I finished a class I started a few weeks (months?) ago on Coursera. Now that I have had a little time to think over how it went, I wanted to share my thoughts on how I used OneNote to complete this online class.

First, the class I completed (Model Thinking) was pretty well organized and offered a Powerpoint or PDF file for each lecture and an audio transcript in English for each lecture. I think there were MP4 files available for offline video viewing but I did not download any of them. Not all courses offer them either.

So my first attempt at note taking for this type of class was to download the slide deck and transcript and add them to a OneNote page. As I watched the video, if something stood out, I would add some notes (with ink) to the page. This worked fairly well for the first week or so.

After a bit, I realized that since I was watching the lecture on screen, and since most of my notes were just copying what the instructor had printed, I just started to take screenshots of the images. I wrote about this a few weeks ago. This also worked well, but I realized that I was not getting the "memorization effect" that comes along with the act of writing down those ideas myself. There is probably some pedagogical term for this that eludes me, but the point is that I was not learning the material as well than when I had written it down manually.

So I switched tracks again and started to print the slide deck to OneNote and take notes along with the slides. This course was pretty easy (to me, at least) so I did not have all that many notes and seemed like I was wasting a lot of screen real estate just to have the slides. But it made following along in class very easy and having the notes with each slide was a very logical ordering system.

I tried one instance of just pasting the slides to OneNote and dropping the audio transcript alongside it and then paying no more attention to note taking while watching the lecture. My thought here was that I had a complete transcript of the talk so why bother to take notes? If needed, I could just search for key terms later and they would be found. This worked surprisingly well, as it turns out. If I needed to brush up on Lyupanov models later, I had a key term that was easy to find, and the exact same explanation from the lecture was available in my notes with no loss at all. The only downside to this is that the transcript was a flat text file - no formatting such as paragraphs or other spacing was available. That made it a little hard to read.

Overall I tried 4 different note taking techniques for this online class. At least two of them were unique to the online format (the "screen shot" and "use the audio transcript") methods and would clearly not work for a traditional lecture approach. As it turned out, no one method was clearly superior to any other - they each had good and bad points.

The lesson I learned here is not too shocking. There are several different ways I can use OneNote to take notes and there is no "right" way to do it. If I had a completely different learning style, I could even try other methods (embedding the video, watch it in OneNote and take synchronized notes to the video comes to mind). Different people learn differently and I was able to use 4 different styles of note taking.

The tester in me was happy to see that there were no OneNote problems, workflow stoppages or other issues to block me from taking notes. We work hard to make these scenarios easy to complete and I was able to do so. And lastly, compared to my old college notes in spiral notebooks that are scattered about, I have all my notes up on Skydrive and will have searchable access to them until I decide to archive or otherwise delete them.

Questions, comments, concerns and criticisms always welcome,
John