Low tech group ZK activity?

Hi all!

Next month, I’m presenting at an academic conference (American Philosophical Association) about teaching high school students how to write using Zettelkasten. I was going to use Obsidian and have the audience create a mini Zettelkasten together.

Unfortunately, I found out today that there won’t be any AV equipment available, and it’s unclear whether we’ll even have whiteboards.

So now I’m brainstorming ways to adapt. Here are some ideas:

  1. If we have a whiteboard, bring lots of magnets and sheets of paper, put sheets of paper on the wall representing atomic notes, and link them with markers. I’ve actually done this in class for zettelkasten, argument mapping, etc, and it’s really fun.

  2. If we don’t have a white board, but there’s an empty wall available, I can use paper, tape, and string. :confused:

  3. I could give each participant a stack of index cards, and have them do a guided activity making their own mini-zettelkasten, and spend the last few minutes sharing interesting things they found. (This works no matter what the room looks like, but is riskier than 1 and 2: with the communal activity I can nudge the group in the direction I want. With individual work there’s a good chance no one really “gets” what we’re doing and our time is wasted.)

Any other ideas?

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Sounds awesome!

If you can find a large sheet (or multiple smaller) sheets of cork, you could use various size cards covered with transparent tape (packaging, etc.), and written on with dry erase markers. Certain tapes erase cleaner than others. The tape also serves as a reinforcement for the pushpins which can direct the string. Also, I have found it helpful to fashion some sort of rack to hang empty cards on. I use malleable rubber coated garden wire. You can kind of pin the wire to the board and let the wire jut out through the hole-punches on the card. While a bit wonky, I have grown accustomed to this as part of my workflow although I have upgraded my technique with a few additional adjustments that wouldn’t apply to your use case.

In the end, the weirdness makes it feel like my own and because of that I never felt it necessary to drastically change or improve upon it, especially since I am the only one seeing my boards. Personally, I have multiple types and sets of cards with pre added IDs already on some to optionally be suffixed or prefixed depending upon the circumstance’s context.

And, I keep some of them hole-punched (2 holes at correct distance to be fit onto a 3 ring binder or pegboard). I use these cards to work towards rough storyboards or basic ideation and will often use permanent marker at a certain point since it doesn’t smear when stacked while also still basically erasable with alcohol. Yea, the cards build up a certain messiness (or character) over time, but it adds to the charm. And since these are used very early on in my process, they simply become indications and thumbnails for my paper and digital 2D and 3D blockouts.

It is also good to experiment with the different forms of putty (such as the gray, white, and blue stuff) and just go directly onto the wall depending on the finish, but beware the blue stuff can leave a permanent mark on certain walls in my experience. One consideration you might want to make is bringing additional lighting so you know you can get it just right when that day arrives. Good luck!


These are some excellent ideas, thank you! Misc thoughts:

  1. It sounds like you use some kind of physical index card note system in your own intellectual work. I’d love to hear more about this! I used to do a lot of physical notetaking, but as my life got more complicated (kids, jobs, etc.), I found that a computer system was more efficient. But I will still occasionally opy book passages or obsidian notes onto paper slips and play with them on my desk when I need to hunker down and do some serious thinking and writing.

  2. If I do use personal index cards, I love the idea of pre-written ID numbers. This will make things so much easier the group. I might even see if I can find an index card printer to make this go faster.

  3. I like the idea of bringing a corkboard. This might be dicey as I’ll likely be taking public transportation, but I’m going to consider if this is possible. Maybe something to roll up and mount with putty.

  4. Great idea- white/grey putty is probably the way to go over tape. The conference is at a hotel so I don’t think there’s a good way to know what the wall sitaution is like before the moment of. I think I’ll probably bring a variety of adhesives and see what (literally) sticks.

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@JAndrews2: Good ideas and thoughts! While I keep the bulk of what I do on the computer as its home, I often need to have a reality check where it gives me a sense of peace to have some physical text prints and paper/marker sketches to associate with. It is also a relief to not feel the stress that comes with being one glitch away from losing or misplacing things digitally one way or another.

For me, this is the case mainly for a long ongoing personal project eventually to be created using animation. It has just turned into one of those things where you start with an idea then add and layer everything possible into it based on person experience and observation only to finally have to remove a lot and better focus it after having distilled all those offshoots and new perspectives made available while journeying the depths. Sometimes doing things offline feels more genuine as if I am not having my thought process intentionally engineered by my system.

But, on the flip side when I want that immediate feedback via search and autocomplete, the friction of integrating it makes the process a bit unwieldy but worth it even if only to continue to develop a physical analog that surely is handy in order to think and work both digitally and physically in parallel. I made a post a while back envisioning some sort of crossover here: Mixed reality Graph View integration

Enjoy your presentation. It really does sound like an enjoyable and worthwhile subject and context to introduce these tools within.


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