blogs in existence and they are much more dynamic than writing that goes through a publication process.  This dynamism is both a strength and a weakness of blogs.  They are not formally peer-reviewed and edited, which is the main reason tenure committees won’t use them for awarding tenure.  They can also be ephemeral, here today and gone tomorrow.  However, the dynamism is a strength in that they offer news in a field that is much more current than journal articles or books.   Blogs also provide a communication process that most published works lack, through comments or through the active conversations that occur in mircroblogging.

The huge number of available blogs makes it difficult to find the best blogs in a discipline.  A simple way is just to search Google for “best blog” and the topic.  Such articles abound, and looking for the most recent can yield excellent results.  The authors of these articles perform some degree of vetting – they choose only a few blogs and try to choose those that are of the highest quality.

Good blogs get attention.  Really good blogs get lots of attention, and some of them get asked to join blog networks.  Such networks are often organized by a major publisher in the field.  Nature, Scientific American, Wired, and Discover, for example, now provide networks of blogs that, since they have the imprint of those publishers, are judged to be excellent.  Now there are also aggregators of such blog networks.

Bora Zivkovik, blog editor for Scientific American, explains some recent science blogging networks:

This aggregator [] is not trying to be comprehensive, searchable and organized by topic (like ScienceSeeker), nor is it trying to act as a filter for only the posts that cover science with some quality and detail (like is supposed to give one an easy and quick glimpse of what science blogosphere is talking about at any given moment. Obviously, each of the three aggregators has its uses, its goals, and its intended audience.

(Zifkovic, 2011)

Blog networks do not seem as common in the social sciences and humanities.  The largest network in those fields is not of blogs, but of mailing lists, H-Net:

An international consortium of scholars and teachers, H-Net creates and coordinates Internet networks with the common objective of advancing teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. H-Net is committed to pioneering the use of new communication technology to facilitate the free exchange of academic ideas and scholarly resources.

Among H-Net’s most important activities is its sponsorship of over 100 free electronic, interactive newsletters (“lists”) edited by scholars in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and the Pacific.

(H-Net introduction,

Whether or not blogs are in formal blogging networks, most of us have specific blogs in our personal learning network    We might first stumble on a useful blog, then next explore the blogroll to find other useful blogs.

As with anything information related, it is far too easy to let enthusiasm lead to TMI – Too Much Information.  The number of blogs, RSS feeds, and tweets we follow need continual refinement in order not to be overwhelming.  Ceasing to follow one source doesn’t mean the source isn’t valuable, but you may have gotten the majority of useful comment from it, or your information needs or interests may have changed, or you find another source that is more on target.

Librarians – the original search engine – have always had a content curation role.  This is even more important when our users are drowning in information.  How many librarians, when talking to faculty and students about sources they use, ask about the blogs they follow?  How many librarians add a page of important blogs in the field when creating our research guides?

What tools do we recommend for users who want to start a blog?  For simplicity and price (free), it is hard to beat Blogger.  For more sophisticated work that still doesn’t require one to know programming (usually), content management systems like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal all have their followings.  This blog uses WordPress, and my co-author Crystal Renfro teaches a WordPress class and has a guide associated with the class.  Bluehost has a brief table comparing WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal for ease of use, availability of add-ons, how nice it looks, whether it is good for simple or complex sites, and links to sites created with each.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

(1)  What blogs are in your personal learning network?

(2)  Write a comment about how your personal blog network has changed over the last 2 years.


Shema H, Bar-Ilan J, Thelwall M (2012) Research Blogs and the Discussion of Scholarly Information. PLoS ONE 7(5): e35869. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035869
Zivkovic, B.  (2011).  What is  The Network Central.  Accessed 10/13/2013.

Selected Readings:

Kharbach, M (2013).  Top 50+ Academic Blogs for Teachers and Educators.  Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.  Accessed 10/13/2013.  Despite the name, this is a post that lists, by blog, posts about the value of academic blogging.  Reading the selected posts give a good flavor of the debate about the value of blogs for academics.

Koh, A. (2013).  Crowdsourcing the Best Digital Humanities Content: Introducing #DHThis, The Digital Humanities Slashdot.  Article from ProfHacker about a site where up or down votes determine the contents of the site.

Shema, H.  (2013).  Do Blog Posts Correlate with a Higher Number of Future Citations?. Accessed 10/13/2013.  The article concentrates on




Links Roundup #13

western saddle with a lasso on it


Lucky 13!  Yes, this is actually the 13th Links Roundup Post.  Yee-ha!


The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life. A really great post on work-life balance for academics.  Lengthy, but a good post for understanding what the early years of new faculty are like.

Twitter Updates

How to Archive Your Favorite TweetsProfHacker post with excellent ideas for keeping tweets on research topics.

Teaching with Twitter:  5 Resources for Getting Started.  Eduhacker post that is the beginning of a series on this topic.

Social Media Updates

Rebel Mouse Wants to Be Your Social Media Home Page – nice article from the editor of the Social Media page.  I have played around with Rebel Mouse some, and it is a pretty good social media aggregator.  Can see it as being particularly useful for an organization wanting to create a web page for their social media.

Evernote and OneNote Updates

Presentation Mode: The Better Way to Present Your Ideas.  Evernote 5.3 for the Mac is the first to roll out this feature of viewing notes in a presentation mode.  It is also for Premium and Business users only.  Still, it seems useful, and I think tends to further indicate that Evernote doesn’t rest on its laurels but is intent on continuously improving the product.

Another great new feature that is so far only available in Evernote 5.3 for the Mac is discussed in Create an Evernote Table of Contents in 1 click.  Can’t wait to try that one.

And yet one more good feature of the new iOS 7 app is Using Quick Notes in the New Evernote App for iOS 7.

Evernote 5 (for Windows) Review – by Jill Duffy, who writes the Get Organized column for PC Mag (although this item was published in ITProPortal).  Talks about some of the new features in Evernote 5 but also does a really good review of the product as a whole, so may be of use if you want to introduce someone to Evernote.

“3M announced a new partnership with Evernote on Thursday that allows users to turn their real-world sticky notes into digital notes that can be saved, shared or viewed from anywhere. The Post-It notes are digitized through a new “Post-it Note Camera” feature in Evernote’s iOS 7 app. Notes that are photographed with the camera are digitally enhanced and uploaded to your Evernote account. Notes can be organized by color within Evernote and the content is searchable. You can also add a reminder or due date to a specific note — such as a time you need to pick someone up from the airport or a payment due date for a bill.”  From Apps You Don’t Want to Miss, 9/28/2013.

OneNote for iPad:  Sophisticated Note Manager that Aims to Usurp Evernote – nice overview of the iPad OneNote app, good for OneNote beginners.

 Google Updates

New Chrome Apps Run on Your Desktop, Offline, and Outside the Browser – Apps on the Desktop!

How to Use Google Hangouts for Lecture Capture – Free Tools!

Security Updates

Online Backup or Local:  Which is Best?  Another good article from Ask Bob Rankin.  The short answer to the question he poses is Yes.  ;-).

Faceless.ME is a VPN app for Windows with Free 2 GB Monthly Bandwidth.  Those of you who use public wifi a lot probably worry about security, and a VPN can address that.  This article reviews a particular VPN app but mentions others and links to reviews of them.

Attention and Focus Updates

How Does Multitasking Really Effect Learning?  is a nice infographic on the topic, might be particularly useful for those working with undergraduates.

 Miscellaneous Tools Updates

6 Unexpected Ways You Can Use Dropbox.  Some nice tips – I did not know about emailing to Dropbox and using DropPages to create a simple web page you can store in Dropbox.

How to Crowdsource and Gamify Your Email – post from ProfHacker with links to some useful posts about managing email.

Building a Research Database with DEVONthink Pro Office – we have not covered this tool in the blog, but Crystal mentions it in her Productivity Tools research guide, and we are aware that a number of grad students and faculty really like it.  This post from GradHacker is really good, laying out the pros and cons and how this researcher uses the tool.