Tag Archives: zotero

THATCAMP Switzerland (6)

After escaping the pirates who took over my session in the morning and finding coffee, I went to the session on mobile computing led by two people from the University of Zurich. The session began with a demonstration of a course developed there several years ago. This particular course is targeted primarily at students to teach them techniques of working with sources in archives.

The version I was able to access didn’t seem to have the full functionality being shown on the screen in the room, but it is clearly a nice tool for students to use as they begin to poke around in digital collections in archives. Given my limited German these days, I may have missed some of the most important points, so when I have more time, I’ll poke around the project some more to see what it can do.

Among the questions that came up in the session were: What are your experiences with apps; what specific comments do you have on the app demonstrated; what needs should an app fulfill; what are the key technical questions; how do we take into account the fact that not everyone will have a smartphone/mobile device?

One of the questions discussed was the degree to which mobile computing has penetrated the student population. I know in the case of George Mason, it seems that maybe only half of our students still have easy access to mobile computing. But how much longer will this be true?

Another important question on the technical side is the difficulty in making sure your app will work on multiple platforms? Keeping up with the constant changes/needs to support different devices seemed to some in the room as more than academics can afford to do such sork.

The app I want is one where I can go into an archive with my mobile device, work in Zotero, take pictures of the documents I’m working with, and have them uploaded in a frictionless way to my Zotero database. Right now, I have to take the pictures with my camera, download them, resize/rename them, then upload them, which will take me days. If you are an app developer and create such an app, please email me right away!

My request led to a wide-ranging discussion of the cloud, user interfaces, “creeping featurism” (a term I like a lot), and how many devices will we be using when doing our research? Some argued that one day in the near future we will have only two — a phone and a tablet. Microsoft seems to be betting on this kind of a shift with Windows 8.

At least one university (Washington State) is offering a course in summer 2012 for mobile apps in the humanities. Perhaps we should all plan on spending a week in Vancouver this June? More on their summer Digital Humanities Institute is available here.

Most of the conversation was about apps related to archives and research. A couple of the public history apps that came up were Romerstrasse and Biblion.

Another interesting conversation revolved around what is “the toolbox” the historian or the history student needs as she walks around? Which of these should be mobile?

THATCamp Switzerland (3)

In the first bootcamp session after lunch I attended a session led by Stefan Keller (University of Zurich) called “Knowledge Organization and Representation,” which was focused on various information management tools such as Zotero, Mendeley, and LitLink (new version launched officially today).

Note to self: More than one person has told me I ought to start using Prezi for presentations. After watching Stefan’s talk, I’m finally convinced I have to put in the time on this one. It is a full order of magnitude better than PowerPoint, largely because it defeats the iron law of linearity inherent in PowerPoint.

He began with a brief overview of the transition between reference management systems and knowledge management systems, i.e., from keeping track of your references (still an important function of the knowledge management systems) to managing the linkages between those references (“cross-linked knowledge spaces” he called them). Of course, these knew systems are based on the Web 2.0 principles of sharing and collaboration and many are open source. So, for instance, on my research blog on my human trafficking project, you can not only read about my research as I’m doing it, but you can also access my Zotero library for the project.

Keller then showed a clip from Minority Report (2002) showing Tom Cruise sorting through masses of data by waving his hands as a speculation on where these systems might go, which reminds me of Bill Turkel’s work on Interactive “Ambient and Tangible Devices for Knowledge Mobilization.” Keller called the possible future “interactive and collaborative knowledge production and representation systems.” Of particular interest to me was the idea that in future word processors, everything you write (not just the citations) would be stored in a database. How that would happen, i.e., how the system would decide what got stored where, isn’t clear to me, but I love the idea.

Next we got a brief introduction to LitLink. Probably the biggest differences with Zotero, the one I know, are what he calls “cross-linking of data,” the establishment of “knowledge spaces” and the creation of working groups.

What does seem different (and appealing) to me is the ability to easily connect references to specific projects you might be working on. Because we typically use sources for more than one project, being able to do that with minimal friction is great. I also like the “similar items” bar that appears on the right side of the screen for each record. I wish Zotero did that for me, given the fact that I now have so many items in my library. Finally, I like the way one can create an outline for a project in LitLink, connecting various resources to that outline, then exporting it to a word processor.

In the discussion, people asked, among other things, why one should use LitLink instead of Zotero. One answer that came up is that because LitLink is a relational database, the author is only entered once, a structure that prevents the kinds of duplication of records that I’m very guilty of in Zotero. Thus, for instance, all works by the same author are automatically related, where in Zotero, you have to make those connections manually.

As impressed as I am with LitLink, I’m not switching from Zotero, both because I am fully in the Zotero world already and would find changing difficult, but more importantly, because I personally find the Zotero user interface a bit more intuitive. I’m happy to finally see LitLink in action, but more importantly to see how the various knowledge management systems are coming up with different ways of doing what we do in scholarship. Each new innovation means that all of us benefit.

Writing a Book in Public

Yesterday I began a new blog site called Human Trafficking in Historical Perspective. This site is the online research and writing space I’m going to use for my next book project — a project still in its early days mode.

For a long time now I’ve been thinking about what happens when the entire scholarly process — or at least as much of it as possible — takes place in an open environment like a blog or a website. Certainly, I’m not the first person (or even close to the first) to do something like this. Dan Cohen just posted something in his blog on the same subject and he is much further along than I am on his project.

One wrinkle in what I’m doing on this project is that not only will my Zotero library be available for public consumption, but it is also a library that I’m building with students in the classes I have taught/am teaching/will teach on the subject of human trafficking. In this way I’m blending my own research efforts with theirs. How will that work? I’m really not sure, but it will be interesting to find out.

I’m also not sure if the final product of this work will be a book or something “book like.” In the book like category is everything from an eBook, to a website, to something that lives between those two. What that last something might be, I think we still don’t know. I suppose the project could just become a blog that is frozen in space and time with the comments turned off, or it could be something else we haven’t thought of yet. After all, like all good works of historical scholarship, this one is going to take a couple of years (at least) to complete. By the time I’m done, there is no telling what else we might have come up with as a means for displaying our work.

When Students Assess Scholars

What happens when students assess the work of scholars in a public, i.e. online, forum? To what degree to student assessments have an impact on professional reputations, on promotion decisions, or on resource allocations?

I’ve been mulling this question over for the past week because about a week ago I received a somewhat testy email from someone who thought that an entry in a Zotero group library on an article she had published was, to use her words, “sloppily and misleadingly summarized on Zotero…even my name was misspelled.” She then asked, “If this is the way Zotero is going to operate, it simply isn’t good enough.  What must one do to see that it is corrected? Must authors look for such problems on Zotero?”

As it happened, the entry she objected to was written by a student in a class taught by a colleague, not by me, and so she was asking the wrong person for help (I pointed her to my colleague so she could engage with him over this issue). But her email–notwithstanding a misunderstanding about how “Zotero is going to operate”–raised the question I posed above.

Should we care that students are reading our work and then writing about it online for good or ill? One could take the position that any writing about our work is proof that our work is being assigned and read — a good thing. Or one could worry that negative commentary on our work from those who might be less qualified to comment on it that we would like might have negative consequences for us — a bad thing.

After thinking about it for a week, I’ve decided that I am completely unsympathetic to the latter argument for several reasons. First, it proceeds from a viewpoint that I reject, namely that student views of our scholarship don’t or shouldn’t count. In American higher education we are fond of describing our students as both students and partners in a learning enterprise and if that is really true, then we have to take seriously what our students have to say. Sure, a review of my book by someone who knows a lot about what I’m writing about is more useful in many ways, but that is not to say that a review of my book by an undergraduate student is not useful just because he or she hasn’t spent a decade or two studying the arcana of Czech history.

I read and re-read the summary of the article that sparked my thinking and there is no negative criticism of the author or her research methods to be found there. But what if the student had also said something like, “Unfortunately, the author’s findings are obscured by intensely boring academic prose.”? We’ve all wanted to say something like that from time to time about a book or article we are reading/reviewing, but professional courtesy holds us back (most of the time). Perhaps the unfettered voices of our students might just hold us to a higher standard when it comes to writing about our subjects in clear and compelling ways?

I also reject the  reviews by students are bad argument for a second reason. The purpose of the academic endeavor is to create and circulate new knowledge and the target audience for most of that endeavor is our students. We want them to engage with our work so that as they mature as scholars, business people, government employees, or whatever they chose to do, they can make better informed decisions about their own work and lives.

And the way this generation does that is online. Period. To argue that student work, flawed or perfect, should not be posted online is to argue for a return of the typewriter.

Finally, the whole point of the article in question was that more needed to be done to increase digital collaboration between scholars, librarians, and archivists. If limits are to be placed on that collaboration, then we might as well forget the entire effort. Digital media today are collaborative by their very nature, so I think it’s time we all get on that bus and accept that embracing digital technology means embracing it for all the good and all the less than good. So I guess I find it a little surprising that an author whose own work argued for more collaboration doesn’t like it when that collaboration isn’t up to a standard she has set.