PowerNotes and Progressive Organization
PowerNotes employs a patent-pending process called Progressive Organization to build organization directly into the fabric of inquiry and research processes. Progressive Organization eliminates many of the problems introduced by digital research and allows users to easily organize and reorganize content to put themselves in the best position to write. Educators have also taken advantage of the Progressive Organization framework to achieve their pedagogical goals.
HOW THE DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT AFFECTS ORGANIZATION
As research has migrated from print to digital, research techniques have changed dramatically.
With print sources, saving content for later use required transcription, which was time consuming and laborious. Organization, however, was relatively straight-forward if the content was transcribed onto notecards. Content could be reorganized by simply re-ordering the notecards.
When sources moved to the digital format, copy-and-paste made saving content almost trivial (but distracting). The ease of copy-and-paste, however, make saving research a haphazard and indiscriminate process. Researchers create an “information dump” of copied-and-pasted material, notes, and citation information in word processing documents. Unfortunately, word processing documents are a poor medium for assessing and reorganizing the large amount of information that was collected.
Faced with the information dump, students frequently skip organizing their findings altogether. Rather than undergo another round of copy-and-pasting material within and between documents, many students, particularly freshmen, choose to just start writing, leading to disorganized stream-of-consciousness writing. Copying-and-pasting also contributes to students using drop-in quotes as corroborating evidence, leading to what is widely known as patch-writing.
PowerNotes was developed to counter the negative aspects of saving information from digital sources and to improve research and writing processes through the use of technology. Progressive Organization achieves these goals by:
- Imposing a flexible organizational structure throughout the research and writing process.
- Facilitating reorganization so that researchers can outline and move between outlines with ease.
- Providing educators with pedagogical insertion points to aid teaching and learning.
THE BENEFITS OF ORGANIZING UP-FRONT
Progressive Organization starts from the outset. Students who use PowerNotes are prompted to categorize everything they want to save as soon as they want to save it. This process is the launch point for all of the organizational features that will follow. This unique framework provides a number of benefits:
- Active reading - Traditionally, students who are beginning their inquiry or research tend to save any information that might be relevant without much thought as to how or why it might be relevant. PowerNotes prompts users to categorize and annotate everything they want to save, asking them to take the additional mental step of connecting what they just highlighted to their research goal without taking them away from the source.
- Adaptability - PowerNotes provides a flexible organizational framework that grows with the students knowledge of their research area. PowerNotes starts students off with generic categories, when they likely know little about what may be important. Students can then add and manipulate categories on-the-fly as they read and learn more about their research topic. The PowerNotes organizational structure grows in sophistication organically along with the student’s understanding of their research area.
- Organized research - Instead of creating an “information dump,” PowerNotes allows students to generate a research outline while they investigate their research topic. This allows students to organize their research one piece at a time without being overwhelmed. This outline feeds directly into the PowerNotes Project Outline interface, which was designed to facilitate reorganization and other pedagogical goals.
TURNING ORGANIZED RESEARCH INTO EFFECTIVE WRITING
Progressive Organization also includes a technique called an “Outline Transformation,” where one type of outline can be converted into another at various stages of the research and writing process. For instance, the PowerNotes Project Outline page can be used to transform a research or inquiry outline (typically an aggregation of the current state of research in a particular field) into a thesis-supporting or writing outline (something that can more easily be used to start a first draft).
PowerNotes also provides a freeform note feature that allows students to insert topic sentences, transitions, and non-digital sources into their digital source outline getting them closer to writing that first draft. These free form notes can be reorganized like any other digital content in the Project Outline and can participate in Outline Transformations. We developed these techniques and features with educators to help students learn to use and integrate sources and make the most difficult transition in the overall process–going from research to the first draft. For details on the Outline Transformation process, please see this blog post.
Note that outlines can be transformed any number of times before reaching a form where the researcher can start writing based on the instructor’s pedagogy. Our philosophy is to create a flexible and customizable product that can fit the needs of different pedagogical approaches.
FACILITATING RHETORICAL ANALYSIS AND SKILL-BUILDING
Progressive Organization is flexible and can be used in a number of teaching scenarios outside of standard research and writing workflow. Writing faculty have used PowerNotes to achieve a number of pedagogical goals. Educators can create lessons that teach students:
- Critical reading: how to set up PowerNotes projects to analyze academic articles using any number of rhetorical reading strategies like Joseph Bizup’s BEAM or Gordon Harvey’s elements.
- Analysis and synthesis: using the spreadsheet download in the Project Outline (built for the University of Pennsylvania’s Critical Writing Program) to facilitate the analysis and synthesis of sources in a literature review assignment.
- Paraphrase and summary: with a directed use of the annotation field in PowerNotes to indicate when content is paraphrased or summarized so that the instructor can provide feedback on that skill.
The incorporation of these and other rhetorical structures into PowerNotes has been driven by our partnerships with educational institutions and we are actively seeking additional partnerships. For more on what PowerNotes can do for your institution, please contact us.