Before Christmas I organised a productivity-focused call for some of us at the Mozilla Foundation.* One tool I recommended was Notational Velocity, a service that syncs with Simplenote. However, I haven’t used it for a while as I’ve been trying to get to grips with using Evernote.
We’re moving to another country next month and, as part of that, I’ve set up a stack of notebooks in Evernote that I’ve shared with my wife. It’s our ‘external brain’ as it were, a place where we can dump information and sort it afterwards. On a couple of occasions, though, I found that we’d lost information. I just assumed that one or both of us weren’t ‘using it properly’.
Disturbingly, on Hacker News this morning I came across an article by former TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid entitled Evernote, the bug-ridden elephant. After reading it (and I suggest you do too), I’m ready to return to a Simplenote-based solution.
While I’ve come across an app called Simple-for-Ever that syncs notes from Simplenote to Evernote, I haven’t found one that does the reverse. There’s a paid-for service called CloudHQ that’s allowed me to backup to both Google Drive and Dropbox, but is limited to 50 files 2GB of data transfer unless you pay $4.90/month or $49/year.
Update: a commenter on Hacker News asked why I wasn’t prepared to pay this. Given that I’ve been paying for Evernote Premium its not the money I’ve got an issue with. I’m just checking it works – and flagging to readers that it’s not an entirely free service.
Update 2: when you reach the 2GB limit for your trial, CloudHQ presents you with an option to get unlimited data transfer during the trial by tweeting about them.
Happily, if the worst comes to the worst, Evernote allows me to export everything to HTML. That’ll teach me to trust bloated closed-source products, eh? 😉
Update 3: the CEO of Evernote responded to Kincaid’s blog post here. I’m still moving away from it as I’m using Chrome OS more and more these days. Evernote’s web interface is clunky.
Update 4: I’m no longer using Chrome OS, nor GMail.
*You can see the etherpad we used for that call here.
Travelling to Plymouth by train, plane and automobile (literally) for PELeCON.
Attending, keynoting and running a workshop at PELeCON. The animated GIFs from my keynote aren’t so animated on Slideshare, so you may want to try this Evernote notebook. Photos are here (when they’ve finished uploading)
Next week I’m in Sweden keynoting and running a workshop at the Swedish equivalent of BETT. Better get planning…
Delayed coming back from the DML Conference in Chicago (my write-up of the conference is here). My flight was cancelled due to the First Officer being ‘sick’ on St. Patrick’s Day. 😉 My subsequent flight was delayed meaning I didn’t get home until Tuesday lunchtime!
Helping interview a potential new hire to our team.
Getting things sorted for Nesta’s One Day Digital event in Edinburgh next Saturday. I’m running a workshop on Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker and taking my family up for Friday/Saturday.
Next week I’ll be returning to the place of my birth (Nottingham) for the OER13 conference (Tuesday/Wednesday), continuing to work on the Web Literacy standard stuff and travelling up to Edinburgh on Good Friday with my family for the Nesta event mentioned above.
During the summer holidays before I headed to university I worked in a secondhand bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford. And then, to help support myself during my MA in Modern History I worked in Waterstones bookshop in Newcastle. I love books.
But, despite my affection for the printed word, I still prefer, on balance, reading on my Kindle. One of the main reasons for this is the ease by which I can highlight sections of text (non-destructively) which are then available at kindle.amazon.com.
Whilst I’m waiting for everything that’s ever been written to be digitised I need a solution for physical books that is:
I think I’ve got that with the following system. Here’s what to do.
Sign up to Evernote. You can experiment with a free account but, like me, you’ll no doubt go Premium for the added data storage/transfer and functionality.
Install the Evernote app both on your computer and your smartphone (I’m using the iOS version)
When you start reading a new book, create a new notebook for it and take a photo of the front of the book. Title this first note something like Author (Date of publication) – Title, Place of publication: Publisher
Every time you come across something you want to make a note on, take a photo of the text. Add any comments or thoughts you have and title it something like Author – page number(s)
After syncing, Evernote provides OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on the text of images, so you could stop here as you’ve now got searchable notes from books (as promised in the title). However, I’ve gone one step further.
Now that the notes you want are in Evernote, it’s time to tidy them up and make the text copy-and-pasteable. Here’s what to do after carrying out steps 1-4 above:
Create a Book Clippings notebook
Sort the notes in the notebook to make ensure the note with the front cover is at the top
Select all of the notes, click on ‘Note’ in the top menu and then select Merge Notes
Type out the text you want from each photograph underneath it. Add the page number in brackets afterwards and delete the photo and references.
Repeat. Yes, this takes time.
Drag your tidied-up note into the Book Clippings notebook.
Start reading your next book.
I’ve found this an extremely effective way of getting searchable notes from physical books. As a bonus, you might want to try using Evernote’s Web Clipper to import your Kindle notes so that everything’s together in one place.
Have you tried this? Have you got a different system?
Something I’ve started doing recently has revolutionised my ability to synthesise my reading of stuff in paper books. Here’s what I currently do – although there’s probably ways I can improve it (and no doubt something similar is possible using other devices):
What we’re going to do is to take a picture of a section of text, tag it and add contextual (bibliographic) information, and then send it off to be synced by Evernote.
0. Set up a notebook for your quotations/notes. I use ‘Ed.D. thesis’.
1. Take picture of text
Click on the ‘Snapshot’ option in Evernote. Take your photo of the text you want to capture – make sure you focus correctly!
2. Fill in note details
The title should be something that summarises what you’ve taken a picture of. Tag it appropriately. Click on ‘Append note’ and fill in citation details. Make sure you ‘Select All’ and then ‘Copy’ so that the next time you do this you can use ‘Paste’ and just change the page number!
Once you’ve synced it will appear in Evernote on your desktop/laptop.
With all the notes in front of you, it’s easy to synthesise your thinking. It’s fully possible to just to this on the iPhone, but it’s easier given the features and screen real-estate on desktop or laptop.
I use a Moleskine notebook and a good old-fashioned pen for synthesising (or XMind depending on how I’m feeling). It works wonderfully! 🙂
Increasingly, however, it’s a very powerful thin client. A ‘fat’ client, as it were. Pretty much everything I use now syncs with a cloud-based service:
Documents, presentations, etc. are saved to a well-ordered Dropbox folder (automatically syncs with my Windows machine at work and my iPhone). I’ve gone with the 50GB for $9.99/month option.
Spotify provides all of my music. This is £9.99/month and, to my mind, worth every penny. I sync offline playlists to my iPhone via wifi but can access almost anything I want over 3G.
As Evernote recognises text in images and allows you to search through notes, I’m now using it to ‘take notes’ in books I read for my thesis and pleasure. I currently doing ‘pay as you go’ to upgrade storage as and when I need it through the iPhone app (£2.99/month). At the moment that seems to be most months!
The system works so well that I recently sold our Apple Time Capsule. I’ve got a 1TB external hard disk, but to be honest very rarely use or need it. 😀
A lot of what makes people ‘productive’ is common-sense. But sometimes this needs spelling out, hence this post. I’m always looking for ways to be more productive. Please let me and fellow readers/subscribers know your tips and strategies in the comments.
Here’s some of my tips!
1. Don’t read emails
If you make the first thing you do in a day reading emails, you’re starting off the day on other people’s terms. Instead, achieve something from your own agenda first, then catch up on what people want to tell you! :-p
2. Read something inspirational
It might be the Bible, it might be some Marcus Aurelius, but make sure you read something (however short) – for a quick fix, try tivate.com!
3. Listen to podcasts
However you travel to work, podcasts are a great way to stop it being ‘dead time’. Audiobooks are also great (try Audible). Here’s the podcasts to which I subscribe:
4. Use an online to-do list
There’s lots of ways people will take money off you to ‘make you more productive’. I love Remember the Milk: it’s simple and free!
5. Share everything you do
If you share with other people, they’re a lot more likely to share with you. This, in turn, reduces your workload and increases your overall productivity. You can share things online through things like a wiki or a forum, or face-to-face.
6. Take pictures
I know very few people who haven’t got a camera built-in to their mobile phone. Instead of writing things out or trying to remember complex things, just snap it with your cameraphone! You could take this one step further if you’ve got an iPhone and use the wonderful Evernote for web-based synchronization. 🙂
7. Make everything you can, digital
The problem with paper is that unless you photocopy it a copy exists in only one location – and can’t search and organize it. If you’re a teacher, make your markbook and attendance registers digital. Plan things using Google Calendar. These things might take some time to set up, but will pay dividends in the long-term.
8. Take breaks
Know your limits. You’re far better of having a 10-15 minute break and coming back to something with fresh(er) eyes and increased motivation than slogging away at an activity non-stop.
9. Drink coffee
Coffee is a stimulant: it contains caffeine. Drinking too much coffee isn’t good for you and can generate withdrawal symptoms. However, drinking a couple of cups per day of good filter coffee increases alertness and attention. I tend to have one in the morning with breakfast and one when I come home from work. You could, in fact, combine coffee with taking a nap and have what Lifehacker calls a ‘coffee nap’ – more here.
10. Prepare well
A productive day actually begins the day before. Be prepared! Pack your bag, get lunch ready (if applicable), iron your clothes, go to bed at a reasonable hour. Done regularly, such a routine makes for large productivity gains. 😀
I’m looking forward to the new academic year. Having said that, I’m not hugely excited about the Web 2.0 tools I’ll be using next year – and I believe that’s a good thing. It shows that such tools have become part of my teaching ecosystem. As I read recently, “The music is not in the piano.” (i.e. it is but a tool, just like technology)
The only reason my teaching ecosystem isn’t 100% digital is because of outside influences: documents from colleagues and marking student books. It’s part of my aim for my E-Learning Staff Tutor position to put more digital tools in the hands of colleagues. I’ll be using the new elearnr site to help with that. 🙂
This week I came across Top 100 Tools for Learning 2008. It’s made up of a large number of educators’ top 10 lists of elearning tools. I haven’t tried to stick to 10 in what follows – it’s just a list of what I’m going to be using (in order of what I’ll be using most!) 😀
1. Google Calendar
I’ve been using Google Calendar for a couple of years now for my day-to-day planning (see here and here). Although it takes around half an hour to enter your timetable initially, you can then set this to repeat until a certain date (i.e. the end of the academic year).
I use a ‘double-star system’ (see screenshot below). Before a lesson has been planned it has two asterisk after it. Removing one star means that I’ve entered the title and lesson objective (and homework, if applicable). Removing the second star means that the lesson is fully planned.
After the lesson, if there’s anything I need to remember for the next lesson with the class, I just add it to the comments section.
Obviously things like meetings, parents evenings can be entered ad-hoc. As you can access Google Calendar via mobile phone as well, it means I’ve got my day-to-day planning everywhere. 🙂
2. Attendance/Homework checkers
I run a two-laptop classroom. I’ve got my school-provided laptop at the front of my classroom running the interactive whiteboard (a SMARTboard) and my netbook (an MSI Wind-like Advent 4211 now running Mac OSX) is for everything else.
Whilst I could use Google Spreadsheets for my attendance registers, there’s two reasons I don’t. First of all it just doesn’t update very quickly, being web-based. Second, I’ve got to have a register – even if Internet access goes down at school. So I use Microsoft Excel with some conditional formatting goodness that I blogged about ages ago.
3. Google Docs
I’d be the first to hold my hand up and say that I’m a last-minute planner. What I do in the next lesson with a class depends very much upon what happened in the previous. Students have different questions and things can go off at a tangent. That’s not to say I don’t medium-term plan, however!
For my medium-term planning I use Google Docs. Nothing fancy, just a table with columns for lesson title, objective and possible content. The great thing about this is that I don’t have to remember to back it up and I can drop in links to any online resources quickly and easily. I do about a half-term at a time, having worked out before how much I need to cover to get everything done within the year. :-p
You’re not going to believe this but my school still doesn’t use email as the primary method of contact between members of staff. Hard to believe, I know! Consequently, I’m overwhelmed by a deluge of paper. To counteract this, I started taking a photograph of the documents using the camera in my Nokia N95. The trouble was that organizing these images was difficult and time-consuming. In the end, I just gave up.
Then I was invited to take part in the private beta for Evernote. This program is available cross-platform and is now out of beta, so it’s available to everyone. It takes the image you’ve taken and transferred to your laptop (e.g. via Bluetooth) and recognises the words – even when they’re hand-written! You can add tags to the photos and they’re automatically (securely) synced with your account on their server. That means they’re available wherever you’ve got an Internet connection.
Evernote’s a great system no matter what phone/digital camera/laptop combo you’ve got, but if you’ve got an iPhone, you really do need to download it from the App Store!
5. Google Presentations
Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for still using Powerpoint. After all, I’m training colleagues to use software such as SMART Notebook when I rarely use it myself. The truth is, Powerpoint is compatible, flexible, and has great clipart.
The problem comes when you want to get a Powerpoint online. Say that you’ve drawn on top of a diagram and want to make it accessible for students outside the classroom. In the past I’ve had to use OpenOffice to convert it into Flash, upload it to my website, and then create an HTML page in which to embed it.
Not any more. Now I just upload it to Google Docs and it’s transformed into a Google Presentation. This can then be easily embedded into a blog, wiki or website. Marvellous! 🙂
6. Google Sites
I used a self-hosted installation of WordPress for a couple of years successfully at learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk. That’s the place I direct students to in order to access homework activities and resources to aid their learning. At the end of last academic year, however, I switched over to Google Sites. My version actually comes as part of Google Apps Education Edition, but there’s no advantage in this other than the ability to customise the domain name.
I’ve found it really useful and reliable. Because it’s hosted by Google, I’ve never experienced any downtime and, of course, it’s not blocked by the school network’s proxy. You can edit things in a straightforward, easy-to-use manner. The built-in navigation features make it simple for students to navigate. Embedding objects is easy – I could ask for any more! 😀
I’m disappointed that Twitter, the micro social-networking service, has made the decision to stop the ability to receive SMS updates when you receive direct messages or replies. It means that I’m unlikely to use it with my GCSE students this time around.
To neglect to add it to my list, however, would be misleading. I’ll still be using it both in and out of school in a professional development capacity. I can’t imagine being connected only via blogs now (as in the early days of the edublogosphere). Twitter and other real-time tools make professional development fun!
With my last cohort of GCSE History students I installed WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) edition at mrbelshaw.co.uk. Whilst it worked fine and the students took to it well, the system took some configuring and was a bit of a nightmare when I transferred web hosting companies.
This year, I’m going to be using Edublogs. It, after all, is a giant installation of WPMU, but they host it for you, make hundreds of themes available and there’s added values with wiki and forum integration (to name but two). It should cut down on hassle. I track what students are up to via the RSS feed for the blog entries and comments. 🙂
9. Google Earth
It’s fair to say that I use Google Earth a lot. In fact, when I had to teach Geography to a Year 8 Set 4 class last academic year, I think I used it every lesson! It’s also of great use in history as it’s so much more than a mapping application; the ‘layers’ and ability to create tours add huge amounts of value.
I’ll be using it next academic year, as I have in previous years, to plot the route of Hannibal’s march with elephants on Rome, doing a flyover tour of Engladn in 1066, building up the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a lot more. I’ve shared some of the resources I’ve created for Google Earth over at the historyshareforum.
10. Simple English Wikipedia
Although I’ve threatened to do it a couple of times before, this academic year is going to be the time when I carry through my plan. I want students to be creators and contribute to the Internet. In Years 10 and 11 whilst they’re doing their GCSEs, I get them to blog. But what about in Key Stage 3?
I’m going to get them to add to the Simple English Wikipedia. This lesser-known sibling of Wikipedia is for children and foreign language students. Every page on the main Wikipedia site (potentially) has a similar page on the Simple version. The trouble is that the Simple version doesn’t have as much content – I want to rectify that by getting my students to edit that.
The main problem with this is that they can’t do it at school. I’m sure it the same with most educational institutions: our IP address is banned from editing do to ‘vandalism’ of Wikipedia by a minority of immature students. So, I’ll get them to do it at home and look at the revision history of the page for proof! I’ll let you know how it goes… :-p
I’m a big fan of mindmaps. Although I’m not convinced that bubbl.us creates mindmaps in the true sense of the term they are, at least, very useful brainstorms. If you haven’t given online, collaborative mindmapping/brainstorming a try with your students, I’d suggest you try.
Due to a re-organization of the core subjects at our school, students only get to choose two options for GCSE. This has the knock-on effect of meaning they have 4 lessons to cover content that previously was covered easily in 3. I’m going to spend that fourth lesson with them in the library or an ICT suite blogging, brainstorming/mindmapping, and more…
I came across Posterous during the summer holiday (see this post). You couldn’t really ask for a blogging service to be made much simpler. All you do is email firstname.lastname@example.org and it intelligently sorts out what you’ve sent (including attachments) and displays them appropriately. At last I can say to staff that if they know how to email they can set up their own class blog!
If you read my previous post on Posterous, you’ll see that I feel the killer feature will be themes. They’re adding features all the time, it being a new service, and if they add this ability before the start of the academic year (1st September for me) then I’ll seriously consider using them with students too. It might seem shallow, but I’ve found that teenagers like to create an identity online, and the ability to make their site different from their friend’s is important to them.
Finally, I’ll be charting my progress and adding resources to help colleagues as part of my E-Learning Staff Tutor role over at elearnr. Do visit there often and/or subscribe to the RSS feed. 😀