Electronic Eye April 2016
Full disclosure: I adore EasyBib (http://www.easybib.com/). I have been a major proponent of EasyBib use in my schools since the early days when it was just a little startup company founded by two young men who had written a bibliographic generator to help them succeed with their own research. I believe that I have reviewed the product and its changes at least twice in this column. Most recently, I was impressed with the new analytic tools that would allow students to consider the type and quality of sources that they were placing in their bibliography. I’ve continued to enjoy the fact that I can remove advertising for my students through the use of a simple coupon code.
So, it did begin to rock my world when ImagineEasy, EasyBib’s company, announced to users last summer that the product “EasyBib for School” was no longer going to be something that I could purchase and that it was going to be replaced with a new and much more expensive tool, called ImagineEasy Scholar (https://www.iescholar.com/).
Would this new product be worth transferring my deep love and respect to and it would it be something that I could consider finding a place for in my limited budget? I decided to give it a test drive.
First, I want to explain a piece of functionality that EasyBib for Schools currently has, which is called the Notebook. With the Notebook, a user can create cards with different facts listed on them, much like paper index cards. These cards could then be manipulated into piles on a desktop. These piles would eventually turn into an outline.
For me, the powerful part of the notebook was the card itself, which gave users the opportunity to choose how they were going to notate their facts. They could quote directly from the source, paraphrase information from the source, enter in their own ideas, or even do all three. In my opinion, this combated a major challenge for student researchers, which is learning how to work honestly and effectively with informational text. Young adults often get charged with academic dishonesty when they borrow large passages of information from sources and forget to quote those passages. They can also get into trouble when they promote paraphrased ideas as their own thoughts.
Today’s ImagineEasy Scholar is an outgrowth of EasyBib for School’s Notebook feature but takes it a big, useful step further.
To first use ImagineEasy Scholar, a user logs into the Scholar Web site using the Chrome browser and also installs a little extension into the Chrome browser called the “ImagineEasy Scholar Notation Tool.” This tool looks like a little thought cloud in the top, right of the browser’s toolbar. When a user is reading through a text passage, they can access the annotation tool and then highlight a passage from the text. A small tag opens up below the highlighted passage, allowing the user to change the color of the highlight and also gives a link to open the notecard directly. When a user opens the note card, they see that the notation tool has placed the highlighted text on the notecard as well as created a citation for the actual source. A user can then choose to write a paraphrase of the passage or type in their new thought about the passage. The other brilliant thing that happens when a student chooses to begin highlighting a source is that the page is cached into ImagineEasy Scholar and is accessible on their Web site.
As a student is researching, they use the annotation tool to mark up sources with highlights. The annotation tool creates notecards that pair with these highlights. A student is either paraphrasing the passages as they go along or they can do so later. They can add their own ideas to the cards or they can do so later. I tested out the notation tool on a variety of online resources in addition to sites on the free Web and it seemed to work well with several subscription databases.
At some point, a user transitions to the actual ImagineEasy Scholar interface to view their notecards. These notecards have been collected into a project folder that was created when a teacher assigned work to the student or when a student created their own personal project.
Each project has four tabs in the Scholar interface. The first is a Project Details tab that might have information about the assignment. The second is the Notebook tab where all of the cards have been collected. The third tab collects the Sources where a user can view their citations and also view the cached copy of their source. The fourth tab is Analytics where a user can consider their diversity of source types as a pie chart, see how they are synthesizing their information by viewing a bar graph showing how many note cards contain paraphrases or new ideas and also a pie chart for attribution, showing how many note cards actually have sources listed on them.
A student will do most of their work in the Notebook tab, creating groups for different ideas and then moving ungrouped note cards into each group. Interestingly enough, this is not a drag and drop activity as it was in EasyBib for Schools. Instead, students access a drop-down menu on the card itself to choose between groups. Students can continue to add to their notecards as the go along.
Eventually, a student will most likely decide to export their Notebook, which turns it quickly into an outline which has all of the information on the notecard clearly identified as a direct quote, paraphrase, or new idea. From there, they can start to write their actual project. The bibliography can also be exported in the same way and either be imported into Google Drive or copy and pasted onto another location.
There are many things that I liked about the interface, including the fact that the color of the highlighting carried over onto the color of the cards in the notebook. The colors were attractive hues of orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. The “fill-in-the-blank” nature of the note cards could easily help students remember to paraphrase and also come up with their own thoughts and ideas.
The big question for me is whether students and teachers would embrace this tool and use it for the research process or find it another add-on to the process that takes more time. So many times I watch students conducting research where they are encouraged by their teachers to collect direct quote text passages onto some piece of digital paper like a word document or a Google doc. They are exhorted to make a note of which source they pulled the quote from. Of course, that step is quite often forgotten.
In the end, the students are left with a working collection of quotes without reference to where they came from and, quite often, the information is in no particular order.
With ImagineEasy Scholar, students would be highlighting and saving text but their source would be connected to it. They could begin the process of synthesis during the notetaking stage and they would be collecting their citations for a bibliography as well. I feel that the use of this tool would not add greatly to the amount of time their work flow takes and it may help them to work smarter.
There are a few things that are missing from ImagineEasy Scholar that I did appreciate about EasyBib for Schools. One of them is the slowly developing “Credibility Checker” which sometimes gave students guidance on choosing one source over the other by giving it either a green “credible” rating or a red “not credible” rating. Not too many resources had been evaluated, however.
The other thing is that the creation of the citation for the source is so automated that students don’t have the opportunity to make certain that their citation is complete. EasyBib’s earlier versions required students to go through the step of looking over the pieces of information that are missing from the citation and go hunting for them. While you can edit citations within the source tab, it has been taken away from the student’s work flow. I absolutely get why this is the case. It would definitely slow down the process of identifying useful passages to highlight and note take.
Use of this tool would definitely require the backing of teachers who would need to encourage students to use this tool on their own as well as assigning work for them to complete within it. This could be a great moment for librarians and teachers who assign research projects to collaborate even further on just how to teach the process.