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Reduce Research Clutter: There’s an App for That

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How to Reduce Research ClutterWhere Do I Put All This Stuff?

Research.  It comes with being a student.  Whether you are researching a topic for a short essay, a final paper, your thesis,  or your own interest, you will accumulate information.  Links in one class could be useful in another class, or in another “bucket” of related information. 

Instead of amassing an unsorted bookmark list or a pile of mystery folders, think about embracing your inner librarian and start to curate your materials.  While this might not sound exciting, it’s not difficult and will become  useful to you through your academic career and beyond.   

[related podcast: What’s an Online Library?]

Luckily, there are apps for this.  Take a little time to test drive some of these apps to find the one(s) best for your needs.  And do not hesitate to use multiple apps.  For some subjects or topics, you may want something you can share with others.  Sometimes, you may want to gather formal  references.  

Why should you use an web-based app instead of some nifty software that already is on your laptop / phone / device?  One word: fail.  Use a device, any device, long enough and you may have occasion to experience total meltdown from a number of causes, including theft, loss, massive equipment failure.   Everything gone.  Not easily retrievable.  Sometimes irretrievable.    

Can It Be Easier?

Here are the apps/sites that I have found most useful.  There are lots of other apps and sites out there, though, with more added every day.  My advice is to start with something that has been around for a while (i.e., not in beta unless you are willing to risk that the app might disappear without much warning) and has features you find most helpful.  This is my current toolbox: 

Evernote

Evernote is one of my favorite applications because it is available from any platform.  I can access Evernote on the web, on my MacBook Pro, on my iPad, and on my BlackBerry.  You can even email stuff you want to save to your Evernote account.   You can enter notes directly into your Evernote account, too.  There’s a quite adequate rich text editor in which to enter your writing.

The other reason is the company’s tagline: “remember everything.”  Evernote is my main library.  Evernote integrates with browsers and email apps (like Outlook) so you can clip URLs, images, pages, or selections from many locations.  This makes saving those serendipitous references easy to capture.  

The free version of Evernote can satisfy most of your needs.  I did opt for the premium version, at a price of $5/month or $45/year.  For that price, I get a more generous space allowance, larger maximum file size, and notebook sharing.  

LiveBinders

This is a beta site right now, but worth checking out.  The format is Binders, as you can tell from the name.  If you are

most comfortable with notebooks and binders, this may be a good site for you.  I have used it to make binders on fairly specific subjects, as opposed to how I keep these references in Evernote (tags and folders).  I think this is a particularly nice way to share data for group projects or for instructors to share information with students. 

You can make your binders public, and this is one of this site’s great strength.  People have curated some excellent binders of subject material and have made them available to share.  These binders can offer a contextual element that the individual elements cannot.  

Google

Google is my home base, where all my browsers open, where I have links to all my stuff.  Whenever possible, I sync to my Google account.  Couple this with the Chrome browser and you get a very reliable “home office.”  This has been my experience, although certainly your mileage may vary.  Although I check out new apps and sites daily, I have not found one that I like as much as iGoogle. 

This is another instance of being able to get to your stuff from anywhere.  I’ve got various pages set up for home, social networking, work apps, etc.  I try to throw everything on my Google calendar.  Google Docs is a whole lot easier than Office.  Reader is a nicely featured way to make progress through your subscriptions.  There is something to be said about being able to carry out most of your functions through one portal.

Think About Storage

 I do not trust my information to any one source.  I maintain copies of everything on a backup drive.  I also use “thumb” drives for portable copies of my current stuff or of particular collections.  Sometimes I cannot get to the Interwebnets, so I like to have my stuff available.  The extent to which you backup or duplicate your stuff is up to you.  I would suggest that you put a backup plan in place before you need it.  Trust me on this.

Think about your stuff.  What do you need?  Where and when do you need it?  Try a few apps or sites and find what works best for you!

By Gina Fredenburgh [Online Learning Tips Guest Writer]
Instructional Design Analyst & APU Grad Student

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