Nested Hashtags for Organizing Notes

From tabs in physical notebooks or virtual tabs in OneNote to the hierarchical file structure of Windows or Google Drive, we’ve all been conditioned to use a folder structure to organize notes and documents.

However, it wasn’t until I started using the minimalist note-taking app Bear some weeks ago (after reading this glowing Lifehacker review), that I began to appreciate the power and fluidity of hashtags over the traditional folder structure. Part of the reason for my new-found appreciation was that Bear, unlike nearly every other note-taking app or word-processing app, does not offer the option of folders: you are forced to use hashtags if you want to apply any kind of organization.

The limitation with traditional folders is that notes/documents can only be filed in one folder: you are only likely to come across a particular note again when browsing through that folder. Moreover, it is often apparent that our notes do not necessarily fit neatly into a particular folder but are relevant to several different topics.

When I first began using Bear, I just used the tags as folders: I assigned a tag to each note, and there it rested. But, it soon became apparent that I could add several tags to one note. In this way, instead of a note being in a single location, it is simultaneously ‘filed’ under several tags: when I open a tag ‘notebook’, every note associated with that tag is housed there.

Although the popular note-taking app Evernote does also have the functionality of hashtags,Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 8.52.21 PM Bear offers a further feature that provides even neater organization: the ability to ‘nest’ the hashtags. Evernote does not offer the nesting function: you can “stack” your notebooks under one parent, but I have always found this to be a little cumbersome.  However, Bear offers “infinite” nesting: so far, however, I have only taken it to 4 levels. The nesting itself is very much like a traditional file system, but the nested layers open at a snap, and if you apply some consistency in labeling your tags, the notes are easily found. (The nesting here is similar to my favorite list app Workflowy which also provided seemingly infinitive collapsible nested levels).

So, rather than the 45 notebooks I have in Evernote, in Bear, I have just 5 main tag categories in Bear, but each has several nested layers. (The Bear website provides simple instructions for importing notes from Evernote or elsewhere to Bear).

In addition to utilizing this unusual organizational system Bear is a beautifully simple app with a clear and delightful user interface.

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10 Useful Amazon Echo Skills for the Humanities Classroom

Almost two years ago now, one of my students loaned my classroom his brand new Amazon Echo (a voice-activated internet-connected speaker). At first, aside from playing music, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. However, my students loved it, and when the student took his Amazon Echo back home several months later, I bought an Echo Dot for my classroom. It was just $49, and it works even better than the original stand-alone cylinder now that I have connected it to speakers in my classroom. Since the June 2015 launch of the Echo, the number of Skills (apps) for Alexa (the name the device answers to) have grown significantly. Here are ten that are particularly useful in the humanities classroom:


The Amazon Echo Dot


1. “Alexa, inspire me.”  For setting the tone at the start of a class, there are a plethora of Echo skills for inspirational quotes. The first time I tried this command, Alexa answered with a 45 second recording from Steve Jobs’ 2005 superb Stanford commencement speech with inspirational music in the background.
2. “Alexa, ask Mindfulness for a minute meditation.” This enabled skill began with an instruction to close your eyes and listen carefully to the music for one minute (with an option for longer). The ambient music was accompanied by the sound of waves. There are all kinds of opportunities for mindfulness in the classroom, and again there are a large number of Skills available that provide sounds of thunder, waves etc. including prompts for mindful breathing.
3. “Alexa, set the timer for X minutes.” This one is obvious, but it is also the easiest and quickest way to set a timer for any and all classroom activities.
4. “Alexa, ask WebMD what is tuberculosis?” I wouldn’t recommend this Skill for actual diagnoses, but it is useful when discussing the physical and mental health issues of fictional or historical characters.
5. “Alexa, what is 237 times 17?” Alexa can quickly provide straightforward mathematical calculations which is particularly useful in math-compromised environments.
6. “Alexa, news.” This command will prompt Alexa to provide flash news briefings from a wide variety of respected news sources including NPR, BBC, Fox News, and CNBC.
7. “Alexa, when did India gain its independence?” Alexa can provide quick geographic and historical facts including dates, distances, and climates.
8. “Alexa, what is the current weather in Brisbane, Australia?” Additionally, Alexa has knowledge of current conditions all around the world (including, of course, your own).
9. “Alexa, tell me a joke.” The Echo has many fun applications including jokes (in all kinds of categories) and a wide variety of voice-based games.
10. “Alexa, play Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.” While my students like to play more modern/popular music between classes, the Echo can play almost any music during class either to enhance the humanities curriculum or just for a pleasant background ambience.

I currently use the Echo on a daily basis and am excited to discover even more uses for it: please add a comment if you have used it in your classroom!