Information Literacy and the FYE

I’m doing a webcast tomorrow morning about integrating information literacy into the First-Year Experience.  I’ve done some presentations for faculty, and for some graduate classes on campus on this topic, but this is the first time I’ll be talking to (mostly) librarians about it.

Here’s the monster list of “further reading/exploration” links I’ve gathered along the way.

DATA AND STATISTICS

COLLEGE STUDENT DEVELOPMENT THEORY

BOOKS

TOOLS


some thoughts on school libraries

Or, at least, that’s where this started.

Sometime last spring – not sure when, but it was definitely sunny here in western Oregon – a colleague and I drove to an OLA board meeting in Forest Grove — quite a haul from our part of the Willamette Valley. I love being a part of the Oregon Library Association because it’s one of the few things I do that isn’t academic/instruction librarian focused. That extra perspective that comes from hanging out with children’s librarians (and lots of other kinds of librarians) is really important to me.

Driving back home we both had the same thought – that part of this meeting had been VERY relevant to us in our academic/instruction life — the State Librarian had released some numbers about school librarianship in Oregon. School librarians numbers here have shrunk dramatically in the last 30 years:

Graph showing the numbers of school librarians in Oregon declining more than 50% from 1980 to the present

School Librarian #'s

And it’s not like the numbers of students has held steady:

graph showing the number of students per librarian increasing

And these numbers are only set to get worse.  In the last year the two largest school districts that still had librarians in every school: Beaverton and Salem-Keizer both had to put those librarians on the chopping block because of budget constraints.  The Beaverton district may have saved their librarians.  Salem-Keizer, on the other hand, is cutting all positions except for the two librarians in the high schools.

This situation is certainly not unique to Oregon.  This story about librarians in Los Angeles forced to defend their jobs in a hostile environment made the rounds last spring.  And the American Library Association uses the word “crisis” in this School Libraries Funding Press Kit.

So, why am I focused on school libraries?  Because it’s time to gear up for the new term – to teach classes for students enrolled in bridge programs designed to give them a taste of what they need to be successful in college.  And to think about the first-year experience with it’s focus on how the resources available to you at a research institution are different than those you may have had access to before.

And I generally focus on “things you might not expect to find in your library” when I get students who are new to college, don’t have a research assignment and do have a meeting with me.  But this has me thinking a lot more specifically about – what about students who don’t know what to expect from A library, much their “their” library.  If “library” to them means “unstaffed room with perhaps outdated books” in it, don’t we have a bigger hill to climb than the complexities of how to use our specific libraries — where do students who have no school librarians get their sense of the type of help they can expect from any library?  I’m not sure.

So lately when I talk to faculty about things I talk less about the stuff we have to offer students and more about this – I don’t think most of them know about these numbers.  I don’t think they always know the extent to which students have been on their own when it comes to research and evidence.  I think this all makes the soon-to-be-published research I saw teased on my Twitter last week a little more important.  What do you think?  Does a lack of school librarians mean starting with what a library IS?

And I also wonder because I have been hearing more and more from instruction librarians at conferences and meetings that they want to focus their dwindling resources on the advanced majors “who can really take advantage of our resources and services” — that we should automate the basic instruction that can be done with a tutorial or online module and leave the real teaching (since there are fewer of us in academic libraries and our numbers aren’t getting any bigger ) for the classes with the real need.  And I get that there are fewer of us and the numbers won’t be getting any bigger, but I have to wonder — if we ignore them in K-12 and then ignore them in their first two years while they’re learning what college is, what college research is and what a research library (or a library full stop) is — what will their motivation BE to seek us out when the time is right?   I have no answers here, only questions, but I can’t imagine that that will be an easy sell, and I think there must be a better answer, even if I don’t know what it is yet.

I wrote a book chapter!

When I first started at OSU, I was browsing through some composition texts because I knew that part of my job was going involve working closely with the writing program on the beginning composition class. While I was doing that, I came across some descriptions of different writing styles outlined by OSU professor Lisa Ede in her book Work in Progress and immediately recognized myself in her description of the “heavy reviser.”

(Seriously, she could have included my picture)

Reading that really had an impact on me – not that it changed how I write, at all, but it changed how I felt about it.  And most of all, it made it easier for me to write collaboratively.  Knowing my style as one of many meant knowing what to warn people about – knowing that my willingness to slash and burn through a draft just might freak someone who writes that draft more deliberately than I do the heck out.

So it is especially wonderful that now I have collaborated with Lisa herself.  A year-plus ago she told me that she was substantially revising her textbook The Academic Writer, and asked if I would collaborate with her on the research chapter.  Chapter 6 and I spent many hours together over the next several months, and I am pretty happy with the results – even if the scope of the whole made it difficult for me to see the forest for all the trees while I was immersed in creation.

Doing Research: Joining the Scholarly conversation is available here, in OSU Libraries’ Scholars’ Archive – I hope it’s of interest and ultimately of use!

Yes, we did write that up

Finally!

Kate and I finally got an article related to our LOEX of the West presentation (from 2008!) finished and published.  This peer-reviewed article delay had nothing to do with publishing cycles and everything to do with writing process.  But it’s available (in pre-print) now, and I pretty much like it.

Beyond Peer-Reviewed Articles: Using Blogs to Enrich Students’ Understanding of Scholarly Work

Emerging Technology and IL Teaching Workshop, part 1

In the next two days, I’ll be giving a series of talks as part of this workshop in Seattle.  Here are the supporting materials for one of them – a short technology demonstration about our Flip video project…

For an example of how we used the Flip video camera we bought — we didn’t use it to demonstrate research processes or to show things in the library.  Or, I should say, we did do some of those things but not in the project I am describing.

But we did use the videos in tutorials.  Basically, my colleague Hannah and I had to do some work revising a set of tutorials.  And as is the case with all tutorials, we had these context-setting pieces that had to go in, pieces where the tutorial explains why the student should take an interest in the process or tool the tutorial will teach them to use.  We didn’t want to write up a set of “here’s why you should care” pages to include in the tutorial, but we weren’t sure where to go from there.

And then one of us – I don’t remember who – had the idea to ask our OSU students to talk about research, with the hope that we could then pull out “clips” that would illustrate what it was we were going to talk about.

It turned out to be a fantastic project – so much fun to work on.  We worked with our office of Student Leadership and Involvement to identify students who were here in the summer and willing to participate.  Then we did a quick 15-30 minute interview with each one.  We recorded the whole thing with a Flip camera, and then used iMovie to pull out useful clips.  The clips are stored on YouTube, so all of our librarians can use them in tutorials, course pages and elsewhere.

This one is one of my favorites – Emmanuel on how librarians are helpful!

See the videos in action

OSU Libraries YouTube channel.  http://www.youtube.com/user/osulibraries

OSU Libraries tutorials pages. http://ica.library.oregonstate.edu/tutorials/ (look at the tutorials for Written English courses)

Our Campus Partners

Student Leadership and Involvement, OSU
http://oregonstate.edu/sli

Associated Students of Oregon State University (ASOSU).
http://asosu.oregonstate.edu/

International Students of Oregon State University (ISOSU)
http://oregonstate.edu/groups/isosu/

Legal Stuff

Model Release Forms (ours were adapted from these at the OSU Extension Office).  http://extension.oregonstate.edu/eesc/how-to/permission-people-pictures-model-release

Using the Flip Camera

EDUCAUSE: 7 Things You Should Know About Flip Cameras
http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7043.pdf

Flip Video Camera User Guide (New Mexico State University)
http://brand.nmsu.edu/webnation/flip-video-camera-user-g.html

How to Use a Flip Video Camera
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mh6s9gNoFro

so whatever happened with that fear factor book?

Or, sort of peer-reviewed Monday!  Not quite, but a book review.

I didn’t want to list the name of the book in question before because I hadn’t read it yet, and didn’t want to answer questions from people who might have found the post by googling the book title.  Especially if they were people who really liked the book, because I didn’t know yet if I liked it.   And there are people who really, really, really like it –

Best book ever on how to prepare students for college (Jay Mathews, Washington Post blogs)

I don’t really agree with the title there – the point of this book didn’t seem to me to be about preparing students for college so much as it is about preparing college for students.

Citation:  Cox, Rebecca D. (2009).  The College Fear Factor. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

The book is based on 5 years of data gathered from community college students.  The author herself did two studies examining community college classrooms.  One was a basic writing class and the other looked at 6 sections of an english composition class.  Each lasted a semester, and gathered qualitative data about the classroom conditions that had an impact on a student’s successful completion of the course.  She also participated in a large scale field study of 15 community colleges in 6 states, and another national study of technological education.

The argument in the book comes from research on community college students, but it is still of interest to those of us who work with students managing the transition to college at any institution.  It is perhaps more relevant to those of us at institutions that attract a significant number of first-generation college students.

I am not sure entirely what I think of the book – on the one hand, it was a quick easy read and I enjoyed it as I usually enjoy well-reported stories drawn from qualitative investigation.  On the other hand, it struck me as one of those books that reports on an important conclusion, but one that could have been well-covered in an article-length treatment.  The conclusion is drawn over and over again in this longer work, so sometimes chapters go by without me feeling like I had really encountered anything new.

What is that conclusion?  I said to Caleb earlier that I wasn’t sure where the fear factor part of the title came into the book (becuase at that point I was on about page 17) and I have to say now that the title is good insofar as the real point of this book is on fear, and how that emotional state affects student success.  (Insofar as it evokes a really awful reality show, on the other hand, not so good).

And in this, I think the book is valuable.  We don’t think and talk about the role of affect enough in higher ed – at least not on the academic side – nor about the intersections between affect and cognition and affect and everything else we do, and this book is an important corrective to that.  Basically, Cox argues that students can be scared away from completing college – not because they are not capable of doing college-level work, but because they have not been prepared to do it before they get to college, and they are not helped to do it once they arrive.

The many students who seriously doubted their ability to succeed, however, were anxiously waiting for their shortcomings to be exposed, at which point they would be stopped from pursuing their goals.  Fragile and fearful, these students expressed their concern in several ways: in reference to college professors, particular courses or subject matter, and the entire notion of college itself — whether at the two- or the four-year level.  At the core of different expressions of fear, however, were the same feelings of dread and the apprehension that success in college would prove to be an unrealizable dream.

Cox argues that these fears are exacerbated when one doesn’t come in to college knowing how to DO college.  And that most first-generation, non-traditional and other groups of our students don’t come to college knowing what the culture and mores of academia are.  They have expectations, but those aren’t based on experience (theirs or others’) and when those expectations are challenged, their reaction is to think they can’t do it at all or to convince themselves that it is not worth doing .

Professors too have their own set of expectations about how good students approach their education, and when faced with student behaviors that are different than those expectations would suggest, they make some faulty assumptions about why students are behaving the way they are. A student who attends class every day but never turns anything in  — that’s incomprehensible behavior to the professor who doesn’t understand how that student possibly thinks they are going to pass.  After reading Cox’s book, you consider the possibility that that student doesn’t think they are going to pass, but are just playing out the semester in a depressed

I still feel like I am missing from this book much of a sense of why professors have these expectations  —  besides “that’s the way we’ve always done things.”  In other words, it doesn’t really work for me (nor do I think Cox is really claiming) that there is no value at all to the way that professors were trained, and that that they are hanging on to methods that don’t work simply because they went through it so others should have to.  Yeah, yeah, there are professors like that.  But my sense as a person engaged in higher ed is that a lot of professors think that there is value in the way they look at learning, meaning-making and knowledge creation and the joy they get from teaching comes from working with students who can share that joy.

Cox does a good job arguing that many of the students they have are not ready to do that, but I don’t get the sense from her book that she doesn’t see the value in that view of education.  I have a much clearer vision from this book what the students Cox interviewed value —  mostly the economic benefit they connect to the credential — but because her research didn’t extend to the teachers, I don’t have that same sense from them.

Here’s the thing – universities aren’t just about the teaching. They’re not going to be just about teaching and it’s not a really hard argument to make that they shouldn’t be just about the teaching.  A lot of professors were hired for their research, and the research they do makes the world better, and connecting students to that kind of knowledge creation is cool.  And even when they are about teaching they’re not just about the teaching of first-year undergraduates making the transition into college.  Even those students in a few years, immersed in a major, are going to need something different than they need when they first hit campus.

Just as it is not useful to sit in meetings about teaching and spend all your time discussing the students you should have (and yeah, we’ve all heard those discussions).  I’m sure I’m not the only one to say that at some point you have to put your energy into the students you have.  But when I say that, and when a lot of people say that, they don’t mean – the students we have can’t learn how to participate in academic culture.  We don’t mean that – academic culture has no value to these students.  Which is the really valuable point in this book – unprepared does not equal incapable.   I don’t want to say the book offers no solutions, because it does.  I guess what I do have to say is that I don’t find those solutions convincing in a research university environment.

All of this, of course, goes well beyond the scope of Cox’s book and Cox’s research, which is about particular students in a particular setting where teaching, and the transition to college, is paramount.

It’s a long way of saying that while the book has value to those outside the community college setting, that value only  goes so far.  There is more work to be done figuring answers to the questions she raises in other environments.

Which is why the chapter that was probably the most interesting to me is chapter 5 – which examines the work being done by two composition instructors – instructors who by most accounts are doing everything “right” in their classrooms  — right by the Chickering-type standards of active learning and engagement and right by what we are constantly told these hands-on, tech-savvy experiential-learning-wanting students today need.  In other words, they’re doing the things we think we should be doing in the research university to connect the students to what it is that scholars do – and they’re failing.

The idea that students have to be forced to be free is not a new one, but it is a point that gets lost sometimes in discussions about what is wrong with higher ed.  We hear that lectures are dead, that students can’t learn that way, that they hate lecturing, they tune out, they want to learn for themselves, and … it just doesn’t always reflect my experience. They may hate lectures, but that doesn’t mean that’s not what they think higher education should be.  They have their expectations that they bring with them, and professors that try to turn some control over the classroom and over learning to their students can be shot down for “not doing their job.”  That’s what Cox found, and I’ve certainly seen it happen.  The assumptions that these professors are falling victim to aren’t assumptions that students are going to be unprepared, or ignorant, or unwilling to learn – they’re more the opposite.  They assume that students will be curious, will have a voice they want to get out there, will have learning they want to take responsibility for.

So, I’m glad I didn’t bail – but I’m also glad the book didn’t take more than a couple nights to read.

“how does the study measure up”

Here’s a great example of way that an academic blog post, written for a general audience, can be a crucial supplement or starting point for a student trying to decipher the peer-reviewed literature.  From Momma Data –

Blame Mom for High School Beer Binges: The Power of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

This post:

  • describes the study
  • identifies the important (and discipline-specific) concepts used by the authors
  • analyzes the study design
  • gives an opinion about the quality of the paper
  • explains the significance of the journal to the discourse

The only thing I’d like to see is a more robust comment stream – maybe some discussion/ refinement of the ideas. But all in all, a great example and on a topic students sometimes write about too!

tutorials a la carte

So the thing about DIY tutorials is that even though the technology bar required to build them is pretty low, there are some back-end logistical issues that have to be navigated.  When I decided I wanted to try these with some of my distance learning classes, I had to figure out how to create a locally hosted blog, and we ended up doing it in a way that hadn’t been tried before (using Drupal) so we had to go through some rounds of figuring out settings and styling.

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a bad thing to go through for me, or for the library.  And when colleagues wanted a similar tool, we were that much further down the road and had some good reasons to try a different tool.  Still, when the goal is “I want to get a tutorial up” these kinds of barriers aren’t necessarily what you want to go through.

I realize that a local option wasn’t the only option – if all I cared about was putting up a blog for tutorials quick and fast there are obviously tons of options out there.  But that wasn’t the only problem I wanted to solve.  I didn’t just want to make tutorials myself, I wanted to do something that would make it easy for all of us to create tutorials and other instructional aids.

The issue of how to share the burden of creating instructional materials has been around for a long time.  Learning objects repositories like MERLOT offer lots of options for teachers – the ability to borrow online instructional modules, and the ability to comment on and rate those tools.  Shared tutorial projects like ANTS let librarians share tutorials, collaborate on prioritizing and creating tutorials, and also provide a social space to talk about tutorial-related issues.  Here, locally, we have  CLIP (Collaborative Library Instruction Project) which takes a good step in the right direction – making source files available and shareable, letting librarians share some but not all of the work of tutorial-building.

CLIP is just getting off the ground, so I don’t know what will happen there.  But here’s the thing.  Whenever I have talked to anyone involved with projects like these, or heard them speaking about the larger issues, they say the same thing – getting participation from educators is really, really hard.  They spend a lot of time gathering the content for the repositories themselves, they have a core group of committed people sharing, but getting the concept of sharing — of taking the time to participate in these types of projects and communities – to be part of the normal workflow for teachers is super difficult.

My own experience with the Library Instruction Wiki (now offline due to basement server room flood) left me feeling pessimistic about that project’s stop reinventing the wheel tagline.  I have come to believe some things – some things that got me thinking that instead of sharing the final product of tutorials, the way to go is to figure out ways groups of teaching librarians can share a process:

1. Teachers like reinventing the wheel.

This is something Jean Caspers said to me once, and its stuck with me because I think it’s essentially true.  Not that teachers don’t want to borrow and adapt and take advantage of other people’s cool ideas and good work, but to really feel comfortable going into a classroom and teaching a group of students something, a lot of us need to feel like we’ve made the stuff we’re teaching ours.  And the only way to do that is to adapt, and reshape, and refine.  So we don’t want to just point to other people’s handouts and tutorials (sometimes we do, but go with it).  We want to make them ours.

And an important part of the cognitive process that a lot of us go through preparing to teach is preparing the materials.  I know that when I create a course page for a class, I’m thinking about how I am going to present the material in class, and about how I am going to transition from one topic to the next.  And when I make a tutorial for an online class, I want to tailor it to their assignment, and the process of putting it together helps me clarify what they need to know/do for that assignment.

So, it’s not a bad thing that teachers want to reinvent the wheel, not at all.  And I think it’s a need teachers have that should be considered by anyone trying to help them work collaboratively.

2. The hard part of developing tutorials isn’t technical, it’s in the content.  And that’s the hardest piece to share.

One piece of this is practical – try teaching anyone how to do anything research-related on your campus and see how long it takes before there is some local quirk that you need or want to explain.  It doesn’t take long.  There’s a reason why the tutorials we’re most likely to share are on topics like plagiarism or citations — things where we are all working on basically the same standards and rules, defined outside of our local institutions.

One piece of this is related to the above point.  We want the content to be tailored to the students’ needs – we have strong opinions about how to do research and about how to teach it and about what students need to know about it.  I don’t know, I haven’t talked to many people who say things like “I would totally borrow X’s tutorial, but it’s built in Camtasia and I would rather it be in Captivate. The people I talk to are more likely to forgo borrowing a tutorial because they don’t like something about it — they’d like to change the way it explains a concept, or to add just one more piece.

3.  There is one sure-fire way to make the technical part hard – that is to tell everyone they have to use the same tool at every stage of the process.

Now this may seem to undercut the whole process-sharing thing I mentioned above but bear with me – I’m really talking about all of the component parts of the final product.  If you tell everyone that they have to use the same tool to build webpages, that’s going to leave you with a few people upset yes.  You’ll also have a lot of people that don’t really care.

But if you tell them that they have to use the same thing to take screenshots, the same thing to do screencasts, the same thing to create word clouds, or to display bookmarks, or to push useful links — then you’re going to start getting the kind of resistance that makes people decide not to create the thing at all.  This is especially true if people have been left on their own to figure out their own best way to do those things before.

So, to get to the point already…

So, Hannah and I were working on redoing our big tutorial – and one of the problems we wanted to address was the bottleneck that occurs when only a few people can edit or make changes to a tool.  We also wanted to de-Blackboard our beginning composition assignments, and make them more lightweight and dynamic.  Thinking to kill two birds with one stone, we decided to look at content-management-izing our tutorial building process.

The brain trust behind Library a la Carte (an open-source, lightweight CMS for building course pages and subject guides) works down the hall from us, so we had a place to go with this problem.  We were initially open to a variety of approaches (including Drupal and WordPress) for building these tutorials, but we ended up deciding that extending LALC to include a tutorial-building function made the most sense.

We launched it barely-alpha, with the fall term beginning composition students.  We found a bunch of things that wanted fixing, but even in this sub-optimal situation, there was an awful lot of it that worked well.   Now it is in barely-beta, and with about 40 sections of beginning composition using it, the reports we have had about it not working for the students have been in the single digits.

This is what the tutorials look like:

(Here’s a link if you want to look at the whole tutorial.  This one is cool because it has modules that feature: images, cartoons, videos and text included.  You have to log in to see the quizzes, but not to see the rest)

There’s a few things I really like about it -

First, it allows our teaching librarians to share at a pretty granular (modular) level – I can borrow Hannah’s catalog-using screencast, and put it into one tutorial that is really about how distance students can have books delivered to them by mail, and also into another tutorial that is really about the serendipitous process of browsing for books on the shelves.

And even at that granular level, it lets us borrow-and-then-tweak — keeping things right in most teachers’ comfort zone.

Using an incredibly scientific data gathering method (n=1; n=me) I have determined that instruction librarians just may be more likely to borrow from each other and to remember to share with each other in this format.

Secondly, it solves the problem of where everything is going to live.  Because it is integrated with our subject and class guides, the system lets us create tutorials and then automatically puts them on the website, with no pesky decisionmaking steps beyond what to call the thing.  Which admittedly, can stymie me for a while, but…

Using the same data collection method (this time n=me and Hannah) I have determined that with this tool available, we are more likely to include tutorials and learning modules in the things we do for our classes, whether we meet with them face-to-face or not.

It also lets the librarian pull in content from elsewhere, so they can use any method they are comfortable with to create the content initially.  If I want to store my photos on flickr, and edit with Picnik, that works fine. But so does uploading the photos that I edited with Photoshop.  If I want to embed a video I edited with iMovie, I do the same thing I would do to drop in a screencast video I created with Camtasia.

Editing a video module:

It also lets us easily use dynamic content (which sometimes breaks the styling but, live and learn) so if I want to embed a delicious linkroll to recommend links to three different classes of students, I can, and then of course I can update all 3 class pages at the same time when I update my Delicious.  Or if I want to do the same thing by embedding a Twitter feed, no problem.

Again, because this is integrated with our class pages system, we’ve already made a lot of decisions about where to share some of our resources.  But even though we have a flickr archive, lots of us don’t use that for building the modules.  And even though we have a YouTube channel, the videos there can be created in lots of ways.

I have no idea at this point if anyone else is going to start using this, or if it will mostly be used to update our main tutorial and in beginning composition.  But I do like the concept of process-sharing, and I think this might be a way that idea makes sense.

visual topic exploration – for reals?

Remember back when I was sad about the demise of Ebsco’s visual search?  I got over it, but I never replaced it with the beginning composition students.  They still explore in Wikipedia, and a lot of them have fun with that, and I still talk about news browsing tools like newsmap in the advanced composition classes, but I haven’t had something to show that gets at that general idea of visual browse and topic exploration since the old visual search went away.

Until now?

Well, I don’t actually know.  But I know the answer is “maybe” which is something.  I was pointed to this tool this morning (still in beta, first area of concern is that I can’t tell if its going to stay free) — eyePlorer.com.

It’s a way to visualize Wikipedia information, which is something we’ve seen before.  But there’s something kind of fun and compelling about how it works.  And there are some add-on tools within the interface that could be really, really useful in the topic exploration phase of the research process.  Still, there are a couple of things that are giving me pause – I’ll get to those at the end.

First, the good.  It’s got circles.  No, seriously, I mean it.  It’s a fun interface to browse around in.

When you start the tool, you get an empty circle with a search box.  It does okay at figuring out the topic you want.  My first try was the topic of a student paper from a while ago.  I remembered this one because I had been pleased at the time that Wikipedia had a page for this student, specifically on their topic – orcas san juan.

EyePlorer wasn’t able to figure out what I meant by that search, but when I backtracked broader to just orcas, it did.  And better yet, one of the clusters of additional information was about places – and I was able to click and connect to information on the specific topic.

There’s a tool at the bottom of the screen that lets you zoom in to see more connections:

or out to see fewer:

If you click on the topics, you get a snippet from Wikipedia, and the option to get a little more.  The snippet is a link which will take you to the wikipedia page.  You can drag these snippets over to a notebook space, and move them around.

(Note – you have to have popups enabled for these things to work)

The note book thing in particular seems really potentially useful during topic exploration.

So why am I hesitant?  Two things.  First, I don’t really get the being able to click through to the Wikipedia page thing, because all of these subtopics and broader topics took me to the same page – the killer whale page from which they were all drawn.  It didn’t even take me to the part of the page the snippet was on, which would have put me closer to being able to click to another page — but I kept expecting to do that, to switch topics, within the tool and as far as I could tell in 10 minutes, I couldn’t.

This connects to the notebook as well – unless you do another search on another set of keywords, the notes that you pull over and rearrange are really just rearranging an existing Wikipedia article.  That’s not very useful.  Your notes do stay on the notebook from search to search, so that’s good – but I think you would need to build in specific guidance about research as an iterative, back and forth process, and make it clear that to use this tool to its fullest they should expect to search on multiple keywords.

That’s fine – research is like that and they should be prepared for back and forth and trying different things.  But when the term you want is right there, and you know that it is a hyperlink in the initial article, it is a little frustrating to have to re-search to get it.

The other, and more important hesitation is the clustering.  Much of the informational material on the site is in German, which I don’t read, or in the form of videos, which I don’t use.  So the answers to this might be there and I was too ignorant/lazy to figure them out.  But I don’t really understand how these different clusters (like slices of pie – color coded?  These areas are representing some kind of clustering) work.  If you mouse over the edge of the pie, you get a label – and some of those made sense (like “place”) but others – not so much.

Check this one out -

That refers to the little blue snippet – mean of transportation.  The Hudson Strait, that I can understand (though I’m not sure how it is different than the other bodies of water which go under “infrastructure”) – but Squid?  If you click on the dot, the snippet tells you that squid are a food source, so it seems like they should be below, in purple, with “milk.”

This might be a beta issue, right now it looks like the same categories attach no matter what the topic – at least I saw the same ones for peak oil and orcas.  And it also might be a language issue.  But I think this is worth keeping an eye on as a tool to encourage broad topic exploration.