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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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Anatomy of a Workflow: Experimenting with Productivity Tools

I use Firefox for internet browsing; it seems to be the friendliest choice for open-sourced digital tools (for example, Scalar). I use Google for searching, occasionally employing an add-on called Deeper Web that simultaneously produces multiple categories of results using a variety of visualizations. Most recently, I discovered a feature that allows me to eliminate terms that appear in the word cloud. For example, if I perform a search on Victorian culture, I can eliminate the word “Beckham” from the resulting cloud, thereby filtering out any results about Victoria Beckham.

When browsing, I also use Feedly to keep abreast of new information posting on websites I have already deemed helpful to my academic work. Through my Feedly account, I can organize various RSS feeds and view featured recent posts on a blog-like account page (the layout of which I can choose). I categorize feeds by subject, and can simultaneously view highlights from all feeds or one. I may add a new feed to my Feedly by clicking on a square, shadowy icon that usually appears at the bottom right corner of my browser window. Not all websites accommodate Feedly, however, and some seem to have restrictions (UPenn's CFP feed, for example).

To keep track of interesting or useful information as I putter along the interweb, I use Evernote to clip pages, articles, and images into notes. I sometimes prefer a combination of copy and paste and note-taking to directly clipping whole articles, because the process allows me to better absorb information. Evernote allows me to organize these notes into titled notebooks; I can designate notes by tags, and include URL links back to the sources.

Along with Evernote, I have begun using Zotero to keep track of bibliographic information about sources and resources. Zotero's filing system has proven to be a beneficial alternative to my old system, wherein I just threw everything into a pell-mell assortment of word processing documents. Zotero's citation function is especially delightful; if I have entered all pertinent information for an item entry, the app can produce a citation in MLA style.

I have yet to invest in an external hard drive to back up my work. I presently use simpler backup systems to save the work I consider most important: I use thumb drives to back up major academic documents (CVs, proposals, course and workshop materials, and records), and I retain copies of recent papers and downloaded documents in my university Squirrelmail account (kept them primarily so that I can access and print them on campus if I have left the laptop at home). As you can see, I have a pretty considerable list of files designating all the courses I have taken or taught during my time at UVic. Each file contains emails from that course, including document attachments pertaining to my coursework. The Squirrelmail interface does not offer a very complex labeling system, unfortunately.

For access to documents away from home, I have recently discovered that Dropbox performs a similar function, and also serves to back up individual documents (but only temporarily, because a free Dropbox account has limited space). Accordingly, I have also begun to use Dropbox to back up recent papers. The program also gives me the option of sharing documents with others; I have not tried this out yet, but it may be handy for future collaborative work.

For making lists and writing quick notes, I typically use Evernote (or a Moleskin). But for anything more than a paragraph or two, I use OpenOffice, an open source (and therefore free!) alternative to Microsoft Office; I find it serves my purposes very well, and it has virtually all the functions I would utilize in Microsoft Office (like Powerpoint and Track Changes). OpenOffice's file adaptability also makes it compatible with other common word processor programs.

To plan and organize a particularly large body of writing, I have found mind-mapping software to be very useful. I found NovaMind helpful for brainstorming and organizing my ideas, in addition to offering an alternative to Powerpoint-style presentation aids.  I am also, however, a fan of mapping work out on the bedroom wall.

Author: Alison Hedley
Word Count: 687
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Discussion of "Anatomy of a Workflow: Experimenting with Productivity Tools"

Thoughts on "Anatomy of a Workflow"

Prior to this assignment, I had never articulated my workflow before; the prompt's underlying logic struck me as oddly placed in a literary studies course. Additionally, I was new to many of the tools that I identify in my response. Several hours of tinkering and exploring preceded the assignment's actual writing process, but as a result, my awareness of the tools available for online research, writing, and project management positively exploded. Moreover, the process of articulating my methodology proved extremely helpful—all the more because I was still developing a sense of how browser add-ons and open source applications could aid my productivity. I continue to use all of the tools that I incorporated into my workflow during this exercise.

Author: Alison Hedley
Word Count: 119

Posted on 30 August 2012, 8:39 am by Alison Hedley  |  Permalink

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