Friday, May 7, 2010

Taking Notes in Meetings (and a little fluff)

Sara, from Curriculum of Love, had an interesting conundrum to explore in her comment under my recent post on mobile devices.

She was posting about her ipod touch with which she has tried taking notes in meetings.  She is concerned that she is getting critical stares when she uses it.

I'm definitely in the category of people who appreciate technology. I was among the first of DRE colleagues to carry a laptop with me to professional meetings. At that time, it was me and my then-DRE sister, sitting at the back of professional meetings taking notes.  I loved taking my notes that way because I could go back home and copy and paste relevant quotes, etc. into anything I was writing (emails, newsletter articles, curricula, sermons, you name it).   I never had to transcribe anything, and all my notes were in the computer and not floating around on paper in various notebooks.  Still, I was usually among only one or two other folks with a computer out, and most folks with their computers out were getting ready to make presentations.

A lot has changed just over the last five or six years.  These days when I go to professional meetings but don't have my laptop, I feel the odd man out.   

However, laptops are a physical barrier between people, and tend to diminish a sense of presence. For a long time, I wanted to use my laptop at many meetings in the congregational setting in order to take notes (which is one of the reasons I decided to move from primarily using a PC to primarily using a laptop), but I rarely actually got it out because it seemed to detract.  The smaller the meeting, the more shy I was at taking it out.

Then I discovered the amazing thing that is the laptop-tablet convertible (the one pictured is not mine...I have a Gateway, and obviously not an educational model).  It comes with a tablet pen and the standard tablet software that converts handwriting to typed text. Cue the choir of angels!  It is a wonderful thing!

I have been using my laptop-tablet convertible for several years now, and I love it! I can type on it like a normal laptop in a setting where it is appropriate, and when I want to give a more clear message of presence, I flip it down into what is basically a notepad and take my notes with the tablet pen. No one finds it distracting (except to the extent that they fall in love with it), and no older folks-- or anyone else for that matter-- give me the stink eye for using it. hard drive has continually crashed with my particular convertible, and the tablet no longer reconizes the pen, which defeats the whole purpose of the tablet.  After taking it into the repair shop for the billionth time recently, I realized that I might be out of options.  I just haven't had the funding for something new.

When the ipad came out, I started to lust.  But then the second-thoughts began to creep in:

1.  I'd still have to "tap" for notes (no pen).  I think what makes my tablet so inconspicuous is that to a large extent, I look like everyone else in the room: a pen in hand and a pad (even if an electronic rather than paper one) in front of me.  Furthermore, the sound of taps, even those sometimes on phones depending on the keys, is distracting.  I'd like to stick with something that has a pen.

2.  There is also the fact that the ipad can't be used in the sun (both because it is not sun/glare proof for ease of viewing and because, apparently, it overheats).  I sometimes meet with folks in outdoor venues, and I was looking forward to buying a new device that is friendly with the fact, before the ipad buzz started, I had specifically been hunting for a convertibles with this feature.

3.  The ipad doesn't offer the full benefits of a laptop, including multi-tasking, which might be fine (as long as I can still read Word docs and stuff that people send me).  To some extent, I'd happily trade the full laptop experience for the benefit of an e-reader.  I've been lusting after those for a while, and with school on my horizon (even though my purchase would be mostly for work), it seems like something that could prove useful.  On the other hand, given the combination of this issue with #1 and #2, the idea of the ipad is leaving me cold.

4.  Then there are the highly mixed reviews for the ipad.  And just to add some straw to the camel's back, though a total fluff item, there is that nagging issue of the lack of a built in camera.  I don't need a built in camera, but since the device is basically designed to be a near combo-everything, I hope they will add it to the next generation just for fun.

The good news is that since I don't have funding right now, I have time to figure this out.  I may see how the next ipad comes out, or I may go ahead and get another convertibles in anycase (though the good ones cost a small fortune and who knows how I'll pull it off!).  Just to torture myself a bit, I'd been looking at a crazy expensive Toughbook convertible that addresses a longstanding problem with my tablet around broken hinges, and adds the increased benefit of a little more "tough," among other things.  But the Toughbook has a pretty negative reputation for its laptops, which makes me a little less hyped up about it.

All this to say, I am taking recommendations for options for notes in meetings.  Because I believe in electronic note taking options.  With all the technical advances available to us, I think handwriting notes onto paper ought to become a thing of the past for those of us who want it to be.

Which brings us full circle because Sara wants to be able to take notes on a device, but she is encountering looks that are making her feel like she needs to put her device away.  Suggestions, readers?

What I would say about small devices, is that anything that gets closer to the size of a phone has the potential of saying "I am going to text while we talk."  It might help just to let folks know at the start of the meeting, "I would like to take notes while we talk. Would it be a problem if I get out my iPod touch for note taking?"  That way everyone is clear that you are taking notes and not goofing off, and who knows, you may even get feedback that will let you know whether you were interpreting those looks correctly by thinking they were critical (I remember those potentially-critical looks with my first laptops, which is part of what pushed me into the world of tablets).

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