From Ivory Tower to Coffee-Shop Table: Digital Scholarship in a Post-PC Era

On Friday, April 27, 2012 from 4:30-5:30 in Frist 234 I offered a workshop called “From Ivory Tower to Coffee-Shop Table: Digital Scholarship in a Post-PC Era” about the potential for tablet devices in study and research. An updated version of this information can be found here.

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It’s easy to figure out how to consume content on tablets, but it takes a bit of ingenuity to create it. We began with the pros and cons of these devices, and then went through a typical project from beginning to end on the iPad. The tasks included: scheduling -> preparing for getting stuff done (scanning, uploading, and downloading) -> reading -> taking reading notes -> taking class notes by hand -> writing a draft -> submitting a paper. There was fun. There were snacks.

Below are some details about what was covered. If you find any glaring errors or apps that should/shouldn’t be there, please tell me! In particular, I am looking for that Android developer out there who might want to include the ability to create macrons using the external keyboard. Or, better yet, it would be great to hear if the app already exists!


Caveats

These are opinions I have formed after a year of using tablet devices, and represent a mix of muddled thoughts, idiosyncratic needs, and an inexplicable desire to live in a world like the one depicted in the science fiction genre (Ender’s Game, for example). As with any purchase (health care or technological), it’s always wise to get a second opinion.

Tablet Pros

  1. Strong Battery Life
  2. Relatively Inexpensive
  3. Content Consumption and Content Creation
  4. Lightweight and Compact
  5. Convenient
  6. 4G Data
  7. Display Quality

Tablet Cons

  1. Stumbles with Basic Tasks
  2. Procrustean
  3. No Multi-Tasking

Hardware

  1. iPad 2
  2. iPad 3
  3. Asus Transformer Prime
  4. External keyboard
  5. Incase Origami Workstation

Why Not Android for East Asian Studies?

  1. No Macrons (ā, ī, ū, ē, ō) with External Keyboard
  2. Instability
  3. Inferior Design (at the moment)
  4. Cumbersome to Get Up and Running

Settings for iPad

  1. Use the English U.S. Extended if you want to use macrons
  2. In the General Settings, turn off “Auto-Capitalization,” “Auto-Correction,” and “Check Spelling” to avoid trouble with romanized words

Some External Keyboard Commands

  • Cmd A selects all text
  • Cmd C copies selected text
  • Cmd X cuts selected text
  • Cmd V pastes text
  • Cmd Z undoes an action
  • Shift + Arrow selects or deselects text by highlighting in that direction (right, left, up, or down)
  • Cmd + Arrow moves cursor to the beginning (up), end (down), left side (left), or right side (right)
  • Tab indents the textv
  • Eject Button (top right corner) enables screen keyboard. This is very important if you want to insert a macron over a vowel
  • Cmd + Spacebar selects a different keyboard

Completing a Project on the iPad

Scheduling -> preparing for getting stuff done -> reading -> taking reading notes -> taking class notes by hand -> writing a draft -> submitting a paper.

Keeping a Research Journal

Recommended app: Evernote.

  1. Notebook: A container for a note. I recommend that you do not use very many of these, because it unnecessarily complicates your account.
  2. Note: Everything is stored in a note. This includes plain text, PDF files, and any other file format you regularly use. This might seem obvious, but it is important to note (pun intended) that nothing is stored independent of notes. I think of them as containers within containers (John Hall’s description of Tokugawa Japan comes to mind here).
  3. Tags: Pieces of text attached to notes in order to describe their content. If you are just getting started, I recommend pretending that these are the folders you currently have on your computer and name them that way. They are flexible and powerful, so it is worth spending time familiarizing yourself with their use.
  4. Searches: There are lots of advanced search terms that can be used to fine-tune your searches, but here are three you may find particularly useful: “intitle:lorem”, “tag:lorem”, and “notebook:lorem”.
  5. Titles: Everyone has their own system. Mine is simple: YYMMDD keywords (120427 journal friday).
  6. Post-dating: Using a future YYMMDD in order to schedule something (120601 journal friday).
  7. (*) Alternative apps: VoodooPad, OneNote, Noteshelf, Circus Ponies, and DEVONthink.

Preparation

Recommended app: Dropbox.

  1. Destructive Scanning: My favorite method, because it is quick and easy. Opinions differ on settings. I prefer 300 dpi, B+W, PDF, and OCR. Unfortunately, you will also destroy your book in the process.
  2. Conventional Scanning: A good idea if you prefer to leave your book intact.
  3. Photographing: Quick and easy, but not as enjoyable to read later, and OCR is less effective. Combine images and save as PDF, and OCR.
  4. Downloading: Ideally, we could go onto Amazon, purchase a book, download it, and avoid the three methods above. However, in real life you “rent” a book, you can only search through it by opening it up in Kindle, elements like maps are often poorly scanned, page numbers are unavailable or inaccurate, and you can only copy a small portion of the content. Journal articles and dissertations work best when downloading, and I don’t expect we will see academic books becoming widely available anytime soon.
  5. Saving to Dropbox: Everyone has their own naming system, but mine is: “last name / first name / publication date” (mayo christopher 2012). Putting it into Dropbox makes it easy to get into the iPad as needed.
  6. Syncing: One exciting feature for people who annotate a lot is that you can sync the content of a Dropbox folder with your PDF reading apps, so any changes you make are immediately reflected in the files in Dropbox. GoodReader is easiest to use this way.
  7. (*) Alternative apps: SugarSync, iCloud, and (as of yesterday) Google Drive.

READING

Recommended app: iAnnotate.

  1. Reading: I take notes separately while I read, but you can also annotate PDFs. In my experience, iAnnotate renders PDF pages the most quickly.
  2. Copying: I have requested that the developers do copying of vertical text better, but have had no luck yet. GoodReader is probably the best place to do this, because you can view the OCR data separately and at least see what you are getting. On Android, EZ PDF Reader easily copies both vertical and horizontal text.
  3. Annotating: If you are planning to do a lot, and you want to write directly onto the page (as opposed to comment bubbles), you may want to read in PDF Expert instead, because it remembers font settings for you. I use PDF Expert for commenting on student papers.
  4. Exporting annotations: Send to Evernote and turn this into your reading note. It is very convenient.
  5. Storing PDF when you are finished: Send to Evernote. This is where a Premium account comes in handy.
  6. (*) Alternative apps: iBooks, Kindle, PDF Expert, GoodReader, and PDF Reader.

Taking Notes on Readings

Recommended app: Evernote.

  1. Title: I use: YYMMDD keywords (120427 reading isomae junichi 2005).
  2. Random Character Strings: Tag and notebook aficionadoes might scoff at me, but I use random character strings to clump notes together. All I do is paste a code into the bottom of related notes. If I come across the note later and want to see the related ones, I copy the code, put it into the search box, and it will filter the results to show me just those notes with the code. No need to come up with a tag name, tag hierarchies, etc. if you have consistent naming in the titles and random character strings to associate notes with one another.
  3. Shared Notebooks: Notebooks shared with the world or individuals. You could use this to share notes about readings!
  4. Note Links: These do not exist on the iPad. Unfortunately, this is something you will have to add at home on your computer. If you want them (they basically turn your account into your own personal Wikipedia), then you ought to look at VoodooPad.
  5. (*) Alternative apps: VoodooPad, OneNote, Noteshelf, Circus Ponies, and DEVONthink.

Taking Notes in Class

Recommended app: Note Taker HD.

  1. Stylus + Zoom. The user interface is ungainly, but quite functional.
  2. Export: Open in Evernote using the image format so it can be OCR’d.
  3. (*) Alternative apps: Good Notes, Smart Writing Tool, 7notesHD Prem, Penultimate, Noteshelf, Notability, Notebooks, Notes Plus.

WRITING JUST THE DRAFT ON THE IPAD

Recommended app: Index Card.

  1. Creating index cards: I do this at the paragraph level. I think traditionalists might not be entirely sold on this as a replacement for the index card system, but it has worked for me.
  2. Arranging notecards: The exciting thing about this app is that you can arrange the index cards as you would like.
  3. tacking index cards: Place index cards in stacks in order to keep them grouped into sections of a paper or chapters of a dissertation.
  4. Footnoting: Use {{brackets}} to enclose material you want footnoted. Here is where the limitations of the iPad creep into our work. I think the iPad works best if you are willing to separate content (the text you write) and style (the way it looks).
  5. Syncing with Scrivener: Scrivener will interpret everything and allow you to compile it into a presentable document. The {{brackets}} will become footnotes. Unfortunately, there is no Scrivener app, and the syncing is a little clumsy. I usually do most of my work on the iPad and wait until the very end of the project to sync and adjust things.
  6. (*) Alternative apps: Elements, SimpleNote, Plain Text, and VoodooPad.

Writing Everything on the iPad

Recommended app: Pages.

  1. Syncing with iCloud: This is quite handy, especially if you have Pages on your home computer.
  2. Exporting: Evernote only indexes a few file types for its searches. PDFs are one of them, so export as a PDF.
  3. (*) Alternative apps: None? I don’t know of any other app that enables you to use footnotes.

Apps Discussed

Handwriting

Writing

Reading

Reference

Other

Android Applications