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Outlines for Class Lectures

After reading Advice for New Faculty Members by Robert Boice, I've tried to shift to an outline for class lectures. Outlines have several advantages over a traditional, discursive manuscript. They:

  • Are easier to scan the page as you are speaking
  • Are easier to skip and rearrange material as you go
  • Reduce the tendency to simply read the lecture
  • Allow an easier interaction with the students, as points can be fleshed out and transitioned in response to student responses

An outline is not as useful if it is a new class or new material. Outlines really presume a mastery of the material, where you can simply write a topic such as "Anselm's ontological argument" and then launch right into it for 15 minutes. If you need more details as to what the ontological argument is, or are concerned you will get it right in your description, the outline tends to become more discursive  and written out, which defeats its purpose.

I've been using OmniOutliner, which is a Mac application that has a unique niche among the applications out there. It is sort of a cross between Word and Excel. It's not a high-powered fancy spreadsheet application like Excel, but it can do many of the basic functions of Excel (add, sort, and so on), and it gives terrific fine controls in terms of layout, if you want to use them. It is also super easy to use and outline with, so that it almost becomes a word processor/outliner as well.

You could use Microsoft Word for this as well, but Word is slower and more prone to crash, and you would need a separate iPad application to open the files. OmniOutliner NEVER CRASHES. Neither does Scrivener or Pages. One of my main rules of thumb is, is this software gloriously stable? Or must I save constantly and carefully close files when away, so that there isn't a crash and loss of data? This is the problem with Word – I don't and can't trust it completely. I have to lock the doors often, so to speak, to insure my changes don't disappear. Other applications such as OmniOutliner and Scrivener are rock solid, and this is what I prefer.

There is an iPad version of OmniOutliner that I will probably get at some point; right now, I simply export the outlines as plain text into my dropbox, and then I use the PlainText iPad app to read the outline on the iPad in class. This works just fine.

I formerly used Scrivener to lay out an entire class using folders and such, but OmniOutliner provides a simpler, cleaner outlining ability than Scrivener (Scrivener is terrific, but not optimized for outlining as OmniOutliner is). As a tech nerd, I had to try something different, and so I did.

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