Monday, July 26, 2010

Top (Free!) Tools to Organize Online Research

I'm starting to think about what tools I'm going to introduce to the IB Extended Essay students to help organize themselves as they do their research. It seemed like a good time to do a re-cap (or a gathering!) of the different online note-taking/bookmarking tools I've mentioned before, and to look for any new ones.  All of these apps work via browser add-ons, and all allow sharing.

I will add that I tested several different tools; I only included a) those that allow you to grab and save content (images, text, etc.) b) the ones that actually worked.  A couple that shall remain nameless repeatedly crashed my browser, wouldn't save content, etc.  They didn't make the list, even in a negative review.  I also didn't include Google Notebook because they've stopped working on it. With that said, here are my top choices:

Diigo: Originally my app of choice, Diigo's biggest flaw is that you can't make folders to organize/categorize your saved information, which means you have to rely heavily on tagging to sift through the items. I'm not sure kids are all that methodical (or consistent) in their tagging, so that's a drawback.  Still, it's a nifty app, and they recently added the ability to capture screenshots and add call-outs to the image. Very cool. Diigo is most famous for the ability to both highlight text on a website, or add public or private sticky notes to the site.  (Kids really love that!)  They offer an education account that makes student sharing and collaboration a breeze. Diigo now has a web highlighter for Safari on the iPad as well as an offline reader for the iPhone.

iCyte:  The best thing about iCyte is it's so incredibly easy to use.  While the features are somewhat limited, it's perfect for upper elementary and middle school students. Clicking on the right side of the iCyte browser button captures a screenshot of the page you're on and brings up a window that allows you to assign the capture to a project, tag the shot and add notes. Clicking on the left side brings up a list of all your captures.   How easy is that?

Evernote:  The granddaddy of them all, of course, and probably the tool I will use with my IB students. Evernote is multi-faceted in that has a Firefox add-on, a desktop application, an iPhone/iPad app  AND an online version.  All of which sync, of course.  You can also add notes from Facebook, Twitter or via email. Evernote also recently added Trunk, a collection of a wide variety of apps and hardware that also work with Evernote. You can add images, text, audio, and video. Evernote saves it all. You can create folders to organize it all. It allows users to create to do lists, which is nice to help students organize their research tasks. Because it does so much, there is something of a learning curve, but it's not huge.  You can find my more detailed review here.

SpringPad:  While not as elegant as Evernote, SpringPad has one feature I really like: it has a notebook app that allows students to add content, and then arrange it onto different tabs. So, as you can see in the image, I created a general notebook for research on St. Francis, with tabs for him, the 5th crusade, and the sultan.  It has an alarm feature that can send either email or SMS reminders (about due dates, for example), as well as a to-do list to help students organize themselves.  Like the others, it can grab text as well as capture a screenshot of your webpage. It also offers apps for the iPhone or Android.

Zotero:  I have a real love/hate thing going on with Zotero.  I love it in theory.  Designed for college and graduate level research, it is phenomenal at capturing bibliographic info from online books, journal articles, websites--even pdf's--with a simple click, and allows users to choose from the major citation styles.  It's a cross between EasyBib and EverNote, in essence.  Sort of a free Noodle Tools.   It will store full files, you can add notes, grab screenshots and all the usual collaborative functions.  You can even use it as a notetaking tool with physical texts (though there's no reason you couldn't do that with Evernote, too.) Students manually add the bibliographic info, then notes are grouped under that entry. But for some reason I just don't like working with it much, and I don't think it would be all that intuitive for high-school students, though I'll admit I've never tried it with them.  If any of you have experience with it, I would be interested to hear what you think.

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