Thursday, May 7, 2009

About the Annotations

During a sabbatical leave in 1996, Kathy Lofflin decided to make it her goal to read for one hour per day in professional journals, to write an annotation for each article she read, and to organize that collection in some way. The project came from a realization that she was receiving (and paying for) 12 different journals, that she read in them only sporadically, that she rarely remembered much of what she had read, and that when she did remember something she wanted to use, she often couldn’t re-access it.

She religiously scheduled her hour of reading daily (even putting it in her date book as an appointment and honoring it as such). It often meant awakening early or reading over lunch, even at times turning away colleagues who approached her in restaurants asking if they could join her. It became sacred time. Each evening before bed she would select an article from the pile of current journals on her desk, to be read the next day, and schedule the reading hour. When the hour ended, she would stop and go on to whatever else needed to be done. Without that limit, it would be easy to rationalize that too much time was being used. If an article took two or more days to read, so be it.

When an article was read, she would write a complete bibliographic entry on a 5 x 8 notecard, then an annotation. She established rules: She had to fill the card front and back, but could not use two cards (they are expanded some for the blog). She originally used a system inspired by Anthony Manzo’s REAP (Read, Encode, Annotate, and Ponder) model, which she learned as one of Manzo’s students during her graduate school years. As time went on, however, the annotations grew more free-form, though Manzo’s original categories still come into play in a pinch.

As the notecards accumulated, they needed to be organized. Kathy began assigning descriptor categories and labeling each card. She now has well over 1,000 annotations under about 150 categories, and the list grows. Over time, it became apparent that the collection could not remain “low-tech” forever. It served Kathy’s own purposes perfectly well low-tech, but as others learned what she was doing, they suggested she find ways to share it with others. Kathy is now trying to move this resource into an electronic database that could possibly go online. She envisions it as “ERIC but with commentary.”

Kathy has found this resource invaluable and has used it for:

• Course preparation and teaching (organization by topic really helps)
• Study group material preparation
• Preparing grant proposals
• Blogs (though annotations are expanded for that)
• Development of a conceptual framework for her university’s education school
• Assisting students and colleagues with research projects
• Discovering new research interests
• Just staying informed on educational issues and trends

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