5 Things

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A short little post: Five things that make my day easier, make it more enjoyable, and/or are just great.

Evernote

I’ve downloaded Evernote on my Mac, my Android phone, and my husband’s iPad and iPhone – all synced to my account, of course – and man does it make a lot of my tasks both for school but also around home a lot easier. I can add items to my grocery list from pretty much anywhere I am (and so can my husband) and have a method for taking notes on my essentially at all times. I use it mostly for simply things like lists and brainstorming ideas, but it can also be multimodal with the ability to record voice or insert images and graphics. I’m loving Evernote!

Yoga

Working on your PhD can be stressful at (the best of) times, and much of my first year was spent being too strung out about a lot of things. This year my goal has been to keep the work in perspective and remind myself that being an academic is only one component of my identity. Doing yoga has been a great way to have some personal time while also staying fit. While practicing yoga, I don’t think about anything academic – I clear my mind and enjoy the fact that I have an able body and space to practice it, more than what some folks in the world do. I’m appreciative of that – yoga has brought me more peace this year.

Bolthouse Farms Juice

Of course, life can’t always be peaceful, so when I’m crunched for time and need to eat something really quickly, I turn to this company’s line of juices. Sometimes that’s all I have for breakfast all week. But they are nutritious, delicious, and fresh — all things we all need more of in our diet. My fave varieties are the Mango and Green Goodness, although they’re pretty much all delish.

Mendeley

I’ve talked before about how much I love Mendeley, but I’ll say it again – it’s a great tool for taking notes on PDFs if you don’t have Adobe Pro (which I do, but I still use Mendeley). And if you’re an academic, then it’s also a great tool for managing your citations – something I’m sure we all could use some help with. Spend thirty seconds each time you upload a new file, and I’m sure you’ll save hours of time down the road when importing into a bibliography (or working on your diss!).

And last but not least . . .

My puppy 

There’s nothing like a little puppy love to make your day complete. Chesney is also a really good listener and target audience for practicing explaining a complex rhetorical concept to test how well I know the topic. On top of that, when he snuggles up beside me, he encourages me to stay in place and keep reading (and not go off elsewhere in the house and get distracted) – so he’s a work motivator, too!

I got the idea of doing a “Five things” post from several other bloggers out there and thought it might be a good kind of post to try every once and a while not only to share new finds (apps, software, goods, etc.), but also to think about the things that are important to me and remind myself of what makes me happy. What about you? What five things are you thankful for this week?

Another reason I love Mendeley: Grading student projects!

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Ya’ll, I’m totally on the Mendeley bandwagon. In an earlier post, I talked about how great it is for organizing my course readings and for taking notes on the readings to have them all in one place. But I’ve branched out to experiment with another potential use for Mendeley – grading student projects. So far, I think it works pretty well.

For the second unit of ENG 101, we explore the differences between academic writing (through looking at journal articles) and public writing (by analyzing magazine articles). Their unit project is to adapt a journal article for a popular audience by creating a magazine spread that reports on the information and targets their audience effectively. I let the students get creative and go all out with the layout and design, whether with just MS Word or with Adobe Creative Suite. Because of this, I ask them to submit their projects in PDF format instead of as a Word document or RTF (which is how they normally submit projects; I grade everything electronically in Word using “Insert Comment” and “Track Changes”). Before using Mendeley, though, I had no way to grade ON a PDF; instead, I would create a Word document and just record my comments in there. As you can imagine, that’s not the most efficient way to do so. (I know, I should just buy Adobe Pro, and then I’d be set, but – I’m holding out until I get my new computer.)

So, since I’ve discovered Mendeley, I’ve been thinking that it would be a possible solution to my grading PDF conundrum. And it is! I just download a folder with all of my students’ projects in them. I start grading by highlighting where there are spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors, just like I used to in Word. Then, I’m able to insert comments directly at the point where I’m commenting on. When I’m done, I export the PDF and am able to email the file with annotations back to the students. Genius!

I’ve really only one complaint about the process: when I export the PDF, I lose the little comment graphic that shows students where I’ve commented in their file. I don’t know if that’s only because of my computer at this point, or if that’s how it works for everyone. So, I’ve come up with a solution by highlighting just the final word of a sentence where I’m commenting and then inserting the comment over top of the little highlighted part. In my emails to students, I tell them to hover their cursor over the small highlights, and they will see my comments for that part. (Dear Mendeley: Is it just because my computer is older? Or if the graphics do not export, can you try to make that happen for future versions? Thank you!!).

Overall, though, if you like working with free software and grade PDFs, this is totally a great idea. Even better if your students use Mendeley, as I’m sure the graphics would show up if they imported the graded file into their own Mendeley desktop. If I ever move to a no-textbook and only online readings course, I might just make them all download the software…

**Edited to add: Also, once I’ve exported all of the PDFs to save them on my computer in my teaching files and emailed them back to students, I plan to delete them from my Mendeley desktop & web account so that those files don’t contribute to my free space limit.  **

Using Mendeley to Manage Readings and Citations

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It seems that half of the battle in a PhD program is not doing the work, but knowing how to accomplish it. Sure, I can read through five journal article PDFs for a class, but what’s the best way of going about reading/annotating/synthesizing and coming up with discussion points for class? I found myself asking this question early on in the semester and was quickly pointed to Mendeley by a couple of my fellow CRDMers. And how quickly I’ve come to appreciate this cool platform for how well it manages my readings! I thought I would share how I use Mendeley, because if there are other graduate students out there like me, sometimes you just don’t know these programs are out there to use, and they sure make your life a lot easier once you find them. I know that I’m also not using Mendeley to its fullest advantage, so if there’s another neat function that I don’t mention, please point me to it.

I use Mendeley to read journal article PDFs, to annotate readings for class, and to organize all of the files and notes that I accumulate throughout the semester. I’ve downloaded the desktop software application, which serves as a database for all of the files. When I have a new reading for a week, I save the PDF on my computer and then upload it into Mendeley. When I open the file in Mendeley, I can highlight lines in the reading, insert notes in the margins that look like Post-It notes, and search the text for key terms. My favorite features is probably the Post-Its: the graphic for it is really cool, and they appear both in the side bar with my notes and in a little bubble in the PDF to show me where I’ve inserted them.

Sample file in Mendeley desktop with Post-It notes

I can also use Mendeley to manage my research sources as I continue to work on my seminar projects. It will generate a bibliography for me from the bibliographic information of the PDFs, saving me much time down the road. (Although, I must admit, that I like doing my bib by manually entering the citations, as inefficient as that is!)

Something I wish I could change about Mendeley is the default opening screen: it opens to an  “All Documents” folder, which lists all of my PDFs. To me, seeing all these files is overwhelming; I’d like to archive them in files like you can with your Inbox so that only my current readings are displayed. You can currently label PDFs so that they appear in a certain folder, but they continue to appear in “All Documents.” Anyone know if this is possible to change? Or am I stuck with it like this?

The Mendeley website also has capabilities for sharing sources with others who are researching similar topics or who want to swap readings. I also found out via a Twitter user that I can use the website to upload PDFs of my students’ essays that I’ve graded by inserting Post-It comments and share them with their respective authors – something I’m definitely open to trying. Ideally, I’d be able to export the file from the Mendeley desktop and email it back to them, but I’ve been told that is not yet possible. (Note to the Mendeley people: can you make this happen? Signed, an Appreciative Instructor.) There’s also a social component to the Mendeley site where you can search other Mendeley users to see what other people are reading and researching. Overall, this is a must-have tool for graduate students and academics.

So – what am I missing? How else can I use this software to expedite my research process? Tell me more!