An Information Organization Tool for Academics and Students Alike

Tired of searching through hundreds of bookmarks or searching through a bunch of folders on your computer for that website or paper that you know you saw and now need but can’t remember where you put it?  I might just have a solution to your informational organization woes.

Every spring term I teach CH 407 Seminar which is a capstone class for our chemistry majors in which they are required to carry out an in depth literature review on a topic of current interest in chemistry, biochemistry, environmental or forensic science and present a public seminar on that topic.  One of the things I try to do in all my classes that involve students developing research and writing skills is to expose them to different technological tools that can aid in completing their projects.  This year the students learned to use an open source information manager called Zotero which allows you to collect, manage, and generate citations for research sources.  While there are a number of research management tools out there, Zotero is a good choice for students because it is both a cross-platform solution and is free!  Zotero was developed as a plug-in for Firefox but can work in other browsers such as Chrome and Safari through the Zotero standalone application.  Zotero allows you to organize your research materials into searchable project collections, attach pdfs, notes and images to your citations and generate bibliographies using word processors such as Word or OpenOffice.  You can sync your Zotero library allowing access from multiple computers.  References can be added to your Zotero library directly from a database, a journal’s website, a Google Scholar search, a library’s catalog, a webpage, from pdf files you have made by scanningdocuments or from pdfs that are stored on your hard drive, etc.  When needed, you can generate citations in one of more than two thousand formats.  This is a particularly useful feature for my students who are required to prepare and distribute an annotated bibliography to accompany their seminar presentation.  Here is a short video that gives you an overview of the features of Zotero:

While free is a very good price for students, there are other options for the gainfully employed academic.  Probably the closest rival to Zotero in the paid market is Endnote ($249.95 download or $299.95 shipped ; $113.95 with student discount).  Both tools possess many similar features.  There is a very good article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Brian Coxall that compares the two products.  If you are interested in a reference management tool, I would suggest you read Brian’s article to see which solution is right for you.

An Unusual Way to Present Introductory Information on a PowerPoint Slide

Sometimes an interesting opening slide can get your audience’s attention.  There is a website that will generate a “newspaper clipping” that can be used to create an unusual introductory type of slide.  All you have to do to generate a clipping like the sample one I’ve added Sample_Newspaper_graphicis go to the newspaper clipping generator and type in a fictional name for your newspaper, a date, a story title and some copy.  The site will generate a jpg graphic file that you download to your computer and insert as a picture on your slide.  I just grabbed something from one of my chemistry students senior seminar abstracts to make this sample graphic.  The entire process took about a minute.  This is not something that should be overused, but I thought it might be an interesting way to present introductory material….and yes, your audience is going to read it, but it could be part of what you are saying in your introduction.  Clicking the link above will take you to the graphic generator.

Re-Kindling The Blog


This academic year has been incredibly busy, and as a result, I haven’t found the time to make posts to the blog.

Courtney_Dirks_To_do_graphicI hope to get some new content posted and revisit some topics that were raised in the past such as using mind-mapping software and other new tools in my Capstone Seminar class.  I also started a new project that involved a trip to the Galapagos Islands and will do some posts on what I am doing on that project that might be of interest to others.  Stay tuned…

Graphic: Courtney Dirks, FLICKER Creative Commons