Dr. Chris Guder and Hanna Schmillen from the Ohio University Libraries have created an online workshop for the OHIO community. The workshop features several short videos that teach students, faculty and staff how to use Zotero, which is a free citation generator and reference management software.
Guder, the subject librarian for education, said that the tool was most helpful in organizing citations for papers, theses or projects that require many sources. Zotero also has the ability to plug into Microsoft Word or Google Docs, which Guder said was very helpful for adding citations, in which you give credit to the creators of the resources you used, to papers.
“As you’re typing your paper,” he explained, “you can click on the plug-in and put the in-text citations and the reference list into the Word document using Zotero with whatever style guide you’ve chosen. It’s pretty cool.”
The workshop walks users through every step of Zotero in short, targeted videos. Zotero allows users to save sources from the web or from a database directly through the tool. In the Zotero application on your computer, you can then organize the sources by project or by subject.
When Zotero is added as a plug-in, an icon appears in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. When you reference a source in your paper, you can click the icon, find the source in the collection of resources you’ve saved to Zotero and the software will automatically insert a citation into the paper. When you’re finished, you can also use Zotero to create a bibliography, or collection of all of the sources that were referenced.
Schmillen, the subject librarian for health sciences, pointed out that it also helps back up research and sources so that they don’t get lost if a computer or browser crashes. The software works with almost all browsers and operating systems, she said, so it’s accessible to help most students save and cite their work.
They created the workshop to help walk students, especially graduate students who are required to conduct research and write theses, through setting up the program and better organizing their research using the free tool.
“The main takeaway of the [online] workshop is getting the Zotero software downloaded, going through all of the technical hoops to make sure it’s working properly on your device and then actually being able to utilize the software as its intended,” Schmillen said.
The workshop was originally designed to be in-person, but once that was no longer an option due to the coronavirus pandemic, much thought was put into the format of the workshop.
“I would say we chose this asynchronous format because of the current Covid situation, but that this decision was backed up by [a] research article that showed distance students preferred a video they could watch when needed,” Guder said.
Guder helped write the research paper that they used to help determine students’ online learning preferences. In 2017 he, along with Jessica Hagman and Hilary Bussell, called “Research Needs and Learning Format Preferences of Graduate Students at a Large Public University: An Exploratory Study.” The research that the team conducted showed that graduate students preferred videos that were always available over face-to-face learning.
The study used focus groups, interviews and surveys to capture the attitudes and preferences of graduate students at OHIO. When students were asked their preferred learning format, the study reported that “among all participants who ranked their learning format preferences, ‘a video I could watch as needed’ was ranked the most preferred among all students, giving it a slight edge over… ‘an in-person workshop.’”
This open availability makes it easy for a spread-out student population with many different schedules to utilize the workshop. The videos are also short and easy to follow – none are more than four minutes long.
“We did this so you could watch all the videos in a row like you were in a workshop, or you can say, ‘I just need help with this one thing,’ and just watch one of the videos,” Schmillen said. “It allows a little more choice for the learner to figure out what they need.”
The workshop is available to the entire OHIO community, or anyone who wants to learn how to use Zotero. It was mostly geared toward those who are new to online management systems, like Zotero, and for those who want to learn additional organizational methods. Guder and Schmillen offer additional tips on using the collaborative tools that Zotero offers, which allow folders to be shared between Zotero users and other organizational tips.
Moving forward, Guder and Schmillen both said that they may be doing more online workshops in the future, depending on whether students return to campus and the University commences in-person lectures and learning in the fall 2020 semester. Until then, they urge students and faculty with questions to reach out to them and make suggestions for future workshops.
“We want suggestions of other workshops and things that people want access to,” Schmillen said. “We do so many things at the Libraries and have so many resources available, and we don’t want that to be hidden.”