Making Digital Sense of the Lit Review

Image courtesy of crazyquilt.ca

Although the desktop on my laptop sometimes resembles a crazy quilt, most of the time articles and files are clearly labeled, dated, and neatly filed into folders.  I’ve learned the hard way that the extra few minutes spent in organization pays off in efficiency down the road as the folders fill, especially with research articles for the dissertation literature review.  Making the switch from printing, highlighting, and annotating hard copies has come slowly; however, creating a digital version of “file cards” (the “making sense” part of the literature review) has been much easier.

There’s a lot of information to extract and record in any comprehensive research review:  for instance, the citation, type of study, subjects, sample and population, instruments, results, and the reviewers’ own notes as well as salient quotes. Categories can vary, of course, depending upon the needs of each dissertation writer.

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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.

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Book Glue, Cuckoo’s Eggs and the Pleasures of Re-Reading

I just re-read Clifford Stoll’s 1989 book, Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage, a chronicle of his self-reflections as he tracks who is breaking into the computer systems at his research lab.  A well-worn copy awaited me on my university library shelves.  Was my own paperback lent to someone long ago or perhaps passed on to a used book sale or taken by one of my kids?

Anyhow, Cuckoo’s Egg, so titled to refer to the cuckoo’s habit of “brood parasitism” – laying her eggs in another cuckoo’s nest, is written in non-technical language.  It is one of the first popular books about the intricacies of Internet communications.  While the technology is so old now (when did you last think about or even know of Tymnet?), it was surprisingly enjoyable and thought provoking.  Yes, Stoll could have used a good editor (the first time reading of one of his bicycle dashes from home to the lab was charming but the endless detail of the tracing of the hacker gets a bit boring) but even so re-reading his book reminded me of serious matters about this big, new thing, the Internet. Back in the ’80’s, he knew that hacking could endanger this extraordinary communications network that 21st century life relies on.

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