On typewriters and computers

Behold this solitary remnant at the Arapahoe Community College Library of a bygone era: the typewriter. (In case you’re curious, it’s one of those large, clunky-looking electric ones, an IBM Wheelwriter by Lexmark.)

It’s out-survived other relics of the past at the Library such as microfilm, video and cassette tapes, and the card catalog. (Will we be saying the same thing about print books in the near future? That’s a whole topic in itself.)

It sits next to a row of computers, sort of an oddball among its high-tech bretheren.

It’s about the last anachronism left standing, er, sitting, so to speak.

Dad, what’s a typewriter?

It’s what Andy Rooney owned until he died.

Who’s Andy Rooney?

Never mind.

Typewriters actually do have a practical use, unless you’re a collector of celebrities’ typewriters. They’re great for doing envelopes and filling out forms (do they still have those forms with carbon copies?). Not everyone uses online forms. Not every form is available to be filled out online. Maybe that’s why we still have a typewriter at the ACC Library.

Yes, instead of computers, there are still some writers who use typewriters, just as some writers still use yellow legal pads (admittedly a dying breed of writers).

Once I had a patron ask me if we had a user manual for our typewriter. I couldn’t find one. At the time it didn’t occur to me look online, where most user manuals are available for free. Another time, a student told me she needed the price of a typewriter in 1974 for his economics class, to illustrate the rise of the CPI over time (price inflation). After a huge amount of effort, I actually found the answer for her. But I digress…

A Google search reveals that at least a fair number of libraries still have a typewriter for public use. Even Harvard has a typewriter–in the computer lab of the law library. But, in contrast, the Berkley Public Library in Michigan, in its FAQs, states, “Note that the library DOES NOT have typewriters.”

Now, I’m going to pick a bone: if a typewriter is good enough for the library at Harvard, why isn’t it for the University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries? Here’s the rather condescending CU explanation for lack of typewriters in its libraries (I admit, it almost made me chuckle with the same feeling of superiority):

There are no typewriters in the Libraries. We don’t know of any in use on campus. The UMC Reception Desk used to have one available for public use but it is long gone.

 Prior to the introduction of the personal computer in the mid-1980s, these machines — both manual (no power) and electric (powered) were widely used. The rapid adaption of the personal computer led to their drastic, dramatic, decimating decline and dodo-like disappearance.

 Typewriters are primarily seen in museums of technology and in movies of a by-gone era but their spirit lives on in the QWERTY keyboards you use today.

There are still some of us old-timers around who formerly used typewriters, believe it or not. One way you can easily detect these old codgers is when they type text with a computer, they put in two spaces after a period. That’s a no-no in the post-typewriter age. So is underlining words for emphasis. And not knowing how to make an “em” dash. And so on. What made sense using a typewriter doesn’t hold using a word processor.

There’s a book The PC is Not a Typewriter, which explains the fine points of these differences of using a word processor properly in the age of desktop publishing. Following the advice of this book will help make you look like a savvy, sophisticated writer and scholar, and will help you not betray yourself as a dinosaur from the past. A shortened PDF version of these principles put out by a college is at mcli.maricopa.edu/files/dvl/Word2007-Assignment-Finished.pdf.

Yes, these tips are indispensable and important for everyone who cares about how they look in print. Whoops! On second thought, these tips are indispensable and important for everyone who cares about how they look in print. (Yes, underlined stuff should be reserved for links only in this new age.)

P.S. Here’s an interesting library blog from 2007 about typewriters and libraries

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Turnitin users and non-users: Google to the rescue!

Plagiarism sleuths: don’t throw Google out with the bathwater just yet.

I’ve gotten feedback from instructors about their use of Google to detect student paper plagiarism (pasting in some parts of a student paper into Google may identify the Web pages the text came from).

My stance about Google for plagiarism detection has been, Well, now that we’ve got Turnitin, the proprietary Web-based plagiarism detection service, we won’t need Google anymore  (and that’s how instructors probably view this modern marvel called Turnitin).


Several instructors have told me they used Google to catch plagiarism that Turnitin missed.

Wow, is that an eye opener. Turnitin is not perfect? Turnitin is not everything it’s cracked up to be?

Well, yes.

Why? What gives? Well, let’s cut to the chase. Here’s an excerpt from an economics professor’s blog that I found, yes, by googling:

…teachers might think, “I’m using Turnitin, so I don’t have to watch out for plagiarists.”  The instructor quoted on Turnitin’s website certainly thinks so, implicitly arguing that Turnitin is a perfect substitute for her own investigations using Google.  Not surprisingly, Turnitin encourages this belief.  On its website—right next to her quote—Turnitin advertises that it has crawled and indexed “14+ billion web pages.”  Choosing between Turnitin and instructor investigations seems like a no-brainer.

But wait, how many web pages are there on the Internet?

A few years ago, Google announced that it had crawled and indexed a trillion web pages.  That makes TurnItIn’s crawlers look puny, having searched and indexed only 1.4 percent as much of the Internet as Google’s.

I’m not here to debunk Turnitin—I’m one of its strongest supporters. But we have to be realistic that no single tool is perfect or infallible. I teach this to students about information literacy—trust, but verify the information you find. Take everything, no matter how authoritative, with a grain of salt.

Instructors who use Turnitin should consider it just one gadget in their toolbox.

Google is a good supplement to Turnitin, or, for those who don’t use Turnitin, a useful tool by itself. Remember, though, that Google will identify lots of text from Web pages, but little or nothing from periodical articles and books. Thus Google is incomplete without Turnitin. And vice versa.

And even Google is not all-encompassing. No single search engine can index the entire vastness of the Internet. That’s why, along with Google, the savvy plagiarism sleuth will use other search engines—such as Bing, Yahoo!, and Yippy.

I might also mention some free “plagiarism checkers” that can be useful: Dustball and Plagium.

These free tools are useful not just for teachers, but also for students who wish to check their work before they turn it in.

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February 4, 2012 · 7:51 pm

Intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy, laziness, and information literacy

I would imagine many of us are guilty of this: we read something in the popular press or blog, then we quote that “fact” in an argument or discussion we’re having. I know I have. I’ve been guilty of trying to impress others how much I know on a topic, without qualifying where I got the information.

Well, an interesting tidbit was found in a blog, too good to pass up as a conversation piece. You assume it is true. You hope it is true. You make the assertion without “fact checking.” Fact checking means seeking corroboration from an authoritative source, if possible.

Educators, students, politicians, and especially librarians should try to adhere to this high standard. I say especially for librarians because we are in the business of teaching people to do just that—it’s called information literacy, of which evaluating information being a key part of it. If we don’t practice what we preach, then we deserve being called hypocrites, even intellectually dishonest. Perhaps even laziness can be pinned on us, because in many cases it’s a matter of not wanting to do the extra work to corroborate the information. (Former presidential candidate congresswoman Michelle Bachman could be a poster child for this intellectual sloppiness, as she gained notoriety for tons of untrue or half-true statements.)

Our choice of words when offering “facts” (or more accurately, “opinions”?), could be better chosen than just a flat, dogmatic statement. That’s why “allegedly” is such a great word and should be used for more than just crime reporting. How about using “supposedly,” “purportedly,” “ostensibly,” “reputedly,” “seemingly”? And if we’re, wrong, we’re off the hook, especially if we use “allegedly,” which protects reporters.

The blog is very articulate, impressing us with its spouting of facts. But perhaps this popular source we quote got its information from another popular source. The source we saw may say, According to a study or poll or survey such and such. But did the source actually read the original study or survey? They may simply have been recycling what they saw in another blog.

The viral dissemination of inaccuracies is not uncommon with the Web. Rumors or misinformation is rampant on the Internet, one of the dangers of casual googling. Michelle Bachman said such and such–after all, if a Congressperson said it, it’s probably true (I’m sorry to be picking on Bachman, but she is such a good example).

A good example came across me recently. A student had a quote by Shakespeare, but couldn’t find the citation for the exact source of the quote (from any play or sonnet).

It was curious that googling showed site after site after site attributing this quote to Shakespeare. But not exact citation. Everybody seemingly knew it was a Shakespeare quote. I searched an online and print Shakespeare concordances for the quote, and nothing even reasonably close came up. Then, with a little more googling, I saw the quote attributed to a Roman poet. Checking some respected quotation reference books confirmed that it was a Roman poet who was responsible for the quote.

Mark Twain is another case where someone has been misquoted or erroneously attributed. You can actually find quite a few examples of such intellectual mangling if you take the time to look around.

We should learn from this to not be fast and loose and careless with our information, but, human nature being what it is, we’ll continue to be sloppy and lazy, perhaps even hypocritical. I know I’m no exception.

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Open textbooks for open minds

Many of us are fully aware of the paradigm shifts in education involving the Internet digital revolution. One particular area of this revolution is the open education movement, where knowledge is freely shared at no cost to the learner, with open source textbooks becoming a major component.

More broadly, open textbooks are part of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, that also includes full courses, course materials, modules, journals, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques that are critical in the learning environment.

Go to a website and be educated – and not just by anyone who deems themselves an expert, but also by colleges opening up their lectures to any Web traveler, and by truly credentialed teachers who independently and with great enthusiasm are sharing their expertise in the form of their own textbook creations. This latter movement is known as “open textbooks” in the form of e-textbooks.

Open source textbooks are being created for the most part by the educators themselves, with their own resources, outside of the publishing industry. In some cases foundations are funding the creation of open source textbooks. There are a few publishers, such as Flat World Knowledge, that have embraced the open textbook as a viable business model.

Here’s a definition of open textbooks by the advocacy group College Open Textbooks: An open textbook is an integrated course-associated learning tool that is in the public domain or has been open-licensed by the copyright holder to permit re-use without the necessity of asking permission of the copyright holder. Open textbooks improve learning and teaching by freeing instructors from constantly seeking permission. Open textbooks are free or inexpensive on the Web and modestly priced for downloads, use on eReaders, or in bound format.

This development couldn’t come at a more timely moment. The escalating costs of textbooks more than ever are a sore issue with students. One source states that the average student spends $900 per year, and prices are rising four times the rate of inflation.

In the No Shelf Required librarian blog, it’s stated that “our current textbook system is broken.” Data presented on the blog include the following:

  • Students in 2-year public colleges found that 72% of college expenses were spent on college textbooks (DOE stats from FY03-04).  As a result, students can’t afford their textbooks and it is causing a generation of dropouts.
  • According to statistics sited by the AAP and McGraw-Hill, 20% of students aren’t buying any textbook

An organization, Student PIRGs has popped up, protesting the exorbitant costs of textbooks with a fervor bordering on acrid rebelliousness. But they do offer alternatives to the conventional textbook. One of the alluring solutions is the open source textbook. 

“Traditional textbook publishers have held an iron lock on the industry’s model for too long, and universities have been tacitly complicit of the system,” according to industry award-winner Lev Gonick, Case Western University vice president for information technology services and chief information officer. “In the Web era, however, this oligopolistic business practice is imploding. Indeed, the whole learning process is changing thanks to the Internet…How we produce, organize, and distribute open education resources is at the heart of the future of education around the world.”

The open education paradigm shift is coupled with the concomitant technology shift that has made this transformation possible. First was the PC, then the Internet. Now mobile computing is making a further quantum impact in the form of Apple iPads and other devices.

Students and teachers from grade school through higher education are using the iPad for augmenting lessons and even replacing textbooks. It’s been said that iPads pay for themselves in a single semester when they are used to access e-textbooks. And iPad books are touted as legal alternatives to pirated textbooks.

The obvious question is, Are these free open source textbooks any good? How do they stack up to the conventional commercially-available textbooks? Are they truly useful and practical for discipline-specific classroom use?

The Auraria Library in Denver has listed myths of open textbooks:

1.   Open textbooks and ebooks are the same thing.

2    Open textbooks are low quality or have expired copyrights and are out-of-date.

3.       Open textbooks are ‘crowd-sourced’, i.e., created by anonymous amateurs.

4.       Authors never receive monetary compensation for open textbooks.

5.       Derivatives damage the orginal authors’ credibility.

6.       Campus bookstores suffer from the use of open textbooks

7.       Publishing companies are the enemies of open textbooks.

Before we try to answer these questions of quality of open textbooks, let us not be so quick to place conventional textbooks on some kind of holy pedestal. Textbooks in general have a notorious reputation in some quarters for being fraught with errors and for unsavory issues of blatant bias and subjectivity. Yes, those seemingly innocuous textbooks have created their share of controversies, and even lawsuits. Whether this reputation is truly deserved or accurate, is not in the purview of this article.

One of the avowed functions and responsibilities of librarians is to help evaluate books and information resources for quality, authoritativeness, and reliability. In addition, through “information literacy” librarians try to teach the principles of evaluating information in addition to the basic challenge of finding it.

The “buyer beware” and due diligence maxims for any kind of consumer goods holds true with sizing up textbooks. There is no magic or infallible formula for automatically grading a textbook. Close scrutiny and common sense have to be applied. What is the resume of the textbook authors? What is the reputation of the publisher? What is the record of this textbook’s use by schools and colleges? What testimonials can support it? And so on.

Such scrutiny becomes harder for open textbooks. First, there is no reputable publisher in the normal sense, because the publisher is the self-publishing author himself. There may be no track record for the open textbook’s use in the classroom, because the textbook may be either too new or just plain obscure or too unknown or unrecognized to have been tried in many classrooms.

But if there is any doubt that quality open textbooks cannot be produced, take the case of an award-winning open textbook adopted by colleges around the country, Collaborative Statistics, designed for introductory statistics courses. Flat World Knowledge – “The first and largest publisher of free and open textbooks” —  states that its books are peer reviewed, and professionally edited and developed.

Despite the above-mentioned disadvantages of open textbooks, the possible payoff of using an open textbook —saving substantial money – may be worth the extra effort of closely examining and evaluating such textbooks.

Other open textbook options are the non-textbook, the self-created textbook, and the mashup. College and high school teachers have already discovered this self-created open textbook solution. The non-textbook is doing away with standard textbooks and replacing them with material culled from vetted electronic resources and courseware. Mashups are a hybrid creation from several textbooks. High school educators in particular have gotten national attention for their open textbook innovations.

Creating your own offers another advantage of open textbooks–by creating their own textbooks, teachers can customize their textbook to fit their classes more exactly than the cookie-cutter textbooks they are stuck with. Some instructors are disillusioned with dull, uninspiring textbooks that turn off students rather than engage and excite them. A customized, self-created textbook may be the answer.

While up to now high schools have been the most proactive in the open textbook arena, higher education has also made moves to promote the open source textbook movement. College Open Textbooks Collaborative is an advocacy group for open textbooks, consisting of 16 educational organizations, affiliated with more than 200 colleges, focused on driving awareness and adoptions of open textbooks to more than 2000 colleges.

Another major resource is the Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons, a clearinghouse for finding and sharing open educational resources. These resources, some of which have been reviewed, include textbooks, syllabi, lectures, full courses, activities and labs, homework and assignments, etc. Textbooks and other materials are searchable by subject, grade level, and type of material.

Started in 2012, a new chapter in the developing saga of open textbooks is being developed at the University of Minnesota. An innovative online project, under the direction of David Ernst, director of academic and information technology for the College of Education and Human Development, is being launched to locate the scattered open textbooks and create a peer-reviewed catalog of such books. The project will concentrate first on the most widely taught courses, like introductory biology and math. “You know the world doesn’t need another $150 Algebra One book,” Ernst has stated. “Algebra One hasn’t changed for centuries, probably.” University of Minnesota faculty will be paid $500 to write a review of an open-source textbook. They’ll earn the same amount to adopt such a book in class.

Despite the obvious advantages and attractiveness of open textbooks, commercial textbooks still retain an advantage: ancillary materials like study plans, exams, and course-management software, which studies show instructors prize above all else. Open textbook publishers don’t have the financial power to match the $4 billion textbook industry’s ability to produce these add-ons.

Open textbooks have made a small but notable splash in Colorado. Here at Arapahoe Community College, some instructors have successfully ventured into the open textbook. Former ACC business instructor Carl Bergemann’s use of Flat World for his Principles of Marketing class is related on the ACC website.

Other Colorado colleges and schools using open textbooks include Colorado Mountain College, Colorado State University, and Englewood High School, and University of Colorado. Six professors at CU-Boulder in 2010 signed a “statement of intent” online which vows that they will strongly consider using an open textbook if a relevant one is available for their course. Two Colorado professors, Timothy Tregarthen (University of Colorado) and Libby Rittenberg (Colorado College), have written a highly-regarded Flat World textbook, Principles of Microeconomics. Mark Winey and Ken Krauter from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) have written an open textbook for their students as a solution to $180 textbooks.

CoPIRG (Colorado Public Interest Research Group), an advocacy organization for consumer and health care issues, is active in generating open textbook interest in Colorado, as well as encouraging legislation.

Community colleges have taken on open education resources, with their own group, The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER). One example of community colleges embracing open textbooks and resources is Scottsdale Community College, used by the mathematics faculty for teaching algebra courses. 

Here are some resources that may help in the process of exploring the option of using open textbooks.

> Open textbooks explained: Mark Winey and Ken Krauter from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) explain open textbooks in this video.

> Open textbook testimonial: Physics instructor Erik Christensen of South Florida Community College is an advocate of open textbooks, which he feels benefit him and his students. The customization of the open textbook with his own teaching materials contributed to making physics “more fun and interesting” for his students. Also, costs to students dropped from $178 to $13. Watch his testimonial on YouTube, in addition to other testimonials.

> College Open Textbooks Collaborative is an advocacy group for open textbooks, consisting of 16 educational organizations, affiliated with more than 200 colleges, focused on driving awareness and adoptions of open textbooks to more than 2000 colleges.

> Open Educational Resources (OER) Textbooks – A catalog of hundreds of open textbooks, some of which are reviewed. Searchable by subject, grade level, material type (in addition to textbooks).

> The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER). The CCCOER site has an excellent list of open education resources links.

> Flat World Knowledge – “The first and largest publisher of free and open textbooks.” Used by more than 500 colleges and universities and tens of thousands of students. These peer-reviewed books are available free online, or can be purchased at low cost print-on-demand, and includes audio versions and study aids.

> Finding and selecting open textbooks – A guide to resources by the Auraria Library, Denver

> Open Textbooks and Other Open or Free Resources for Faculty is a guide for exploring open textbook options for faculty, from Kirkwood Community College Libraries. Topics included: What is an “Open Textbook”? For those new to open textbooks; sources for finding an open textbook and other open resources; resources for creating and hosting your own textbook; commercial sites with open texts.

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Changes in Delicious leave a certain taste in the mouth

Delicious, the librarians’ favorite social bookmarking tool, has gone through some major upheavals, which, like a roller coaster ride, can impact a queasy stomach.

Rumors of a shutdown of Delicious were greatly exaggerated, it turns out. After acquiring Delicious from the original developer in 2005, the financially fragile Yahoo! was looking to unload the much loved but unprofitable venture.

Yikes! After slaving over a hot keyboard bookmarking hundreds and even thousands of bookmarks, would your precious listing of sites be on the chopping block? Would your work end up burned to a crisp? No worry, as you were able to migrate your bookmarks to the alternative Digg.

Then, another turn of events: AVOS Systems, consisting of former YouTube founders, saved the day by buying Delicious in 2011. AVOS is re-designing Delicious, re-launching it with new social networking bells and whistles.

But can you trust AVOS not to screw it up? Will this still be your beloved Delicious when they get through tinkering with the original recipe? The new beta version of Delicious was launched perhaps prematurely, because it had bugs and imperfections that could make you feel nervous, seeing your familiar Delicious looking like a messed up omelet, not to mention inaccessible busy servers not experienced under the previous ownership. But the company blog has assured everyone that things are under control and that things will turn out okay.  And uh-oh, if you missed the new owners’ deadline to migrate your bookmarks to Digg, you’re stuck and out of luck. You better hope the new reincarnation is as advertised.

But if your stomach likes new taste sensations, you might be in for a treat. AVOS appears to be very imaginative and on the cutting edge, promising to take a previously solid but bland Delicious to some new heights, finding new ways to extend the social bookmarking concept. A little excitement for Delicious might not be a bad thing—pass the hot sauce.

In fact, here’s the latest news: AVOS has bought trunk.ly and will integrate it into Delicious. Trunk.ly collects in one place what is shared or liked in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Wow, can your stomach handle that? Where’s the Pepto-Bismol?

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Taking notes the digital way

I am a compulsive note-taker. When I go to a meeting or seminar I find myself trying to write everything down, including the speakers’ lousy jokes or side comments that may have nothing to do with the topic, or even observations about the audience or the meeting facility. Even when I am told that the PowerPoint presentation will be available for downloading, I am still jotting down its contents. Perhaps this has something to do with my prior life as a journalist and my temperament as the consummate writer. I am an “information packrat”—I feel the need to retain every bit of information I run across, even the most trivial, thinking someday it might be of use. I have boxes of papers and notebooks, innumerable computer files, and thousands of bookmarked websites. And don’t get me started on a discussion about my book collection.

Recently in my work at the library I have found myself as the keeper of the minutes for several committees and groups that I am involved with. I’ve always taken notes the old-fashioned way, jotting them down on paper, a method that has been reasonably effective. But I’ve always considered ways of modifying or improving the task of taking notes. For years, off and on I’ve casually played with Gregg shorthand, but have never mastered it enough to feel confident to use it for important meetings (when I looked at my shorthand scrawls, I find deciphering them a major challenge, showing that I need a lot more work and practice with it). I have thought about using an audio recording device, but felt that my note-taking was sufficiently strong enough that the idea of spending time going through audio recordings seemed like an unnecessary bother and waste of time.

I’ve looked at some innovative, brilliant high-tech ways of taking notes, and, for certain people (but not me), they certainly are a viable option, maybe even a godsend. And, if you love clever gadgets, you’ll love these even more. I even tried one of the gadgets.

One option is in the form of the inexpensive iPad apps like PaperDesk ($1.99), Penultimate ($2.99), WritePad (($3.99), or Note Taker HD ($4.99) for note-taking with a writing stylus, or even your finger. With it you can scribble down notes on your iPad as well as draw diagrams and mathematical equations. Some even allow audio recording. As yet, though digital, these apps’ notes are not searchable and do not convert to Word docs. Of course, there is the iPad’s virtual keyboard, fine with some note-takers, not with others.

But the gadgets I speak of are those wireless digital pens (notably Smartpen and LogiPen) that record your writing, which then can be uploaded (your writing, even your drawings) into your computer, printed out, and even e-mailed. Your longhand can be converted to Microsoft Word text. Now how nifty is that? But they require their special pen, so you can’t use your favorite pen. Some even require special paper. Some even have a built-in audio recorder and speaker in the pen, so you have audio backup of your note-taking. Wow!

But then, you are dealing with a hundred dollar price tag, special pens, special ink refills, special paper, batteries, USB cables, software. (Someone I know ordered one of these off the Internet, and came to him with a part missing, and he had a wonderful time getting the right part delivered.) The program menu has so many options and features, all with helpful tutorials and help screens. But, of course, if you’re a real geek, that’s heaven. What fun note-taking has become!

For a long time I had considered using a laptop to take notes, but shied away from it, perhaps because I didn’t want to look like an oddball or nerd. I already felt self-conscious for the non-stop taking pages of notes when everyone would hardly take any.

For me, using a laptop to take notes is superior to any other form of note-taking that I have available, for reasons of speed and convenience. I am an extremely fast typist—I timed myself and found that I can type notes twice as fast as writing them down, which means I am going to miss fewer bits of information and will be more productive. Second, writing for an hour or more produces fatigue and “writer’s cramp” that using the keyboard does not. Third, occasionally in my rush of writing down notes, I find myself not completing words, causing the words to be illegible. Fourth, when using a laptop I save the step of having to enter my notes into the computer—it’s already done. And with today’s thinner, lighter, even smaller machines, lugging around a laptop is not an issue.

To sum it up, for me, using a digital pen is slower, more time-consuming, less efficient. It seems like a lot of unnecessary work and steps in having to write the notes, input them into the computer, and then converting them to a Word document. Using a laptop beats it by a mile.

The Smartpen and LogiPen systems are brilliantly conceived, but best for a certain kind of person: a pen-and-pad note-taker looking for a boost for an old way taking notes, or someone who cannot use a laptop because they are a slow typist or do not have access to a laptop, or for whatever reason does not want to use a laptop and prefers writing. I would certainly recommend these digital pens to that certain kind of user who would find it useful for their particular situation. Likewise worth trying is writing with a stylus on an iPad.

For me, using a laptop is the almost perfect way to take notes and even going back to paper and pad wouldn’t be the end of the world. But others just love using these digital pen devices. As long as we’re both happy, and the important and crucial notes of the world are taken properly, and civilization is preserved in its highest intellectual glory—we have done our proper part, and perhaps even deserve overlooked commendation.

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A plagiarism checkup is just what the doctor ordered

What a savvy concept (that’s underused): check a paper’s first draft for plagiarism before final submission. Students do a “spell check,” so why not a plagiarism check?

A plagiarism checkup’s benefits are manifold. A student spotting mistakes beforehand saves both the student and instructor the aggravation of a messy paper that could have been cleaned up earlier. The student learns some basics of preventing plagiarism the easy way, instead of the hard way. Deliberate plagiarizers discover, before they get themselves into trouble, that they can’t get away with it.

There are free sites, besides Google, that are useful tools for such a checkup: the University of Maryland’s The Plagiarism Checker (dustball.com/cs/plagiarism.checker) and Plagium.com. For a modest fee, there’s WriteCheck.com.

Preferably, though, students are enrolled in Turnitin and can submit their draft themselves and read the Originality Report for a good analysis. (Not all instructors are aware of the first draft checkup feature of Turnitin, especially the newbies to Turnitin.) A five-step checklist is available to aid students in interpreting their Originality Reports (bit.ly/plagiarismcheck). But even with Turnitin, the free sites and even Google are useful as supplementary tools—it’s not unusual for Turnitin to miss stolen text that the free sites will pick up.

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