Beyond binders and yellow highlighters


Over the years, I’ve moved many times.  And in each move, downsized a little (or a lot)  more.  I got rid of furniture, appliances, kitchenware and clothes.  I gifted my cassette tape collection, donated the exercise videos, organized CDs into binders, stocked my I-Pod and gifted the CDs, stopped buying CDs, gifted the I-Pod and got the I-Phone, sold the DVD collections and joined Netflix.  Yet, somehow, in move after move I’ve kept the books and grad school binders, arguably the heaviest items.  Recently, an e-reader joined (but most likely won’t replace) the print books on my shelves.  The binders were still with me too, until a couple of months ago, when the education librarian at Lehigh asked me why I didn’t simply annotate pdfs online.

Now, the aforementioned binders were a testament to my (intermittent) sense of organization.  They contained almost every article assigned in Lehigh’s doctoral courses.  In addition to old letters of acceptance, maps, restaurant menus, and temporary phone numbers  tucked into the sleeves, the binders contained evidence of how I grappled with theory, research, and policy after years of being so practitioner focused.  Article sections were highlighted, relevant quotes were underlined, sticky phrases were squiggly underlined, and my unvarnished reaction to the authors’ arguments were scribbled in the margins in loopy, late night, handwriting.  Rereading the articles for the comps brought back memories, not only of the ideas, but also of my fellow students, the professors, the place.

That was then, as they say.  Fast forward to the lit review.  Thanks to Lehigh library system, the bulk of my research is done online, and research articles are stored as pdfs in neatly labeled folders on my computer. Given the sheer volume, I can’t justify printing it all.  So I was more than ready and willing to give Fox-it a try.  The good?  It’s free.  Updated frequently.  Does everything it promises. Opens any pdf.  Highlights, underlines, squiggly underlines, strikes out, comments, quotes, and calls out.  In color, no less.  Yes, you can still use yellow.  But there’s also orange, green, blue, and even fuchsia. File sharing is easy.  So is collaboration.  In short, I love using it.

The bad?  No bad that I can see.  A more sophisticated user might be more demanding, but it serves my purposes perfectly.

The ugly?  I still print out articles to highlight and scribble on.  Why?  The screen resolution? The way only a section or a page is visible at one time?  A need to touch paper?  Learning that happens better through handwriting, not typing?   I can’t quite tell yet.  But just in the same way that Pandora, podcasts and smart phones are changing my music preferences; e-readers, online databases, and annotation software are changing the way I read and write, especially in academia.  (To learn more about how annotation can promote deep reading of texts, read Beyond the Yellow Highlighter by high school English teacher, Carol Porter-O’Donnell.)

So, I recycled all the old binders.  I can easily locate, annotate, label, and store all of those articles and find more recent ones online.  As for the lit review, I no longer keep binders.  Printing out the seminal and/or foundational research to scribble on keeps the printing bill down and saves trees and space.

Besides, did I mention I am moving at the end of the month?  AMF

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