Easing Their Citation Pain: Putting the Focus on Critical Thinking in Research with EasyBib

Original photography by Buffy Hamilton

One of the challenges of teaching research and information literacy to high school students is helping them conceptualize and apply the principles of citation and ethical use of information.   Because so many students come to us with a limited understanding of accessing, using, and evaluating different kinds of information sources, particularly databases, as well as citation skills, I’ve been contemplating for the last year how to invest less time in the mechanics of creating citations and more time on the critical thinking in their inquiry/research processes.

My school district has provided all of our schools a NoodleTools subscription for many years, and it has been a well-appreciated product by our teachers.  However, no matter how much one on one help we provided (and my teachers can attest to what a huge commitment of time and energy the 1:1 help effort has been the last six years), how many step by step handouts we created, or how many video tutorials we created, students in all grade levels struggled to master the steps to citing different sources, particularly the databases.  In spite of our best efforts, citation was painful for students as they struggled to discern the variety of choices the citation wizard offered since they were still building context and knowledge about the variety of information sources available within specific databases.

In January, I made the decision to purchase a school subscription to EasyBib in order to provide our students and teachers an additional choice for citation and e-notecard management.   Several factors influenced this decision:

  • After seeing students continue to struggle with citation and NoodleTools during first semester, I knew we had to find alternate citation solutions for this academic year.
  • I felt I could not continue to indulge the patience of students and teachers in devoting inordinate amounts of time to the actual creation of citations.
  • The new version of NoodleTools with the enchancments we wanted (that will be similar to those in EasyBib) would not be available for this current semester.
  • My colleague Roxanne retired and the district made the decision to hire a long term substitute in her place for the semester; because the long term substitute came with no teaching or library experience and had very limited knowledge of NoodleTools, I knew that continuing to teach citation through NoodleTools would be even more challenging.
  • The school subscription was budget friendly.
  • The most excellent customer service and tech support I’ve received from Kerry Kitka.
  • EasyBib has demonstrated continuous development in the design of their product as well as regular updates/upgrades to their suite of features.

The implementation of EasyBib as an alternate tool for citation has been easy and incredibly well-received by both students and teachers.  The learning curve has been gentle for students in all grade levels, and our students in grades 10-12 who had previously used NoodleTools have been appreciative of the features in EasyBib that make citation a much less cumbersome process—I’ve received numerous rounds of applause when I have demonstrated the database upload feature as well as the SweetSearch integration feature with EasyBib.   Our students and teachers have especially loved the ability to upload the publication data files (.ris and .txt) from databases like EBSCOhost and GALE-Cengage.

Original photograph by Buffy Hamilton

Students have commented that the interface seems clean and easy to follow.   Our ninth grade students especially  love the features of the electronic notes, including the ease of grouping and color coding e-notes.  Several students have expressed surprise and delight with EasyBib’s features and how quickly they’ve learned to use the tools; others have commented they feel as though they can now focus on analyzing their research and finding additional information to broaden their understanding instead of getting bogged down in the mechanics of citation.  Students also love the EasyBib mobile app for scanning books as well as the autocite a book feature.  So far, EasyBib has appealed to a diverse range of learners across a variety of content/subject areas in our instruction the last two months.

My teachers and I also like that when students use the autocite feature websites, their evaluation of the source as being credible, somewhat credible, or not credible aligns with our instruction of the CRAAP information evaluation guidelines that we ask students to apply to ALL information sources.  English teacher Deborah Frost appreciates how expedient EasyBib is making the citation process so that her students can spend more time on annotating their articles and thinking critically during pre-search.  Teacher Abigail Jackson loves the ability for students to easily import database publication files to generate citations while Drew Lawson loved the autocite a book feature.

Although EasyBib does not currently have all the sharing features offered by NoodleTools (which our students and teachers do love), the clean interface and ease of use has made it very popular with our students and faculty in a short time.  I also appreciate their ready made tutorial videos and handouts as well.

I am thrilled that I’m in a position to offer our students a choice of citation tools.  My hope is that by offering students a choice, students can find the citation manager that works best for their needs.  It has truly been energizing to see how EasyBib has created a more positive energy for our collaborative research projects and freed more time in our instructional units to focus on search, evaluation, and critical thinking.   Students still have to make basic distinctions about different kinds of publication sources and publication information in EasyBib, but EasyBib truly scaffolds that decision making process; I liken it to having a “spotter” when one is learning a new skill in gymnastics—EasyBib allows students to master the skills without stumbling or getting overly frustrated.    I’m hopeful that by minimizing the “pain” of citation through EasyBib, students will not approach research with a sense of “dread” at the prospect of getting lost in the morass of citation mechanics.  My goal is to provide students a sound, positive foundation in a diverse range of traditional and emerging research skills, critical thinking experiences, and rich inquiry driven research/learning opportunities;  EasyBib is helping my library program to work toward that goal more effectively and to meet the students at their point of need.

I have also created an EasyBib 101 LibGuide that includes material from EasyBib as well as my own original tutorial videos that address some of the issues our students may encounter in our network with Internet Explorer (the only browser students are allowed to use at this time); please feel free to use any of the materials I’ve uploaded to this guide.

31 comments

  1. Thank you for this critique of Easybib. I’m just in the middle of a Noodletools trial (we had been using notecards, so this is our first experience with online citation tools). I had thought NT was the better of the two choices, but perhaps I should give Easybib a trial as well. Thanks for making me think twice!

    1. I would say trial both, and if you can get feedback from the students, that would be even better. I’ve seen the beta preview of the new NoodleTools platform, and it is looking very promising–but I just couldn’t wait any longer for the changes. I still like NT, but EasyBib is just a better fit for us right now with the students. Once NoodleTools has their upgrades, we’ll have the best of both worlds with both EasyBib and NoodleTools! Very best, Buffy

  2. Thanks for a comprehensive review of Easybib. We are planning to get a school account for a whole school citation approach. Are there many extra features in the paid version compared to the free one? I wish EasyBib was around when I was at Uni. Your LibGuide is fantastic; could we borrow some bits please?

    1. Thank you so much for the positive feedback. I believe the notebook (notetaking feature) is one of the perks you get with the paid version, plus the ads go away. I think I have a summary sheet I can email you later today if you’d like. And yes, please feel free to borrow any part of the LibGuide! You will absolutely love your school subscription when you get it! Best, Buffy

    2. Hi Tania,

      I’m Kerry Kitka and I’m a member of the team at EasyBib. I just wanted to answer your question about free vs. paid features. Our free version only gives access to MLA style citations, our citation guides, our research engine, and a pared down version of our website evaluation tool. The free version is ad supported.

      Our subscription service gives you an ad free experience, along with access to: the full version of website evaluation, our virtual notebook, bibliography analytics, importing from 3rd party databases, citations in APA & Chicago Turabian styles, LearnCite interactive help for formatting, IP authentication, and an admin panel for educators.

      If you’d like to learn more, you can visit http://www.easybib.com/products/bib4school or talk with me directly on Twitter @Kerry_EasyBib

      Kerry Kitka
      EasyBib

  3. Bunny, I searched your archive for the CRAAP evaluation. I can already tell this is an acronym our kids would love and probably remember! Do you have it posted somewhere or could you give it in a nutshell here? As always, I learn so much from you and appreciate your taking the time to do all this work writing everything up. Many thanks!

  4. Buffy:

    We understand that time pressures and logistical issues influenced your decision. We’re confident that you’ll try our new release in a few months, when the pressing issues of the school year are out of the way.

    The new NoodleTools release builds in the features your students enjoy such as copying pre-formatted citations and integrating WorldCat records, as well as a range of other new functionality, mobile accessibility, and teacher resources. Equally important, it makes the process efficient while retaining the accuracy for which we’re known.

    Damon Abilock
    NoodleTools

    1. Hi Damon!

      I know you all are working hard on getting the new release ready to go–as a member of the beta testing team, I’ve been excited at what is coming! I’m also happy that once the new release is out, our students will have the best of all worlds in terms of choosing citation management tools that will be easy to use and accurate—thank you for your efforts!

      Very best,
      Buffy

  5. I’ve found that EasyBib (and, indeed, most citation generators) are often subtly wrong in formatting citations. I’m still at the stage of gettingy students to understand citing so that they can see where online tools might steer them wrong. It’s interesting to see this perspective – thanks for posting this. I’ll give EasyBib another look.

    1. I’d love to see examples of what you identify as “subtly” wrong as well as specific online citation generators you think are not doing citations correctly. It’s been my experience with NoodleTools and EasyBib that if the citation is wrong, it is error on the user’s end , not the citation generator itself. Best, Buffy

      1. I have had the same experience as Christie. I find it usually happens when students use the autocite feature, which I try and steer them away from using.
        We are using the free version, so perhaps that is the problem. Thanks so much for this posting. It gives me a lot to think about.
        Margie

    2. Hi Christie,

      I’m Kerry and I’m a team member at EasyBib. I agree with what Buffy has to say about “subtly” wrong citations. However, we’re always open to user feedback and if you could shoot me and email or chat with me on Twitter with some examples of errors I’d love to take a look. You can reach me at kerry.kitka@easybib.com or @Kerry_EasyBib

      Best,
      Kerry Kitka
      EasyBib

  6. Thanks for this post about EasyBib. Our school has also recently subscribed and so far the response from students has been very positive because they find it “so easy” to use. We’ve not explored it in anywhere near the detail that you have, so your post has inspired me to investigate all that’s this online tool has to offer.

  7. Okay- so the benefits of subscribing vs. the free version are what exactly? I’ve encouraged the freebie version- not that it’s used a heck of a lot where I am.

    Bob

    1. Hi Bob,

      Kerry with EasyBib here. Like I mentioned to Tania above, in terms of free vs. paid features: Our free version only gives access to MLA style citations, our citation guides, our research engine, and a pared down version of our website evaluation tool. The free version is ad supported.

      Our subscription service gives you an ad free experience, along with access to: the full version of website evaluation, our virtual notebook, bibliography analytics, importing from 3rd party databases, citations in APA & Chicago Turabian styles, LearnCite interactive help for formatting, IP authentication, and an admin panel for educators.

      If you’d like to learn more, you can visit http://www.easybib.com/products/bib4school or talk with me directly on Twitter @Kerry_EasyBib

      Kerry Kitka
      EasyBib

  8. Thanks so much for this awesome article about EasyBib Buffy. We’re so glad that our tools are helping you and your students. Stay tuned too, because those sharing features you are looking for are right around the corner!

  9. Hi Buffy,

    A colleague of mine had me look at this post today. We are in a trial of the paid version of EasyBib and this has strengthened my cause for my school to purchase this! I was wondering if you have taken a look at EasyBib’s new service, ResearchReady? I am trialing that as well, but can’t tell how my students would respond to it or if it is really necessary since we already teach these skills – it would just be the benefit of having it all in one place, tracking students’ progress, etc. If you have tried it, could you let me know your thoughts? Thanks!

    Lauren Newman
    Middle School Library Media Specialist
    Northern Burlington County Regional SD

  10. I was recently searching for alternatives to Easybib. We have subscribed to Easybib for approximately three years. I agree with your review!! Students respond positively to the program and can work independently after a few monitored lessons. So why am I looking around at other products? Easybib is phrasing out the subscription product with the notecards and extra features. They are implementing a new product called Scholar that includes some of the old features but not all. I also have to add that Scholar is going to be about 4 times the cost although subscribers get a transition price break the first two years. Even though this is an old thread I am hoping the readers can help recommend similar products. Has NoodleTools improved? Any input would be helpful.

    1. Hi Nan! Which features are going away that you liked? Let me know! I got to see a tour of Scholar and it still seemed to have all the tools I loved with citations, the notebook, and the outline. I think the new enhancements that I saw will be worth the upgrade! I have not had an opportunity to see the latest version of NoodleTools, so I can’t say. Maybe other readers might have thoughts on this? Very best, Buffy

  11. EasyBib is excellent for manual citation creation and the integration with Gale databases is awesome! I wish they would offer school site subscriptions for just the EasyBib application. It is not feasible for my school to pay $4,000 for the Scholar application. This is nearly 10 times the cost of NoodleTools! In regards to the “subtle” errors mentioned before: When using the Autocite feature to cite a web article the final citation rarely contains all of the elements that a student could have added when doing the citation manually. This is not a critique of the EasyBib creators as I feel it would be nearly impossible for any application to accurately pull data from websites that do not adhere to any set rules for metadata. I do not encourage students to Autocite.

    1. Hi Buffy,
      Thanks for responding to my September post. At that time I didn’t like three things about Scholar as compared to Easybib.

      1) My teachers liked having more than 5 colors to color-code notecards. At the beginning of a research project I would go in and help the students setup the different categories of notecards. The students knew exactly what pieces of information to locate in sources.

      2) In Easybib the notecard is open for direct quote, paraphrase, and comments. In Scholar the paraphrase section is collapsed and the direct quote section is open. My teachers work hard to teach paraphrasing and the subtle difference in the card did not support this emphasis.

      3) When citing a website Easybib put an orange ring around areas that needed to be filled in after using the auto cite feature. This put the responsibility on the student to participate and actively look for additional data such as author, publication date, and website name. Scholar lets the student use auto cite but doesn’t identify missing information. Once again – a small change but one that was important.

      I have pointed out all three concerns to the Imagine Easy team and they say, “Yes we have your concerns noted.” But I see no changes. With Easybib I noticed that enhancements I suggested were taken more seriously as a front line user. I had a hard time looking at the price increase and still missing several features my teachers liked.

      Now it is February 2016 and the decision of what to buy for next year is looming. I asked a teacher to do a trial on both Scholar and Easybib with three of her classes. I had setup trials for both at the same time. This teacher is very thorough and a big Easybib supporter. We were going to start with Scholar for the first project. We both setup up projects that mimicked the project that was assigned. We practiced for three days prior to introducing to the students. After several issues she looked at me and said, “I don’t feel comfortable starting my students on this project using Scholar.” So we turned on a dime and started with Noodletools. The teacher liked it immediately. That was February 8, 2016 so we having using Noodletools two weeks with her three classes. I also started three other classes on February 19, 2016.

      I feel like I have to talk about some of the problems we encountered with Scholar in addition to the three concerns above. Firstly, our district does not like us to use Google Chrome. They prefer that we use Internet Explorer and Firefox. Easybib also runs better in Google Chrome but will run in Firefox. We can install Chrome but it is not preferred by IT. To get ready for the Scholar trial we installed Chrome on all media center stations and one computer lab. This was important because Scholar uses a special Google Chrome add-on that will auto cite and allow highlighted text to transfer to a notecard. Fancy right! We saw right away the highlighted text feature worked against paraphrasing skills. Also, if the source had been added prior to taking notes the source showed up twice in the works cited listing. To clarify – A student finds a source and then adds to works cited. Then the student decides to take notes using the add-on feature. Suddenly that source appears twice. It is correctable but it added another teaching dimension. I discussed with the Scholar rep that I thought it would be hard to teach to all students. Upper levels would catch on more quickly. I thought some of the enhancements would frustrate some learners. In addition, it would be difficult to set up cards ahead of time because creating notecards using the highlight feature did not allow the notecard to be integrated with premade cards. I think Scholar has made a flashy product that does a lot automatically for students. I don’t think the tools should take away from the student thought process. The ability to highlight and automatically place notes on a notecard doesn’t require students to think. It’s just a fancy copy paste with a high price tag.
      Sorry for the long post. I want to comment on Matt’s concerns tomorrow.

      1. Hi! You are welcome to keep posting your reflections here though this post is from several years ago—I don’t know if it is the best place for it? Do you have your own blog? I think it would be great if you cross-posted these concerns there, and it might be easier to share and to get more visibility? I honestly have not had time to really delve into the beta of Scholar because I’ve been busy with other projects, so I’m not able to speak authoritatively about any of the concerns you or Matt have raised though I’ve heard local colleagues share similar worries.

        In the meantime, I think the bottom line is that you choose the tool that works best for you and your students. If it is not EasyBib or the new Scholar platform, then by all means you should go another route. I don’t think anyone here is contesting that—-this post was written WAY before Scholar was even a concept and before NoodleTools caught up with EasyBib by giving the option to export citations.

        Best, Buffy

    2. Hi Matt! I know many are concerned about the increase in price. The whole issue of what to do for 2016-17 is one I haven’t come to yet because I’ve been swamped with other major projects here, but it is on radar for late March. I agree that the autocite feature is ultimately at the mercy of the user, so students have to really pay attention to the fields and understand the different publication data pieces of a website. I do love the export feature from the Gale and EBSCO databases—-I am hoping we won’t have to live without them come fall! Thank you for reading the blog and for sharing your experiences/reflections! Best, Buffy

    3. Hi Matt! I know many are concerned about the increase in price. The whole issue of what to do for 2016-17 is one I haven’t come to yet because I’ve been swamped with other major projects here, but it is on radar for late March. I agree that the autocite feature is ultimately at the mercy of the user, so students have to really pay attention to the fields and understand the different publication data pieces of a website. I do love the export feature from the Gale and EBSCO databases—-I am hoping we won’t have to live without them come fall! Thank you for reading the blog and for sharing your experiences/reflections! Best, Buffy

      1. I just previewed Easy Scholar. While it does have some cool features, it is certainly not worthy of $5.75 per student, as I was quoted. I was offered a discount on top of that since we have longevity with the company as EasyBib School subscribers, but it was still outrageously overpriced. I am really disappointed in them. We pay less than $1.00 per student now. How can they really expect people to make such a jump. And while they may have all the kinks worked out by June (when the School edition is said to “cease to exist” and Scholar will take over), I still found issues with things that I was not happy with in Scholar.

        What I can add, from what I was told by EasyBib support, is that EasyBib Free edition will continue to exist; they will just not be offering support for it. Students should still be able to make their own accounts and use the citation tools. What will be different? There will be ads, of course, and other things will change, like the ability to customize the interface (right now I have our school logo and links to school sites on my account for students), and the ability to cite in anything but MLA. That doesn’t really seal the deal for me in using Scholar over the free edition. Although I hate to see ads, I can live with them. I’m sad my students won’t have the Notebook anymore with the free edition, but I can’t justify the cost just for that.

        Side bar: I use the auto web cite with my students all the time. I just teach them how to be “smarter than EasyBib” by fixing their citations. It’s definitely a learning process – a skill that middle school students need to practice, practice, practice! But they’re getting better at it each time. I have a video on this on YouTube if anyone is interested: https://youtu.be/bHKRyfYq-YI

      2. Hi Lauren! Thanks for sharing your reflections and observations here. As I responded to someone else yesterday on another older post, everyone is welcome to share their concerns/complaints about Scholar here, but I think it will be worth your time to communicate those directly with the people at ImagineEasy. I am not employed by EasyBib or even on the advisory board these days, so I don’t have any line of special communication. I have been busy with other projects and life as caregiver for my father this academic year, and I have not had time to look at Scholar closely though local colleagues have shared similar concerns about increases in pricing.

        As far as AutoCite goes, I am not sure why any librarian or teacher would think it would automatically cite a website correctly–it’s designed to help, but as you point out, the students ultimately have to read the publication pieces of a website themselves and make those determinations. Sadly, websites do not provide a magic export tool like the database vendors do!

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