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Ebooks as Textbooks Part 6 - Taking Note

The process of taking notes, makes reading that much more of an active process and will aid in comprehension and retention. The addition of your own personal notes are usually easier to understand and remember than textbook material. As a student reads the textbook, he or she may not remember all of that they read when they have finished - this is especially true of very dense texts. But, if a student reads the information and also writes down notes about what he or she is reading at the same time, then that extra step reinforces that information and improves retention. So one of the best ways to retain information you are reading it is to take notes while you are actually reading it, for print books these notes were usually written in the margins of the text and so were called margin notes. 

The taking of margin notes is a strategy that focuses your attention on important information from the textbook, novels, or articles that you are reading. Because it involves tagging key words or phrases to anchor your notes as you read, margin note taking is an active reading strategy where you process information (even more active than just highlighting). When you are done with a chapter or book, your margin notes can be extracted or accessed to provide a summary of the important information you found while reading  - that extracted material can then be used to check your own learning or as a review for texts.

Activity Continuum for Reading
More Passive<---------------- --------------->More Active
Just Reading Active Reading Highlighting (effective) Margin Notes Full Notes

Learning from reading is an active process, you can't just let the words go by and hope to learn something - you might learning something, but it isn't an effective way to learn. Too often students may read through a page or chapter which is fairly dense or hard to understand. Here is where good notes while reading can enhance the learning as students read with more purpose. Taking notes increases the activity level and helps the student focus their attention as they actively engage with the reading material. Also it is not just taking the content as it is, instead better notes will be ones that the student puts into their own words, or adds questions and information to. So it is fine to copy and paste in content from the textbook into your margin notes, but if you do, even better is to rewrite the content into your own words, or add additional content such as examples or your own questions about that content - Reiterating,  condensing, and questioning text are excellent ways to understand and remember content.

Readers can use any number of strategies to integrate with digital margin notes while reading. For example a reader could use SQ3R - where they Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review. At the basic level they could use their margin notes as a form of "think aloud" or "self-talk" technique where the reader questions himself about what he's reading. For example, after reading a portion of the text, you could ask yourself  'what is the main idea of this section?' Then you would write out your thoughts using the notes tool. 

Process of taking margin notes: 
  1. Begin reading your etextbook. Begin to take just quick notes using the note tool (like a margin note) while you are reading the text, and then after you finish a section you can add more content to your notes (or delete ones that were not needed).  As you read the section, in your notes, you might want to include relevant keywords, words with definitions  questions, and other ideas. I suggest that you first copy full sentences from the textbook, then use that sentence as the anchor for your notes (see Figure 1)  and paste that content into your notes and then add your own notations (Reiterating,  condensing, examples, questions/answers, etc.) (see Figure 2). For example if you are reading a novel as part of your class, you might be participating in a literature circle, where you have a role, such as someone to makes notes on the setting. If so then you could copy into your notes any actual statements about the setting and add your related thoughts which would then be shared with your reading group. 
  2. Once you have concluded a section a good strategy would be to extract all your notes. For example if you are using a Kindle device you could copy the text from the MyClippings file and past it into a word processor (see Figure 6). Then either using the word processor or concept mapping software you could make a concept may of your notes to chart or diagram your information. Here too is where you could add the answers to any questions that you wrote as you read. 
  3. Then you can write up a summary of your notes and what you've just read and add that as a margin note with the conclusion section or last words of the chapter. 

Figure 1: Highlighting a section of text from the textbook, next select Copy, then re-highlight and then choose the option to Add Note.

Figure 2: Pasting in the copied text and rewording the textbook into your own words. 

In today's ebook devices and programs these notes are created and stored in an annotation file which links to specific sections of the associated book. Most ebook programs and devices will allow the user to take notes, but some programs and devices are currently better than others for taking notes. While the Nook has the ability to make the necessary annotations, it currently lacks a way to export those highlights or notes, and cannot transfer annotation information from personal documents (ebook files not purchased from Barnes and Noble), so the notes are not synced between devices. Adding textbooks as personal document ebooks with the Kindle was much more effective. The Kindle has an annotation file that can exported, so the annotation file could be shared with multiple readers or the author (see Figure 3). The Kindle device also creates a My Clippings file, which is a text (TXT) file of all annotations on that Kindle. The My Clippings file can be accessed when connected to a computer and then opened with a text reader or word processor for printing or emailing (see Figure 4). The Kindle can also sync the annotations between multiple Kindle applications (Kindle devices, Kindle for Android, and Kindle for iPad/iPhone), but will not sync annotation notes to the free Kindle programs on the Mac, PC, or Kindle Cloud. To enable the Kindle to sync between devices the textbook (or any book) would need to be uploaded to a user's Kindle Library. An additional limitation of using the Kindle to take textbook margin notes is that while all the annotations are synced between devices, the annotations done on a different device will not show up in the current device’s My Clippings file. To have all annotations show up in the My Clippings text file, it would be necessary to go to each annotation on the device, then resave the note. The iBooks application will run on iOS devices, such as the iPad and iPhone, but there currently is no desktop, laptop, or cloud version of iBooks to use with the etextbooks. The iBooks application will not sync annotations between devices, but it is possible to email the notes (see Figure 5 & 6). Some advantages with annotating dissertations with iBooks was the increased size of the screen, the size of the keyboard for entry, and the device’s spell check ability as notes are entered.  

Figure 3: Reading and annotating a text using the Kindle ereader

Figure 4: Kindle My Clipping.txt file of annotations done from a text

Figure 5: Reading and annotating a text using iPad’s iBooks.

Figure 6: Exporting notes from iPad’s iBooks using email.


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