Wednesday, August 3, 2011

EasyBib: Mobile Research, Annotation, and Information Literacy

I had the pleasure today to spend 30 minutes with Jessica Bacques who took me on a virtual tour of EasyBib.  As a community college instructor, I have seen the challenges that my own students have faced with mastering both the research and annotation process, as well as effectively assessing the credibility of digital sources.  EasyBib offers an easy to use, web-based tool  (with mobile app option -- currently only iPhone but Android and iPad will follow soon).

Dynamic, Digital Note Taking
Really, EasyBib blends the best of both worlds -- it provides a paperless approach for students to begin the research process by creating digital "sticky notes" within their account that can be organized into groups by dragging and dropping them onto each other.  The groups can be labeled with titles and also identified through color coding.  Personally, watching the note taking demo brought me right back to my own middle school years when I had a teacher who demonstrated how to take research notes on paper notecards.  That strategy, honestly, is an excellent one but who wants to manage paper notecards today in our digital mobile society?

After the "sticky notes" are made, grouped, and coded, a user can then automatically drag them (in groups) over a separate working space and EasyBib turns the content from the sticky notes into a clean outline format.

One-Click Bibliography Entries
As for creating a bibliography (that can also be annotated), that's streamlined too.  To build a bibliography, users with an iPhone app can simply scan a book's barcode and in the web client a user can enter an ISBN number if using a book and EasyBib provides a list from which you just click the citation you want to use.  Throughout the creation process, users who have a Pro account can easily toggle their bibliography to appear in either MLA, APA or Chicago/Turbian format -- free accounts only provide content in MLA format.  If only I had this in grad school!

I know there are folks out there who are going to criticize EasyBib and argue that it takes the "rigor" out of research.  For me, I see it as an opportunity bridge a student's passion and interest in a topic directly into the research process, rather than watching them stumble and get frustrated with the languages of MLA, Chicago, APA, etc. and fumble with trying to bridge their digital world with academia's expectations.  There's no greater obstacle in research than getting hung up on the process.  Doing research should be seamless so one can focus on developing their thoughts, ideas, and arguments.

Fostering Information Literacy
And, one final feature that I think ALL of us could learn from!  Today we continue to stumble through a transition from academic traditions rooted in paper, peer-reviewed content to digital content that may be credible, somewhat credible, or a bunch of slop.  Web 2.0 has really blurred one's ability to discern credible information from crap.  To paraphrase what Howard Rheingold has said, "The number one thing our student need to learn today is how to develop their own crap detector."


In EasyBib, if you select "website" as your source type, you are provided with a box to paste the url to your website.  If that website is one of the top 5,000 sites accessed by EasyBib users (this is a beta feature and this number will expand as we move forward), it will apply a rubric to assess the validity of the site.  You can click on the "Learn More" link to view the rubric and begin to learn how and why the site is valid, may be valid, or is not valid.  To me, this makes a fabulous learning activity in and of itself for librarians, professors, teachers and students.

You can learn more about EasyBib here or watch the video overview below.  If you are using EasyBib, please leave a comment here to share your experiences!  Thanks.

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