Zorro? No, Zotero

Heroes don't necessarily need to be dressed in black, swash-buckling, suave, and masked. Though the name is maybe slightly similar, believe it or not, this hero is an application.

If you are working with projects which require research of any type (like Big6 projects), Zotero might just end up your hero as well. For learners who need to manage a list of books, websites and stuff for their work, Zotero is great. Using a connector (a little plug-in) in your browser, Zotero will automatically take information from meta data and other information on web sites you choose and put it into a library for long term storage so you won't lose them. Documents like pdf's, .doc's and such which are connected to pages can be saved in the library too, with screen captures of what a page looked like. So you don't have to worry if the information on the page changes. It's like bookmarks on ultra-steroids.

You benefit in that this often saves time normally wasted combing through sites for information and permanently keeps your web site information with no worries about browser craziness. But there is a lot more to it. Zotero allows you to organize your site entries in folders to keep sources for various projects or topics separate. Additionally, entries can be tagged, so that you can do universal searches throughout your collection to find resources which are related in similar ways.

Further, if you need to list your sites and other sources in bibliographic format, you are in luck. Zotero will take source information from your library and create a correctly formatted bibliography entry for it. If you have trouble keeping track of your APA's and MLA's, it is as good as taken care of.

All these things are great for projects, but there is something greater for the homeschooling crowd. If you sign up for a Zotero account (a complimentary amount of 300 MB space is free) on the website, you can synchronize libraries between Zotero on your different computers. That means you can share your child's libraries for projects to keep up on research progress, and you could make notes for each other through that if desired. The account allows you the ability to create online groups as well, so you could manage multiple kids if each one had a separate account and they shared their projects with you. In fact, you can also publish public collections if you want (you can find some entries in the LearningWilds collection here. A work in progress, mind you).

If it didn't seem too good to be true yet, Zotero is Open Source Software. The software and browser connectors are freely available for Mac, Linux, and Windows. I have worked with it on Mac and Linux, both of which work similarly and seem to sync just fine. I have worked with Zotero on Mac since the days when it was simply a Firefox plugin and it has served well.

Unfortunately, mobile access for Zotero is a bit patchy. There is no iOS app for Zotero, though there are a couple of non-Zotero apps that work with it. I tried PaperShip, but opted for the online Zotero web interface, though it is a bit clunky. There seem to be a number of options for Android, but the Android device decided to go on strike recently so I was unable to test any of them. Probably due to the constant change in the devices and systems, the Zotero connectors and clipping techniques for iOS look to be out of date.

Zotero is an excellent tool for anyone managing information about a large number of websites and other sources. This is not just for school students, but home learners, and anyone with interests that involve a body of online information. And it works very nicely with Big6 projects. The basic faculties of the program are quite useful in and of themselves, but syncing and collaborative options available through accounts are icing on the cake. The chances to meet others of similar interests and find new resources in your discipline are well worth it, especially when basic space is gratis. Opting for expanded storage also helps to support Zotero for their work, so if you are able to, please do so. Being an Open Source community, Zotero have numerous other ways you could help efforts as well.

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Zorro? No, Zotero original article at learningwilds.net

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