Online tutorials and teaching citation management tools

The number one thing that was missing for me with online tutorials is the “stop and wait for me to try it” aspect of a live instructor. Obviously, there is a pause button, I know, but even so, it’s not the same. If I have an automated learning experience, I like to be able to work through the process on an imaginary project or something, where I can compare my finished project to the model. Instead, tutorials can often be guided tours… I tried a few as a got to know Zotero and Mendeley a little better. (But I still don’t really get it, sigh…)

Are you familiar with the University of Arizona’s “Guide on the Side” software? It’s kind of that idea of having a virtual coach talking you through the steps as you go, like in a sidebar. I would love to see more of this kind of thing! Maybe that’s something I will have to keep in mind if ever I am an online workshop creator!

While live instructors can give feedback, answer questions or re-calibrate their instruction based on where the learner is, an insightful online tutorial could predict some of its learners needs and try to proactively address them. For example, I feel like PIMs involve a paradigm shift for many would-be users, as they probably already had some kind of system in place. When I switched from Firefox to Google Chrome, I was overwhelmed and felt like I needed an experienced insider to hold my hand and show me what I needed to know–not the “special features show-off videos from Google.” For whatever reason, the idea of a search bar and address bar all in one was a shift for me.

Short of being forced/pushed/strongly encouraged to use a PIM, I feel similarly about leaving behind my old system. I’d really like someone to just sit down with me and show me live what they like about Zotero and Mendeley. (I also wish I knew who uses either in real life, so that I have a buddy to bug with questions.) But, given that I lack a peer to sit down with me to show me the ropes, I feel like the closer you can get to a step-by-step get-to-know-the-tool workshop (and farther from the guided-tour video) for citation management instruction, the better.

Zotero, Mendeley and managing my personal information

This week I was tasked with choosing a PIM (Personal Information Management) tool between Zotero and Mendeley.

The jury’s still out for me on this one. It just seems to me that the learning curve is a little steeper than necessary for advanced features with PIM and it might be hard to convince experienced researchers to make the move when they have already developed systems that work for them.

I tried Mendeley over the summer for my term project with my summer class, mostly because, I think at the time, Mendeley had the MS Word plugin that would sync a bibliography for me. If I’m not mistaken, that is something that Zotero does now too. However, I found out that I didn’t actually like the bibliography feature, at least as I was working on an annotated bibliography, because the Mendeley plugin didn’t like that I wanted to “get between” the entries and add an annotation. I love MS Word and consider myself to be an advanced user, but it can be frustrating when the dummy-proof formatting features take over assuming they know what you want. I ended up using the Mendeley bibliography in a separate doc, and then copying and pasting the entries elsewhere so that I could have them and manipulate them. Call me stubborn, but I wasn’t quite ready to hand the control over and didn’t have the time to learn all the fine points on how it actually could have worked for me more efficiently.

My other main frustration with PIMs, and this goes for both Zotero and Mendeley, is that importing something manually is cumbersome and tedious. If the automated importer doesn’t sense the article, you are stuck fixing the metadata. In some situations it’s not a big deal, but alternative sources, like web media–videos, online interviews, etc, maybe me wonder how the PIM can even help if I’m still doing all the work. With Mendeley, it didn’t even always sense the bib data within an article from the UW-Libraries database. I asked myself, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just go back to “my old way” and do “export citation information” in APA format and copy and paste it right into my project document?” For most small research projects, yes, I think it is easier my old way–especially if the alternative is manually entering the metadata. However, I can imagine for a dissertator, PIMs are the WAY. TO. GO.

I know it sounds like I just bagged on Mendeley, so why would I pick it over Zotero now? Truthfully, going into this week, I expected to make a switch to Zotero because I was disappointed in my first impressions of Mendeley. I downloaded Zotero (Mac platform) and did some compare/contrasting. To me, they are almost exactly the same. They look almost the same. I don’t feel like one is more intuitive than the other. I liked that Zotero’s save citation dialog box doesn’t require a click to make it go away like Mendeley does after you save something–but at the same time, I duplicated records more than once with Zotero because I wasn’t watching for the dialog box after I clicked and hit it a second time to be sure.

I also like that Mendeley has a dedicated iOS app, while there are only 3rd party apps for Zotero. I’m not convinced I will use the mobile feature, but it’s nice to know.

The feature that pushes me a little toward the Mendeley side is the “Recommend related documents” button that searches your library and recommends other similar results for you. I could see this as a useful tool when researching to be sure you hadn’t missed anything. If it exists in Zotero, I couldn’t find it. I am still open to using Zotero and I don’t feel like I know how to use the full capacity, especially with annotations, on either, but I figure I should continue to give them a shot.