Monday, April 18, 2011

It's an Easy Choice! My Review of EasyBib

Full Disclosure: EasyBib gave me a full edition of their product for the purpose of reviewing their new Notebook feature.

I have been an English teacher for many years. Part of the curriculum of my school district is the Freshmen English Research paper. The kids would spend a few weeks putting together their paper using note cards that were filled with the information they found in books and websites.

Each student needed at least 50 note cards that address the pros and cons of their chosen topic. My teacher made me do the same thing 15 years earlier in my English class. When I talk to veteran teachers, they say that is the way they did research papers 30 years ago. Not much has changed when it comes to research paper organization, until now.

I have used EasyBib.com for years and have directed my students to use it as well. Even though I was forced to memorize every period and quote mark for citation, EasyBib is a much easier way for students to cite their work for papers. Since MLA seems to constantly change the rules, it is nice that EasyBib takes care of those changes for the user. Knowing how many students use their product for research, EasyBib has designed a system that should help make research a little easier for students and teachers.


Once students have their accounts (This will be discussed later), they can create a new project. Actually, they can create multiple projects. This is great for students who are taking multiple English classes like I did in college. For practice, I created a Freshmen English Research Paper Project. 
 

From here, a student can go Bibliography page to enter in their research materials. I have entered in some random websites to show what the Bibliography page can look like.



This has been the same excellent tool I have been using for years. I have used it as recently as a month ago for an essay for my grad classes. I just plug in the website and it will give me the correct citation. Recently, EasyBib has added a cool new feature that will help students in their research.

EasyBib has added a Website Evaluation Tool to its site to help users understand which sites are reliable to use for research. The have evaluated the top 50% of sources cited on EasyBib to determine their credibility. If students need to drill down to understand where the data is found to analyze credibility, they provide a document with visual examples of 9 websites (3 that are credible, 3 that are in the middle, and 3 that are not credible), to show students the differences between such sites. Here is their video that explains the process of the Website Evaluation Tool.


I decided to have some fun and place some random websites in the cite box and see what would turn up.


ESPN.com is a credible site to use according to EasyBib. This is good to know for my students who might want to research steroid use in baseball.

TMZ.com may be credible. The Learn More button explains that some of the information may be biased. This is a good bit of information to consider when evaluating sources. Some kids assume that information on a website must be true because people wouldn’t lie on the Internet. This would be a good teachable moment for students who have websites turn up as a maybe. It forces them to dig a bit deeper to see if the parts they want to use from the website are biased or not. EasyBib does help users ask the right questions if a site users cites has not be evaluated.




I plugged in TheNerdyTeacher.com and was saddened to see EasyBib had not evaluated it. ;-) There is an Evaluate tab that can be clicked to help the user evaluate the site.



The guidelines cover Author, Publisher, Bias, Citations, Accuracy, Design, Reproduced, Credible, Alternatives and a Notes section. Over the years, I have taught students to look out for these very things when looking at a source. Now, EasyBib has put together a series of questions for each category for users to ask themselves if they come across a site that has not been evaluated yet. If users still have questions on what to look for, EasyBib provides an example using CNN.com.



When in doubt, model it for the students and that is exactly what EasyBib does for the user.

Source evaluation is truly one of the hardest parts of the research paper process. I spend countless hours going over the ins and outs of source evaluations with the students and will still get “Jim Bob’s Opinion on Everything” as a credible source on Global Warming. I think it is important to note that this tool should be used to support a strong class lesson on website evaluation. On its own, the tool might not be helpful to younger students who do not have any background on website evaluation. EasyBib’s website evaluation tool will help provide support to what is covered in the classroom.

EasyBib’s site breaks down citations for websites, books, newspapers, journals, databases and 53 other options. EasyBib can cite information using MLA 6 and 7 formats as well as APA and Chicago/Turabian styles. Each citation also will show the user what it would look like in a parenthetical citation as well. Chicago style allows for footnotes as well. This is just another handy addition to EasyBib's tool chest. That is great for essays that require in-text citation of sources.

Once the information has been entered, created bibliographies can be emailed, shared on Twitter or other places with a provided hyperlink. Bibliographies can also be saved as Word Docs and Google Docs! In a world where collaboration is becoming the norm, it is great to see that EasyBib makes it easy to share information from one person to another.

Now that the students have all of the important and credible sources for their research paper, it’s now time to organize it all.

I love what EasyBib has done with their Beta Notebook tool. There are many different aspects to it, so I’m going to break it down one element at a time.




On the far right is the Outline tool. It is a very standard tool for research organization. A user can create the different main parts of the their paper and fill in the details as they need them. I started with an Intro, Con Paragraph and my First Pro Paragraph.  From there I added sub points to each main piece as I found more information. The part I love about the Outline tool is the fact that I can drag my notecards over to the outline and place them where I need them.


Simply put, I love them. I decided I was going to move away from the paper cards at the start of this year, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do to replace them. EasyBib’s Notebook program helps tremendously.

By doubling clicking anywhere on the Notecard portion of the page, a new Notecard will appear. A user can also just click the New Note button at the top left of the page.



The New Note box will appear and a user can enter in all of the important information that is needed. For my students, I tell them they need to focus on quoting their sources to provide support for their argument. The can write a quote in the quote box and place any comments in the comment box. The Notes allow for hyperlinks as well. I love this because sometimes a student might need to jump to the site for some more information and they can do it directly from the notes. If they are using information from a site they used EasyBib to cite, they can connect it by using the Source pull down. Users can also add it to a defined group or add a tag to the note. Once all of the information is added, just save the note and it will be added to the Notebook page.

Once multiple notes have been added, a user can organize them on the desktop. A student can decide to color coordinate the notes. I chose to coordinate mine by choosing a color for my Pro notes and my Con notes. Also, by dragging the note cards onto one another, groups can be created. I love this because it is exactly like I would do with real note cards at home. On the right side of the Notebook page, notes can be viewed by Groups, Tags, Sources or by Date created. If a user has tons of notes they need for their paper, this feature is very helpful because the notes could get very cluttered for large papers.

I mentioned it earlier, but wanted to write about it in more detail here because it is a very helpful part of Notebook. Once the Notes are organized, they can be dragged and dropped into the outline. In the past, I would see students try and organize their essays and they would tape note cards to the desk and match them to the outline they have created in their binder. With the drag and drop approach with Notebook, students can save time and energy organizing their essay. It seems like a simple addition, but it will really help students see the relationship between their facts and where they belong in an essay.


Below are the pricing plans and the benefits of having a paid subscription versus the free service. If I were a full time college student, I would not hesitate to spend $19.99 a year on this service. As an English student, I would be writing multiple papers at any given time and EasyBib’s tools would have helped me organize some of the thoughts and all of my notes in one space. I would no longer need packages of notecards to keep all of my ideas for different essays. I feel the year-long subscription is a steal at $19.99. If you write plenty of essays, this is a must for you.




Here are a couple of shots of the pricing system for entire schools. You can find more information on the site.



Here is the smallest package for the school edition. I would like to see a smaller package of 1-100 students. I teach around 90 Freshmen and I would not need that many extra accounts. There are some other teachers who might try it out, but only after seeing it used successfully for a year. Pricing wise, I think $165/year is a great deal. All of the benefits are there for students to dive into research and organization. At $0.66 per student, you cannot beat this price.



My high school has around 1600 students, so I was curious at that price. For less than $500 a year, my entire school could have access to all of these tools. That is $0.22 a student! It is a fabulous deal.

I envision implementing this in my school one Freshmen Class at a time. Over the course of 4 years, we could add another 400 accounts and teach the Freshmen how to use them. This would be much easier than trying to teach 1,600 students all at once. It would take some coordination, but it would be possible to have an entire school using EasyBib proficiently in a few years.

Suggestions

After playing around with EasyBib for a few weeks, I have some suggestions for making a great service even better.

-       Mobile Apps are needed. I tried to use Notebook on my iPad and I could review the notes I had, but I had difficulty creating and saving notes. I could not drag them around on the screen either. An App would be a great compliment to the system. Mobile technology is where education is going and an EasyBib app would be perfect for the on-the-go student. I’m sure there are plenty of logistics that would need to be worked out, but an App would be a step in the right direction. (Editor’s Note: After talking with the fine folks at EasyBib, they told me that there is an App coming in the near future. Also, they said that iPad compatibility will be coming in the summer. Stay tuned for that review when I get my hands on it.)

-       Online Bookmarking Integration would be huge. I’m a big Diigo user. I bookmark like a madman and share with my students. With so much online research taking place, it would be fabulous if those bookmarks could be easily moved over to the Notebook tool. Right now, I have to have an extra tab open and cut and paste info from there to the Notecard. It’s not a crazy inconvenience, but connecting the two programs would create faster use of the program.

Overall

I think what EasyBib has created is amazing. It has most of the pieces I envisioned when I decided to move away from the standard note card research paper. I love the way the citations seamlessly flow into the note cards and how the note cards slide right into the outlines.

EasyBib has created a very nice online space for users to organize their thoughts for their work. As students become more and more connected, it is important to have a space to store your thought digitally and EasyBib created such a place.

I think EasyBib would be wise to enter the mobile app field sooner than later though. We are moving around and see things from our phones and tables often. Being able to cite this information is vital and mobile apps can help here.

The pricing is amazing. I was truly expecting to see crazy price ranges for these services, but they are modestly priced. The pricing should be a huge draw to all potential users.

Overall, I would recommend that individual students sign up for EasyBib. I encourage all teachers to look into bringing EasyBib into your school in some way. It might be wise to start out small and get small groups of students familiar with the product before a full roll-out. I believe that this system will help students organize their thoughts and papers for the better. I’m excited to see what EasyBib plans to put out next because Notebook is awesome. I can easily and happily give EasyBib a Nerdy Recommendation.
 





2 comments:

  1. Your blog has helped me a lot in completing my online degree course. I would recommend your blog to everyone who wants to get help in their academic studies. Thanks a lot

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  2. Nice review with nice details. Thanks for the review!

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