Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Websites as Notebooks

The following comments apply to both my Learning of calculus as well as to other areas of Learning that I am interested in.

I have just finished reading and making a mindmap for the book "Tomorrow's People" (2003) by the neuroscientist Susan Greenfield. In my first read through I made a small ink mark in the margin when I noticed a point that I found particularly striking or important.

On the second reading, I created a mindmap using the software MindGenius. This really helped me identify the important points and see where they fitted in the overall description of her views about the future.

As I have indicated on many posts to this blog, I am keeping my notes as a website (currently located on my hard drive) using the web authoring package Dreamweaver. As with any website, I have the capability to make links to other web pages (both my own as well as to external web resources) and perhaps more importantly, to files created by other software programs. Links to these files will work, and as long as the user has the same software that originally created the file, the file will open in that environment where one has dynamic control of the file.

In the case of this mindmap, this is preferable to seeing a static portion of the map on the screen. I can scroll through the complete map or collapse and expand nodes to suit my current area of interest. The difference is dramatic.

Similarly, when I am Learning calculus, I can use sophisticated software such as Mathematica to explore my ideas and these files can be saved and accessed from within the website that contains my narrative notes. Thus my electronic notes are much more than just a static textual presentation. They permit me to quickly move among various software packages with just a couple of mouse clicks and give me the added power that each package provides.

There is no doubt in my mind that these web-based notes are superior to anything I might try to create using more conventional materials. Each reread of the book, each paragraph that is created as part of note-making, each activity that uses a software package to play with the ideas provides numerous opportunities for review and enhancement. The cumulative effect of all these activities is to modify my neural patterns (a point made repeatedly by Greenfield) which is then manifested by my being able to engage in other activities such as a discussion (perhaps on a blog) that exhibits aspects of this new Learning experience.

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