Who cares about “referencing”?

Why do we teach our students how to reference? Mendeley, EndNote, Refworks, etc. all do it for you. In my experience the emphasis for students in higher education is almost always on what the citation looks like and not on the work the citation does. When it comes to learning about referencing for students, the focus is almost always on:

  1. Plagiarism: If you don’t reference, you’re stealing.
  2. Format: If it doesn’t conform to [insert style guide], it’s wrong.

This is problematic. The first point begins with the assumption that our students are cheats and frauds. I prefer not to go into the relationship with that as a starting frame of reference. The second point is irrelevant because style guides explain exactly how to format the citation and software formats it for us.

What matters is that students understand the underlying rationale of attribution and of building on the ideas of others. I’m way more interested in talking about ideas with my students, than on where the comma goes. Instead of talking about the importance of referencing maybe we should aim to instil in students a love of ideas. Sometimes those ideas originated from someone else (citation required) and sometimes those ideas are your own. What does the world look like when we use ideas – some our own and some from others – to think differently? That seems like a more interesting conversation to have.


Publish or perish: A nifty little research tool

Publish or perish” is a great little research tool that retrieves and analyses your citations. It uses Google Scholar for the raw data and is then able to calculate the following:

  • Total number of papers and total number of citations
  • Average citations per paper, citations per author, papers per author, and citations per year
  • Hirsch’s h-index and related parameters
  • Egghe’s g-index
  • The contemporary h-index
  • Three variations of individual h-indices
  • The average annual increase in the individual h-index
  • The age-weighted citation rate
  • An analysis of the number of authors per paper

I’d be lying if I said I knew what most of the items in the above list mean but they sound quite impressive. I was only interested in the first 3 points on the list but the others are explained in a little bit of detail here.

There is also a “guide to effective and responsible citation analysis”, which is available online and in a variety of other formats. Publish or perish may give you some additional insight into the impact that your papers are having, and if nothing else, will take up at least an hour of your time as you explore the data.

assessment assignments ethics students

How do students perceive academic literacy?

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

Narrative means towards literacy understandings: exploring transformations within literacies and migrating identities

Last week I attended a short seminar by Dr. Catherine Hutchings from UCT, who presented some of the results of her PhD study looking at academic literacy and student identity. Here are some notes I took during the seminar.

How do students develop new means of constructing identity as they move from high school into higher education?

Repositioning identities → have personal / social / professional identities outside university, but on moving into HE can feel lost and disorientated. Participants in this study had broken formal educational journeys, no writing background. They had established social and professional identities but lowly academic identities

Their education history was transmissive, rather than constructive

Journals can be a pedagogic method, but became data capture owing to richness of reflections. The journal started as an access route into academic spaces, incorporating their experiences, attempting to promote the development of reflective and critical thinking

Students were afraid of writing

Narratives: the stories we tell about our lives changes our perspectives on them

Referencing, language, technology, the library are “pillars of the great hall of alienation”. They serve as barriers to the transition into HE

How does “agency” become apparent? How is it evident? Referencing, use of authority, engagement with readings, argument…but before HE, agency is not directly evident…it is not voiced

Through using the voice of others, we come to know our own voices

Can take a lot of discussion before students see referencing as an asset

  • Old voices – wisdom of other
  • Odd voices – referencing
  • Own voices – thinking about ideas

Transition, move through, deconstruction, renegotiation, reconstruction

Referencing as feeling of alienation, of not belonging

Plagiarism as a “trapping stone”, already sets them up as outcasts / criminals. Knowledge is “owned” and “guarded”, and doesn’t belong to students

Students used “referencing” and “plagiarism” interchangeably

Few understand the purpose of referencing, nor do they understand it’s language. They often lacked the vocabulary to paraphrase

“Seeing is not knowing”…just because it’s been shown to them doesn’t mean they understand it

“Plagiarism was the only out for me at the time”…a sense of being overwhelmed and not able to cope

Loss of identity in the transformation to HE. The “good learner” in HE is expected to sound like the authoritative voice. Previous identity and experience is often not valued

Students memorise content as a successful strategy in school, then they come here and are punished when they reproduce content

“I felt like a puppet on a string”

“Any sense of self is shackled or constrained”

Referencing is about judgement i.e. it helps the marker determine how much of the students’ work is their own. It can instil fear

Students don’t always understand the purpose of referencing, only that there is a punishment. A sense of belonging comes with understanding, not with doing

Referencing can be thought of as a conversation, not as a list of points from the viewpoint of others. “Must my voice be unique?” “What is my own voice in this conversation?”

“Referencing sets the writer free in using other peoples ideas”

Professional development in HE, finding a voice, can alienate people when they return to their social and professional lives

Referencing as structure and referencing as being voices in a conversation

PhD research

Publication and citation

Yesterday I had a conversation with a senior colleague where we briefly discussed the increasing importance of formal publication as it relates to promotion at our institution. Since I’m doing my PhD through publication, I’m also working on how to fit my needs as a student into the university’s need for academics to publish. There’s always been a strong research focus at the university, although during the past few years the intensity has definitely stepped up a notch. Now, I don’t agree that formal publication is the best way to disseminate information and research results but I know that in order to be eligible for promotion, it’s a game I have to play.

We were talking about the fact that it’s not just how many articles you publish (we’re required to put out 3 in a 2 year cycle) but the “quality” of what you put out. I asked how they measure “quality” and she mentioned number of citations and impact factor. I can see how this is one way that you could determine how “important” your paper is (I just realised that we still call them papers, even when they’re digital), but what about other ways?

I asked if they considered search engine results or other basic statistics in their measures and I wasn’t talking about Google Scholar results. I was more interested in whether or not they would look at things like how widely read your blog is, how many monthly unique hits you got, who links to you, etc. Do they consider the many other forms of academic publication that today’s researcher has at their disposal, as well as forms of citation other than journal references?

They don’t.

twitter feed

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-29

research social media


I first mentioned Zotero a while ago but didn’t go into very much detail in that post.  Since then, I’ve been experimenting with it a bit and am really starting to enjoy it.  It’s a Firefox extension that facilitates the research process by streamlining the collection of information accessed through the browser.  With more and more academic content becoming available online through open access journals, it’s an innovative method of aggregating and managing content for research.

Zotero has a decent set of content management features that really do a good job of making it easy to work with the information you save.  I won’t go into the specifics here because the quick start guide makes it really clear.  As well as the content management features, it’s also very good at recognising semantic content on the web and giving you options to import that content into it’s database.  For example, if you’re browsing PubMed, Zotero is able to import citation information and then to export it in many different formatting styles, including APA.

I actually don’t use Zotero for any academic content at the moment.  What I find it really useful for is annotating and working through ideas I come across in blogs.  I find that I can clarify my own thoughts around educational technology, using Zotero as a scrapbook to develop those ideas.  Which brings me to my only problem with Zotero.  I only use it for blogs right now because it’s only really useful for content you access through the browser, which is a major limitation for me.  While it’s true that most of my literature is accessed through the browser initially, I still keep local copies that I prefer to work with.

Although I think the application is great in it’s current form, I’m really hoping that the developers expand it’s scope.  Maybe make it a standalone tool that I can use to manage all my articles, no matter if they’re on- or offline and no matter what format they’re in.  I also need more space within the app because sometimes it can feel crowded (especially the right hand panel), and making it standalone will free up a lot of real estate by taking it out of the browser.  Note: you can run Zotero in a full tab, but I like to be able to read the blog while making notes.

Those things aside, this is a great browser extension that I’d definitely recommend checking out.

Screenshot of Zotero
Screenshot of Zotero