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The university where I teach uses Blackboard as their main course management/website platform. This year will be my first year using it but after taking a couple of workshops, it doesn’t look bad at all. In fact, it looks sleek and has lots of potential useful tools.

Browsing through some of the documentation, I came across an optional tool that might be useful. It’s called EduBlogger and once enabled, seems to all each student in the course to have a blog and the instructor to track it all. Blackboard also has a forum, of course, so it got me thinking about what would be the pros and cons of using a blog vs a forum to encourage either student participation outside of the classroom or allow the students to engage with the material in a media other than essays/exams.

I was thinking of using the discussion board feature of blackboard this term. I’d perhaps post some questions about the readings ahead of time and invite students to respond to them or post reactions of their own to the readings before the class. They could earn extra points for doing so, particularly if they engage in fruitful discussion with their classmates. The bonus would be to get them thinking before class and to allow shy students to get some extra marks.

In future, when I design the course myself (currently I’m just a TA), I’d create a class blog and make it more of an assignment. For this term, I might stick to the discussion board.

As an aside, I found this post on education blogs that was interesting and had many useful links. A lot of resources on using blogs on education seem to be related or geared towards primary and secondary school. Let me know if you find any discussions of it in a university context.

This is pretty much the system I use:

by Dr Mike Kaspari

Replace the Hipster PDA for a small moleskine or moleskine weekly agenda and the rest is pretty much the same… Particularly the Moleskine Notebook part (I have a lined one instead of gridded) and the switching back and forth between scribbling on a paper and typing on a computer.

Check the full description at Getting Things Done in Academia

Scribe is turning out to be very buggy for importing info from my Bookends bibliography database. I came across DEVONthink, a really powerful information manager that seems VERY flexible and can index, search, organize, create wiki-style links, cross-reference, all kinds of files. It’s not free but it might be a good investment…

Take a look on the video here. Hmm, another toy to play with…

I’ve been playing with scribe 3.2 recently and I have to say, it has a LOT of potential. I tried to old version back when I was an undergrad but found it very slow and had to use. I couldn’t automatic input my sources – no importo available – the printing didn’t really work for me. It felt heavy and cumbersome. I ended up simply using Word to organize my notes for my undergrad research. I’m now working on my dissertation and need something a little more sophisticated. I have Bookends to handle my secondary bibliography and I created a simple database on FileMaker Pro to input my documents from the archives. Now I need something to bridge the two, something where I can organize all my subject notes – be it from primary or secondary sources. Scribe seems to be the tool I need.

My friend Jen P. has said many good things about it. The new version is much speedier and easy to use. Plus, having FileMaker Pro – which is what was used to design Scribe 3.2 – already means I have more flexibility with Scribe since I can edit some of its features to suit my needs as well as create as many databases with it as I want. I could even design a filter to easily import from my research database into scribe.

Yesterday I discovered two features that can prove very useful. One is the list of keywords. I knew you could add keywords to every source or notecard created and I figured it was just to make it easier to search.  And in a way that’s what it does but in a much easier way – it works more like an index. You go to Lists->Keywords and a window with a list of all the keywords you’ve created shows up. You then click on a particular keyword and you end up with a list of all the notes/sources with that keyword. I think this could make the writing process much easier… Here’s some screenshots (don’t pay attention of the keywords I have, I was just testing the software):

Lists

Keywords window

Keywords

Very nifty indeed… Of course, a lot of the fields are more appropriate to modern historians than to those of us pre-modernists but many of them can be adapted nonetheless. Need to play with it more and see…

Most of my documents at the archives are available in microfilm, which, although nice for preserving the integrity of the 600-year old documents I look at, means that the only available copying method is a paper photocopy from the microfilm. It’s all very nice to have hard copies of things but for a big research project such as mine, it means I end up with thousands of paper sheets to bring home.
I pondered about it for a while. The lot was too heavy to bring with me as carry on when I go back to Canada. Sending it through the mail or as checked luggage means a risk I’m not prepared to take. The only way I could do it is if I had a second set of copies done. That way, I could send one set, wait until it got there and then send the second set without having to worry about it. There’s only one problem with that: it would double the amount of paper and weight of the whole lot.

The solution occurred to me when I had to scan a document for my dad. Since we don’t have a scanner at home here, I went to a local photocopying place in Gracia. I noticed that their photocopying machine was also a scanner so theoretically, it would be just as easy for them to scan something as it would to photocopy it. So I talked to Susana, the girl in charge, and we agreed on a price per volume to scan my documents. I took about half of what I have sitting at home last week and went to pick it up yesterday. Total: 2,771 pages. About 1.5 GB stored on a DVD. And that’s only half of what I have photocopied at home! And I have probably as many pages from the digital registers*! I estimate that by the end, I’ll probably have somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 manuscript pages, covering a short period of 10 years.

I’ll definitely need to find a way of narrowing it down when I get back….

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* some of the chancery registers I look at have been digitized (photographed) and I was able to just copy the image files instead of making photocopies of those…

“Keep a diary.” That was one of the most common advices I got from more experiences friends and wise supervisors before I set out to do research. It could be a personal diary or a more work-related journal of ideas for future project. Anything where I could write down things that occurred to me while I spent hours stairing at manuscripts… This advice was further strenghtened when I read Joan Bolker’s Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day, in which she advises students to keep a diary related to their research. Being a computer geek, I immediately thought that to be useful, such a diary needed to be searcheable electronically. Something a little fancier yet more practical than Word. Along came MacJournal, a nifty little program that allows one to organize information under multiple journals and entries:

MacJournal Main window

On the left side you can see the journals and within those, the entries. There doesn’t see to be a size limit – some of my entries are several pages-long.

One can also have a quick look at all the entries available in a journal and can access them through a hyperlink:

MacJournal

Up until recently, I had been using this program for basically two things: to write random data that doesn’t fit in my database and to keep a personal diary of my visits to the archive. After a discovered an easy upload option to wordpress (and also to blogger & other blogging platforms), I started using it also to write blogs when I’m not online.

I’m now thinking it might work as a tool to organize my notes once I start writing my dissertation. It lends itself well to the old method of subject cards – I can have each chapter as a journal and the different subjects treated in the chapter as entries. I’m quite attracted to how fast MacJournal searches through all the entries and how easily the entries can be printed or exported as pdf. Another bonus is that I can import text from other programs – Word for example – as either an entry or as part of a pre-existing entry.  Does anybody envision any drawbacks?

Here I imported a file (bibliography.doc) as a new entry:

Importing