So the first mini-deadline on the Zotero assignment has come and gone, and I’m pretty happy with the results so far. They’re not very impressive to look at, but when you compare what is actually happening with what I thought could happen, I think we are well on our way to getting this done.
For the first section, which has 21 students:
- 11 successfully added a scholarly source to their Zotero library AND successfully synced to the group library. Another one got the sync to work, but what got saved isn’t in very good shape yet. Three more are waiting on ILL to decide which article they want to save to the bibliography.
- Of those 11, 6 have added an original annotation and tags.
There are a few who added something in another format (and I’m not sure if that is a result of still not knowing how to find a scholarly article for their person, or if it is a matter of the best sources authored by their person not being scholarly articles) I’ll find out more about that in class this week.
In the second, which has 24 students registered:
- 13 successfully added a source to their Zotero library AND successfully synced. Another one did the sync okay, but what got added was wonky. There is one person who has added two things. There is also an example article that I added still in there.
- And there is a weird article from the medical literature that is still mysterious. The author doesn’t share a last name with one of our target authors, so I am thinking maybe it was left in one of the classroom computers’ Zotero libraries and accidentally got dragged into our group library?
- Nine have added original annotations.
- Another handful are waiting on their articles from ILL.
Most of these have wonky notes/ attachments from the databases, and some need some of their metadata cleared up. Batting 500+, though, was more than I expected at this point. Why? A few reasons, actually -
- First, these students have never used Zotero before at all. Most of them have never used any kind of Firefox plugin. That whole process of downloading and installing Firefox, then the plugin, was conceptually something new. I expected this to be a hurdle in and of itself, before we even got to the the group library and syncing piece of the puzzle. And it was, for sure, for some. But not for most – most got themselves set up with Firefox no problem, and got the plug in working just fine.
- I want to be really clear here – it’s not that I thought these students weren’t intelligent enough to do this nor did I think it was really hard – I just thought it was going to be new and made more difficult by the fact that I asked them to do most of this new thing on their own on their own computers. I did this mostly because I wasn’t at all certain that syncing the classroom computers to the Zotero group library would work with any kind of reliability. So it comes down to - I thought that showing them in class and then asking them to do the work at home was not necessarily setting them up for success (for all that that is how homework usually works).
- I really didn’t give them much instruction on how to do this at all. We went over Zotero on the first day of class, and then I asked them to test different features of it along the way. But here’s the thing – most of them didn’t do that along the way stuff because I wasn’t grading it and it wasn’t on the syllabus. It was mostly a “please do this for your own good” thing and wasn’t at the top of anybody’s priority list. So that .500+ batting average comes from students figuring stuff out with the tutorial I provided and what they could find in their notes and on the Zotero website.
- Some of the problems that have happened are undoubtedly not about Zotero at all, but are about navigating library systems and databases and the difficulties that come up during the process of finding scholarly articles — those are the primary reason for this class, after all!
- The syncing with the classroom computers is working really well – or at least it has for the last two sessions. I have to tell you that I was worried about this with good reason. Every time I have attempted to show this in the classroom, the sync has churned and churned and churned without any end (or any sync) in sight. So when the students were having no trouble syncing the Zotero libraries in the classroom to their group accounts in class two weeks ago and again last week, I was shocked. But what this means is that this week we can treat the classroom like a lab and troubleshoot most of the remaining problems together.