Tag Archives: zotero

Irony of Ironies

This semester I am teaching my graduate course — Teaching and Learning History in the Digital Age — and on our first night of the semester we had what my older son would call “a fail.” In this case, it was a “classroom fail.” Why? Because the room to which we were assigned was not only almost too small to fit the 16 of us, but because the technological capability of the room was decidedly old school.

We had an overhead projector and a television set with DVD/VHS player.

Somehow, it seemed to me (and to the students), it was going to be a little difficult to teach and learn about teaching and learning in the digital age in a decidedly undigital room. Fortunately, I was able to locate a conference room (with a laptop and a projector) that we could use. Otherwise it would have been a very challenging semester, to say the least. It was, however, a good lesson for the students, many of whom are already or plan to be history teachers. You never know what kind of classroom you are going to get until you get there, so be prepared just in case.

And, of course, the power might go off, or the servers might crash, or your laptop my start smoking. So always be ready.

I would share my syllabus and/or class blog for this course, but this semester the whole thing has gone into a closed Zotero group. Like my colleague Sean Takats, I am teaching through a Zotero group (using the 2.0 Beta version) of the software instead of the blog I’ve used with such good results over the past six years.

Why would I forsake the blog platform when it has worked reasonably well? I am hoping that by having my students create a Zotero library for the course, complete with notes, tags, annotations, related resources, etc., something new and different will happen. In prior years, my graduate students used the class blog quite well, posting reflections on readings and talking to one another. But once the semester was over, pffttt, the blog was over. In six or seven years of class blogging with students, only once or twice did anyone ever go back to the blog and add something. And even then it was an isolated post that didn’t generate any response.

But, a Zotero library that will become an annotated bibliography on teaching and learning history is a resource that not only my students, but history teachers all over the world can use now and in the future. My hope is that not only my students, but also others (once we open it up to the public) will use and add to the library we are creating.

Why keep it closed to the public during the semester? Despite my devotion to opening our teaching to public inspection, at least for now, I want the students to have some privacy as they learn the ins and outs of Zotero. Also, because we are creating a public resource that will eventually become open to others who might want to edit or add to what we’ve created, I need to be able to assess the work my students have done for the purpose of grading them. If anyone wandering by can change their work, it will be quite difficult for me to give my students a clear and valid assessment.

Stay tuned for more updates on this project.

For those who have been regular readers of this blog, I apologize for going silent throughout the summer. Personal matters dictated that I push aside all but the most essential things and I have to admit that, as much as I am devoted to it, this blog fell into the category of an optional activity. I’m back now.

Zotero 2.0

[This post originally appeared in the blog hist.net.]

zotero-smZotero 2.0 became available for public download on May 14. This new version of Zotero provides many exciting features that unlock the research archives of individual scholars making those research archives (or portions of those archives) available for a wider audience. Think about it this way. In what my students like to call the “olden times” (anything before 2000), scholars collected materials into their personal research archives then sat down and wrote a book, an article, or a conference paper. That publication provided the scholar’s audience with a glimpse into the source materials he or she had collected from various archives, libraries, etc. But only a glimpse, and mostly in the footnotes. If you wanted access to those same sources, you had to replicate the research already completed by the author of what you were reading.

Zotero 2.0 potentially puts an end to this re-research process. Now, a scholar can make any portion of that personal research archive available online via Zotero’s collaborative capabilities. So, for instance, as I collect materials for an article I am perparing for a volume of essays on “getaways” in communist Eastern Europe, I can make my Zotero folders available to anyone or just my collaborators in the volume. Once the book is published, I can choose whether or not to make my sources available to those readers who want to work with the sources I collected. In this way, the “hidden archive” of scholarship will begin to migrate to the surface. The potential for transformation of scholarly work is, I think, quite significant.

Zotero 2.0 also taps into the potentialities of social networking for scholars. Once logged in to the Zotero server, one can create a personal profile page, create or join affinity groups, and track (“follow”) the work of others who are part of the Zotero community. For a brief summary of the features of Zotero 2.0, read what Dan Cohen, Director of the Center for History and New Media, has written (and will continue to write) in his blog.