Materiality of Notetaking

Been working through Haas’ Writing Technology, which is all about materiality and literacy. (“Writing is language made material,” she begins. This is its central fact and central puzzle.) I’ve been trying to come up with interesting but meaningful ways of getting my students to think about this notion—especially in my 3383 Theories of Comp class.  I don’t ever feel like we really do it justice in there, and want to do better in the future.  So, in doing some early preparations for next semester (textbook requisitions are coming oh-so-soon, now), I came up with the following assignment. It borrows a bit from things I’ve picked up from Wysocki et al’s Writing New Media.

Students will take their normal class notes (in all of their classes, not just mine) with a different writing technology each day for one week.  At this point, I’m thinking something like the following schedule:

Mon: Ink pen, lined paper
Tues: Traditional wood pencil, lined paper
Wed: Crayon (maybe), unlined paper
Thurs: PC in laptop mode w/word processing software
Fri: PC in tablet mode w/handwriting software.

After the week, they’d write descriptively/comparatively/reflectively on the influence of different materials on things like writing, legibility, space, format, process, cognition, attention, retention, and other issues.

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2 thoughts on “Materiality of Notetaking

  1. Chris. I’ve been a big fan of that Haas book for a while now, and I, too have regularly tried to think about ways that it might productively inform my pedagogy. I don’t think I can tie it directly to very many of my assignments, but I do, regularly engage students in discussions of their notetaking strategies and why they chose the materials/strategies they do. I love your assignment, especially in how easy it is to implement, understand, and customize. I’m likely going to invoke a version of it in my next course. (So thanks!)

    If you’re interested in possible extension or iterations of Haas’s project in that text, you might look at Kirschenbaum’s book, _Mechanism_ in which he juxtaposes the materiality of writing with the “virtuality” of digital writing to investigate the ways that digital writing is, in fact, inherently material. He does so in order to work through some of the problems (theoretical AND practical) of conceptualizing digital writing as “virtual.” He also talks about some of the affordances of that thinking, too.

    Two other texts you might want to look at are Tuman’s book, _Word Perfect: Literacy in the Computer Age_, and Heim’s book, _Electric Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing_. Both of them deal with the some of the conceptual implications and complications of composing on the computer screen. I can recommend more, but I’ve already likely overstepped my bounds in recommending books you’ve already read. Apologies if so.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying keeping up with the blog. Nice to see how much we’ve got in common in our orientation to the discipline, our understanding of the function of these blog-thingies, and our dissertation progress.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    Best,

    Trauman

    P.S. Another note-taking strategy to consider: Evernote. It’s free, cross-platform, and some of your students could even use their cell phones. And it’s adds the possibility of multiple modes (photo, video, audio, handwriting, screen-grabs, etc.) for gathering notes/assets/resources. And with its syncing features, it can be relatively ubiquitous for dedicated users. (disclaimer: I’ve been trying to adopt EverNote on my PC/Mac/iPhone now for a couple of weeks. The learning curve is very, very easy. The habit curve is very, very steep, however. Just a thought.)

    1. You’re welcome! I’ve heard of Evernote, but haven’t looked into it yet. The computers that my uni supplies come with OneNote, which is pretty neat, but the mobile access to Evernote is quite the siren call.

      Book recommendations are always welcome, even if I’ve already read them! (In that case, a little validation of one’s own reading patterns is always nice.) I’ll definitely check these out sooner rather than later.

      Thanks for the comments and tweets,

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