This week I had the opportunity to talk to students in the Women’s Studies department here at UC. The topic concerned digital note taking but this time for social observations and interviews. In an effort to frame the discussion and to make sure all of the students (and not just the tech savvy ones) were able to follow along I worked out a list of advantages, questions, and guidelines for recording paperless. I decided to attach those notes to this blog, since these should be on the minds of anybody attempting to jump to direct digital recording.

The executive summary for those who are impatient is that going digital is a good idea and that, for their specific project, Evernote would work just fine.

The black text is from their handouts. The gray text are my talking notes.

Advantages of digital recording – Since the project under discussion involves observations of people but might also include interviews, I want to make it clear that I am talking about  digital vs. paper, not digital voice vs. tape recording.
  • data security – you can have instant or near instant backups
  • additional data features  – you can use location, camera, video, and other features of device
  • instant multimedia  – you can integrate images or audio immediately
  • instant data distribution – you can immediately share data with colleagues or advisors (you can share notebooks in Evernote)
Overall questions for using tech in the field:
  • will it be disruptive? – in one of the readings (Casanova 2011, Making up the Difference: Women Beauty, and Direct Selling in Ecuador, xiv) the author mentions that economic disparities between the interviewer and interviewed can be a problem while conducting social research. Using an $800 device to record the observations of some people might be too conspicuous. But typing on a phone is something almost everybody does, and a smartphone might work well in those situations. Sometimes paper or even napkins are best. 
  • how does data get in? – how easy is it to use the camera, microphone, keyboard?
  • how does data get out?- what output formats are available?
  • what kind of battery life is required? – can you get external battery packs or make sure your device has a swappable battery and replacements
  • will a network be required?- will you need to look things up, or connect to a networked database?
  • what kind of international use issues can be predicted?- data plans in foreign countries for phone users can be tricky and/or expensive
Tips for using tech:
  • backup often
  • test and practice all software and methods before leaving- can’t stress this enough: smartphone microphones, for instance, differ greatly so learn to use your device in different acoustical situations, rehearse making new documents, or make them ahead of time, don’t be seen struggling with your equipment
  • resist the urge to update your tech in the field- turn off automatic software updates and make no OS updates while in the field; update apps only if necessary for data security
  • have a backup plan in case the tech fails to work- for instance: make a paper form just in case and find the nearest photocopy shop
  • consider using the least difficult of several options- forms in Evernote vs. full blown database. Both can handle structured data (that is, structuring your conversation with the participant, not xml type structured data). The database approach is best for quantitative data but you might be able to get  away with a simple spreadsheet (and thus no database development).
  • make sure you have a tech contact back in civilization to look up troubleshooting techniques for you – you might be in places with bad or no internet access and others might have to lookup troubleshooting issues and even contact tech support on your behalf.
  • backup often
Software shown:
  • Dropbox (free)- mostly mentioned because many apps have an option to save to your dropbox account.
  • Evernote (free)- good note taking app, and the focus of most of the talk. Go over: 
    • text note taking
    • audio recording
    • both text and audio at the same time
    • image capture directly to the document
    • using a source document for structured data for interviews (create a form in one note and copy/paste that form to other notes for interviews)
    • the details button shows the map location of the note
  • FileMaker Go ($40 iOS only, requires desktop Filemaker Pro for development)
  • Numbers ($10 iOS only)