This and that…

July 23, 2015

I have been thinking a lot about notebooks and organization…

One of the reasons that therehas been such a big gap between my posts, is because I was ill for an extended period of time. As a result of that illness,I have some limitations particularly around keyboarding and handwriting  so I do a lot of dictation. The other thing that has changed for me is that many of the things that I used to keep in hardcopy, simple things like phone messages and grocery lists, I now keep electronically. I have become enamored of a program called Evernote. I am a total convert.

Evernote is an online set of notebooks. An analogy that I often use with students is to think of it as a set of three ring notebooks that you can carry around on your phone.  I am not a particularly organized person by nature, but Evernote has helped me to remember many of the things that age and my innate mental chaos would normally allow me to forget.  I have been talking with classes and groups about Evernote this year. I have enjoyed the give-and-take with student users about how they use it, and the  brainstorming about how they will use it in the future. We even have an instructor who has asked that all of her classes open accounts. I am looking forward to seeing what use they make of it.  A wealth of information about the program is available here:

This is the beginning of the semester, and so this is the time that students are establishing the way that they will go forward. The habits that they set in place now and the tools that they begin to use are more likely to stay with them than those they begin to use later in the semester. Having regular habits for managing all of their stuff is critical at the college level. My big themes around organization have always been that whatever system they decide to use should always be:

  1. First of all consistent. Most students have a great deal that they have to remember, particularly here at VTC where we are primarily STEM programs.  They carry very high credit loads, do a lot of reading, and generally speaking have a lot of work to get through each week. If they have a different organizational system for each class, they just complicate their lives so unnecessarily.
  2. Second, the system should be expandable. A first-time freshman has absolutely no idea how much stuff they are going to need to keep organized. I have been here for 10 years, and I had two children come out of high school and go through college. I have seen very well prepared students, and very poorly prepared statements. The one thing that they have in common, is that none of them have a clue about how much stuff there really is. It is important for their organizational system to be expandable so that they have a way to fit in all of those bits and pieces that they may lose track of in a logical way.
  3. The third thing that I think it’s really important is that the system has to be flexible. A flexible system, regardless of whether it is pencil and paper or electronic, allows you to accommodate the vagaries of different situations without throwing your entire organizational strategy out the window. Too many times, we become entranced with elaborate organizational schemes that look like they have the answer to all of our issues, only to find out that the schemas itself is more work than it is worth. A simple system, one that suits the work that you were doing, and allows you to make adjustments, is the best.

I used to talk with students about three ring notebooks as a model for an organizational system. They are a flexible place to capture the details of student life, they are expandable, they can be organized in a consistent fashion across all sorts of coursework.  Electronic workhorse applications like Evernote can serve the same purpose, with the added benefit of being extremely portable. After all, we all carry a phone…


June 17, 2015

Randomly Rambling…

Filed under: education,Post-secondary,Support Services,Technology — learningspecialist @ 6:14 pm

Random thoughts on a pretty day…

  1. My office is clean. I mean, really clean. I have emptied drawers, dusted, sorted out bookshelves and gotten a good start on digitalizing files…if it needed doing, I dug in and did it. Some of this is a function of time- the students are gone and the summer session here is never so demanding as the semester. I had some personal challenges with an elderly parent that have resolved themselves and my post GBS stamina seems to be back, finally. All good stuff that is allowing me to destress my workplace environment, if only for a moment.
  2. I am learning a new skill. My family bought me a new camera for Mother’s Day- a good one, not my phone or the Sports Illustrated freebie that I have used in the past. Scenery and flowers are coming along well. Action shots…well, we won’t talk about that just yet. I love learning new stuff.
  3. I went to an amazing TKD testing with some of my favorite Masters on deck demonstrating their expertise Saturday, including Master Amy L. who, besides being fabulous, is a power chair user. I am still awestruck by her grace and guts, and by the Grand Masters capacity to not see her chair as a limitation, and while I am terrified about my own impending 3rd Dan testing in February, I am more hopeful.
  4. This blog has languished post GBS. I regret that, though I do not think I could have changed the situation. A goal is to get it back to being regular and current. I have always been a believer in regular professional reflection and am happiest when I am actively reflecting. It has been too long since I took the time.
  5. I think I will never completely understand parents who are afraid to allow their children the satisfaction that comes from trying, failing, and trying again until they get it. How else did we learn to walk for crying out loud? We fell down, a lot! Failing often, in reasonably safe spaces (though they feel pretty risky to us at the time :)) is how we develop mastery. When we cushion our offspring too much, what we communicate is really that we do not think they are safe out there without us. Not the message I wanted for me, not the one I wanted for my kids. Certainly not what I want to communicate to the students I work with.
  6. Technology often creates as many challenges as it solves.

Now…I am going to take a walk with my camera on this pretty day, and take some photos.


August 13, 2013

Welcome back!

Filed under: Blogroll,education,Post-secondary,Support Services,Technology — learningspecialist @ 5:25 pm

It is no big secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a perpetual student. I love school. I especially love the first day of school. Everything seems so clean and new and full of possibilities. It is easily my favorite time of year.

On Monday, classes will begin for the fall semester.  The students are fresh from summer break, the faculty has had some time off (or at least most of them have had some time off) and everyone is ready to roll.  There is  so much to do that it occasionally seems overwhelming, but we will get through. I am looking forward to this year. We had a marvelous group of students during Summer Bridge, and while some of them will certainly struggle, I think they have what it takes. I have sent out my first letter to the faculty talking about the changes in assistive technology that we have made this year. I am excited about them, I think that they will provide good service for students and for faculty all across all our campuses. I am looking forward to the conversations that I will be having with the faculty assembly about accessibility and how important it is in course design. I just want to get under way I think,I think. Welcome back everyone!


January 23, 2009

It is an amazing week to be a teacher…

Filed under: education,Post-secondary,Technology,Uncategorized,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 4:35 pm

Tuesday’s inauguration of President Obama left me with a positive buzz that is bubbling like champagne. It is a remarkable thing.  For the first time in months, I feel as though things really could move in a different and better direction.

I am finishing the new book by Thomas Friedman called Hot, Flat and Crowded.  I read it for a course, on the heels of finishing Charles Van Doren’s  book A History of Knowledge, so I was really primed for the energy in the inaugural address.  I had a class (Freshman Orientation for students who begin college in the spring semester)  at 4:00 that afternoon, and I was so pumped that I tossed my lesson plans- an introduction to the Master Notebook, for a conversation about what it all means. My poor students must have thought I had gone completely over the edge, but they were very patient 🙂 And it was completely worthwhile.

I began by articulating the issues we face as Friedman has done: decreasing biodiversity, energy poverty, the need for and supply of readily available power, climate change and petro-dictatorship. I posed a question (Harry if you read this I am aware that I was shamefully ripping off the question in the syllabus- I gave you credit in class:))-

What do schools need to do to prepare students to live in this world and find solutions that will allow us to continue to meet the needs of our planet and populations in a reasonable way? What do YOU as engineering students need to be taught? What do our rising high school and elementary students need to know?

We wrote individual reflections, and then shared those reflections in small groups.  When some coherence had been established, the smaller groups reported back to the large group.

One group talked extensively about making more efficient use of our waste. They ranged from recycling to methane and garbage burning with scrubbers and caps to incentivising the whole process through grants and tax breaks.  Another group focused on economic literacy and understanding history- not just on a personal level but the whole concept of supply and demand and the impact of economy on culture and an awareness of what has gone before. They also discussed relevance- and felt pretty strongly that our current system does not of a good job of  helping students see the relevance of what they are taught to what they might be doing later.  Algebra took a big hit here as did the current iteration of technical education- which was particularly interesting because this was an older group (one Australian student, one Iraq veteran and one student in his mid twenties, all in engineering programs). The last group also focused on literacy- but technological literacy. They felt that in a flat world,being unable to mediate the technology is unacceptable.  The education system needs to catch up if we are to prepare people capable of creative problem solving.

For students from wildly diverse backgrounds, ages and levels of experience, in their first semester of school,  with minimal preparation, their insight was amazing. I left class completely charged.  Days like this are why I became a teacher.

June 13, 2008

Again I am amazed…

Filed under: education,Support Services,Technology,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 5:05 pm


Amazement Number One: I have been -sporadically anyway- working on this blog for just over a year. As I look back over my posts, I can see that I like telling stories and sharing tools the best…there are a few posts with some philosophical rambling but most of them are reasonably informative. I wish I could get here more frequently though. I am working on that.

Amazement Number Two:The Sound of Learning

 This is a remarkable story that would not have been possible as little as five years ago. I post it for two reasons. One is just the inspiration value- Albano is clearly a determined young man who is willing to do whatever it takes to get himself to where he wants and needs to be. It would almost impossible not to find his grit inspiring. The second reason-and perhaps the most important- is the “example to instructors” value…Edutopia has done an excellent job with universal design on this page. There is the video, there is an article, AND there is a transcript of the video for the visually impaired. As we move more and more into using technology like videos and recordings of lectures to support student learning, I continue to advocate for proactive planning around this. We are a technical school- there is no good reason for us to behave reactively instead of proactively around all access.



April 15, 2008

We have a website!

Filed under: education,Support Services,Technology,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 7:38 pm

Our school (Vermont Technical College) uses Blackboard as it’s content management system. Blackboard has a lot of advantages- it is fairly flexible and not too hard to figure out how to use. If you are teaching a class, you can post a great deal of content and assignments and tests and other course related stuff, and if you choose to use it, there is a place where you can store that stuff to reuse. It is not, however, very appealing visually and for us (Academic Support Services), it requires a significant amount of gymnastics to meet our needs. We -me actually- have been working on developing a more inviting web presence that would also allow us to post things like podcasts and video. And now we have it! Welcome to the Academic Support Services Website at Vermont Technical College! We are so excited- or at least I am anyway. The rest of the office tends to get that “oh, here she goes again” look when I bring it up…but too bad for them. The sun is out, my flowers are up (though I still have snow) and the website is LAUNCHED!

Many thanks to the good folks at WebNode for creating this wonderful, intuitive and free resource- much like the wonderful people here  at WordPress, that newbies and non-programmers like myself can use!



February 14, 2008

It is Valentine’s Day…

Filed under: Post-secondary,Study skills,Support Services,Technology,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 7:26 pm

and we are buried in snow:) It is beautiful, but it does make it a little hard to get around.  Driving is becoming an adventure as well, not because it is slippery so much, but I am too short to see around the giant snowmountains (piles does not begin to do them justice) that have built up on all the corners from the plows. Ah well. the sun is out and it is not snowing now so I will just enjoy the reprieve.

I have said before that I really appreciate technology. I love the possibilities it opens up. I am especially fond of MP3 players (IPods in particular) and all the cool new applications that can be used on them. On that note, I invite you to check this out: 100 Ways to Use your IPod to Study Better ( I first read this on on the Hartness Library Blog (our school library) but it was so fascinating that it is worth sharing here.

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day/Weekend/Life! We can always find some time to share some warmth with each other- especially during this chilly time of year!


January 29, 2008

We are living in exponential times…

Filed under: education,Post-secondary,Support Services,Technology — learningspecialist @ 2:52 pm

There are several versions of this video floating around You Tube…

They have essentially the same script but I like the presentation of this particular version. I am especially struck by the phrase “We live in exponential times” So often we head along through the daily routines of our lives and never really stop to think just how remarkable those lives have become- and the things we are capable of doing. The possibilities are endless- but the responsibility is mind boggling. I am humbled- and just a little nervous.

Along with the philosophical musings…I have a resource to share today as well. We all need to look words up occasionally. Paper dictionaries- and I have several in my office- rapidly become outdated. (factoid from the video- 5 times more words than in Shakespeare’s time-whew) They are also frequently NOT where we are when we need them. Online dictionaries are almost always up to date- but I am not a big fan of doing lots of reading online… So, enter the visual dictionary, Visuwords. This is an extraordinarily useful site. Type a word in to the search box and immediately and word web appears with definitions, synonyms, antonyms, parts of speech, whatever you might want to know-and some things you may not have thought of. There is enough information to keep even the most rigorous grammarian happy, and it is simple enough to read that those who need a speedy resource will come back again and again. Well worth bookmarking!

November 1, 2007


Filed under: education,Study skills,Support Services,Technology,Uncategorized,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 6:34 pm

I was going to write about access stuff today and I may yet, but since yesterday was Halloween- one of my favorite times of year in my neighborhood- and the spirit of freebies is still upon me, I will share a couple of well recommended sites for downloading free software. the first one is called Game Giveaway of the Day

It has only recently started back up and has a nice list of games- mostly puzzle games now- with several that are suitable for younger children. The download process was simple and I now have a full featured demo version of a game called Arxon. I am sure I will enjoy it – if only for a little while.

There is a companion to this site called Giveaway of the Day that offers more utilitarian software choices- some of which are quite complex. There is a link to this site on the sidebar.

Antoher great resource is Software for Starving Students which give the downloader a CD full of great stuff- OpenOffice, Foxfire, some software deveoted to study skills like flashcards and a host of others. What is nice about it is that all these great programs are in one place- with links to the original site so you can see what you are getting. If you want to see the list of what is available you need to go to the Frequently Asked Questions Page. You don’t even have to be a student to appreciate some of the things the developers have gathered together. It is very cool.

Speaking of study tools, I came across another flashcard program, the Study Stack.   This is an online flashcard program, but it has much more! You register- it is free- and enter the data you need to memorize. Once you have done that, you can access that data through flashcards, a hangman game, a crossword puzzle…you can even have it sent to your cell phone so that you can practice in those odd moments between class or while you are waiting from someone.

Freebies are fun to find and share…let me know how you like these and if you have any others!


September 21, 2007

More technology things…and some reflections.

Filed under: education,Post-secondary,Study skills,Technology,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 5:16 pm

Math is always such a challenge in my life- for personal reasons:) -and because it can be very difficult to accommodate effectively. Extra time is easy, and use of a calculator is never such a big deal at the post-secondary level, but many of the students I work with have significant issues with their handwriting, and most of the computer programs available seem do almost too much of the work. Students who are enrolled in Algebra classes- and even those who are beginning Calculus- need to be able to show their work to the instructor- and the instructor needs to know that the work is in fact theirs- not the result of a few keystrokes. It is why those classes frequently have a “no calculator” section on tests and quizzes- so the instructor can see the student sort their way through the sequence of an equation without the distraction of actually solving for a variable. Process- not product more or less.

Finding software that is intuitively easy to use, contains enough symbols and sufficient formatting to get through college level math, be reasonably priced and will behave more or less as a pencil has been difficult. Until now! The folks at Efofex Software have developed a suite of programs designed to meet this need (I read about it on the Quality Indicators for Assisitve Technology listserv-a veritable wealth of information those folks are) and checked it out. I am impressed. The data entry is consistant with regular keyboarding but the formatting looks just like what you might write- and it allows the student to do- and show- their work.

Now, anyone may purchase this and use it. Qualiifed students with disabilities on the other hand, as long as someone certifies that they are indeed eligible- sort of like what I do with publishers for alternate format text- can download the program for free. I am going to start talking this up immediately!

Here is the link:

I hope people find it useful.

I have been teaching in Freshman Orientation classes for the past few weeks. I really like teaching- I am not sure what I would do if this were only an office/one:one sort of a job. I generally, at this time of year anyway, talk about study skills and test taking. I am a real fan of the Master Notebook system from Landmark College- or at elast the bones of it.

I am not sure how ready first semester freshmen really are to organize themselves this way without a lot of support from their instructors, but I like to do it because then(aside from the charge I get from working with a group of students), when someone comes to me for help in this area, we at least have a common vocabulary to work with. We also talk more about goal setting- many freshmen- many students…- have not really ever had an internal mandate for getting things done and tend to rely on outside systems like parents and study halls. Makes a lot of sense but does not necessarily work at this level. Soooo… we talk about it a lot.

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