“How Do You Consume Your Media?” It’s Time to Get Serious


This week I reminded my students that if they are serious about getting a good job in writing or communications then they need to get serious about their media consumption.  That means: a daily newspaper with an international focus, a weekly news magazine, and two to three high-quality monthly magazines.  ‘But that doesn’t require you to read everything cover-to-cover’, I assured 22 horrified faces.  Rather, a good media consumption strategy gives you the framework to dip in and out of the most important events in the world, and allows you to feel connected to ideas bigger than yourself.  During interviews for the jobs that students with an English Studies degree will go into–marketing, journalism, PR, publishing, teaching, to name merely a few–the question of ‘how do you consume your  media?’ is becoming an increasingly common starting point.  And the response needs to be a bit more developed than ‘oh, I read Heat every Tuesday.’

It is advice that I give to students every year, but with the recent announcement that later this summer Google will be dropping Google Reader–their pleasingly functional and well-connected RSS reading platform–I began to think once again about how I consume my media.  I will be the first to admit that my methods of media consumption have been, until recently, what might be called… shady.  I’m of the generation of Napster and torrents, after all.  I’m part of the first generation of people who had computers in their bedrooms as children, paving the way for a bit of illegal downloading beginning with the era of Sugar Ray and Savage Garden and moving onward.  When a good friend of mine introduced me to the world of illegal .epub files for my Kindle, I was hooked.  But putting aside all the economic and moral arguments against illegal file sharing–and I do have a profound respect for musicians and writers, and believe they are owed fair compensation for their work–I have my own personal reasons for recently taking my media consumption more seriously.  And by that, I mean, exchanging cold, hard (digital) cash for the pleasure of consuming.

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Business as Usual: A Response to Forbes and Mary Beard

University Library

Even the flurry of live tweeting from MLA 2013 has not been enough to distract the academic community from Susan Adams’ recent article in Forbes.  In a largely tongue-in-cheek featurette with a veneer of statistical clout and some grand proclamations, Adams declared university professors to have ‘The Least Stressful Job of 2013’.    The backlash was swift, with over 150 academics quickly pointing out precisely why and how the life of a university educator is surely not lacking in stress.

I have no other points to add these comments, but I can’t help but think of an almost identical article from August of last year.  In her popular blog ‘A Don’s Life’, Professor Mary Beard lamented the absurd job postings for university comms and PR positions.  As she sees it, the job listings were a mess of ridiculous collocations and nonsensical phraseology, a feature that she subtly suggests is indicative of confused and perhaps entirely unnecessary positions within the marketing department of the university.    Professor Beard’s article is certainly worth a read.  But in the context of the recent Forbes article, I want to reproduce here my own comment to Beard, which sparked some discussion of its own:

Five Most Popular Posts of 2012

I have been enjoying several days back in Ohio visiting with family and friends, but I am now back into full-steam-ahead mode for the coming semester.

I have gathered together the five most popular posts from 2012.  I know that most of these deal with technology and social media; in the coming year, I will be writing more about other sides of academia, including pedagogy, policy, and my own research.

4 Tags That Make Sense of It All: Best Practice for Tagging Academic Notes


2013 is already looking like a busy year for me, not least because of an exciting move from the University of London to City University of Hong Kong.  That means new courses, new students, new administrative systems, and a lot of new projects.  Since I have set some time aside this week to take stock and review my plans for the coming year, I wanted to share one of the things that keeps my note-taking organized and ultimately helps to support my work as an academic: a clear, consistent tagging system that I use everywhere I can.

The academic life is a chaotic mixture of teaching, research, service, knowledge transfer, partnerships, publicity, and planning, so it has been important for me to find a way to seamlessly blend these strands.  To this end, every piece of information that I put into Evernote or Things immediately gets these types of tags (I use the hashtag to denote a type of tag–these don’t actually form part of the tag itself):

Context > #Output > #Topic > #X-Ref

Because I use this same tagging system in both my task manager and my note taking software, it is incredibly easy to cross-reference details or to find the information that I need.  Before I explain how these tags function within Evernote and Things, here’s a quick summary of each:

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Tighening Up Some Flabby Prose

Flabby Writing

With all of this semester’s exam scripts marked and off my desk, I have finally begun to read the books that have been piling up in my Kindle over the past semester.  (On second thought, can eBooks ‘pile up’?  Surely we need a new metaphor in the digital age.)  One that I have particularly enjoyed is Helen Sword‘s Stylish Academic Writing.  Far from an abstracted treatise on writing (as so many advanced academic writing texts are), Sword’s work highlights both the finest and guiltiest features of contemporary academic prose and uses these examples to demonstrate practical techniques for better writing.

The companion website to Sword’s earlier book The Writer’s Diet (unfortunately not available on Amazon.co.uk) offers a diagnostic tool to check the ‘flabbiness’ of prose.  The diagnosis of several pages from a recent article of mine was not entirely positive.  My writing, it seems, is a bit overwhelmed by adjectives and abstract nouns, but, then, so is a great deal of recent academic writing (see below). So my resolution for 2013 is to make my concrete nouns work harder, because up until this point they have been getting a free ride from my favourite adjectives.

Winners of the Contest for Evernote Premium

Lots of people shared their interesting and unique systems for organizing research and writing data.  While many academics prefer to use paper-and-pen to organize their work, there are also many that are finding a hybrid digital and paper system to be a great way to keep everything where they want it.  You can see all of the great ideas and insights here.

Congratulations to the winners of the contest:

In the coming year, I will be writing more about Evernote and how it can be used for teaching and research in higher education.  Many thanks for all of the entries, and I look forward to sharing more ideas as Evernote Higher Education Ambassador.

Making It New: Innovation in Arts & Humanities Research

English: A drawing of index cards with tabs. T...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Research” in the early days—and by that I mean in the days of elementary school—was a straightforward affair.  Or it was until the revolution of the parenthetical citation marked a turning point in the yearly convention of the spring research paper.  In those early days, “research” also looked quite  different, in that it was largely done by looking books up in a card catalogue and then writing notes on index cards. Continue reading

Location Numbers in Research?


Following a blog post last week on using Kindle in teaching, I asked: “do you think location numbers (rather than page numbers) are an adequate form of citation?” I received many responses…

[View the story “Location Numbers in Research?” on Storify]



Have you entered to win 12 months of Evernote Premium?  Share your thoughts on paper and digital research workflows here to win.

Win One Year of Evernote Premium


I have been using Evernote since the early days of my PhD (see how I get Kindle notes into Evernote for my teaching), so I was thrilled when they invited me to be their Higher Education Ambassador. Starting today I will get to do lots of cool stuff with them–a bit of traveling, a bit of writing, a bit of speaking.  Awesome!

So, to mark the occasion, I have some great Evernote stuff to give away.  Here’s how you can get it:

To enter, respond to the following question in the comments at the bottom of this post: ‘How do you organize your teaching, research, and writing?  Paper, digital, post-its? File folders, shoe boxes, digital tablets?’  Everyone has their own system–what is yours?

This isn’t just for academics, but for anyone who writes, thinks, doodles, ponders, pilfers, or philosophizes.  And there are some great prizes to be won…

Entries close at 11:59pm GMT on 12 December 2012 and winners will be chosen randomly from all entries on 13 December 2012.  Make sure that you include your e-mail address when you comment so I can contact you.

Tutorial: Getting Kindle into Evernote

Now that Kindles outnumber hard copies by a margin of nearly 2-1 in my classes,  I have decided that the time really has come to think about ways to integrate Kindle into my teaching and research workflow.

In order to make this work, I needed a good way to get Kindle highlights and notes into Evernote, my note-taking software of choice.  Because there is currently no way to directly link Kindle and Evernote, I set out to find a way to push Kindle content into Evernote with minimal effort.  After a weekend of experimentation with unnecessarily complex workarounds, I found an elegant and simple solution:

  1. Login to your Kindle at https://kindle.amazon.com/ and click on ‘Your Highlights’
  2. Use the Evernote Web Clipper (free: Firefox) to ‘Clip Article’ (this will select only the book notes/highlights for clipping, and not the full webpage).  Relevant metadata can be added at this stage.
  3. Both the notes and the highlights from your Kindle will now be in Evernote, beautifully organized and fully searchable.  The best part is that clicking on any of the ‘Read more at location…’ links will open that passage in your desktop Kindle app for further review.

How are you integrating your Kindle into your teaching or research workflow?  What other workarounds have you come up with for making the best use of e-readers?

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