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My Go-To Advice about Blogging in the Classroom

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Final Version of the Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography

I just wanted to post a quick note in a follow-up to last week’s post about my Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography assignment. I’ve finished the assignment, which you can see below. I appreciated all of the comments that I received on the blog and on Twitter about the initial draft. I especially drew ideas from Mark Sample‘s annotated bibliography assignment for his Fall 2009 course. (I’m still working to figure out how to best acknowledge Creative Commons credit on assignments that create for my classes.)

As you’ll see, I decided against having my students read a full book for the assignment, opting instead for articles and book chapters. The last time I taught this class, 95% of the class read the same monograph–primarily due to its length. Since I’m hoping to let the students use this assignment to pursue an idea that they find interesting in class, it seemed important to not focus as much on the length of the sources (although they will certainly be conscious of length).

I also decided to allow only two students to write about each source. This seemed important so that we could honor the concept of what an annotated bibliography is. No one needs duplicate entries on multiple sources. Still, getting a little bit of perspective seemed worthwhile. I quite like Bill Wolff‘s suggestion to have students comment on each other’s entries, but I decided I didn’t have the time to implement that twist this semester.

Finally, I decided to have 3 due dates for the assignment. Doing so will allow me to trouble shoot any problems the students are having with the assignment before the crush at the semester’s end. Moreover, I hope it will disincentivize the tendency for rushed students to glom onto each others’ sources. My one misgiving is that I hate to have students read articles about House of Leaves before we have finished reading the text. But so it goes.

Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography

This assignment asks you to summarize and critically assess 6 sources and contribute them to a shared, collaborative, online bibliography using the Zotero 2.0 beta plug-in ( for Firefox.

Why an Annotated Bibliography?

Annotated bibliographies get students experience with some of the important steps of literary scholarship: finding secondary criticism and digesting it. While I could (and might!) just assign the standard end-of-term research paper, the unintended consequence of doing so often results in students looking around for any quotations they can throw in to meet the arbitrary requirement of sources. I hope that annotated bibliographies provoke students to read the other sources more carefully: reading for the source’s own argument rather than how it can fit into one’s paper that is due in 12 hours. An annotated bibliography requires you to take more time, giving you a chance to see what kinds of conversations go on amongst scholars of contemporary literature.

Part 1: Find
For each of the 3 units of the course, you will find 2 articles or book chapters that comment or expand on the texts and/or subjects we have been considering. An online source must come from a peer-reviewed journal. To find such articles, use the Clemson library databases, such as Arts and Humanities Citation Index, the MLA International Bibliography, JSTOR, Project Muse, and others.

Once you have found your sources, use Zotero to create the bibliographic entry for the text. For most databases as well as books in the Clemson library, it is very simple to have Zotero “grab” this information. Store your sources in a new Zotero collection (so that they will easily stand out from any existing citations you have gathered in the past).

Part 2: Annotate and Tag
For each of source, you will write an annotation that is a minimum of 2 paragraphs. The annotation should provide a summary of the major concerns of the text, perhaps with a representative quote or two, and should indicate how the piece contributes to your body of knowledge about its subject.  For example, you might write about how Hamlet on the Holodeck imagines the changes that will be made to fiction through the ever-increasing use of the computer and also discuss how Murray’s work amplified your conception of the reader’s active role in making meaning from any text.

Once you’ve written your annotation, you will add it to your Zotero entry as a Note. You should also tag your entry with 5-10 relevant keywords or “tags.” These tags can be based on the subject of the source but can also be for other relevant metadata, such as author, title, etc. Finally, add two more tags: (1) your full name and (2) the unit this source is for. Please format the latter as “Unit 1,” “Unit 2,” and “Unit 3.” (N.B. Please notice that you can tag both the entry and your Notes. Your 5-10 tags should be added to the entry. Your name and the unit should be added to both the entry and the Note.)

Part 3: Share
After you have completed your entry, you will drag your source into our class’s group library, Reading Technology (English 465). Once the entry is there, everyone else in the class will be able to see it, and we will have begun to build a shared resource.

If you want to make a change to an entry after you have added it to the group library, you will have to edit it in the library. Changes made to your library will not sync with the group’s library. If you’ve made changes, then, perhaps the simplest thing to do is to delete the copy from the group library and then drag your new copy over. Just make sure you don’t delete others’ work.

Important points

  • At least two of your sources must be on something other/broader than one of the literary works that we’ll read.
  • Only two people may write about each source. If someone has already added the source to the library, add a new Note to the source in the group library that contains your annotation. Be sure to add a tag to the source and to your note note with your full name. See if the original contributor missed some of the tags that you had added to the source, and add those as well.
    • If two people have already written about a source, you’re out of luck. There is no need to wait until the due dates to get started on this assignment. You can also add a source and tag it with your name before you’ve completed the rest of the assignment as a way of staking your claim. Remember, however, that changes you make to your own collection after staking a claim will not automatically sync to the group library.
  • To make sure you don’t lose any of your work, please keep a regular document file somewhere with all of your abstracts. This is a new assignment for me, and I’m sure we’ll run into snags.

Due Dates

The following dates are when your two sources for each unit must be posted to the group bibliography. They must be posted by 2pm, when class starts.

Unit 1: Tuesday, February 9
Unit 2: Tuesday, March 23
Unit 3: Tuesday, April 20

Beginning Steps for Zotero

  1. Download and install Firefox (, if you don’t already have it
  2. Download and install the Zotero 2.0 beta plug-in for Firefox ( N.B. You must use the 2.0 beta plug-in. I have been using this plug-in for months and have had no stability issues whatsoever.
  3. Watch the video explaining Zotero at
  4. Register for a Zotero account at
  5. Join our class group at
  6. Connect your browser’s installation of Zotero to your account, as directed at
  7. If you’d like to know more about Zotero, watch a few more screencasts at



Crowdsourcing the Job Market

It’s that time again: when those of us on the academic job market start pulling out the materials that we’ve used in the past, start dusting them off, and revising them. Actually, one should have really have started this process at the beginning of September, but since this is my third year out, I’ve been feeling lazy like my materials are generally where I want them to be.

But then you pull up that teaching statement from last year. The one that you have revised throughout the year as you kept applying for jobs longer than you had anticipated. And you realize that while you can update some of the details to cover what you’ve been doing recently you perhaps can’t see the whole thing all that clearly any more.

That’s where I’m at at the moment, and I’ve done the first thing that any person on the job market should do: sent the document to a few friends who I frequently workshop such things with. I know that they’ll give me careful feedback on the questions I’m asking. But I also know that they’ve been reading this statement with me for the last four years as it’s been worked through different iterations. And while some of these friends are now successfully tenure-tracked, none of us have been on a search committee. How can I be sure that we’ve got the right idea about what I should be doing?

So would it be possible to get newer, fresher eyes on one of the documents in my dossier? Could I make the document available online and get others to comment on what I’ve done? That’s what I wondered aloud on Twitter this afternoon. My impetus for even thinking this was generated by Mark Sample’s decision to make his teaching evaluations public. And if making such details about being a professor public is good for our students and if we can use the Internet to build a great encyclopedia through crowdsourcing (despite complaints to the contrary [I won’t bother linking to those, but see @academicdave on the rebuttal]), can’t we can use publicly crowdsourced work to improve our own writing? Even if it’s oriented toward the marketplace (of employment) rather than a university press?

And after all, this is what we tell ourselves we want to see in academia, right? More collaboration. More use of nascent technologies to change how we do our work. I’m simply maximizing the professional network that I’ve developed over more than eight years to help me become the best candidate possible. Right? Right?

Still, as I write that, I’m aware that this could be seen as a fairly unconventional thing to do. We know that peer review is important to honing our scholarship or to improving our grant applications. We know that every intelligent person on the job market is using a group of friends to do what I’ve been doing. But bringing the whole Internet into the game: isn’t that cheating? Aren’t search committees more interested in the story that I’m trying to tell about my solitary genius than in seeing evidence of my being an ordinary human, one who benefits from others assistance? And even if they know deep down that I’m getting this help, shouldn’t I play nice with our narratives of academia and pretend that I’m not using it? That teaching statements (to say nothing of syllabi, articles, and books) spring from my forehead fully formed?

I’m inclined to think differently. And I’m inclined to think that scholarship is changing and that it has to change. Just look at Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s fabulous new book/digital manuscript, which anyone is free to comment on before she revises it a final time for print publication. We do have the tools to do our research and writing differently. Why don’t we start using them in our need to obtain/fill faculty positions?

My teaching statement is after the jump. Please comment, if you’d like. I’d love to get a job in the academy. And the academy needs those of us who want to see it adapt to the present.

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At Prof. Hacker: Writing in the Internet’s Margins

A quick note to say that I’ve got a new post up at Prof. Hacker on using CommentPress and

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