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Research Over The Summer… No Way, You Say!

Making Research Fun with Bookshare – Part One

A guest post from Deborah (Debee) Armstrong, the alternate media specialist at De Anza Community College in Cupertino CA.

When you think of doing research over the summer, do you immediately think, “Oh no, this is not going to be fun and definitely not over the summer!” I thought so!

How do I know this?  I am a college alternate media specialist with vision impairments.  I scan textbooks for print-impaired students and assist them with discovering alternate reading and study methods.  I do lots of research and consider myself to be pretty good at it.

In this three-part Bookshare blog, I want to help you become a research whiz.  With my tips, you’ll be really good too and have fun doing it!  When back-to-school time comes, you’ll know how to crank out college term papers with ease.  Still, this learning is over the summer, you whine.  Well, experiment with a topic you love like photography, baseball, gardening, politics, crime, psychology, music or vampires — whatever floats your boat. You can research anything you read. I bet Bookshare has books on most topics you can think of.  It is one of the best online research tools you’ll ever meet, so, turn yourself into a prime investigator and let’s get moving!

Be a Navigator! Explore Your Reading Devices

Take time to explore the navigation features on your reading system or device.  Do you read using a computer, a portable DAISY player, Braille Note or other eBook or portable reader? Are you able to do these navigation tricks with your device?

  • Find a page, specific chapter or search by a keyword
  • Move forward and backward to reread content

o   Note: Some portable players do not have a search feature, so you want to get good at moving by page, heading or chapter.

  • Bookmark a page or chapter where you left off
  • Turn the audio on or off
  • Change voice settings

Remember, Bookshare titles are not all indexed in the same way. Some have headings, others have page divisions and others can only be found by chapter, so experiment and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I once had a friend read a complex manual to me and help me figure out how to use a device in exchange for pet sitting. Be creative and tap into your strengths.

Taking Good Study Notes

Note-taking strategies are very important.  The act of taking notes will increase the information you retain in your brain and get you better grades. When you take notes, do you:

  • Use large note cards
  • Use a Braillewriter
  • Like colored markers
  • Have a voice recorder or old-fashioned tape cassette machine
  • Draw pictures rather than words
  • Share notes with friends

Try this activity to identify some note-taking strategies that work best for you.

  • Watch your favorite TV show or a documentary
  • Jot down five key points about the show
  • Think about how you felt writing down notes. Did you keep up?
  • Record the show and play it back. Was it helpful to watch it live and then review it? When you record, you can play it back and then write your notes. If you record, practice by placing the microphone at various distances from the TV.
  • You can also dictate your ideas into a recorder.
  • Draw pictures to represent some notes. Were they helpful?
  • Can you bookmark pages that you want to refer back to?

Bookmarking Notes

Some reading devices have both quick bookmarks and named bookmarks, so try to become familiar with all types of bookmarking options. Victor Reader Stream has highlight bookmarks as well.  Try some of these navigation tips now on your device. How fast can you find chapter seven? How many facts can you remember from a book you just read on snakes or philosophy?

Storing Notes

I have a separate file on my word processor for notes. I cut and paste notes from a DAISY reader, then mark them with quotation marks so I know it is the author’s writing and not mine. If you want to add a quote directly from the book, slow down the speech before recording the actual audio.  It will be easier to transcribe.  Simply place your recorder’s microphone near the book player’s speaker and record the quote.

One of my friends records all of his class lectures.  Then, he plays back the recording and dictates notes into his cell phone. That is clever!  Some reading devices let you create annotations — this is a fancy computer term for notes.  Some readers have built-in digital voice recorders.  You can always use a program like Microsoft Word or a portable note-taking device like an iPad or Braille Note.  To experiment with some of these devices, see if you have an Assistive Technology Access Center in your community.

These centers can be excellent resources for you.

Note-Taking Games and Strategies

Anything you want to learn can first be a game and not a chore.  Do you know how to play 20 questions?  Instead of logging facts and key points, you write down questions you have.  This is really a great brainteaser because you are thinking deeply about your subject matter. Later when you do your research, your questions and curiosity will lead you to write more interesting and thoughtful papers.  Your professors will love this kind of creativity!

I’ve met some students who are print-impaired who believe that their memory is so good, they don’t need to take notes. Please don’t assume this. No one can memorize all the information you’ll need to write good research papers. Also, don’t make the misassumption that you can’t take good notes because you are a lousy speller or have poor handwriting.  Notes are just for you to write a paper or demonstrate your true knowledge. Everyone admires a person who takes notes.  You’ll look prepared and win points for having them with you.

Drawing pictures can also be a good reminder of important facts or events that will jog your memory, so doodle away or create an icon system that helps you recall information. Try printing a page from a book now and draw on it to remind you of what you read. Did you recall more?

Reading a book into a recorder in your own voice and then retelling what you read with your own notes can be very useful. I do this and my notes summarize what I’ve read. I like this approach.

Some high schools and colleges offer note-taking classes; does yours? If not, find a study-buddy and ask about their strategy for taking notes and if you can share your notes.  You’ll make new friends this way too!

Good Note-Taking – Summary

Good note taking is essential and a learned skill that will help you in everything you do and summer is a good time to read, play and be adventurous!  So, experiment with your reading system device features, understand how to be a better note taker and what strategies work best for you. Always give yourself time to explore and even time to fail. Take some notes and see how many more facts you can recall. Compete with yourself to see if your accuracy improves.  Check out next week’s part two blog.  You are on your way!

Deborah (Debee) Armstrong is the alternate media specialist at De Anza Community College in Cupertino CA.  Her favorite part of her job is assisting print-impaired students with the mastery of computers and discovering new tricks for working with technology.


  1. I enjoyed your post! Using the note taking feature in Read Outloud is a wonderful and efficient way for students to create notes when reading their Bookshare titles. Students can highlight the text using any one of three different colored highlighters and can type their own notes as well. With the new iPad app Read2Go students as well could highlight text and create their own notes. Some students have also resorted to using the Livescribe Smartpen which can marry the text and the audio component of a lecture which they can listen to at another time. As you said students should experiment with different ways to create notes and find the one that works best for them.

    Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D.

  2. This is a great post that will be useful for me as I am about to begin my college Capstone course which will require a lot of research. Unfortunately I didn’t read this in time to practice over the summer, but I will definitely try to implement some of your note taking suggestions. I do use my braillenote to select quotes from a book that I want to use for my paper and then paste them in to a word file, but beyond that, I always tell myself I don’t need to take notes because of my memory, which always backfires when it comes time to write the paper making the assignment more frustrating than it needs to be.

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