Electronic reading and note taking now – possibilities and barriers

I have my iLiad reader back minus its white line. Such a relief. Printouts are practically useless. They only exist in one place. When studying – increasingly snatched, unplanned, mobile or distributed across different locales – it’s important to be able to cross reference in a timely way. This isn’t possible with hard copy but in electronic format you can carry your library with you, and customise it too. The first thing I did when I got my reader back is copy Marx’s Capital off the web, reformat the font, make it 1.5 spacing, add a TOC, page numbers and two margins right (I’m right handed) and bottom for taking notes, and print to PDF. Now so I can (in theory, if I can only muster the will and concentration) read it in convenient snatches for the Capital reading group I joined without giving myself a bad back.

So that’s reading sorted. For note-taking which converts to machine-readable text I could use the reader if I paid for the handwriting recognition software. But I’d also like mobile web access and I’ve been thinking for ages about getting a sub-laptop (or, again, I could hack my reader – but it would be black and white and the navigation wouldn’t be great). This got me thinking about one of the biggest constraints on technology-using learning: power. Power and bad power management is a huge barrier between me and ubiquitous learning.

I know a bit about what it takes to optimise learning environments for technology and found it pretty sad, not least for our students, that the newly fitted lecture spaces and open learning areas don’t have power sockets in among the seating. Not only have our students been saddled with having to pay for their print-outs but at the same time the increase in VLE use as a medium for disseminating handouts and reading means that students without photographic memories have to either print or view on a mobile device like a laptop or reader. And VLE areas are increasingly taking on the characteristics of a tutor’s filing cabinet, with the attendant huge increase in printing by their devoted students. It goes without saying that this is environmentally incorrect. However, arriving at an ergonomically, economically correct alternative isn’t straightforward.

The best sublaptop battery life is generally 3-4-ish hours before you start paying a lot extra or having to pare down how you use it (dim the display, turn off the wireless or multimedia functions). That is not even close to a whole day’s reading and note-taking.

So maybe you have to separate the note-taking from the web-browsing and both of those from the reading? So for note-taking you could use handwriting digitiser/pen computing. You write as normal and the pen  maps the patterns, where they are letters or words, to machine-readable text (takes a bit of training but these things are increasingly sophisticated). So you end up with hand-written and e-notes. The advantage of these is that you can escape from text and branch into graphics. The disadvantage is that there’s an extra stage of downloading, processing, saving – and probably correcting. Battery life?

I suppose for things with battery packs there are solar chargers like these – but the jury is out on whether they are environmentally friendlier or not (no claim is made on the site), plus this is London and even when the sun is technically out most of us live out our lives in the dim canyons between buildings.

Lucy, she say wait – presumably because she thinks that power management will improve. So maybe I’ll wait a while. Or stop this stupid reading and writing nonsense.

4 thoughts on “Electronic reading and note taking now – possibilities and barriers

  1. It depends whether they take more energy to produce than they save in their lifetime. Not all pv cells do but I’d want to check each model and that’s quite difficult. Maybe Snoopy will say, if he’s reading – he seems to understand such things.

  2. I love my Eee. When we were hiking in Snowdonia, I saw this guy chillin’ by his tent, with a solar panel hooked to his eee, hooked to his headphones. I wish I wouldn’t have been so shy, and had taken a photo. He was damn good lookin’ too.
    Solar panels are getting more efficient by the day, but I can’t comment on their economy. One thing though, I don’t think they’ll do you much good in a lecture hall. I bought an extended life battery for my baby, it lasts forever – esp. if you have the wifi off. But maybe what we need is something mechanical. My grandma’s sewing machine was powered by a pedal. Something like that should be cheap to make, and will save your feet from rotting.

  3. Based on a very quick search I read a trial of 3 different types of rooftop pv setups. Currently pv cells cost you more £ than they save – but save substantial amounts of energy (including manufacture and maintenance). That’s ok for me currently because I am in the fortunate position of being able to spend extra on being environmentally better – but for many people, not ok. Personal pv arrays I’m not sure about.

    Canada has a calculator but not got time to see whether it does personal pv.

    Mechanical energy generation is exciting. Gym-powered buildings too.

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