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When I went to school I found two effective aids to learning (that I used alternately, depending on subject, circumstances, or whim). One was to underline or highlight what appeared to be pertinent phrases in the textbook, the other was to read with pencil in hand, making my own notes as I read. (Usually, both were more effective on a second reading, whether of an entire book/chapter or of a recent passage.)

Although I can't recall anyone asking, I would have been happy to share these notes (or my highlighted textbook) with anyone (those attempting to read my handwriting might not be nearly as happy), and do not believe the sharing would have been copyright infringement in either case. (Perhaps if someone borrowed my textbook and photocopied a significant quantity of the pages (not defined), it might have been a different story.)

Anyway, the real point of this discussion is to talk about how to apply these learning techniques in the computer age, with electronic texts, and to what extent I can share with others.

Aside: I should also point out that I think I've learned some more effective learning strategies or techniques, one that comes to mind at the moment is the observation by somebody that "the mind works better as a treasure hunter than a vacuum cleaner" (so it's good to have a particular (small and specific) goal in mind as you read -- read the exercises in the back of a chapter before you start reading, then read to answer those questions (even one at a time if helpful / appropriate).

Aside: <later — comment on the "eternal cycle" (my observation / suspicion) — a (text)book writer starts with a thin outline and gradually embellishes it with more and more facts and (flowery language / extraneous verbage). The student (or at least me, in many cases), tries to fight his way through the (flowery language / extraneous verbage) to get to the nice clean outline (either in his head or on paper, or both). Seems like there is some inefficiency here that it would be nice to remove. On the other hand, maybe it is the process that is required — maybe sifting through the (flowery language / extraneous verbage) is (for some, or sometimes) a necessary step in assimilating the nice clean outline of the knowledge. Still, one can have a wish list.>

Anyway, I am trying to learn from electronic texts by highlighting or making my own notes from them.

For several reasons (most electronic presentations do not allow me to highlight the document, and, if I'm going to make my own notes, I can save a lot of typing by starting with the original text, pasting it into an editor, then deleting extraneous verbiage and (gradually) rewording the remainder into my own words), my "procedure" is to copy the text of a document I'm "studying" into a plain text document (i.e., making my own copy), and then modifying that copy owver time by deleting excess verbiage and converting more and more of the remaining text into my own words.

Some questions, or observations:

  • Clearly this approach starts out as plagiarism, but, AFAIAC, is not an issue if (1) I have legal access to the original text, and (2) I don't distribute that copied text (unless something else, like a free documentation license) gives me the right to do so.

  • Over time, the approach diverges from plagiarism, but is, IIUC, a derived work. (I guess I need to learn a lot more about derived works, but, IIUC, if it is indeed a derived work (and unless something else gives me the right to distribute the derived work), I must obtain permission from the owner of the copyright on the original source document in order to distribute "my" derived work.

  • Over time, I believe the document can cease to be a derived work. As an example of a (darn, whats the word in calculus / differential equations — a "border" condition ?? that's close, anyway ("limiting case", "edge case", ???), many scientific papers fit in this category (IMHO), and a paper like I described above evolves in that direction as I add more information from other sources (properly credited, if appropriate) or my "own" knowledge (my own experience or thoughts after "learning" the topic, or knowledge from other readings absorbed into the amorphous body of knowledge that I call mine (in my head, or in various unattributed notes, scribblings, etc.).

_So, where did all this take me? Not very far. I put off studying Python for a good 20-30 minutes. I haven't come to a conclusion, but I will continue to study "Dive Into Python" in the manner I'm doing (working with the text copy in Nedit, and gradually deleting Mark Pilgrim's words or changing them to my own. Fortunately, Dive Into Python is distributed under a free license, so I could potentially put the early "plagiarized" copies on WikiLearn (although maybe I need to reread the license to reconfirm this), but I don't think I intend to at this early stage.

Aside: There are two reasons I might change my mind:

  • one is that, since I'm marking up the text with TWiki markup (including <blockquote> tags around portions of the document I've made no changes to), it would probably be easier to read
  • the second is that if I put it on WikiLearn I would not have to carry my floppy disks with the text files around with me (of course, I guess I could attach the text files to appropriate WikiLearn pages and delete them later, something to think about)

But, I do intend to eventually put "my" notes on WikiLearn, for the benefit of myself and others — when those notes come from a copyrighted "non-free" document, I need to understand (or potentially, "cause a determination") when those notes are and are not a derived work (or, simply seek permission of the copyright holder in any case).

Comments / insights are welcome!





  • () RandyKramer - 01 Oct 2003
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Topic revision: r1 - 2003-10-01 - RandyKramer
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