Hugh Nicoll's Blog

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Tinderbox: love and support

May 7th, 2005 · 1 Comment

Mark posted a link to a testimonial from William Cole the other day on Tinderbox support. Doug now has a link on his blog, so I just have to jump in with my own story. The preface is that I met Mark, Doug, Alwin and bunch of other wonderful Tinderbox folk last fall in San Francisco at Tinderbox Weekend. There were several aha! moments during the weekend, and it proved to be a very useful and fun event.

I’ve been using Tinderbox for a few years, and before that was a Storyspace user, finding it almost impossible to do real writing in a word processor. I need the options for lateral thinking that tools like Tinderbox can provide. I’m currently keeping my teaching notes, course planning notes, and research and writing notes in Tinderbox. And because I am devoted to a qualitative, narrative approach to research and interaction with my students I need to keep accurate but free-form records of classroom activities, project logs, student work, etc. The monster in all of this is my yearly “Introduction to American Studies” lecture course which usually draws 150-160 students. In my on-going efforts to develop a more learner-centered approach to teaching even in this large lecture room setting, Tinderbox is proving my best ally.

The other day, knowing that there must be a way to import an excel spread sheet of the current enrollees into Tinderbox as separate notes, I started mucking about. I exported the two columns I needed from Excel, but then got stuck trying to figure out how to automate the next step: getting the data into Tinderbox. I went a bit astray, trying to conceptualize regex solutions (Thanks Doug for turning me on to their fundamental importance to thinking in computing space!), Automator or AppleScript, or something, … but I was also thinking there must be a totally obvious and simple way to do this, Mark must have already done this, … (but it was late, I was tired, impatient,)… and though I had searched the Tinderbox manual for “import” options, I felt I was dead-ending, so I sent Mark an email describing what I was trying to do. In just over an hour, I had my answer direct from Mark: drop the tab-delimited file into a Tinderbox document, then use the Explode command (in the Note menu) using the \r (return character on Macs), and presto-chango! you’ve got exactly what you want — each line of your data-set as a separate note. With this basic, but incomparable functionality, combined with the use of simple agents, the record-keeping management of my time-hungry teaching style is a dream come true.

For example, several weeks ago I asked this year’s 150 members of the American studies lecture to form research teams of four or five, choose a topic, and start planning a ten-minute presentation for the whole class. With 150 members, and the inevitable vicissitudes, the result of the group formation process is that we have 33 groups, and the presentations have to be scheduled. We devoted an hour and a bit to negotiating the schedule and topic selection process so that there no redundancies (Five presentations on “McDonald’s” “Coca Cola” or “Hollywood”, etc. — Thanks, but…!) and I took the schedule notes (on paper) back to my office, and created Tinderbox notes for each group including the leader’s contact info, topic, and presentation date. Then in another one of those trivial but terrific Tinderbox moments, I created agents for each of the presentation dates (9 June through 14 July), and had the 33 groups sorted by weeks. Sending reminder emails to the group leaders, and keeping my notes on the student presentations will be wonderfully simple, and I can even use Tinderbox’s linking features to remind me of the location of student group Powerpoint files, add research recommendations, and on and on and on….

So hear! hear! and hip horray for our beloved Tinderbox (and Mark, Elin, Alwin, Doug, and all)

Tags: General

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 GLH » Recognizing the difference // May 9, 2005 at 4:26 am


    Recognizing the difference

    Doug Miller, William Cole, and Hugh Nicoll are commenting on Mark Bernstein’s and Eastgate’s response time to questions, issues, an […]

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