Oct 31 2006

Web Exclusive II

DePauw University students and staff are reaping the benefits of note-taking software everywhere from classrooms to construction sites.

DePauw University students and staff are reaping the benefits of note-taking software everywhere from classrooms to construction sites.

Peter Wiltjer

DePauw University students are accustomed to the sights and sounds of construction vehicles and workers hustling about their 655-acre campus.

Located in Greencastle, Ind., about 45 miles west of Indianapolis, DePauw recently wrapped up another academic year with several multimillion-dollar building projects completed or under way.

Dennis Trinkle, associate vice president for academic affairs and CIO, describes it as “‘the year of the crane' at DePauw.” The university has plans to expand, renovate or add onto the campus's 36 main buildings with these large-scale projects.

As with all major construction projects, changes during the building process are common. To better deal with these on-the-job issues, staff members have been discovering new ways of using note-taking software on tablet PCs.

Trinkle, who uses Microsoft Office's OneNote on his PC, has found the ability to sketch diagrams directly into his notes particularly helpful. “Sometimes you need to draw a picture to illustrate something to people, and I can do that on my tablet and immediately share it with others in a meeting by e-mailing it to them [via a wireless Internet connection],” he says.

OneNote also enables Trinkle to view and instantly modify architectural blueprints on his tablet. “With all of the construction projects around campus that I'm involved with,” he says, “I can say honestly that it has been very convenient for me to have architectural blueprints in meetings.

“For instance, while reviewing an initial design of our new performing arts center, we were able to look at the blueprints on my Tablet PC, make decisions on the fly about changes and share them immediately with the builder,” he continues.

Trinkle says that even if the people he works with do not have OneNote, the program's ability to be saved as a Microsoft Word document allows him to easily share his notes. In general, all note-taking platforms allow for data to be shared via e-mail, though functionality with clients like Microsoft Outlook varies from platform to platform.

Plenty of Options

There are numerous note-taking options available for those seeking an alternative to a word processing program. One of Trinkle's colleagues who is also involved in the construction projects uses Windows Journal – Microsoft's basic note-taking accessory that was created specifically for the Tablet PC – and endorses its capability to write notes over documents he's imported into his Tablet PC.

“I was exposed to a Tablet PC for the first time at a conference [last] fall,” says Wayne Lucas, DePauw‘s service coordinator of library and information services. Lucas describes his role as a catchall for any IT projects or issues that arise around campus.

“It doesn't matter whether the people I work with use Windows Journal or not,” says Lucas. “I am able to import blueprints into PowerPoint, then pull the presentation slide into my notebook and mark on the blueprints. I can then print out my edits and share them with others, or e-mail them.”

“I do the same when we need to make changes in our server room,” he continues. “It is much easier to make a drawing and use that to accompany my verbal directions. It helps remove any confusion, and the work gets done much faster.”

Lucas is also responsible for handling help desk requests on campus. These requests are channeled to an automated system that generates checklists designed to help the school's IT team manage the requests.

Lucas imports the help desk checklists into Windows Journal, highlights specific areas that need to be addressed in a complaint, and then, when he gathers his team to review requests, he connects his notebook to a projector and quickly shows everyone on the team what parts of the checklist need immediate attention.

DePauw is also in the process of adding Internet Protocol (IP)-enabled security cameras to parking lots and walkways throughout campus. Lucas has used his Tablet PC to store video clips that demonstrate camera perspectives when placed throughout the campus, both from an aerial view and from a camera's view. This allows his team to quickly decide the best locations for placing the cameras.

“I can't properly explain how useful this software is,” Lucas says. “I used to just use a pad of paper to take notes. This translates my written notes into text, keeps me organized and makes me a better manager. I couldn't imagine working without it anymore.”

Students Going Paperless

Colleges across the country have been encouraging students to use these programs to help them become better organized and to go paperless.

Ben Frederick, who graduated from DePauw University in May 2005 with a bachelor's degree in computer science, began using note-taking software as a freshman – first on a pocket PC with a pluggable keyboard, and then with a Tablet PC utilizing OneNote.

“The advantages I was afforded by OneNote were many. For one, I was always able to read my notes, whether I scribbled via the touch screen and had them translated to script, or whether I simply typed them out. I was able to quickly capture images from the Web related to what professors were talking about. I also had the ability, which I now feel I underutilized, to simply make and insert recordings of lectures into OneNote,” says Frederick.

“All my notes were arranged on a day-to-day basis and cross-linked between other days of class and Web resources,” he continues. “Citing sources, especially Web sources, was exceptionally easy when writing papers, as all it required was copying and pasting from the Web site.”

Frederick continues to use his Tablet PC and OneNote as a personal journal system today. ”I'm no longer doing anything as complex with it as I did in school, but it's still a greatly beneficial system to me. And it keeps me from making journal posts to the Web. Those come back to bite darn too many people.”

Peter Wiltjer is an Aurora, Ill.-based freelance writer.

10 Tips for Using Note-Taking Systems

Note-taking systems are designed to help users gather, organize and use notes more efficiently. There are a number of programs available, each with its own specific functionality. Most thrive in a pen-based environment, and most, though not all, can also be used effectively in a desktop environment.

Here are 10 general tips for maximizing most note-taking systems:

1. Turn your notes into meeting minutes or presentations. Most note-taking programs allow you to convert notes into a word processing format or a presentation format like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. You can also save and print your inked-up documents with a PDF printer before sending them. Or, if you're sharing Windows Journal notes, you can advise the recipient to download Windows Journal Viewer from the Microsoft Web site.

2. Take notes over PowerPoint slides and scanned printouts. Most note-taking systems enable images to be imported, and when they are, you can write or type notes on top of the images or slides.

3. Sort and categorize your notes by date. Note-taking systems automatically date stamp your work, making it easier to quickly locate notes and research.

4. Share your research and class notes easily. Most systems allow notes to be exported via e-mail, which allows recipients to read your notes without having to install your note-taking system or a note-taking viewer.

5. Conduct online research. You can drag images, graphs, text and links from your favorite Web sites right into your note-taking system.

6. Record your meetings and lectures. OneNote includes the ability to record audio or video, but this capability is not built into most other note-taking systems. For those using systems without this capability, there is a free flash card program known as TabletFlash, which also enables audio recording.

7. Use note flags to track items that need extra attention. Note flags are available in most systems and act as “virtual sticky notes,” allowing you to quickly identify sections you may want to revisit later.

8. Back up your files. OneNote and other note-taking systems automatically save your work to the hard drive, but you can publish your notes to a Web site or save them to a network drive as well. This can be useful if you are recording audio from lectures or faculty meetings, which can quickly eat up large chunks of memory.

9. Pool resources through collaboration. Some programs allow you to conduct shared note-taking sessions for group projects, helping all participants to stay current on a team's work.

10. Password-protect your work. Some note-taking systems allow you to lock and unlock sections of your notes via a password-protection system to prevent others from accessing your work. You can even protect specific sections of your notes that are shared with others.