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.

Adding Voices to Scholarship: Wikipedia Editing

I developed my Fall 2015 Feminist Theory course with metaliteracy as a learning objective to assist students in studying theory in context.  Metaliteracy is a framework that promotes critical thinking and collaboration in a digital age (Mackey & Jacobson).  The focus on metaliteracy helped challenge students’ common understandings of theory as distanced from empirical research and everyday life, and reinforced an understanding of research and academic writing as an iterative process.

Wikipedia page

The Wikipedia assignment that I used for the first two months of class provided a means of working with students to translate theoretical insights into accessible knowledge.  Each student created a new entry for Wikipedia on a topic related to gender and women’s studies.  Students’ firsthand experience with creating knowledge for a general audience provided an opportunity to struggle with questions of representation that otherwise they would have engaged largely as spectators rather than participants.  The project developed out of my interest in connecting with ongoing projects that seek to address the problem of gender and racial inequality in Wikipedia as there continues to be a significant imbalance in participation and content (see Gender bias on Wikipedia).  Moreover, the 2015 National Women’s Studies Association Wikipedia Initiative that connects Gender and Women’s Studies classes with Wiki Education Foundation staff provided further materials and support to carry out this assignment.

I took a scaffolded approach to the assignment.  Students started reading about Wikipedia through a critical perspective, including issues such as trolling and bias.  We took a paced approach in completing the wiki training and beginning to add content (the class Wiki Dashboard shows how the training was scaffolded and organized). Next time, I plan to integrate the discussion of bias with an in-class editing session to break the ice more efficiently. We also connected with our Wiki Education Foundation content expert, Adam Hyland, via Google Hangouts midway through the assignment, and next time we will introduce collaborators earlier to help students put a face to the person and become more comfortable reaching out about specific questions they have around their Wikipedia work. Students appreciated having the scaffolded approach to the assignment that allowed them to pace themselves and revise their work.  Finally, they gained much from presenting their work in a poster session supported by the Academic Resource Center as they received direct feedback from visitors and saw firsthand interest in their work, adding an face-to-face interaction that is missing from online work itself.

“it is one thing to be looking at all this information for one’s own personal benefit and use… it is a completely different thing to be able to not only use this information for one’s own personal sake, but also share it with other individuals that are seeking information.” – student reflection


Students’ reflection essays included many claims that the project did indeed help them understand theory as part of feminist knowledge production.  One student reported that the project was “
a direct way to overcome the lack of connection between theory and praxis” as they created information for a general audience.  In addition, students appreciated and found a sense of empowerment by creating content that will be widely shared and used. Students sharpened their research skills, and in some cases contacted individuals involved in the topics they wrote about such as The Kilroys, a theater gender parity group and the activists behind the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag.  This shift from consumption to synthesis and distribution of information helped demystify one key source of information online for students.  

Statistics graph for Sister OutsiderSome entries have received quite a bit of traffic.  The entry for Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde’s well-cited essay collection, has received 2,293 visits (25/day) over the past 90 days (see graph to left).  Previously, there had not been an entry for the national Green Dot Bystander Intervention program that is a core component of Connecticut College’s violence prevention work.  A student created an entry and the site has received 285 visits (3/day) over the past 90 days, and basic information about the program is now accessible to Wikipedia users.  In conclusion, while there are always some glitches and complications in carrying out an assignment like this one, it is evident from the semester and teaching evaluations that it was worth the effort.  Across the board, students gained a deeper understanding of knowledge creation and representation through this hands on experience.

Workshop Recap: Technology Fellows Curricular Innovations III

Data visualization from Circos, showing the global flow of people in 2005–10.
Data visualization from Circos, showing the global flow of people in 2005–10.

Anthony Graesch focused his presentation on his Introduction to Archaeology class which enrolls about 30-40 students. Assignments in this class position students as primary data collectors. Hands-on research experience provides students with an in-depth understanding of the research process in which archaeologists are involved (similar to Ann Marie Davis’s assignment in History). In this case, students collect data using hominid crania. The work is collaborative, further mimicking archaeological work in the real world, but scaffolded so the project is within reach for introductory students.

After students collect data in Excel, they are instructed to visualize the data using charts or graphs. Through visualizing the data, students look for patterns and use these patterns to defend their arguments. Using Excel as the tool for collecting and visualizing data has the added benefit of teaching students to use software that is heavily used in many companies and industries. Anthony made a point of explaining that he does not teach Excel, rather students must learn how to use the software on their own time using resources such as lynda.com. See examples of student work in Anthony’s presentation.

An additional tool he is exploring for future iterations of the assignment is Circos, a tool that allows for circular visualization of data (see image above). Circos can be used with any data set that describes relationships. If you’re interested, view examples of Circos using datasets related to science, genomics, political science, and business.

Next semester we will hear from the remaining Technology Fellows, Karen Gonzalez Rice (Art History) and Suzuko Knott (German Studies).

 

Literacy, Technology, and a 21st Century Curriculum

In my last post, I discussed some of my ideas for flipping the classroom  in the Social Sciences/Humanities. In this post I turn to a different theme – literacy – which has surfaced as an important and recurring topic in the Technology Fellows Program (TFP) meetings. In fact, the topic has come up so often, that this past summer, I participated on a conference panel about digital technologies, metaliteracy, and faculty-library collaborations at the Connecticut Information Literacy Conference (CILC). Joining me on the panel were my colleagues in Information Services, Laura Little, Instructional Designer/Developer, and Jessica McCullough, Instructional Design Librarian.

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Click on image to view presentation slides

One major  theme of our panel was that the TFP has become a welcome yet unanticipated venue where faculty, instructional technologists and librarians are collaborating on student literacies.  We, the Technology Fellows, have found ourselves devoting a significant amount of time to discussing the links between teaching, digital technologies, and literacy-building. We have also found ourselves relying extensively on the expert knowledge that our colleagues in Information Services bring to the table as we think about revising some of our courses for spring 2015.

This topic emerged unexpectedly  during a conversation about the ways in which digital technologies can support the delivery of course content. Examples spanned the gamut from showing YouTube videos in class, creating and embedding video in Moodle web pages, and developing original media for interactive digital textbooks.  While the possibilities were intriguing, our conversation soon segued into a different discussion on how multimedia – e.g. online video, interactive web sites, or user-created Wiki pages – can facilitate so-called “higher cognitive levels of learning” as suggested by Bloom’s taxonomy of pedagogical objectives.

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Bloom’s Taxonomy

Digital technologies can certainly help students to better “remember” and “understand” course content. Moreover, they can also teach them to “analyze,” “evaluate,” and eventually “create” knowledge in relevant ways. Online videos are not only useful for sharing information, but they can also foster student thinking about the purposes, target audience, goals, biases, and historical contexts of  both analog and digital sources. Likewise, in using prominent user-created sites (e.g. Wikipedia), rich discussions can ensue on the benefits and dangers of open-source sharing and democratic knowledge production. As Historian and American Studies expert Jeffrey McClurken has commented, digital technologies can “create opportunities for students to become ‘critical practitioners’ of digital media rather than passive consumers or users.” An important rationale for using digital media, he argues, is the “notion of students creating and writing for a public audience … which has clear benefits for the students, the teacher and the institution” and “open[s] up the traditional, closed system of knowledge production” (Teaching and Learning with Omeka: Discomfort, Play, and Creating Public, Online, Digital Collections).

Upon further deliberation, the Technology Fellows have come to the consensus that the value in using digital technologies extends well beyond simply exposing students to new information or technological tools.  Indeed, current scholarship shows that digitized curricula can offer new opportunities for developing a sophisticated range of information literacies, including information technological fluency, and digital, visual, and media literacies. Library and information scientists, Thomas P. Mackey and Trudi E. Jacobson (the keynote speakers at CILC) developed the term “metaliteracy” to draw attention to  “multiple literacy types.” As knowledge becomes “increasingly participatory” and “takes many forms online,” they suggest, the consumption, sharing, and production of knowledge requires an increasingly “comprehensive” approach and reflexive “understanding of information.” (Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy).

Personally, I have found this notion of metaliteracy especially compelling as the College moves forward to revise General Education requirements and debates the types of “knowledge” or “competencies” that are relevant to the liberal arts curriculum in the 21st century. The framework of metaliteracy allows us to articulate and embrace the multiple modes of knowledge production that students will certainly have to navigate in order to participate in increasingly digitized and networked information environments. At a minimum, teaching students to consume and produce knowledge accurately, creatively, collaboratively, and responsibly will require a new awareness of the ways in which new networked modalities – online media, platforms, and tools – are changing knowledge formation in our respective disciplines.

 

“Flipping” the Classroom with Web 2.0 and Social Inquiry

This is a guest post written by Technology Fellow, Ann Marie Davis, Assistant Professor of History.

davis-annOne of the areas that I have been exploring as a Tech Fellow draws on the practice of sociality in academic inquiry. To put it simply, good scholarship often depends on good social interface. Trying out new ideas, drawing inspiration, and refining arguments, for instance, often require active and engaged participation in social settings. In pursuing these endeavors, scholars must not only read and write, but they must also network, collaborate, and share ideas. Indeed, embedded in the practice of scholarly inquiry are certain mandatory – and welcome – opportunities to bond and build communities with colleagues.

Using the framework of Web 2.0, I have been trying to replicate some of the practices of social scholarship in my first year seminars and intro level history courses. In the broadest sense, I take from Web 2.0 the idea that sharing information online is user-centered, user-focused, and user-generated. The tools and platforms of Web 2.0 allow participants to shape and circulate knowledge via social networking sites, podcasts, blogs, video sharing, and Wikis. The users of Web 2.0 are not just passive viewers of static web pages, but rather they are the creators of their own dynamic and user-defined content. Fundamentally, the social media platforms of Web 2.0 are tailored to encourage user participation in the creation of information synergies via open online communities.

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More concretely, I have been seeking ways to adapt social media to encourage more active participation in and outside of the history classroom. In my intro level classes, I often ask students to discuss complicated theories in live chat rooms and then send me their transcripts. I also ask them to create and post online multimedia presentations in which they analyze primary sources and develop new arguments. Once they have uploaded their findings on video sharing sites such as YouTube or Vimeo, they next exchange peer feedback and questions on social networking sites such as Facebook or Blogger. As a Tech Fellow, I have been working on better streamlining these activities and assessing their implications.

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One major outcome of these assignments has been the showcasing of student questions, ideas, and discoveries as the heart of the history classroom. Online networking tools have allowed students to publicize their work, connect with peers, and engage course themes via familiar and potentially empowering online platforms. Given the user-centered context of Web 2.0, the students’ work rises to the fore, while instructor mediation fades into the background. Often, the public aspect of social networking also motivates students to publish “peer-worthy” work in anticipation of sharing online feedback and constructive criticism.

In this sense, emphasizing the sociality of scholarly inquiry has begun to “flip” my former classes. The dynamic synergism of collaborative knowledge-building offers a distinct contrast to the passive processes of listening and note-taking during lectures. More importantly, social media platforms allow students to experiment, share, and critique each another’s progress before setting foot inside the classroom. In this context, online tools operate as virtual laboratories where students present and assess digital evidence and field online questions about their findings. In turn, our class meetings become an opportunity to continue these interrogations with greater enthusiasm and depth. In sum, the generative aspects of online collaboration ideally “flips” the more passive modes of scholarly inquiry into a more dynamic and authentic experience for history newcomers.

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Images taken with permission from former students in FYS 172 “Butterflies and Barbarian” Representing ‘East’ and ‘West’ in Popular Culture” and featured on Professor Davis’s web site on The Virtual Past.

APIs and Serendipity

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Have you heard of an API, or Application Programming Interface?  If not, it may not seem like something you want to hear about.  If you have, it might still be difficult to understand exactly what it is and why you should care.  In either case, you can still take advantage of APIs for teaching and research.

Simply, an API allows databases, applications, and interfaces to communicate.  A well known example is the Google Maps API, which allows users to embed maps into web pages or even to build onto the API to create new tools.  For example, I use GMap Pedometer to measure a run.  Google Maps made its API open to developers.  The GMap Pedometer developer took the API and built on it to create a new and useful product.  The key to APIs is that many are open to develops, encouraging creativity.  The fact that many are free promote a culture of openness and collaboration.

One example of a great tool available for research is Serendipomatic.  Created  over only one week at the One Week | One Tool Institute, scholars, programmers, web designers, librarians, students and museum professionals collaborated on this project that adds a little serendipity into the research process.   Simply add text to the box – a few words or an entire page – and Serendipomatic will search the Digital Public Library of America, Europeana, and Flickr Commons (all of whom have open content AND metadata).  The results are surprising, and may inspire you, offer new avenues for research, and/or suggest sources you may not have considered.   Give it a try!