Last night my daughter asked me about citations for her Geography project. Now let it be made clear, my children, while lovely human beings, are in the “potted plant” phase of adolescence. So this was pretty rare. It’s also rare for them to acknowledge my knowledge or specialisation either. But despite her multi-big-$$ education in a big name school (not where I’m at), and the fact that she’s highly motivated and organised, good research habits have not been instilled in her. Her references consisted of a couple of URLs and the in-text citations were random with “I KNOW mum sigh” when I raised my eyebrows. I asked what referencing style she had to use – “we can chose”. So I suggested APA – because I love it more than MLA8 and because Geography as a humanities subject is probably better suited to it long term.
I then had to teach her a few of the research habits that have served me well through two back-to-back masters degrees. This stuff is not brain science. If anything it’s like washing dishes and putting them in the cupboard. We re-activated her Evernote account that she’d opened for one enthusiastic teacher some time in the last 6 years. We then clipped all the articles into a Geography file in Evernote and tagged them with the project name. Next up was getting her citations into Zotero, the tool I prefer for upper secondary.
(After the whole debacle about RefMe / EasyBib etc. I’m committed to one tool, not following the latest trend, which inevitably seems to be about who is trying to monetise education and learning. For primary and Middle School, it’s Noodletools)
There are many things I like about Zotero. The fact that it’s amazingly accurate in its citations and the really really good customer support being the main ones, but also the intelligence and diligence of the user-base can’t be denied. I was pleased to see that in their latest update – getting set up and integrated into Word has been made a whole lot easier. Yes, good old fashioned Word. GoogleDocs have their place but when one moves from being a child, you need to be more sophisticated and demanding in your needs and GoogleDocs doesn’t cut it.
So then I had her put the references in, via the Chrome extension (download the extension), make sure she had the right citation type, put in the missing data. Showed her OWL Purdue for APA, bookmark it, showed her the APA style blog site which has more relevant Q&A type things – like how to cite Google Maps).
And then the magic could happen – click on the end of the sentence, open Zotero in Word, put in the in text citation, click at the end of the document and have all the references upload. Two hours. But hopefully that will be a lifetime of research “washing up” as you go along rather than crisis at the end.
Then I asked her what the style guide was for her assessment. Again, nothing. Really teachers, please just get in the habit of telling them what you want things to look like. Line spacing, headings, margins, citation style etc. It really will set them up for University where this type of thing is so important. Stupidly important maybe, but professors can and do deduct plenty of marks for not getting it right.