Zettelkasten Pedagogy Meeup? A Call for Interested Parties and Examples

Zettelkasten Pedagogy Meeup? A Call for Interested Parties and Examples
I’ve been watching a growing number of teachers, professors, and researchers who have been transferring their personal note taking, zettelkasten, or personal knowledge management practices into the classroom for students from 6th or 7th grade up into college/university level. As it’s been a while since this practice was more commonplace (excuse the pun), perhaps it could be useful (and fun) to do a meetup or mini-unconference on the topic to discuss some ideas, practices, and pedagogy?


Depending on everyone’s general availability, we could do something on a quiet day over the summer break? I’m thinking something in the 2-4 hour range depending on the level of interest and what folks think would be most productive. At the lower end we could do a few hours as a simple meetup/discussion if there are 10 or fewer, though if there is more interest, then I’m thinking that a BarCamp style (unconference) may be easier with 3-4 sessions of about 45 minutes each  and to which people submit various ideas at the start of “camp” and folks can decide what ideas they’re interested in supporting or exploring. (If you’ve never attended an unconference or BarCamp style event, this IndieWeb page and related pages will give you a bit of an idea of what to expect, though we’ll do a much more scaled down version. I’m also a fan of their Code of Conduct, and propose to adopt it for participants.)

Given the potential time zone differentials across Europe and the Americas across which most practitioners I know live, I’ve found that Saturday morning starts at 8:30 AM Pacific have been historically most convenient, but I’m not opposed to an weekday timeslot if that’s more preferrable with a majority of schedules.

If there’s enough interest I’m happy to help facilitate something 2-3 times a year in smaller doses. We can start small and informal and expand as necessary.


If this is something in which you’d be interested in doing, please drop a comment on my website or send me an email (you’ll find it on my homepage). Let me know the following:

  • Range of referred dates/times along with any major vacation plans we might work around
  • Interest in leading a BarCamp session? Topics? Do you have a presentation/experience you’d like to present (even if it’s totally informal)? 
  • Your area/level of teaching (elementary, middle school, high school, undergraduate, graduate, other) and institution — schedule-wise, I’d like to give the most preference to active educators, though I’m sure we’ll attract participants interested in the broader idea of ZK/PKM.
  • Would you like to help volunteer time/resources to mounting this as an online only event?
  • Other ideas? Needs?

My goal for a first session is to be highly creative and get ideas/discussions of experiences/improvements flowing with the minimal amount of organization and work on the part of all participants. I would hope this would be more fun for the prospective group than work.


I’ve been collecting examples of teachers/professors who used their zettelkasten for teaching, some of which include Mario Bunge, Frederic L. Paxson, Gotthard Deutsch, Roland Barthes, and Joachim Jungius. In more recent contexts, I’ve seen Dan Allosso (aka u/danallosso), Mark Robertson (aka @calhistorian u/calhistorian), Nick Santalucia, and Sean Graham using zettelkasten or linked notes using Obsidian, Roam, etc. for either directly teaching, teaching students how to start such a practice, or using it for OER related practices. I’ve also heard from a few who are planning on offering coursework with zettelkasten underpinned pedagogy in the near future.

Do you know of others who are practicing and implementing these methods? Those who plan to in the coming year? Please forward this along and we’ll see what we can arrange based on the level of interest.

All thoughts and feedback appreciated…

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich


Rules against quotes in Zettelkasten? A closer look at Ahrens on Quotes and Collecting

Rules against quotes in Zettelkasten? A closer look at Ahrens on Quotes and Collecting
I’ve seen several places in the note taking or zettelkasten communities the general advice that one should not include quotes in or amongst their notes. The general source of this “rule” seems to stem from Sonke Ahrens’ book Smart Notes. However, suggesting that Ahrens has a “rule” against quotes is a dramatic misreading of his intent. I imagine that this potentially stems from someone reading and excerpting his intent incorrectly and then others passing it along indiscriminately in the dreadful litany of one-page blogposts about how one should keep a zettelkasten.

The word “quote” (or close variations like “quotes” and “quotation(s)”) only appear 19 times in the first edition of Ahrens’ book.

In most of the contexts which have what one might call an “anti-quote” connotation, he’s directly recommending against the practice of indiscriminate highlighting/excerpting and collecting of general quotes specifically because they don’t aid in creating understanding by the reader. Instead he repeatedly recommends that one internalize the information by rewriting it in their own words instead. This helps the reader to better understand and know what the author is trying to convey. This also allows the reader to have material in their collection already written in their own words for later reuse.

Talking about “literature notes” Ahrens writes:

He did not just copy ideas or quotes from the texts he [Luhmann] read, but made a transition from one context to another.

Be extra selective with quotes – don’t copy them to skip the step of really understanding what they mean. Keep these notes together with the bibliographic details in one place – your reference system.

Places where quote appears in a context which argues against indiscriminate collection of quotes:

A typical mistake is made by many diligent students who are adhering to the advice to keep a scientific journal. A friend of mine does not let any idea, interesting finding or quote he stumbles upon dwindle away and writes everything down.

As well, the mere copying of quotes almost always changes their meaning by stripping them out of context, even though the words aren’t changed. This is a common beginner mistake, which can only lead to a patchwork of ideas, but never a coherent thought.

It is so much easier to develop an interesting text from a lively discussion with a lot of pros and cons than from a collection of one-sided notes and seemingly fitting quotes

Even doctoral students sometimes just collect de-contextualised quotes from a text – probably the worst possible approach to research imaginable.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Lonka recommends what Luhmann recommends: Writing brief accounts on the main ideas of a text instead of collecting quotes.

Now let’s take a quick look at some of Ahrens’ “pro quote” passages which provide the opposite view of when and where quotes can be useful:

The available books fall roughly into two categories. The first teaches the formal requirements: style, structure or how to quote correctly.

It would certainly make things a lot easier if you already had everything you need right in front of you: The ideas, the arguments, the quotes, long developed passages, complete with bibliography and references.

You follow up on a footnote, go back to research and might add a fitting quote to one of your papers in the making.

In this textual infrastructure, this so-often taught workflow, it indeed does not make much sense to rewrite these notes and put them into a box, only to take them out again later when a certain quote or reference is needed during writing and thinking.

How is one to have useful/impactful/fitting/necessary quotes at hand if they haven’t excerpted them as they read? In these portions he is actively suggesting that quotes from one’s reading in their notes can be a good thing and can help in making persuasive arguments. The secret is that they need to be done judiciously. One needs to be able to quote in a manner which keeps the original context and argument, but which can also fit into your current context and provide support or further argumentation.

As an example of terrible decontextualization, who hasn’t attended a wedding that featured a reading of 1 Corinthians 13? The passage seems wholly appropriate for a church wedding reading, but when you consider that it’s excerpted out of context you might reconsider using it at your own wedding. Go back and try reading it in light of being sandwiched between Corinthians 12 and 14 and you’ll change your mind that chapter 13 is about the sort of romantic love and implied by a wedding. Once you’ve done this, there’s added comedic subtext to scenes like the following from Wedding Crashers (New Line Cinema, 2005):

Father O’Neil: And now for our second reading I’d like to ask the bride’s sister Gloria up to the lectern.
John Beckwith: 20 bucks First Corinthians.
Jeremy Grey: Double or nothing Colossians 3:12.
Gloria Cleary: And now a reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

To prevent embarrassment of this sort, perhaps when you’re quoting a source directly you ought to provide at least a short note about the context in which the words were provided?

Any good rhetorician will tell you that quoting works in your writing can be incredibly helpful in building context and creating authority.

If anything, Ahrens’ book is missing a section on “how to quote correctly”, and this is a stumbling block of his text. As a quick remedy, one could read a bit of Seneca perhaps?

“We should follow, men say, the example of the bees, who flit about and cull the flowers that are suitable for producing honey, and then arrange and assort in their cells all that they have brought in; these bees, as our Vergil says: ‘pack close the flowering honey And swell their cells with nectar sweet.’”
—Seneca in 84th letter to Luculius (“On Gathering Ideas”), Epistles 66-92. With an English translation by Richard G. Gummere. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library, 2006), 277-285.

Beyond just Ahrens there are several thousands of years of prior art seen in the commonplace book tradition where quotes feature not only prominently but at times almost exclusively. Quotes, particularly sententiae, are some of the most excerpted and transmitted bits of knowledge in the entire Western canon. Without quotes, the entire tradition of excerpting and note taking might not exist.

Of course properly quoting is a sub-art in and of itself within rhetoric and the ars excerpendi.

Fellow note taking writer Umberto Eco warns against this same sort of indiscriminate collecting without actively making the knowledge your own. In How to Write a Thesis (MIT Press, 2015, p125), instead of railing against indiscriminate highlighting, or digital cutting and pasting, Eco talks about another sort of technological collection tool more rampant in the 1990s and early 2000s which facilitated this sort of pattern: the photocopier.

Beware the “alibi of photocopies”! Photocopies are indispensable instruments. They allow you to keep with you a text you have already read in the library, and to take home a text you have not read yet. But a set of photocopies can become an alibi. A student makes hundreds of pages of photocopies and takes them home, and the manual labor he exercises in doing so gives him the impression that he possesses the work. Owning the photocopies exempts the student from actually reading them. This sort of vertigo of accumulation, a neocapitalism of information, happens to many. Defend yourself from this trap: as soon as you have the photocopy, read it and annotate it immediately. If you are not in a great hurry, do not photocopy something new before you own (that is, before you have read and annotated) the previous set of photocopies. There are many things that I do not know because I photocopied a text and then relaxed as if I had read it.

Many people may highlight, tag, or collect a variety of quotes within a text, but this activity is only a simulacrum of understanding and knowledge acquisition. This pattern can be particularly egregious in digital contexts where cutting and pasting has be come even easier and simpler than using a photocopier.  Writing it down and summarizing important ideas in your own words will actively help you on your way to ownership of the material you’re consuming.

A zettelkasten with no quotes—by definition—shouldn’t carry the name. So let’s lay to rest that dreadful idea that quotes aren’t allowed in a zettelkasten.

And if you’re just starting out on your zettelkasten or commonplace book journey and don’t know where to begin, I’ve recommended before writing down the following apropos quote and continuing from there:

No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them.
—Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum (Secker & Warburg)

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

This paper by Jason Lustig on Gotthard Deutsch’s was fascinating: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0952695119830900. While there’s an implication that its use didn’t make him as productive (from a writing perspective) as Niklas Luhmann or S.D. Goitein, I might suggest that it made him a more productive thinker and teacher, which in turn bore results in the form of his students who also picked up the practice from him.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Quantum mechanics anyone? Dozens have been disappointed by UCLA’s administration ineptly standing in the way of Dr. Mike Miller being able to offer his perennial Winter UCLA math class (Ring Theory this quarter), so a few friends and I are putting our informal math and physics group back together.

We’re mounting a study group on quantum mechanics based on Peter Woit‘s Introduction to Quantum Mechanics course from 2022. We’ll be using his textbook Quantum Theory, Groups and Representations:An Introduction (free, downloadable .pdf) and his lectures from YouTube.

Shortly, we’ll arrange a schedule and some zoom video calls to discuss the material. If you’d like to join us, send me your email or leave a comment so we can arrange meetings (likely via Zoom or similar video conferencing).

Our goal is to be informal, have some fun, but learn something along the way. The suggested mathematical background is some multi-variable calculus and linear algebra. Many of us already have some background in Lie groups, algebras, and representation theory and can hopefully provide some help for those who are interested in expanding their math and physics backgrounds.

Everyone is welcome! 

Yellow cover of Quantum Theory, Groups and Representations featuring some conic sections in the background

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Want to try out Mastodon? Thinking about hosting your own? Or maybe you’re new to the experience and need some help or want tips for better connecting?  Our kind friends at Reclaim Hosting and ALT are doing a 90 day Mastodon experiment/class/seminar series where you can sign up for an account on a server that will self-destruct at the end of their trial run. They’re doing three sessions (live with recordings after), have a Discord for discussion and questions, and a Google doc with details and tips.

  • Session 1: Mission briefing: 19 January 2023 at 16:00 GMT (Watch Live)
  • Session 2: Verifying your progress: 23 February 2023 at 16:00 GMT (Watch Live)
  • Session 3: 30 days until self-destruct: 23 March 2023 at 16:00 GMT (Watch Live)

Sign up on their server today to try things out: https://thismastodonwillexplo.de/

@reclaimhosting@reclaim.rocks @jimgroom@social.ds106.us @marendeepwell@social.ds106.us

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich