A Note on Note Taking

I’ve just been catching up with the notes I made at last week’s ECEL 2011 conference.

Chuck Palahniuk once said; “the best way to waste your life is by taking notes.” Admittedly, he probably meant it in the context of its inferiority to the lived experience, but note taking can sometimes seem like a fruitless or trivial activity.

Note taking encompasses a number of contexts, situations and formats, yet collectively these represent an undervalued scholarly activity that is not given enough attention when we consider core academic skills.

Note taking can be purposeful or opportunistic, structured or unstructured, original or augmentative. There are situations when the note-taker can dictate time – such as annotating a paper – and those when (s)he can’t – such as fieldwork, or during a conference presentation etc.. Visual forms of note taking such as doodling or mind-mapping introduce entirely new creative processes.

Note taking can be instantaneous – I’m particularly impressed by live-bloggers. Yet often notes are repurposed to a form or format appropriate for formal documentation. How much of their value is lost? How important is time here; not just in the time you may (or may not) have in making the notes, but in the time you allow to elapse before formalising them. Raw notes can be untidy, incomplete and virtually incomprehensible. How is the sense making embedded and translated, and what role does the reflective process play?

Blogging can be thought of a form of note taking. This post is a note to self. I’m not sure what to do with it now…


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