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Lessons in cool?

Sometimes I feel so uncool.

I am still sorting out a lesson I either taught or learned late last week. 

One of my colleagues was out sick for the beginning of a project that involved students assessing the accuracy of a feature film relating to American history.   In addition to a presentation discussing their findings, students were responsible for an annotated bibliography.

An English teacher who jumped in with me to help cover the class, suggested I start the lesson. I (re)introduced NoodleBib, pointing specifically to the space for annotations.  I reminded the students how the program would manage all those icky formatting issues and make documenting easier.

When I finished, my colleague introduced as an alternate strategy for recording sources.  She suggested students use tags to organize their documents and use the notes field for their annotations.  She demonstrated that students could use the browser button to easily grab sources, including individual articles in databases. 

Then she suggested, as an English teacher, that they might as well just use instead of NoodleBib for this assignment.  After all, the purpose of citation is to lead the reader back to the original sources. The students’ shared lists would do just that.

A few things continue to bug me. 

Number one, though I love NoodleBib, I kinda felt I was outcooled by my colleague. (Okay, this may be a maturity issue.)

Number two, however handy is, it doesn’t do books, and books really work for this project. In fact,  use of as a source list for this project, became a serious disincentive for using books.

Number three, what is the real purpose of students’ carefully documentation? One reason is to attribute credit for specific ideas whether quoted or paraphrased.  In this particular case, students weren’t required to do direct in-project citations. But I still think they’re likely to need to point to specific quotes in their presentations. 

Number four, the kids opted out of some of the bibliographic learning we counted on. It was simply easier not to worry about what type of source you were holding or to have to fill in all of those fields.

Maybe I need to get over it.  In my own blogging, I link.  I seldom create formal MLA or APA. 

As I watched my friend and colleague share her excitement for, I got excited too.  But, for the first time in a long time, I felt paradigmed out

Remember that classic Indiana Jones scene? A robed and turbaned assassin elegantly, confidently flourishes his splendid scimitars as he readies himself to do away with our hero. And then, without much skill at all, Indy draws his pistol and casually blows his assailant away.

I don’t want you to think these students won’t have ample opportunity to learn to use their scimitars.  We’ve put in place lots of opportunities for formal documentation.  But do they need to do it all the time?  Will links, tags, and annotations sometimes do?  Should I sometimes give up on books even when I know they might be very solid sources for a project? 

Is it time to trade in a few scimitars?

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. No it isn’t time to trade them in, just plan on the best time to use those scimitars. I guess it comes down to the knowledge and skills that you wanted the students to learn through the lesson/assignment. If the lesson was targeted solely to develop critical thinking skills, then it didn’t matter if Noodle Bib or was used. However, if your expectations (that’s what we call standards here in Canada)included using a variety of resources both print and electronic, and learning how to properly format citations, then the lesson did not meet the expectations. If the expectations call for a scimitar, then you need to use it. I probably would have asked for both – a tagged list for Internet resources and a Noodlebib for print, insisting on at least one print source, especially if you have them in your collection. Why? A colleague told me a story about her daughter who was going over her group’s Works Cited page from a university assignment. All of a sudden, she heard her daughter expressing shock and disbelief. Apparently one of the students in the group placed a citation in the list that read “I heard it someplace”. Keep on Noodling!

  2. Buffy Hamilton says:

    If they are doing all web-based resources, you could still have them use NoodleTools to create the MLA or APA style citation for each electronic resource. They could then copy and paste the citation (as well as the annotation) into the “notes” box for each resource they tag in their account/list. 🙂

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