Thing 13: Google Docs, Wikis and Dropbox
I have used all of these tools before; Google Docs personally and professionally, Wikis academically and Dropbox personally.
I’ve had more success with Google Docs for individual, personal use than for group work. I recently attended a work conference where the same topic was being discussed in four different rooms, there were four minute takers and all ideas were to be shared at the end. The idea was that we all worked on the same Google Document so that all attendees would have access to all of the suggestions made in the different rooms. Whilst this was an excellent idea in theory, in practice I found that my typing speed was too fast and the Auto-save kept interrupting my ability to add things to the document. Obviously when a discussion is moving at some speed this can be problematic. This may have been due to connectivity issues, and two of my colleagues ‘stuck with it’ and ended up using it quite successfully, the other colleague turned to pen and paper instead. I typed in to a Microsoft Word Document and then copy and pasted the information in to the Google Docs file so everything was still together. Whilst Google Docs may not be quite suitable for a fast-paced situation, the usefulness of being able to share documents is really quite wonderful and it’s a very useful tool. It is very useful having documents accessible from anywhere with an internet connection rather than having to store everything on a memory stick. This is particularly the case when students often lose their memory sticks, and actually we’ve been recommending Google Drive for this very reason and I suspect it’s something I’m going to make enormous use of once my course starts up again. This brings us quite nicely on to Dropbox!
I have used Dropbox previously, however it wasn’t with a great deal of success. I find any programs which need to be installed quite problematic as I use so many different machines it becomes quite impractical. Whilst I have used ‘portable’ versions, and indeed do so for Chrome instead of having to use IE, I much prefer completely ‘cloud’ solutions.
I have used Wikis for academic work in the past. They can be very useful and is a nice way of creating and developing information with a fragmented group. My only real issue with wikis is that they tend to be quite disappointing in terms of their appearance, I don’t find them exciting to use or feel delighted with the results generated, everything feels a little too linear and plain. I’m sure this is something I could change if I had the know-how, but as things stand at the moment I don’t. On the other hand I’m quite interested in how useful a wiki could be for the library service as I’m sure there’s an awful lot of useful potential there.
Thing 14: Zotero, Mendeley, CiteULike
This ‘thing’ should prove very useful for me; my Masters starts up again next month and I also am interested to know if there are any suitable reference managers that can be recommended to our students. I have access to RefWorks through RGU but that’s not something we offer to our students so it’s interesting to have a look at others. The only significant issues however is that they require being able to download programs to machines! I think this is a major block for a lot of incredibly useful software and it’s a real shame.
The function in Mendeley of having a ‘watched’ folder from which it retrieves metadata to populate its library sounds incredibly useful, and the cloud function also sounds very handy. Being able to share full text articles would be useful for collaborating with other students. It’s certainly very intriguing.
I’m definitely going to look further in to Mendeley – I never really got fully happy with RefWorks last year and reference management is definitely something I need to refine – I’m using the old Word Document method at the moment and keeping track as I go but that is really horribly inefficient.
CiteULike looks useful in that it doesn’t require the desktop download, and being able to upload PDFs could prove enormously useful. I’m not keen on how delicious has changed recently and so this could perhaps be an interesting alternative.
Having a reference manager that I can recommend to students would be incredibly useful, when I’ve mentioned them previously the students have been very interested, the problem arises when they have to download a file on to the computer as they don’t have these permissions. It looks as though there might be a portable version possible with a few tweaks involved, although I’m not sure this is a feasible recommendation to make to students. It also looks like it’s possible to install Zotero on to portable Firefox so that might also be a possibility. Perhaps it’s worth having some instructions on our website so the option is there for those who feel able. I think despite a lot of ‘digital natives’ talk, a lot of our students are actually quite nervous about using unfamiliar programs and software.
All in all, reference managers are definitely something I want to become more familiar with, not only for my own benefit but so I can hopefully pass on useful guidance to students. At the moment we emphasise the importance of referencing and keeping track of articles and so on, but if we have some software that can help them with this then I think it will have a bigger impact. At the moment it feels rather like “Keep track it is really important, you have to reference, bibliographies are vital, referencing is vital… oh and just pop URLs and information in a word document as you go.” It just seems unprofessional, almost! If we can say “You can manage your references using this software and it will help you generate a bibliography and keep track” I think it gives the whole thing more credence – i.e. This task is so important someone has actually made some software to help you with it. On some level I suspect that might help give more weight to the matter!