Back to School – Cloud based and (nearly) paperless

This fall marks a transition back into the classroom for me as I pursue a master’s degree in Cellular and Integrative Physiology from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Inspired by Lifehacker’s What’s in your Bag post a while back, I thought I’d share a bit of the tools and protocols I’ve adopted for this round of education.

This semester I wanted to try and accomplish two main things in my organization scheme for class: have my notes stored in such a way that I can access them no matter where I am, and to do so without the need to carry around a bunch of binders stuffed with paper. The only real purchase I made was to upgrade my very heavy, and very non-portable Dell Inspiron 5100 to a new shiny Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook. First thing I did was removed the Windows 7 that came with it and installed Ubuntu Netbook Edition (which in afterthought was a bit rash, I should have backed up Windows 7 on a USB to install later as a virtual machine instead of needing to resort back to XP).

Ubuntu Netbook Edition

Ubuntu Netbook Edition

After getting UNE running great and customizing it to the look I wanted, I got it geared up to become a super-note-taking machine. I installed the Dropbox client for Linux and created folders to store all my course documents (powerpoints, syllabi, problem sets, etc.).

Dropbox Folder on UNE

Dropbox set up

I’m a big fan of Evernote and am sorely disappointed that they don’t have a Linux desktop client, but I was able to find a suitable workaround using Nevernote.


Nevernote - Evernote desktop client on UNE

I put my schedule on my Google Calendar and manage tasks using Remember the Milk (Astrid on my Android phone). The result: I can now access and edit any of my course documents, notes, tasks, schedule from any computer and even my Android phone with any changes seamlessly synchronizing everything in the cloud. For good measure I set up a couple of redundant back-up systems locally on my netbook and to my home server in case something were to happen to any of my remote data.

Another happy product of this set-up is that it allows me to be (nearly) paperless. I’m taking a biochemistry course which does require me to pull out the occasional notepad to jot notes not easily typed on a computer, or chemical equations/mechanisms which need to be drawn out. Another added benefit of Evernote however, is that once I have these things written down on paper, I can pull out my phone, take a snapshot and upload it to Evernote where it’s cataloged alongside that day’s notes or problem sets. I’m also evaluating the merits of purchasing a Boogie Board LCD tablet ($35) to completely remove the need for paper at all.

The Final Result

Here’s a picture of the tools in my arsenal, depending on my mood I’ll either walk or bike to school so my pack changes from the Mountainsmith Tour shown or a Timbuk2 messenger bag respectively simply moving all the supplies from one to the other.

In my pack

My typical school back pack set up

Since part of the point was keeping this as paperless as possible, I didn’t want to buy a notebook so I found an old lab notebook I had and cut it down the middle so it’s more portable. It ended it being one of my favorite note pads. The other lab notebook is my homemade text on Haitian Creole I keep on me to review whenever I have some spare moment or the other to look it over.

So far I’ve been incredibly happy with this set-up, I love being able to study my notes on my phone’s Evernote app while waiting to meet up with someone, or having access to a syllabus or lecture notes via Dropbox. Feel free to hit me up in the comments for any questions about implementing something like this for yourself or if you have any suggestions for good methods you’ve used.


~ by veniatregnum on September 11, 2010.

3 Responses to “Back to School – Cloud based and (nearly) paperless”

  1. What exactly does one do with the degree you are pursuing? Research mainly?

    • Yeah, research if you stay on the laboratory side of things – teaching, industry and the like as well. My master’s degree is a two year program and the current plan is to apply for some sort of medical education afterwards (MD, DO, etc.) but may also change my mind and go on for PhD to stay in academia and teach/research.

  2. I’m a little late in commenting, but this is….awesome! way to utilize technology for ease of mind, organization, simplicity, potentially paperless academics.

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