We Need Field Notes! Enhancing a Digital Tool Repository for Higher Education


This week I explore the third ISTE Standard for Students (ISTE 3). If you’re new to my blog, I invite you to read my earlier posts on ISTE 1 and ISTE 2 to learn more about the process and my previous explorations that led me to this post. As with the other posts, I use the same process: 1) triggering question; 2) exploration of research and resources; 3) integration of conversations with my MEd in Digital Education Leadership cohort; and 4) I bring it all together into a nice and neat resolution! Well, really it is more of a first attempt at trying to bring everything together and think about actions step, but also often results in more questions and an invitation to my readers for feedback!

ISTE Standards for Students 3: Research and Information Fluency

I focused on part C of the standard which states, “Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.” I focused my reflection on my library, in particular, the information literacy sessions taught by our librarians. Undergraduate and graduate students learn about searching for relevant, reliable, and peer-review sources across a number of databases our library has access to. In particular, students learn about discipline specific databases, journals, and key search terms and strategies to locate research. Furthermore, students learn how to properly cite the research they find. In addition to the professor-scheduled information literacy class sessions, the students learn how their librarian can support them through their academic career. For example, students can access resources online through regularly updated subject guides or can schedule one-on-one sessions for more in-depth support. Currently there isn’t a formal connection between what the librarians do with their information literacy sessions and what the Tech Desk does supporting student with digital project creation.

Triggering Question

ISTE 3c inspired me to wonder about how the Tech Desk and the librarians can work together. To that end, my trigger question asks, “What tools can the Tech Desk recommend and support for the research process that complement the information literacy program taught by the librarians to help undergraduates develop comprehensive research skills?”


O’Connor & Sharkey (2013) provide a more comprehensive view of information fluency (language used in the ISTE standard). They argue that we need to move beyond information literacy to recognize how intertwined and connected information literacy is with information technology. For example, searching and analyzing resources are directly connected with the digital tools used to to search, analyze, organize, comprehend, and produce new knowledge (pg. 34). Information fluency is about providing the resources to meet twenty-first century learning and providing opportunities for students to research digitally and create new knowledge digitally. Furthermore, comprehensive information fluency education is needed because while students heavily use of digital tools, such as the internet, their uses are not correlated with the ability to research successfully. Put differently, a student isn’t necessarily a successful and well-informed researcher just because she uses the internet.

Despite this trend, research continues to demonstrate that daily use of technology, including the Internet, does not guarantee advanced technological competency, or, more importantly, the critical analysis skills necessary to synthesize new information. The proliferation of digital information makes it increasingly important for every citizen to possess competencies for managing, integrating, creating, and communicating information, in addition to finding, using, and evaluating it (pg. 37).

In my situation information literacy sessions can be supplemented with education about various digital tools that can support students in their research process. Initially I focused my exploration phase on research management tools such as Zotero, Papers, Mendeley, and EndNote. These digital tools provide bibliographic management and organization of research articles. In addition, Papers has built-in search tools across various databases. I was particularly interested in learning more about these research management tools for my own use as well. I have yet to settle on one and add it to my workflow. However, after exploring each tool I was unsatisfied. I couldn’t reconcile how the Tech Desk could complete the information fluency cycle by just recommending a tool to help manage research. It didn’t feel adequate and definitely nothing near the comprehensive strategy that I was aiming for. I explored more!

As I researched more, looking for resources that could support the Tech Desk in partnering with librarians for a comprehensive information fluency strategy, I came across a helpful page from University of Alaska Fairbanks. Lott (2015) created a page on information fluency strategies with helpful resources. In particular, the final graphic, “a cycle of resources, actions, activities,” provided a helpful visual of what the process looks like and made me think about the role of the Tech Desk. Based on this cycle, there is potential for the Tech Desk to support the domain knowledge/critical thinking transition (explore) and the transition between critical thinking and presentation & participation (create).


Exploring more, I tweaked my searching to focus on digital scholarship/research tools. I found a very helpful repository of digital tools! In its own words Digital Research Tools Directory (DiRT), “[A]ggregates information about digital research tools for scholarly use….The DiRT Directory makes it easy for digital humanists and others conducting digital research to find and compare resources ranging from content management systems to music OCR, statistical analysis packages to mindmapping software.” While exploring DiRT’s resources I realized that not only were the tools helpful to research that would be helpful for the Tech Desk to provide education about, but also each category focused on higher level skills transferable between any of the tools they recommended. Even though there are a wide variety of tools designed to meet different needs, they can still be used to support the basic need of that particular category or twenty-first century skill. Furthermore, I appreciated their commitment to keep the site updated and relevant. Anyone can submit new resources to the repository, but there is a steering committee and editorial board to provide oversight and verify the accuracy of information. Furthermore, each item in the repository links to the Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities (TaDiRAH). This feature is extremely useful for locating possible tools. The taxonomy is used for goals & methods, research objects, and techniques. There could be great connections made for helping student access and knowledge of relevant tools to support the information literacy session taught by the librarians and the keywords used to find appropriate digital tools to support the students that the Tech Desk can support!


Simply put, I absolutely love the role of devil’s advocate! I love to question everything and challenge myself to look at the other side of whatever I am interested in–even when I think it is the best solution ever. Concerns are a way of looking at the other side. It provides the opportunity to step back and see the whole picture, analyzing the process, results, and creating questions that promote critical thinking. There are three significant concerns about DiRT. Firstly, while DiRT is an extensive and regularly updated repository for digital scholarship tools, there still may be the need to further vet the tools. Secondly, DiRT is a place to discover and explore new tools, but doesn’t have training materials readily available or linked. For example, it would be helpful if there was a Lynda.com or YouTube links for each tool. Finally, examples of the tool in use would be nice, some tools have comments that link to real-world applications, but it would be nice to have a dedicated tab.


During the integration phase I received helpful feedback from my cohort and professors. The feedback pertained to the the need and opportunity to possibly aggregate free tutorials and training materials from YouTube and other repositories. While Lynda.com is a robust and helpful tool there are many who may be restricited from accesing their resources because of the paywall. However, finding robust, up-to-date, relevant, professional-quality tutorials and videos may be difficult. This is definitely an area I want to explore more. Maybe even encourage quality resources, such as Lynda.com, to consider offering more of their videos for free to educational institutions.

Conversations with my cohort challenged me to think about how I might have an important role to play in creating or improving upon something like DiRT. I  struggle to find up-to-date apps and web services with evaluations and feedback from the higher education audience; both professors and students. One of my cohort members suggested that integrating something like field notes into a repository would be helpful. For example, a professor could submit their feedback about how they used an app, including information about the process, what worked, and what didn’t work and tips for improvement. Integrating this feature would greatly improve the relevancy and discovery process for others as they evaluate the tool for their own use. However, because apps and web services often are updated relatively often, it is important to keep the field notes lightweight and tied to a particular version of the app, so the time invested by the evaluator isn’t wasted when the app developer releases an update.

Finally, creating the ability to compare apps and web services side-by-side would be a helpful addition for professors and students to quickly evaluate and compare. I forsee this being something similar to how Common Sense Media’s Graphite tool. For something like this to be most helpful, creating a standard rubric would be needed.


As I conclude this process in the resolution phase I reflect on what I can personally do. This academic year I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of faculty on promoting active learning strategies in the classroom and, when appropriate, finding ways to integrate technology in untethered ways. Instead of the static behind the computer presentation model, we are exploring how iPads, for example, can enable faculty to wander the classroom interacting with students to build relationships and increase learning. One component of the project is inviting faculty to review iPad apps with a basic rubric. Our collection, albeit small, is the start to offering something for the broader higher education community. Our faculty provide field notes on different apps as they try to integrate different apps into their teaching process. My hope is that I can expand on what we’ve started and see how it might be integrated with something like DiRT.

DiRT, in particular, is a great resource to find web services and apps that can be used for the higher education community. Though, as mentioned earlier, there are a number of areas that it might benefit from improvement. Because this area is very interesting to my professional and educational area of interest I want to move forward with succinct steps by investigating a number of area.

Next Steps

First, inquire with the leadership of DiRT to explore what ideas and plans they have for improving and expanding their repository with a section for field notes, comparisons, and maybe evaluations based on a rubric. Second, refine the rubric I am using with faculty to see if there is a possibility for broad use–thus creating a new app repository for higher education or integration in another repository. Finally, explore options for robust, professional quality, and up-to-date support tutorials that are open access.

These are important steps for moving this conversation forward and they may take a significant amount of time. I invite you to share feedback and let me know if you have ideas for building and expanding resources that students and professors can use to learn about digital tools to aide in their academic scholarship, research, teaching and learning, and professional life.

Process Graphic

In my ISTE 2 post I captured a hand drawn graphic with the handy new app from Evernote called Scannable. I absolutely love that app and highly recommend it! This week I decided to try something new. Below is a digitally hand drawn graphic of my process for ISTE 3. I used Paper by FiftyThree, which is now free, on my iPad with the Pencil by FiftyThree stylus.



Bates, A. W. (n.d.). Theories of learning in a digital age. Teaching in a digital age (3). Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/part/624-2/

Lott, C. (2015). Information fluency. Retrieved from: https://iteachu.uaf.edu/online-training/develop-courses/planning-a-course/information-fluency/

O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013). Establishing twenty-first-century information fluency. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 53(1), 33–39. Retrieved from: http://ir.library.illinoisstate.edu/fpml/47/

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