Ninja StudentLast week, I issued a “Ninja Skills” challenge, asking for your go-to techniques for keeping track of online learning. Put another way:

Problem: Managing online/hybrid classwork can be a lot harder than in the good old Trapper Keeper® days.
Opportunity: Share collective wisdom on best organizational practices. Discover tools and methods beyond your wildest dreams.

That said, we kick off our Tips & Tricks series with something surprisingly humble: the classic paper notebook.

Student's Notebook

I’ll admit…this surprised me — I’ve labored to develop a multi-tabbed Google Docs solution for my own learning (more on that soon). Online learning, online organization — no printer, no paper, no handwriting (and for years now, anything more than a paragraph has made my hand literally ache for typing). It’s possible that I feel a little proud of myself. So…notebooks? Pens?


Yep, but here’s the twist: two notebooks. Why don’t you digest that for a moment before moving on.

Kevin (see comments on last week’s post) has one notebook that is “black and beat up with the binder broken, kind of like that one in the picture.” He goes through the syllabi on various online course websites, such as the pioneering Open Yale and MIT open courseware, and notes “all the required readings, books, articles, everything,” after which he looks for free/inexpensive hard-copy sources. After the scouting work is done, he prepares (in the second notebook) a custom curriculum for a given subject, built of the best of what’s around.

Cristina (again, see last week’s comments) uses the dual-book system for a different purpose. One notebook is “a total mess and covers whole units in the order I do the readings and lectures.” Her second notebook is “the nice once that has all the information but looking pretty.” More than a straight transcription of her first set of notes, however, she’ll typically “rearrange and reorganize the unit order to suit my own understanding.”

So. Two notebooks, two methods. What they share is the freedom to be messy in the first go around, and the need to be disciplined enough to circle back and revise for clarity and purpose. I’m reminded, especially by Cristina’s version, of the Cornell Method — which I wish someone had taught me back in my formative years.

That’s it for this week. Let me know what you think re: notebooks (or just geek out about your favorite Mokeskine®) in the comments below, and call out your favorite study tips, tricks, techniques, and apps for next Wednesday!

Photo credit: qisur via photopin CC BY 2.0

2 thoughts on “Ninja Skills: Double-Book Your Learning

  1. The problem I had is that I had to go through more than the syllabi. I had to go through each Open Yale Course lecture and write down the readings. For MIT OpenCourseWare I had to write down all the readings in the Reading list. For MIT that means scholarly articles that cost $30 sometimes online and my local library doesn’t have it most times. I would have to go to a nearby university and read from their bounded journals, since, even though I didn’t ask personally, the website says databases are for students only. I had to learn about alternatives like for awhile Google Scholar linked to PDFs, then that stopped. Sometimes it comes up on a Google search. If I’m lucky the journal article will be on this neat site called DeepDyve Journal articles are the worst since they’re the most prevalent on MIT OpenCourseWare graduate courses.

    Luckily, between old, used textbooks (Open Yale Courses and MIT OpenCourseWare are usually linked to old textbooks), cheap ways to find articles, and libraries, I can make a course somewhere near viable on a low budget.

    1. Kevin, thanks for the further detail! It’s wonderful that you really go all-in on working through these courses — your work is a good indication that it really is possible (with some offline access and for little money)to take oneself through a nearly one-to-one match of the on-campus courses. Increasingly, journals are going open access, although much slower in arts/humanities/social sciences than in STEM fields. My hope is that older articles will soon be released for public viewing, but we’ve got a few years before that’s likely to occur at a large scale.

      It’s great that intermediaries like DeepDyve can facilitate access now for folks who can’t afford — what — $20 an article?

      Finally, and this is off-topic, but some of the best hours of my youth were spent poring over old textbooks bought second-hand for almost nothing. And I still hold on to my mildly outdated Campbell’s Biology text from HS.

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