Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Digital Toolbox for Graduate Students in History

Readers, help me out here. What does a 21st century graduate student need to know in the way of digital tools and resources? I am trying to develop a presentation for incoming students in our graduate program in history. Here is my list so far, what should I add? I am trying to identify both tools and the minimum skill set that students should try to master with each.

  • Students need to master the Google search engine. They should know how to search for phrases, exclude certain terms, filter by date range, search within a domain, use the cache to view expired pages, and how to frame a good query in the first place. I am surprised how many students who grew up with Google don't know these things.

  • Google Books is the historian's boon companion, offering access to millions of books, searchable and sometimes downloadable. Students should master the advanced search features, be able to set up their own libraries, and be able to share, save, and organize what they find. Students should also know the other big book/content projects, Archive.org, the Hathi Trust, and Open Library.

  • Zotero is a citation manager and so much more that helps tame the information overflow of the web. Students should be able to set up a Zotero account, sync their files, create Zotero items for items in multiple formats, create a library and share it with other Zotero users.

  • Students should use an RSS reader to simplify keeping track of blogs and other changing information. (I love this Common Craft video, RSS Readers in Plain English. I have been using Google for this but I suspect there are better solutions. Should I recommend Feedly? Help me out here.

  • Students need to be able to capture, edit, save and organize images. They should be able to use a digital camera to take notes in the archives, back up and share their photos online, and capture images from websites. My preferred tools are Picasa and Picnik.

  • Dropbox is the preferred online backup for your files. Did I ever tell you about the friend whose laptop with two year's worth of dissertation research was stolen? Fortunately she had backed up her files--on disks that she kept in her laptop case. Don't let this happen to you.

  • Twitter is an important source for finding sharing information and Tweetdeck seems to be the best management tool.

  • Finally, I want to have a section about managing your online presence. Students should have a professional email address that is a recognizable version of their first and last names (and really, it should be Gmail), should have accounts at LinkedIn and Academia.edu, and should consider blogging and Tweeting--or least claiming their real name on Twitter if it is not too late. More importantly students should learn how not to leave incriminating evidence online. Future employers are not going to be impressed with how wasted you got in Cancun or by those photos of your new tattoo.
Wow, the above list is already longer and more intimidating than I wanted it to be. And yet I don't want to leave anything out. Please post your comments and suggestions below.


Crazygopher said...
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Crazygopher said...

I would add JSTOR, the Congressional Serials, and other digital sources via the library. Project managers for research are also nice, like the program Papers (where I store JSTOR articles and PDFs). Podcasting is also a nice avenue as well. I listen to a number of Stanford lectures via iTunesU. Hope those help!

- Bryan

Mary WSL said...

This could easily be titled "Information Literacy Skills Required for Graduate School." Unfortunately, most students THINK they have these things down, when the reality is much more disconcerting.

jdemke said...

Here are a few things that are helpful are:
1. understand the concepts of Creative Commons licensing versus copyright law so that you can use outside content more freely in your work.
2. get various online social networking accounts that let you see the content feeds of topics you are interested in researching (YouTube, flickr, facebook, Technorati, etc.).
3. learn HTML. The world is running at full speed away from print. Nothing is a better citation than a link to the source. Check out W3Schools for an online HTML editor that does the work for you.

John Glover said...

Nice post.

* Awareness of tools for use in archives, from digital cameras to laptops to scanners--and how to find out the rules for what the archive in question allows and/or has available.

* Fluency with common file formats, and converting from one to another. Many word processors (e.g.) handle multiple file formats, of course, but routine familiarity with the relative merits/problems of DOC, PDF, RTF, etc. would be useful. As increasing numbers of primary source repositories and digital humanities projects generally come online, being able to use that content and understand the metadata associated with it will be important.

* If current trends toward distance education and collaborating with non-local colleagues continues, students will benefit from fluency with tools like Skype, Wimba, etc. The ability to step into distance instruction roles can provide income when G.A./T.A.-ships run out and fellowships are scarce.

Steve Lubar said...

I'd consider adding the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. And also a mention of the more traditional scholarly databases, like America: History and Life.

Larry Cebula said...

Great suggestions--here and on Twitter and Facebook. Maybe I need to do a Part 2 post rather than simply ad to this one?

Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka said...

Hi Larry, definitely do part 2 and more! I use your blog in my class sometimes. This is really useful stuff. Thank you.


Katrina said...

Definitely agree with controlling internet presence (I've written on my blog before about the difficulty sometimes tracking down scholars!). Especially grad students, who may not have a departmental page, should make it easier for colleagues (and search committees!) to find them. When buying a domain is so cheap, students shouldn't be messing around with jimstudent@hotmail or js1567895@gradschool.edu

I would add:

-subscribe to Project Muse updates for when new issues of journals come online.

-Know how to create pdfs. It makes it much easier for people when you are sending abstracts to conferences, or your cv to job applications.

-Be familiar with worldcat - I use it all the time to find books and dissertations in different countries.

I look forward to Part 2!

Chad said...

Thanks for creating this list. After telling my students about about the tools here, I finally uploaded my photos to Picasa. Now they are all safe on the cloud.