Monday, October 25, 2010

The other shoe drops

BeyondGoogle In the summer I reluctantly took the decision to drop delicious from our first year skills course. And now I have even more reluctantly taken the decision to drop CiteULike from our second year skills course.

There are two reasons I have taken this decision. The first is an analysis of usage. I have just looked at continued use of CiteULike by our final year students in the year following the second year course. 11% of students (13/116) were using CiteULike 6 months after the second year skills course in which they a were introduced to it and during their final year research projects. There's no other time when usage would be higher, so this is a disappointing outcome. I asked the users what they valued about CiteULike, and they said:
I use CiteUlike as a means for organizing papers for my dissertation, I upload a pdf for every one and it gives me access to all my relevant journals on any computer with the internet. I still write references myself in pieces of work but it helps to have the information readily available on CiteUlike. It is also very valuable if I see a paper on my dissertation topic on the internet and I can check instantly if I have the journal in my possession. I can't really compare it to any other tool as it is the only one I have used since being introduced to it on the BS2060 course. I can only compare it to organising papers in folders on my PC, and it is much more efficient than that! The most valuable thing about citeUlike is how readily it picks up DOIs and there are often 'share' links to CiteUlike on journal websites, cutting down the time it takes to record the information of journal articles.

I use CiteULike as a tool to quickly reference any of the written assignments that I have to do, as well as using the services' ability to store pdfs of papers online, which, given that I collect huge numbers of references for essays and the like, is an incredibly useful service. I regularly export my references from CiteULike for written work, but there are issues with the formatting it exports in which I can quickly remedy. CiteULike is significantly easier to use than equivalent programmes such as Refworks and the cloud-style storage makes it compatible with most machines. The most valuable features of CiteULike are the exporting ability saving me large amounts of time when referencing work, the ability to store pdfs of papers in a cloud, thereby allowing me access anywhere and the easy tagging system to make it simple to collate my references.

I'm currently using only CiteULike. I started using it again when I wasn't on my own computer and wanted to save some papers for later use, since then I use it to keep all my references together. I prefer it for its simplicity - Refworks was more complex and I wanted to work at speed, so I guess CiteULike just stuck.

I'm using CiteULike pretty much exclusively as a referencing tool. It's really easy to use, and unlike RefWorks will tell me if I try to add a reference more than once. I do find that very useful, since I'll often search for info on a topic at several different times and I don't always remember what papers I've already added to CiteULike. As for the most valuable aspect of CiteULike, it has to be having access to the same references in multiple locations. I might find a really useful paper while researching a gene at home or in the library, and if I then add that reference to CiteULike I can easily pull it up in seconds at work. It's a good way to coordinate my research.

I am a huge fan of simple tagging tools such as delicious and CiteULike and all too aware of the gap that the lack of uptake leaves in our student's skill-set. But in the end social is an emergent property and what we have gained in moving form a tool-centred PLE towards a people-centred PLN exceeds what we have lost. I need to figure out a way of re-introducing these tools via the PLN at the appropriate point, but that's not easy to do when you're trying to suppoort hundreds of students without adequate time.