To kick off the One Post a Day project I thought I’d share an idea stemming from a couple data points in the 2008 Faculty Advisory Committee on Academic Computing (FACAC) results. I have been giving the idea of student laptop use a lot of thought lately — especially in light of the recent advancements in the Blogs at Penn State platform, MoveableType. The report tells us that about 88% of Penn State students at all locations own a laptop computer. What I find terribly interesting is that only about 18% of undergraduate students carry them to campus — that is compared with a relatively high number of grad students at 42%. When you look at that coupled with a growing trend of faculty permitting/inviting students to use their laptops for note taking has risen to 36% you can see an opportunity emerge. The most disturbing piece to me is that of those that do own a laptop that only 4% actually use them for note taking. This is an opportunity.
As we’ve been aggressively pursing the Blogs at PSU as an ePortfolio platform for all students it is becoming obvious that the use of a publishing platform like the blogs could be an immensely powerful note taking tool as well. When I was in college I took notes in spiral bound notebooks that were organized like most people’s — chronological order with each course getting its own notebook. This left me with a huge stack of notebooks to carry around and it also meant that over time discoverability dropped to a very low number. My claim is that a laptop paired with the nearly ubiquitous wireless access on our campus connected to the blogging platform should provide an ideal note taking environment.
Imagine a single blog (public or private) that is organized by multiple categories — perhaps representing each semester, year, subject, and free-tagging of the content being written about — all together in an always-available, searchable, editable publishing environment. Finding anything would be a breeze, filtering subjects would be a no-brainer, and there is the potential for permanence that my paper-based notebooks did not enjoy. As a sidebar, I lost nearly all my college notebooks when the garage at an apartment I was living in was flooded. So much for going back and ever revisiting work. There also seems something right about storing this in the cloud — access to thinking from anywhere there is access would be killer.
Can you sketch in a blog? Not really. But the ability to snap quick digital pictures with a cell phone or a built in iSight can get that job done. Why waste time reproducing a diagram on a slide when a simple photo would do. If you get into it, recording lectures on your own, or obtaining them via iTunes U and connecting them to each note entry would raise the stakes as well. I can’t seem to understand why this hasn’t caught on yet. We haven’t even touched on the potential social components here … adding the ability to share thoughts on your and other notes could move the static notebook into the frame of the 21st century study group — actively engaging in reading other peoples’ notes and sharing thoughts via the comments could add a new layer to the learning opportunities. Not sure if you’ve heard of outfits like Nittany Notes, where they pay students to take notes and then sell them to the ones not showing up … sure would be nice to put people like that out of business. I think the social potential for creating deeper connections could be potentially game changing.
I am seeing a big opportunity emerging here and I am thinking about how we can use the extensible nature of our MoveableType implementation to create a more notebook friendly writing environment. Something that invites students in and helps bridge the metaphor gap … I think there is something real with the mindset of the physical notebook that a contextualized theme and style could help with. So, any thoughts for me related to this little observation? What is going on at your University, college, or department? If you are teaching, would students taking notes, recording lectures, snapping pictures of slides, and openly sharing make you nervous? I think it is worth exploring the creation of a seminar on note taking in a blogging environment.