#CLUS 2018 Note-taking Plan: Everlast Rocketbook and Livescribe 3

 In 200-301 V1 CCC No Category on Purpose, News, Study Tips

For more in-depth #CLUS content like breakout sessions, how do you take notes? If you do not take notes, how would you? What notes would you take if you wanted to understand, review when you get to the office, and later add to your notes and refine your knowledge? What methods would you use, and what tools?

I dug in to answer those kinds of questions for myself twice in recent years: first back around 2011, and again this year. I thought about these question in two contexts: When taking notes at my desk, and when taking notes at conferences like CLUS. With CLUS 2018 around the corner, it seems like time to report on my findings. Although I have not finished my research this year, I will do some experiments with two note-taking tools at this year’s CLUS show!

Today’s post: How I plan to take notes at CLUS 2018 in breakout sessions, and why, with a promise to report about progress later this year.

My Starting Point: Enable Deeper Learning

Each of us may have different goals when taking notes, so let me start with my primary goal: deeper learning. That’s not deep learning as in machine learning, but instead mastering the topic And although I’m sure I do not master every topic for which I take notes, I want to take notes so I am ready to learn to that depth as the opportunity arises.

In my 2011 research of note-taking techniques and tools, I landed on using mind maps, entered directly into an app on a tablet, for taking notes at conference sessions. I liked that option. Mind maps, at the rate I could tap in the elbow room allowed at a conference, let me take sparse notes. I could capture big ideas and terms. However, it did not lend itself as well to getting into depth later. It provided a roadmap, but less detail than I wanted.

While I’ve been happily using mind mapping at conferences since 2012 or so, over those same years, I became a big fan of taking Cornell notes when sitting at my desk. Cornell notes solve many note-taking issues, including providing the depth missing compared to mind maps. Over the years, I’ve filled around 20 100-page notebooks with Cornell notes, so I guess you could say I’m a fan.

Well-formed Cornell notes allow the studier a better experience when reviewing and referencing the notes later, as shown in the second and third study stages shown in the figure below.

For example, one Cornell note convention tells you to put terms and action items in a separate column of the page (about 1/3 the width of each page). You might even use one color for terms, and another for action items. When reviewing, you can easily find terms and review those, and use the terms as an index to find notes about each topic. You can also use the action items to drive any follow-up research.

To net it out: in 2018, my research begins and end with these goals:

  • For Cornell notes at my desk: How can I improve?
  • For conferences like CLUS: Can I find a way to make Cornell notes work well in the context of a show?


Two Solutions, Two Rejections

First, I rejected two possible solutions without much introspection. Feel free to tell me if you would pick either of these!

First, I rejected the idea of taking notes by writing on a tablet using a pen or stylus. In my experience, a stylus might work well for navigation, but writing required learning how to write without resting my hand on the screen. When resting my hand on the tablet, the screen would pick up both the stylus touches plus your palm touches as an attempt to write. Frankly, I have not given the “writing with a pen into a tablet note-taking app” option a hard look this year.

The second rejected option: Using any paper and pens to take Cornell notes, and then scanning or taking photos of each page. I have been writing Cornell notes for many years, so why not create those at CLUS? Well, most of the times I have used Cornell notes in the office have been for longer learning events, like an entire study of a topic, research for a book, or taking a week-long class. I know from experience that I seldom take the extra time to remove the pages and scan them, or take photos and manually move them into an organized location.

At that point, I began asking myself: can you make that conversion to electronic form easier, with less effort and time? So that you actually do it? Researching that question led to the two solutions I will try at CLUS 2018:

Everlast Rocketbook

Livescribe 3 Smartpen


Common Features of the Two Chosen Solutions

These two tools have many differences but let me begin with the similar features and problems they solved for me. Both these tools convert the physical notes, in ink on pages of a notebook, into an electronic equivalent. They both make it easy to organize the notes in Evernote or OneNote. The process runs like this for both:

  • Take notes on a physical notebook.
  • Use a phone app to create electronic notes in the phone app that mimic the physical notebook.
  • Push the electronic notes to locations reachable by your other devices: email, cloud storage, note-taking apps (Evernote, OneNote).
  • Both push to Evernote (my preference) and OneNote, which to me is the logical place for notes about something you learn.
  • Both let you organize each page into a separate destination so that you can reorganize content (an excellent feature for conferences).

On that last point about organization, to emphasize the point:

  • You can keep all pages in the physical notebook together once moved to an electronic notebook in the note-taking app.
  • Alternately, you can put each page from the physical notebook in a separate electronic notebook in the note-taking app.
  • You can combine pages into one electronic notebook at your preference.
  • For example, if you took notes from 10 CLUS breakout sessions in one physical notebook, you could create electronic versions, organized with the pages for each breakout session in a different notebook, so that you had 10 electronic notebooks, one per breakout. In other words, tools allow for the natural organization as if the content was still in paper form.

Now on to the differences, which lets me tell you why I’m still experimenting before choose one or the other.


Everlast Rocketbook as the Tool for Cornell Notes

The Rocketbook took the lead in the early months of my research this year. I gave it a extensive test at my desk, taking about 100 pages of Cornell notes in Rocketbook. It works great. You can check out their website for the product details, but here are some highlights:

  • A “rocketbook” is a unique type of physical notebook, with plastic pages.
  • You use erasable ink pens (easily found, reasonably priced).
  • Yes, after finishing writing all notes on a page, you can erase it (using a damp cloth).
  • The process: Write in the Rocketbook. When finished with a page, before erasing the page, use the Rocketbook app to create an image of the page. The app uses your phone’s camera. Then erase the page.

The Rocketbook reduces the effort required to create electronic copies of your notes. In fact, using the Rocketbook almost forces you to do the conversion! When you begin to fill a notebook, and you need to erase a page, it’s time to create that electronic copy!

The conversion to electronic form has many good points, but some negatives. First, it’s 10X better than just taking photos or scans of a paper notebook. I won’t take the space here to describe the details, but the folks at Everlast have found some great ways to streamline the scan and import process. The downside: you do have to take manual action (hover to take a pic) over each page to make the image. (Check the video at their web page for a demo.)

For instance, with a full Rocketbook (30 odd pages), now that I have done it a few times, I could convert all pages to electronic form and erase all pages in about 10 minutes. Here’s a sample of an image with Cornell notes that I took with Rocketbook.

What I Anticipate about Rocketbook for CLUS

I love the Cornell method, and I love taking Cornell notes in color, which I can do with the Rocketbook. (Livescribe supports one color only.) Honestly, when taking notes at my desk, at this point, I still lean towards Rocketbook over Livescribe because of the color.

For CLUS, I plan to:

Use Two colors, not Six: Take Cornell notes in breakout sessions, but back off to two pen colors at most. I can’t imagine fumbling with the six pens while sitting in the constrained space when there is no table to use.

Use smaller Rocketbook notebook: I’ll use the A5/Executive notebook (5×8 inches or so). They are spiral as well, so a smaller size that sits flat should work well on one leg sitting with no table. The notebook flexes enough so that you need something solid beneath it (like a desk). (Ironically, I have considered bringing my iPad Mini to put under the Rocketbook as a writing surface!)

10 Minutes to Copy/Erase Each Evening: I expect to fill a notebook that size and need to erase, so I figure once or twice that week I’ll need to spend the 10 minutes to make electronic versions of the notes and erase the pages. Easy, but it needs doing.


Livescribe 3 Smartpen as the Tool for Cornell Notes

Everlast Rocketbook: cool. Livescribe 3: even cooler.

You should check out the Livescribe website to get a real sense of what it does, but here are the highlights that matter to the theme of this post:

The Livescribe 3 pen: An electronic pen, with Bluetooth, USB charging for the battery, flash memory, and a camera aligned with the ballpoint pen cartridge.

The Pen’s Action: The camera records what you write and stores it in flash memory on the pen.

A Livescribe 3 (paper) notebook with “dot paper”: Each page in each notebook has a unique dot paper of tiny dots. The pen’s camera can see the grid, find the unique pattern, and identify where the pen is writing: which notebook, which page, which exact location on the page. (Did I say “magic” yet?)

The Livescribe 3 phone app: A phone app that talks to the pen with Bluetooth, accepting images of what you wrote and drew on the paper to create an electronic copy inside the app – without your having to take any action other than turning on the app.

As an example of the coolness, you can see what you write appear in the app in near real-time. Open a notebook to some page. Then navigate in the app to the electronic version of that same page. They should look the same. Then draw a smiley face, and watch the face appear (including movement) in the app.

The one downside for me: It’s one color only (black). I even bought red and blue ink cartridges in case I could change the physical cartridge to get more colors. Nope! Put in a red ink cartridge, and on the physical page the ink is red, but in the electronic image the writing is still black.


What I Anticipate about Livescribe 3 for CLUS

For me, with years of experience with color Cornell notes, I need re-training to take Cornell notes in black only. I’ve practiced some over this past month using Livescribe 3. Here’s a copy of my conventions sheet (first page of any new notebook: list your conventions) for some recent Livescribe Cornell notes, with the items on the left, the black-only conventions in the center column, and my usual color coding on the right:

By the way, the Livescribe 3 pen creates beautiful images, better than what I take with Rocketbook. I expected Livescribe’s image quality to be a little fuzzy, given what it does, but it’s excellent.

With Livescribe at CLUS, for two of the days at the show, I plan to:

Use the One-Color Cornell Notes Conventions: I see no issues with taking Cornell notes with one color. The real problem becomes whether the single color gets in the way of later review and revision. (Cornell color coding does help the review process.) I’ll let you know how that went in a few months.

Use a Smaller Livescribe Notebook: I’ll use the A5/Executive notebook for this experiment to match the Rocketbook notebook.

No Need to Take Action at the End of the Day to Make Electronic Versions: To emphasize the point, with Rocketbook, I will need to spend about 10 minutes at night to create the electronic copies. No need with Livescribe.

On that last point, while both are cool, and Livescribe is especially cool, the cool factor did not push me to prefer Livescribe. However, the Livescribe app’s features make me want to use Livescribe long-term versus Rocketbook, and for one specific reason: the auto-update feature. Check out this sequence using the Livescribe “auto” feature:

  1. Write in a Livescribe notebook (which has Dot Paper, as noted earlier).
  2. The pen uses Bluetooth to send the images to the Livescribe phone app, so you see a replica of each page in the app.
  3. The app shows the list of notebooks. You can configure each notebook for either manual upload (default) or automatic upload.
  4. If set to automatic upload, the app automatically uploads images to your configured note-taking app (Evernote, OneNote).
  5. More importantly, with auto, if you later come back and write more on a page, the app will again automatically upload the new image – replacing the old.

In effect, the auto mode lets you do 100% of your writing and drawing with a real pen, in a real paper notebook, while automatically placing an exact electronic replica into your phone app and in your note-taking app. I expect that the auto feature will increase the chances of reviewing old notes and referring to old notes anytime, anywhere.



What Next?

I’m going to CLUS in June!

I will take notes, and just as important, sometime after I return, I will review the notes, and see how that worked with each tool.

After I’ve gotten more experience with these tools in the review and revise phases, I’ll take one more stab at a post or two about my 2018 note-taking research.

Leave any comments you care to make, and I’ll talk to you about notes again in a few months!



Why I Used Mindmapping at CLUS - Until This Year
Q: Encapsulation
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Significant price delta here. Perhaps that doesn’t factor into your equation. For the cost vs. benifits though, seems to me the choice is clear. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the post. I am always struggling with how to retain the massive amounts of information thrown at me on a regular basis.

Michelle H

Great post. Like Niru, I struggle with the same issue. Working as an Application Engineer, we have information thrown at us constantly. My continuous struggle is to not only capture the information, but also to remember where I stored the information, so I can refer to it later. Thank you for sharing your methods.


Any plans to write the follow-up article?


Did that follow up article ever happen? If so where can it be found?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x