Year for Productivity: Session 24: Characteristics of a Vibrant Personal Learning Network

year_productivity_graphic_24

We’ve talked at length about what Personal Learning Networks (PLN) are, ruminated upon what makes up our own network right now and we’ve hopefully even explored  a few new sources for connections. We’ve also recognized the need for participation and identification of other professionals who share our interests and with whom a dialog can be started.These individuals begin to form our learning community.Now we need to consider the characteristics of a healthy PLN and what our roles and responsibilities are as community members.

 Common Topic or Field of Interest: A Clear Purpose

                 Most successful learning communities have a clearly defined area of study (such as personal knowledge management for academics) or a specific purpose (for example individuals from diverse areas of study that are all dedicated to improving their presentation skills).  To have this clearly stated and agreed upon mission or statement of purpose available to group participants helps keep the group targeted and on task.

 Affordable Alternative Method of Professional Development

                 One of the many benefits of online learning communities is that they can help participants work toward personal development and training objectives in their formal job reviews.  Some of the larger and well organized groups especially embrace this aspect of their learning community and even develop programs that individuals can complete for “certificates” to add to their annual evaluations.  Many participants in online learning, however, simply embrace the convenience and affordability of the venue and consider it a vital part of their personal development.

 Potential for Global Participation

                 Global participation is one exciting aspect of online learning communities.  The opportunity to communicate with other professionals around the world enriches discussion and growth for everyone.  The potential learning for individuals in isolated areas is immense, but equally valuable is the mix of experience and social, political or logistic context from participants of differing cultures and backgrounds.

 Can contain both synchronous and asynchronous features

                 The ability of online learning communities to develop both synchronous (Google+ hangouts, twitter chats, webinars) and asynchronous (posting boards on topics, blog rolls, etc) adds vitality to the community, fostering the development of connections between participants. Using different methods of engagement also allows individuals with preferences for active interchanges and brainstorming kind of interactions (chats) and those who prefer more methodical and thoughtful contributions (board posts, blogs etc) to both participate in ways that are most comfortable with their style.

Common commitment to the growth of the topic/group

                 For a group to sustain itself for the long term, a common commitment to the growth and feeding of the group purpose is essential.  Many groups fizzle after a vigorous beginning because the participants have not reached a common sense of ownership and commitment to the group and each other and individuals fail to faithfully seek and provide new insights, resources, questions and participation.

 Flexible and Customizable to an Individuals Personal Learning Objectives

                 All of this talk of common purposes and commitments does not suggest that the group should become rigid.  Rigid groups are also subject to shattering. A group that is flexible and that an individual can see how they can customize and suggest threads of conversation, activities, etc that help them meet their own personal learning objectives is also important.  If the common commitment to the group is there, individuals can be more assured that they will have others participate on their topics as they also participate in the topics others put forward.  This being said, it is possible that an individual will have more than one learning community.  I might belong to one group to improve my presentation abilities, yet still have a different group that focuses on the creative writing process, for example.

 New Knowledge is created and explored via the collective collaboration

                 The most successful and sustainable communities are those where active collaboration and brainstorming  results in collective sharing that gives birth to new insights, new concepts and new knowledge.  An online learning community that promotes this kind of rich exchange of ideas, experiences and resources will continue to attract motivated individuals, thus enriching itself and assuring its longevity.

 A Variety of Viewpoints are represented and Trust and Respect for Others Exists

            To consistently grow and expand as a community it is important to attract individuals who can contribute a variety of viewpoints and who offer various backgrounds and areas of expertise to bring to the table.  In order for all individuals to bring their own voices to the community, it is essential that an environment of trust and respect for others be a pervasive element in the underlying framework of the community. And yet, Sharon Booth (2012) recognized that “ Yet among the most difficult challenges faced by online communities is fostering and sustaining knowledge sharing and trust.”  Her study found “  knowledge sharing and trust were cultivated and sustained through a clear purpose and common identity, multiple options and opportunities for social learning, the active involvement of an experienced and credible moderator, as well as modeling and enforcement of appropriate online behavior.”

An environment conducive to cultivating professional networking relationships

                The underlying purpose of any learning community is to provide a vehicle for individuals with common interests to gather together.  A secondary purpose is to provide a platform where individual networking can occur, whether this is for professional opportunities, to identify possible partnerships for future projects or to find collaborators and mentors who have the potential to become long-time professional relationships. 

Experienced and Credible Moderator(s)

                 The value of an experienced and credible moderator cannot be underestimated.  Such individuals can help a community to maintain its focus, to spark conversation, and to deal with the rare issues that may occur which, if left unaddressed, could threaten the underlying layer of trust and respect that is so important for thriving communities.  The most skilled moderators can blend so well into the general conversation of the community that their role of moderator is virtually invisible. Wenger (2009) calls effective community moderators as ‘“social artists” whose energy, skills, and craft are a driving force in the success of the community.’

So now that we have reviewed all the wonderful benefits of learning communities and explored some of the essential characteristics for a thriving community, where does this leave the individual who isn’t interested in starting a new community but simply wants to  enter the personal learning network world  and get their feet wet?  There are a number of things that a beginner can do when beginning to explore learning networks.

Choose a community that interests you and begin to read the posts and resources on this site on a regular basis.   After listening and exploring, does this community still seem to be a good fit for your goals?  If so, introduce yourself!  Be genuine and don’t be afraid to let community members know this is a new experience for you.  If it is a supportive community, they will help enfold you into the community. Look for opportunities to share posts, articles, etc that are on topic for the group or to provide possible feedback  to others who are looking for input. When it comes to learning communities, you get out of it what you put into it, so stretch yourself to participate.

 For Further Exploration and Insight:

 1.       Take a closer look at a learning community that you are a part of or are potentially interested in joining.  How do the characteristics of this group compare to the list of advantageous  elements that we discussed above? 

2.   Spend some time in an online community that interests you.  Over the next week, keep in mind some of the topics they discuss an follow some of the links.  Make comments on a line of discussion or post a link to a resource on the topic. Make a goal for yourself to interact a minimum number of times each week and before you know it you will be a part of the discussion.  Get involved!

Selected Resources:

Ardichvili, A. (2008). Learning and knowledge sharing in online communities of practice:
Motivators, barriers, and enablers. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 10(4), pp. 541-554.

Booth, Sharon. (2012) Cultivating Knowledge Sharing and Trust in Online Communities for Educators. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 47(1) pp1-3.

Cooke, Nicole A. Professional development 2.0 for librarians: developing an online personal learning network (PLN)  Library Hi Tech News  29(3) pp 1-9.

Hew, K. & Hara, N. (2007).  Empirical study of motivators and barriers of teacher online knowledge sharing. Educational Technology Research & Development, 55(6), pp. 573-595.

Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture, NYU Press.

 McDermott, R. (2001), ‘‘Knowing in communities: ten critical success factors in building communities of practice’’, Community Intelligence  Labs, retrieved online: www.co-il.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/knowing.shtml

Richardson, Will and Mancabelli, Rob. (2011), Personal learning networks : using the power of connections to transform education. Solution Tree Press.

Tobin, Daniel R. (2011) Learn Your Way to Success: How to Customize Your Professional Learning Plan to Accelerate Your Career, McGraw-Hill.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. and Snyder, W.M. (2002), Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.

 

 

Tuesday Tool Tip: Using Scrivener for Complex Academic Writing Projects

I became aware of Scrivener, an alternative writing tool, several years ago, and have been intrigued ever since.  At first glance, the benefit for creative writers is clear, but numerous scholars also use Scrivener.  Here’s part of the description from the product page:  “a powerful content generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents . . . . its focus is to help you get to the end of that awkward first draft.”  While word processors really focus on generating text in linear fashion, Scrivener is adapted for managing writing projects which take shape in a more reflexive or piecemeal style.

How could this fail to be of interest to academics?  However, because I no longer undertake such project, I’ve looked at how academic researchers report using it.  This post summarizes what I’ve found.

Benefits

As an example of a general endorsement, Ryan Cordell had this to say on  ProfHacker on March 8, 2010:  “Scrivener is essential [to daily workflow] . . . . I don’t remember how I wrote before discovering it, and I can’t imagine writing without it.”  When I first became aware of it, I spoke with a researcher who estimatedtimesaving at 15% over Word.  I found examples of academics who use Scrivener for writing books, articles, literature reviews, and dissertations, as expected, but I also found other imaginative uses:

  • a professor who uses it to put together syllabi, keeping all related course material in one place
  • a PhD student who expected to use it as the main locus for studying for comprehensive exams.

The features that make Scrivener so useful are that you write in chunks and can keep multiple documents open at the same time.  That facilitates reorganizing material, invaluable to those of us who think and organize as we write, maybe even through the writing process.  You can bring your associated research material (standard files like pdfs and text documents, but also audio, video and image files) into Scrivener, so that you don’t have to open multiple applications to see your support material.  This is what makes Scrivener more project than document driven.

A “corkboard” allows you to develop index-card sized summaries of portions of your work and to keep those in front of you as you go.  In short, Scrivener allows you to begin with bits of ideas, flesh them out in parallel, shuffle them around, comment on what you’ve written and on your background materials, and iterate the process until your work makes its best sense.

You can have multiple views of your work, such as file structure on one side, one or more open documents, the corkboard or, when you want it, the document you are currently writing in full screen mode.  You have flexibilty to design the screen you need for different stages of work.

There is a companion product, Scapple, for making maps of your ideas, which can then be imported into Scrivener.  Scapple isn’t either a mind mapper or concept mapper, though it could be used as either.  Rather, it’s a free-form tool for making visual connections among ideas.  It imposes no form, unlike other tools which are usually either hierarchical or radial, or both.  Scapple’s main purpose is to allow the quick generation of thoughts and the capture of the relationships among them.  You can expand in any direction and apparently as far as you want to go.  Scapple’s strengths would appear to be flexibility and ease of use, whereas I would think a potential drawback is that you could get lost in a large set of ideas as your map goes off the visible area of the screen.  (Some other mapping programs, such as CMap, allow you to nest or hyperlink maps when they get large and complex; this can help the user stay oriented).

Scapple map of a few take-aways from my note-taking reading: it’s very simple, but I did this in under 10 minutes. I could drag in or attach images and other files, and I could do more formatting:

Scapple map

 

Limitations

One user loves Scrivener for solo projects, but not for collaboration, since a draft has to be converted to a standard word processor to be shared for co-author’s edits and comments (see Macademise, 11/20/2012).  As stated on the Scrivener site, the tool is meant for drafting, not producing final versions.  This leads to the next point, one that has to be considered very seriously by anyone preparing citation-heavy manuscripts.

Scrivener has some internal citation function, but it does not work seamlessly with many citation management programs. There has been extensive discussion of using different citation managers with Scrivener in the forums, so advice from seasoned users is available. Users report different processes for handling citations.  One reasonable-sounding approach was suggested in the Scrivener forums: use Scrivener’s internal citation handling in the drafts (“insert the unformatted reference in your footnote (e.g. {Jones, 1931 #21} and never convert it until the document has been converted from Scrivener to Word”; KevinR, 2012). Once the document has taken good shape, you can work with Word and your citation program on final format.  Other users follow more complex processes involving exporting to RTF and then to ODF (open document format), and then having to fix citations.  This, combined with the way Scrivener is meant to be used to move text around, can lead to citation problems.  One professor who has advised dissertation writers reports seeing an error rate of over 50% with Scrivener, compared to 10 – 15% with conventional word processors (reported in the Zotero forums by DWL-SDCA on 10/20/2013).  This person believes that “the typical writer of a thesis is more likely to need to think more about the topic and citing authority than the process of writing.”

Clearly this is a big worry, but I think this writer has hit the nail on the head.  People write differently.  Some, like me, are more circular writers, and for us, Scrivener can be a great tool. Others won’t want to invest time in learning something new, especially if their writing process is straightforward, if outlines are adequate guides for them, and if they do not want the uncertainty of exporting to a word processor and back while writing drafts and getting comments.

Scrivener has been around since 2006.  Both Scrivener and Scapple are affordable: full price $40 and $14.99, respectively; academic prices $35 and $12.  There are both Mac and Windows versions.  The developers are focused on delivering a stable tool for complex writing; they state that their intent is not to deliver ever-more elaborate versions which seek to be everything to everyone.

Support is provided via pdfs, an online knowledge base, and support forums. The forums seem quite active.  A search turns up a modest number of videos and demos.  There are now also several commercially published manuals available:  Scrivener for Dummies (July 2012) and Scrivener Absolute Beginner’s Guide (June 2013).

See also:

Five Things Scrivener Can Do for You (Besides Word Processing),” Kim  Mann at Academic Technology at the College of William and Mary, 6/26/2012

One More Reason to Use Scrivener for Thesis Writing,” Aleh Chirp, at Academic Workflows on the Mac, 11/12/2013

Scrivener – A Perfect Program for Dissertation Writing,” Daniel Wessel at Organizing Creativity, 8/26/2009 (Wessel says this is mainly still valid in 2013).

Scrivener, Scrivening, Scriverastic,” Ryan Cordell at Profhacker, 3/8/2010.

Using Scrivener to Prepare for Comprehensive Exams,” Steve Thomason at Deep in the Burbs, 5/18/2013.

Writing Academic Texts with Scrivener: Making Your Non Linear Writing Projects Pleasurable,” at Macademise, 12/11/2013.

 

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.

Presentations

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.  😉

Note-Taking

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

PKM LINK ROUNDUP

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.

Pinterest

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

year_productivity_graphic_22

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.  Academicpkm.org  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: Paper.li, 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!