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Zotero Groups and Teaching

Like Sean Takats, I’ve been experimenting with using Zotero’s new groups functionality in a graduate seminar I teach. Here’s a quick report.

The course in question is a beginning seminar required of all grad students in my department (though this year I also have someone from history as well). Its purpose is to introduce them to the history of the discipline (geography), and to given them basic skills to analyze the development of literatures in more focused subfields.

The course involves weekly readings and reading responses. In the past, students posted the reading responses to a course listserv. The major product of the term is a literature review paper on the evolution of a subfield.

So my initial plan was:

  1. setup a private Zotero group for the course
  2. create collections for different broad topics, as well as weekly topics
  3. ditch the class listserv and have students comment on readings by adding notes to the Zotero items

How well did this work? Not exactly as planned. Item 3 above was a disaster, since Zotero groups are not setup to facilitate discussions. So I switched back to the listserv.

It’s been a challenge to get students up and running with Zotero, but they’re starting to adjust, and contributing to what may have a lot of promise: a collaborative annotated bibliography of sorts that will hopefully develop over time so that it can be a resource for future grad students.

But, issues:

  1. Tag management is a PITA for individual users, but unmanageable for groups. Automatic tagging is really more trouble than help, but before realizing this, you end up with dozens and dozens of useless tags, and no easy way to bulk manage them. Morever, there appears to be some weird syncing-related bugs that happen when I edit or delete tags individually. This is a problem that I hope gets resolved.
  2. Sometime sync issues (which could be networking related; not sure).
  3. There’s no easy way to see who contributed what to a group library.
  4. Students have struggled a bit understanding how group items relate to personal items (they are copied, not shared).
  5. No annotated bib support (I ask them to submit one).

So I think it’s fair to say we’re finding promise in the group functionality, but that there’s still some work to do.

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