Everloving Evernote

This spring I started using Evernote which, if you don’t already know it, is a multi-platform notetaking system. I’m pretty certain that I got interested in using it via Profhacker which is about the smartest group blog out there for academics of any stripe.

Anyway, I installed Evernote on my laptop and my tablet. I poked around with it and was semi-sort-of meh about the whole thing. I mean, what was in it for me? How should I use it? I made a few notes, kept track of a few things and not much else happened. My world was definitely not rocked.

Then the super-smart Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega recommended a book for academics on how to use the software: Work Smarter With Evernote by Alexandra Samuel. I bought the book because, dangit!, the software really sounded helpful but I knew that I was missing the point. I read the brief book and, wow, world has definitely been rocked. My new phone has Evernote installed and it’s become a universal constant in my life, thanks to the book and other useful guides. Another Twitter star and historian, Liz Covart, cemented the deal for me with her 3 Ways Evernote Makes Research Easier. (Also see this only slightly-outdated list of Evernote power-user tips from PCWorld.)

Samuel highlighted some of the tools and organizational elements existing within Evernote that you can use to cluster your life or work in “stacks” that are easily and intuitively accessible. She showed how webpages can be clipped, documents appended and photos added to turn Evernote from a simple note tool into a total reference system.

I’m still only a novice but, wow, Evernote is so amazing. I’m putting together reading lists and class plans in course-specific notebooks that reside within my teaching stack. Tagging allows me to bridge the research and teaching aspects of the system where appropriate (which is surprisingly more and more now that I think about it). I have a personal to-do always floating around at the top to help me remember errands. Post office tomorrow to mail a small parcel, thank you, Evernote!

I’ve Evernote screenshot become an Evernote enthusiast but the real joy of the software didn’t hit home until Wednesday, during the grad class. One of the students was leading the discussion and I was making notes in Evernote on my tablet, all about the presentation when a handout materialized in front of me. Without thinking, I pulled out my phone, used the camera to snap shots of the two sides and pull them into Evernote. Then back to the tablet where I could now start making notes on how the handout and discussion intermixed. Oh, and if I’d pulled the document file out of the accompanying email or sent it to my evernote account, I could have included that there as well. In the end, I had a helpful note about the grad student’s work, incorporating their material, already labelled with the class (because Evernote reads my schedule and knows where I am at any given point in the day), that I could then tag and file appropriately. I’m now going to do one better and import my presentation rubrics into Evernote so that grading becomes more streamlined as well.

Do you use Evernote? If so, what do you love about it? If not, have I convinced you to take a second look?

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You Should Be

Term’s underway and I’m buried in work of all sorts. Four courses at present, plus additional responsibilities with M.A. and senior project supervisions to get up and running with the students involved. An unexpected committee to steer towards a rapid conclusion. A revision (done!). Other writing and editing projects on the go. And home life full of busy-ness all its own.

So when I do sit down at the computer and think about starting a blog post, I shy away as my inner voice chides “You should be doing X.” This holds for certain values of X that have to do with the next writing project, teaching preps for the coming week, more emails for administrative duties or even just cleaning the bathroom. . . again. And so, I don’t post because, hey, there are more things that need to be done. Interesting ideas I might have developed in a blog post mostly become Twitter fodder and while I love that platform, it’s hardly the same as a blog. Either way, I write less and less here as I let the guilt and internalized negativity weigh me down.

This isn’t a radical new insight. Many others have pointed out how academics can be disdainful of anyone who pursues hobbies as “wasting their time” in general or blogging in particular as unworthy. Even though I know my colleagues wouldn’t hold that opinion, it’s easy to internalize the critique, isn’t it, and ditch the personal pastimes as unworthy. Even blogging can appear a waste of time when it’s really anything but that. Blogging connects people, blogging helps to clarify thought processes, blogging sparks creativity.

So I’m going to try to embrace a new mantra: “You should be blogging.” At least once a week, throughout the term, I will post because blogging is something that I really should be doing more of, even when I’m at my busiest.

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It Can’t Be September

Because if it’s September I start teaching on the third. I also have article revisions due before mid-month.

Eep!

At least all my syllabi are ready. For those playing along at home, I’m teaching several courses this term beginning with Western Civ. So far there are fifty-five students enrolled. There’s a second-year survey on Early Modern British History with only twenty-five students because it runs at 8:30 in the morning, two days a week. I’m team-teaching a third-year class on The History of the Occult with almost forty students signed-up and then there’s the graduate seminar on historical methods. I’ll also most likely have one Directed Readings grad course running all year.

If my syllabi are ready, I’m certainly not. Time to get back to polishing the opening lecture notes and slides for Occult and to ensure I have something fun for the first class which I’ll meet on Wednesday which is the British history course. And there was that additional article which I’d hoped to complete. . . .

Push back the clock!

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Fun with Pedagogy

Now that I’m past the halfway point of summer, I’m permitting myself some thoughts and work in teaching preparation: even if it’s just one day a week. Late August, as our term start looms, I’ll shift that to two and then three days a week in the final crunch of syllabus-setting and online teaching preps. The upcoming term will be crazily busy with four classes and, possibly, a senior student supervision. One of the courses is a brand new preparation, “The Occult in History”, requiring all sorts of background reading. I’ve chosen cool supplementary texts for my western civ and early modern British history surveys (the great Portuguese national epic, The Lusiads, for the former and Games’ enthralling reconsideration of the Elizabethan and Stuart experience of the wider world, The Web of Empire, for the latter) and been busy reading through those with an eye towards integrating them into our classroom experience.

Always Women Reading in School, 1899 reading, always reading. Who doesn’t love to read? Don’t tell me! My real pedagogical fun for the summer has been reading about teaching and learning. Every summer I reread Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do to get me excited about stepping back in front of the classroom. I also try to read two or three other new-to-me works in pedagogy. To this end, and with some inspiration from The Chronicle’s Top 10 Books on Teaching I picked up How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Ambrose et al. from my library and I also grabbed a copy of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning on my ereader. Reading these books has gotten me thinking about how I employ reflective responses and discussion segments in my classes, and that’s just a few chapters in with each of them.

I don’t want to reninvent my wheel when it comes to teaching but I do want to refine my craft while continuing to fold new discoveries and interpretations into the content that I teach. Creating new courses, choosing new supplementary texts and boning upon the latest insights into pedagogy are all ways that I can keep my teaching fresh for me and, hopefully, the students. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a lot more reading to do before it’s suppertime.

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File Wrangling

I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the past two months wrangling files. Actually, I’ve hired someone to wrangle a lot of paper files – to shred some materials that needed to be securely eliminated as well as sort out some old teaching files that I can now decide to keep or recycle. At the same time, in between writing, working on recovering my health and supervising a grad student, I’ve been wrangling professional paperwork. Both virtual and physical, I assembled a dossier documenting the past five years of my academic work.

Let me tell you, that is not easy. Even if I’ve been pretty good about managing and storing my files over the years, some files become corrupted, some documents don’t play well with other and some mandates (merge ALL the PDFs for everything you’ve taught over the past five years!) just don’t work well. Even when you have the tools, there are some mysteries that cannot be plumbed as to why the rubrics for my early modern British course did not want to be included in the mega-PDF but every other course’s rubrics worked just fine.

After a five-hour final marathon session, I called it quits on this particular task with a definite sigh of relief. I’m glad to have it off my hands. The only scary part is that our program is up for its periodic review this coming year and we’re going to have to do much of this work all over again but for all of the faculty for the entire program over the past seven years and a lot more besides. Oh, joy. Maybe we can hire a full-time file wrangler? I only wish!

What file-wrangling tips and tricks keep you on top of documentation, virtual or physical?

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Breadcrumbs

It’s the start of summer and I’ve been writing pretty steadily all the way through the past four weeks. I’m finally getting to the project that I’ve been giddily awaiting – wrapping up an article draft on perceptions of stepmothers and mothering in the Old Bailey.

The difficulty is that I’d gotten pretty far along with the project last fall before I had to put it on the shelf. Now, I’m picking up the pieces and I’m thanking past me for, once again, being smarter than I’d thought. In this case, I’d peppered the draft with notes reminding me that I wanted to insert more of a lit review dealing with A, B and C issues and another alert that I should draw from the cases of X and Y to beef up the examples I’m analyzing. It doesn’t matter what particular form you employ, whether it’s comments in the text or a outline sheet for the project. What matters is that you have these notes somewhere they’ll be the first things that you see when you get back to the project.

Leaving breadcrumbs for your research is so helpful especially when you know that research will be interrupted. When I was a grad student, I had no idea about this. Once I started my dissertation research, I was on the same subject pretty much non-stop until the last eighteen months when I added in some conference papers branching off in related areas. I never got far enough away from my research to need a guide when I returned to it.

That changed dramatically when I started this job and figuring out smart, helpful strategies to keep my research on track despite months of sidelining? That’s something I wish I’d figured out before the last decade but it still makes me happy to have all of these breadcrumbs laid out to follow.

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Feed the Soul

Summer is well and truly underway. I know this because I’ve planted some flowers in my front yard. The roses that survived the winter (four of five) won’t bloom for a few more weeks so I fed my colour craving with a swathe of begonias and violas. Red, orange, yellow: the cheery colours please me and feed my soul.

My summer work schedule is going pretty well. I’m only behind by a day and a half from my original plan which isn’t bad. To-do lists of particular tasks combined with long-range plans do the trick of keeping me from panic. Tomorrow I have to purchase more canned cat food, book a check-up for the older dog and get rolling on a RESP maturity application as well as finish the unit on Achaemenid Persia for the correspondence course I’m writing. I’ll try to get more read in the M.A. essay I’m supervising which appears decent so far. Lurking ahead on the horizon is the task I really want to tangle with: more Old Bailey writing, and that is up next. All of those tasks are on the plan. All of that work will get done. But they’re not exactly deeply nourishing in a personal sense.

Teaching preparation has an appeal, but I’ve found, over the years, that it’s not the best use of my time at the start of the summer so I’m resisting the urge to dive into my new course prep readings. I have an alluring stack of books on ancient, medieval and Renaissance occult topics, including Deborah Harkness’s study of John Dee’s angelic conversations. These all need to sit and wait until after the Old Bailey article is in good shape because an article for publication trumps reading for teaching. In any case, it will be better for my teaching to complete the reading closer to the time I’m refining all of the course plans and better know what I need to know and teach. Right? Right!

It’s funny but the prospect of my next research writing project just ahead feeds my soul as much as the begonias and violas in the flower bed. It may be a cliche that academics can’t tear themselves away from their research. I can and frequently do, but when a research topic gets me energized, I don’t want to wait! Soon, I won’t be waiting any more.

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