As a result of a comment I posted on The Chronicle of Higher Education ProfHacker blog article, “How Do Your Tools Help You Move Forward?” I learned about Citelighter, an online research tool. I’ve taken a brief look at the tool, which enables researchers to download a browser extension that allows highlighting and annotating of material encountered online. The extension enables exporting bibliographic citations in MLA, Chicago, and APA formats, and it creates what I would consider a kind of digital chapbook. This can be used for collecting and annotating sources in a documented listing, and could probably be used to create note sets for writing research. It’s crazy easy to use; if it handles citations effectively following correct APA, Chicago, and MLA documentation formats, I’m confident it could be a great way to collect data for writing.
The tool’s default setting, however, collected the highlighted material as a direct quotation. That’s exactly what it should do, and it offers the option to add an annotation on the fly. The danger, in my mind, is that it makes the lazy student’s method of research easy. Rather that encouraging paraphrasing, the tool makes collecting quotations the default method of “researching.” While this is a quick way to collect data to support claims, it’s not an ideal way of internalizing material for synthesis and analysis. Synthesis and analysis are difficult skills that improve with practice; Citelighter doesn’t appear to encourage practicing those skills.
On the other hand, I love the tool’s simplicity and functionality, and I will explore it further. I could imagine it being a great way to handle reading and annotating sources for comprehensive examinations, and I may give it a spin for just such a purpose. And I have a conference paper to write this semester; maybe I’ll try it out for that purpose, too, and report on the results.
I’ve also recently learned about a publishing tool called Scalar, offered by The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture. I know little about it, so I’ve signed up for an introductory webinar next week to learn more about it. The premise of the tool is that it offers multiple platform publishing; if the material works as a linear progression, it can handle and output that. But if the material works better as a nonlinear progression, it can handle and output that, too. And it offers many different ways to visualize your content using interactive graphics. I took a look at a website powered by Scalar titled Freedom’s Ring, and it’s a pretty remarkable online publication and learning tool. I encourage you to take a look at the site.
[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Mike Abney.]