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Best program for lecture notes

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Posted by Dr Andus
Jun 5, 2016 at 05:48 PM


Slartibartfarst wrote:
>I would suggest that the thing to do here is draw a clear distinction
>(a) taking notes, and
>(b) incorporating one’s notes into a KM (Knowledge Management) system.

I’d agree with this as well. For taking the notes you’d want something that’s quick and easy to power up, is distraction-free (so it gets out of the way), and it’s also easy to structure the notes on the go (hence my suggestion of WorkFlowy).

Then it’s a separate step to review, evaluate and export the data (or a selection of it) at a later time and incorporate it in a notes database system (Zim, CT, OneNote etc.) for further linking and annotation.

As for recording the lectures (a requirement I heard mentioned elsewhere), to me that seems to be overkill. The whole point of taking notes at a lecture is to extract some learning so one doesn’t have to re-take (listen again to) the lecture.

Moreover, the lecturer is most likely regurgitating secondary literature already, so one might be better off reading the secondary or primary sources directly, rather than listening again to a tertiary interpretation.

Even when one is listening to a lecture by an original author, one might be better off reading the actual text than to listen to the recording again. Also, a different type of learning is involved when you read.


Posted by Jeffery Smith
Jun 5, 2016 at 10:55 PM


When I was a freshman, the personal computer was still about a decade away. I always used Cornell Note Paper regardless of the topic. It wasn’t called that specifically, though. It was in spiral-bound notebooks. One can make one’s own Cornell paper here:



Posted by Slartibartfarst
Jun 6, 2016 at 03:53 AM


Jeffery wrote:
>...I always used Cornell Note Paper regardless of the topic. It wasn’t called that specifically, though. It was in spiral-bound
>notebooks. One can make one’s own Cornell paper here: https://incompetech.com/graphpaper/cornelllined/

Teach the student to use pen/pencil and paper before teaching them to use computer tools.
Firstly: Using pen/pencil on paper to get the knowledge into one’s head as “learning”, and the Cornell note-taking template is as good as any a structured approach for doing that - it may also help to encourage the mind to think critically as the notes are being taken, and it is a useful structure for revision.

Secondly: Subsequently getting that documentation into the knowledge-base subsequently.

I have long been interested in the potential for computer-based learning tools, and so called “programmed learning” tools, starting with the superb pioneering work done by CDC (Control Data Corporation) in the shape of their “Plato” system. As an educator/lecturer, I was blown away by my initial experiences of that system, which were:
(a) “A Psychological Approach to Selling”, a superb training course which was well ahead of its time, being based on an analytical transaction analysis model between 3 personality types (Dominant-Detached-Dependent), predating what is today referred to as transaction analysis between 3 ego states (Parent-Adult-Child ) with options:
- I’m OK, You’re OK;
- I’m OK, You’re NOT OK;
- I’m NOT OK, You’re OK.

(b) “An introduction to Finite Element Analysis”, which gave an overview of the theory and presented computational methods and approaches to FE mesh analysis (using computers).

I mention these because they were highly successful educational delivery tools in complex subjects, and thus no mean achievements. It was those and similar experiences that got me interested in not just data capture and the capture of information generally, but KM (Knowledge Management) generally - including knowledge capture and the ability to interrelate this info/knowledge in one’s mind to develop potentially new understandings and knowledge that could be communicated to others (e.g., in lectures or other teaching environments).

So when I read that people want to (say) capture/record a lecture and/or lecture notes into a computerised notebook tool of some sort - e.g., as I might perhaps want to capture the different data types (including various forms of text, images, OCR, audio, audio-video) into my “21st-Century Zettelkasten PIM” - I am always very interested.
However, I am acutely aware that the aforementioned capture/recording may in fact have little or nothing to do with actual learning.

The thing is that LEARNING is a process that goes on between the ears.

The introduction of ubiquitous new computer technology now enables this capture/recording, making information/knowledge potentially more accessible (in theory at least, if not yet in practice). But this potential may not be realised if the student is so engaged in the process of capture/recording that he/she fails to engage his/her full cognitive surplus in the act of learning itself and whilst the learning opportunity is in progress.
THERE IS A WARNING HERE: I sometimes wonder whether the first (the capture/recording) is not in reality a subconscious diversionary attempt to avoid the second - i.e., engaging in doing anything that might actually be productive, such as, for example, engaging in the mental processes associated with and necessary for learning to come about.

Having said that, here’s a bit of a digression or tangential point:
This potential tendency for avoidance of useful/productive work (for the purposes in hand) seems to be a very human potential, and I have seen it manifested by many people, including students, computer techos, tourists and business managers.

For example:
(a) I have seen highly intelligent database system developers become so partisan about their preferred methodologies that they become totally unproductive - work comes to a standstill - whilst they earnestly debate the merits of their preferred methodologies, ad infinitum. In this state, the “rightness” of one’s particular bias seems to become all-consumingly important to one’s sense of self. - this is Ahamkara (https://googledrive.com/host/0B9rIby-RfgLNdkRYbm8xV1pkeW8/Ahamkara.htm).
As a consultant I have witnessed this kind of bonkers behaviour effectively defeat (fail) two very large IT projects, and expedite the winding-up of an entire computer services company.

(b) I have noticed the tendency of many Japanese tourists to observe natural beauty - e.g., (say) the beauty of a moving sunset - not through their eyes and senses but apparently solely through their camera lenses, almost as though they were denying themselves of the opportunity to do what they had presumably come for - i.e., to experience and meditate at first hand and with their own senses the instances of natural beauty in far off lands (as a well-known travel writer commented, someone Theroux, I think it was). Travel may “broaden the mind”, as they say, but turning oneself into a de fecto dedicated photographer of the whole event might not actually achieve much for the mind. There is a lot to be said for being still and observing/meditating on Nature’s wonders, as the Vedic philosophers suggested some 3,000 years ago.

(c) I have observed countless strategic planning sessions where one could predict the outcome as failure, because the participants were engaging in diversionary behaviours to avoid engaging in doing anything pragmatic/productive. This was such a common occurrence that one gifted consultant put it to verse, not a few years ago:

A Corporate Prayer.
Bless us Lord, and help us live,
Like every good executive,
A life more selflessly inclined
To what is in out GM’s mind;
And may it be Thy wish, and his,
To tell us what his thinking is,
The way it was when we began,
Before we had the Corporate Plan.

Help thy servants on the Board
Understand his words, O Lord,
Since he changed his erstwhile manners,
And joined the Long Range Corporate Planners;
And if he needs must bore the pants off
All of us with Igor Ansoff,
Help us understand the charts -
Even the synergetic parts.

Help us share his new perspectives,
That Strategies are not Objectives;
And, through Thy goodness, cross the ditch,
To know more clearly which is which;
And, by Thy mercy which begat us,
Show us why it really matters,
In the name of Him who knows
All about Scenarios.

Grant us, Father, if you please,
Purer methodologies;
And tempt us not towards decisions
Without a further few revisions,
At interminable lengths,
Of our Weaknesses and Strengths.
Let need for action not deflect us
From codifying all our Vectors.

Grant, in answer to our prayers,
Thicker Strategies than theirs,
Who, in their blind unwisdom chase
Profits in the market place,
Without a contemplative look
At what is in the Corporate Book.
Let their successes not distract us
From listing our External Factors.

Help us keep our Corporate eyes on
Some appropriate horizon,
Far from all the symptomatic
Signs of anything pragmatic;
Defend us, always, through our prayers,
From acting like entrepreneurs,
And from the uninformed who said
That, in the longer-term we’re dead.
I think the prayer was published in a business and management magazine in the 1980s. The magazine name, date and author references have been lost. It might have been the Harvard Business Review, but I am not sure.


Posted by Brad91
Jun 8, 2016 at 04:06 PM


Slartibartfarst wrote:
Jeffery wrote:
>>...I always used Cornell Note Paper regardless of the topic. It wasn’t
>called that specifically, though. It was in spiral-bound
>>notebooks. One can make one’s own Cornell paper here:
> >Absolutely.
>Teach the student to use pen/pencil and paper before teaching them to
>use computer tools.

I agree with that and studies have shown its value. However, many lecturers are difficult
to understand and a recording can help untangle a nonlinear or otherwise difficult presentation.
I suggest and approach to capture the value of both methods, that is one of the recording pens
that enable one to take notes and also record the lecture while linking hand notes to
related parts of the recording.

The real key to note-taking is what is done subsequently with the notes taken. It takes work to
turn lectures into leaning; lucky are the few who have extremely good audio recall. But even then,
the information must be organized and digested. The key element is to have the raw material to
digest. Taking many notes in a class is only good if the notes are totally verbatim, or reflect
immediate cognitive processing, which is not always possible, or provide a basis for more
comprehensive expansion based upon recall triggered by the notes.

In sum, the best technique depends upon the person, the quality of the presentation and
the overall use and processing of the material.


Posted by Hugh
Jun 9, 2016 at 01:27 PM


In support of the posts by Donovan and others above, I too recommend pencil and paper as a first resort. My reasoning is based on two things: my own experience using pencil and paper for note-taking and long-form first-drafting over more than 50 years, and recent neurological research supporting the use of those tools in preference to keyboards as a way of engaging deep levels of the brain.

Here’s a blog post by Joe Buhlig which contains references to some of that research: http://joebuhlig.com/the-science-and-experience-of-analog-writing/

The title of Joe’s first reference more or less says it all: “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop - Scientific American”.


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