Building a bibliographic portfolio with RefWorks

RefWorks Screenshot
References saved in RefWorks account

Co-authored by James Gelarden, Access Services Librarian

Building a bibliographic portfolio is a way for students and researchers to work smarter rather than harder. RefWorks is a tool that allows users to create bibliographies, organize references around a theme, and collaborate and share their bibliographic research.

In October, we held a workshop for ANT 201 Theory and History of Anthropology students to teach them the basics of using bibliographic software and strategies for organizing their research. Our hope was that these students would be developing a skill that would help them with research in their various courses at Connecticut College and beyond.

The first step was having students create RefWorks accounts. This is an easy task and all Connecticut College students have free access. RefWorks is not the only bibliographic software available: Zotero and Mendeley are also excellent options. However, RefWorks has a lot of useful features such as downloadable PDFs that can be annotated, cite-as-you-write compatibility with MS Word, and lots of sharing functions to facilitate group work.

Next, James demonstrated some of the basic functions of RefWorks: searching in databases (Jstor, Google Scholar, ProQuest, etc.), saving references and PDFs, creating folders, and sharing work. We impressed upon the ANT 201 students that building a bibliographic portfolio is of particular interest to majors. Students can create bibliographies for specific assignments and courses but they are likely to find that this research will serve them well in many courses as they navigate their majors and pathways. Our hope in this class was that students would become aware of central academic conversations in contemporary anthropological theory. As Anthropology majors take more classes in the discipline, they will start to build upon existing knowledge rather than doing all the work from scratch each time this write a new paper. RefWorks makes finding saved material very easy. This software encourages its users to create folders to organize their research by subject but entries can be tagged, and all aspects of the database are searchable.

RefWorks facilitates collaboration and sharing simple. Students doing group work can create and share bibliographic references, making it easier to coordinate research. Those writing theses and projects for graduation can share their work with their advisors, who can add new references and notes.

RefWorks Screenshot: Folders
Folders in RefWorks

At the end of the workshop, all the students had functioning RefWorks accounts and a basic understanding of the platform. They have been putting the software to use in their annotated bibliography assignment and their term paper. We hope that they will continue to use RefWorks or another reference software throughout their time at Connecticut College. Getting organized about research early on in an undergraduate career can be a big time saver and is an excellent way to start building expertise and familiarity with scholarly literature in specific fields. It is also possible for Connecticut College graduates to request continued access to their RefWorks account.

Design A Better Assignment – Workshop It!

Chopping onions

Where do I position the camera? Why do I have to do a voiceover? What is line 2 of the instructions asking me to do? Is time lapse video really the best choice here? These were a few of the practical and didactic questions I received from colleagues as they worked through the activity that I designed as part of Technology Fellows Program. The workshop experience is one of the invaluable opportunities that this program offers. Colleagues encouraged me to push my thinking about this specific assignment and my approach to course design more generally. The Technology Fellows Program focuses on the use of technology for teaching, but it is also a place to hone one’s teaching skills.

For my workshop, I proposed to try out an assignment that I am calling mise en place, after the culinary practice of preparing ingredients before cooking. This assignment will be part of my Food and the Senses course in the Spring semester. The objectives of the assignment are to have students explore concepts of embodied knowledge and apprenticeship through the activity of mise en place. The first step is to teach students to chop onions in a variety of ways (live demonstration, video and no instruction). Next, students chop onions in teams. They take turns chopping and recording. Initially, I believed that time lapse video would be the best technology for this job.  Outside of class time, students have time to view their videos and reflect on the experience through a voice over. Finally, students share their video documents in class or online.

Leading up to the big day of the workshop, I had a small group meeting with other Tech fellows and instructional designers. They read over the assignment, we discussed the objectives of the activity, they suggested a variety of technology options, and made concrete suggestions for how I could continue to develop the assignment to sharpen the connections between the activity and the learning objectives. Using these suggestions, I prepared the materials for the workshop, where the other Tech Fellows would have a chance to try out and critique my assignment.

The big day came, and, to my surprise, no one balked at the idea of using large knives and the possibility of crying over onions. My colleagues started setting up a variety of recording devices on all sorts of tripods. They immediately began asking important questions, “What part of the body should the recording capture? Just the hands?” This got me thinking about a series of theoretical issues connected with the disembodiment of knowledge and objectification of culinary skill. This is just one example of the sorts of feedback that led me sharpen my assignment and consider the utility of the data that my students would be collecting. Thanks to my colleagues, I began to see connections to visual anthropology and how I could use this assignment to engage with an additional set of methodological questions.

Although I had initially been concerned about finding the right technology for my assignment. The workshop experience helped me to think more deeply about learning objectives and how to bring more intention to the methods and technology I want to use. I like to try new techniques and activities in the classroom and, for the most part, I usually have to wing it. Being able to workshop an assignment that pushes into new pedagogical territory will certainly lead to a better thought out assignment and hopefully a better learning experience for my students.

Image credit: Cutting onions,

Bringing together technology and experiential learning

I am always learning from my students. One day in my “Food and the Senses” class, students showed me a “Tasty” video (time-lapse videos of tasty dishes being cooked). I was immediately intrigued and hungry. Once the rumbling in my stomach subsided, I started to imagine the ways in which I could use a similar video technique to engage students in my other courses in thinking about food production. Maybe these videos could even improve food literacy, something that is a common issue on a residential campus. This was clearly a technology students were already engaging with and found appealing. However, the kicker is how to move from the passive gaze, what has contentiously been called ‘food porn’, to an active engagement with growing, cooking and eating food?


My Technology Fellow challenge this summer is going to be figuring out a way to bring technology and experiential learning together. How can I leverage technology to deepen my students’ engagement in experiential learning and in understanding the culture of food? In addition, I hope to find ways to use technology to engage students in thinking about questions of skill and the enculturation of skilled work in cases where class size does not permit hands-on activities. This is where time-lapse films come in.

For my “Worlds of Food” course this fall, I will film cooks from different cultural backgrounds making dishes to show how embodied cultural knowledge plays out in the kitchen. Anthropologist David Sutton use of visual media to understand socially and culturally embodied knowledge and the use of kitchen tools influenced this idea. Beyond the kitchen, videos could show the use of tools and practices in food production around the globe. These films will be screened in class and posted on the course Moodle site to prompt further discussion of the course materials. After reading Michelle D. Miller’s Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology as part of the Technology Fellows program, I am eager to introduce videos in to my courses in order to offer students a new medium for understanding cultural practices. Videos posted on Moodle will allow students to revisit techniques at their own speed and facilitate different learning styles. Through these visual examples, students will have time to offer a deep analysis of concepts introduced in class. Although ethnographic films are a stalwart of anthropology classes, these videos will offer focused examples related specifically to food practices. Once I get the hang of this new tool, I would like to explore the possibility of having students produce video clips as part of their class assignments.

Bringing Theory to Practice through Kitchen Technologies

“Even a pencil is technology,” declared my colleague Anthony Graesch during one of my first Technology Fellows Program meetings. This little statement pushed me to broaden my concept of technology in the classroom. What kinds of technology was I already using?

“Food and the Senses” (ANT 353) is the title of a course I am teaching this semester. My class reads and discusses theoretical approaches to food and sensory experience on Tuesdays. Then on Thursdays, we go into the ‘lab’ (either a kitchen or the classroom transformed in to a sensory laboratory) to engage in a hands-on activity related to the theoretical point we explored the previous class. One Tuesday at the start of the semester, we read and discussed Marcel Mauss’s “Techniques of the Body”  and the concept of embodied knowledge. I wanted my students to think about the ways in which knowledge and culture shape our embodied practices in the kitchen and at the table.

Food and the Senses (ANT353) students getting ready to mix bread in a kesariya.
Food and the Senses (ANT353) students getting ready to mix bread in a kesariya.

Thursday, we baked bread as a way of exploring techniques of the body. Students were given basic instructions on how to bake bread. I broke the class up in to four groups. One of the groups was given a stand mixer, another was given a traditional Moroccan bread-making dish (kesariya) and the other two groups did all of the kneading on the counter top by hand. The students were left to literally feel their way through the recipe. I stopped them at key points and encouraged them to test the consistency of the dough and take notes. At the end of the lab when the dough was fully kneaded, the students were asked to reflect on their experiences through a lab sheet. I provided prompts to help students connect their bread-making experience with concepts of embodied knowledge.

Using a stand mixer to knead bread dough.
Using a stand mixer to knead bread dough.

Reading back through my students’ reflections, I was pleased to see that they had considered the ways technologies such as the mixer and the Moroccan dish had mediated their sensory experiences. One labor-conscious student wrote, “I have a new appreciation for technology. Kneading the dough was such hard work. I never realized how much time and effort I could save by using something as simple as a dish or a mixer.” Another student noted that she had to adjust her senses to work with the mixer: “We had to stop the mixer to check the consistency of the dough. Was the gluten developing? Did it feel bouncy? We could not tell this just by looking at the dough in the mixer.” Technology became an extension of the body, just as Marcel Mauss had suggested. Through this lab, students learned about techniques of the body using rather low-tech tools.

The class was then asked to share their hands-on, low-tech learning through a class WordPress blog. This brought them full circle from theory to practice and from low to high-tech.

Reflecting back on my course design, my expanded definition of technology helped me to understand the ways in which I was already engaging with different types of technology in the classroom. In the future, I can imagine other mindful applications of technology used to explore, reflect upon, and share learning about food and culture.