Online Research Toolkit

         a collection of reviews of online tools and suggested uses for online research

April 2, 2012

Evernote for Portfolios

Filed under: General @ 9:37 am

Here’s a description of using Evernote for student portfolios. While this post is specifically about a teacher using Evernote with his grade school students, there is no reason that the individual student of any grade level can’t use the same technique by themselves.

Combine Evernote with Dropbox for really big digital projects, and you’ve got a nice setup!

October 11, 2011


Filed under: Collaboration,In the Toolkit @ 3:07 pm

So you’ve got something to follow up on, next week. An email you sent out, something you can’t do until something else gets done. Anyway, you can’t do it now, but you need a reminder to do it later. So, you set a reminder, right?

Well, here’s a new way to set a reminder: email FollowUpThen. There are two intriguing parts to this. First, the address itself sets the reminder time: [email protected] will send back the email to you next Wednesday. ‘oct31′ will send you a Halloween reminder. ’10amtomorrow’ will go out at 10am tomorrow. ‘everyfriday’ sends a reminder, you’ve got it, every Friday until you tell it to stop. Time, hours, days, months, dates: it’s quite adaptable.

The second part really makes it easy. Compose a new email or forward one directly, and it will bounce back to you. CC FollowUpThen on an email and both you and the other recipient(s) will get a reminder. BCC FollowUpThen, and only you get the reminder. So setting the reminder can be just as easy as emailing the person you need a response from or to do something for. FollowUpThen even suggests using it to clean out your inbox: forward all those ‘to do’, ‘waiting for’, ‘will be outdated next week’, etc. type emails to them, with appropriate dates, and archive your inbox with a clear conscience. I must say, I’m tempted. (Nothing else has worked, so far!)

Anytime you need to know what’s in the pipeline, just email ‘pending’ or check the website.

They also have a premium service ($24/year) which allows attachments, logos, text message reminders, and similar features.

I’ve been using the service for several months now, and I haven’t had any messages go astray. I did have a bit of trouble with the time stamps at first, but now you can set you time zone, so that’s fixed. You probably don’t want to be sending personal info or corporate secrets this way (just send a note, not the actual data).

I’m putting this under Collaboration, since it’s probably most useful when working with others.

August 19, 2011

2011 Toolkit

Filed under: In the Toolkit @ 1:13 pm

Here’s a sample toolkit for the academic year 2011-2012. These are simply the tools that I feel, at this moment, are very good for online academic work. That’s not to say that the other tools aren’t good, or that someone else might not choose something very different. Or that I might not change my mind tomorrow. It’s more to give you someplace to start.

Online Searching: Open Web Resources. OK, I’m biased, but nothing has excited me more as a librarian and an educator than the huge proliferation of open access materials. My review (old but I think everything is still good). There’s no one website, so have a look at my Open Access Guide.

Note Taking: Evernote is my current favorite. My review. Website.

Collaboration: I haven’t used it much, but I’m still intrigued by Dabbleboard. My review. Website.

Citation: Mendeley. I’m really loving the “dump that PDF in the folder and Mendeley finds it automatically” feature! If it just worked better with our subscription databases (proxy issues), I’d never use anything else. My review. Website.

Presentation: This is so context dependent, since it really depends on what you are trying to do. But start off with some of the online office suites, like Google Docs or Zoho. My Zoho reviews. Zoho Website. I’ve never reviewed Google Docs (though I did review Writely before Google bought them to turn into Docs), but here are some other thoughts on the Google universe.

I hope something catches your eye, and that you find something useful.

February 3, 2011

Dabbleboard-online whiteboard

Dabbleboard is an online whiteboard with some very nice features. You can use it directly, without signup, and share/collaborate by simply sending the URL. There is a built in chat feature, too. Dabbleboard will recognize common shapes, like rectangles and circles, and clean them up for you as you draw. You can also specify freehand drawing. There is an extensive public library of shapes. You can also upload images for use on the whiteboard, and download the resulting whiteboard image for local use (.png format). If you sign up, you can save drawings, and create a personal library of shapes and drawings for later use. There’s also a pro version that allows you to keep drawings private.

I’ve put this under Collaboration, for the obvious whiteboard applications, Notetaking for the potential to mindmap and similar organizational applications, and Presentation for the ability to create images for outside use and for the ability to add images and pages. (In theory, you could give a presentation using this, by creating or uploading several pages of images, then inviting others in to chat.)

October 21, 2010


Filed under: Browser based,Online Searching @ 2:53 pm

The combination of Instapaper and Readability have made it much, much easier to read things online.

Instapaper is a “read later” service, that saves links at the click of a browser button/bookmark. Then just visit the site when you have time to actually read something. For mobile use, it has iPhone and iPad apps, RSS feeds, and the webpage looks quite good in a regular mobile browser as well. You can organize things with folders, but the main strength of the service is that it’s quick and simple.

Readability is the reformatting service I reviewed last week, that strips “clutter” from webpages, making them much easier to read and print.

Between the two of them, reading online is much nicer now.

October 14, 2010


Have you ever had a page that you couldn’t read or print because of all the stuff on it (beside what you were trying to read, that is)? A page with lots of ads, menu bars, etc.?

Readability to the rescue! Readability is an experimental project from the web consulting firm Arc90, that allows you to display only the main text (and some images) of a webpage, minus the ads, menus, comments, and other extraneous stuff. You get to choose the style (including inverse), font size, and margin width; then just drag the bookmark into your browser toolbar. Click the bookmark to format any webpage to those parameters. You can even save more than one setting (though you’ll have to rename the bookmarks).

The newly formatted page includes buttons to revert, print, and email, and the original page title and URL are included when you print.

There is also a Firefox add-on version, which allows you to change settings.

I’m adding this to the Note Taking and Online Searching categories, because anything that makes reading the screen easier should help with both of those.

May 13, 2010


Filed under: Links,Mobile,Note Taking @ 4:20 pm

A real quick one here: will aggregrate links that you Tweet with the #bm hashtag. Hbookmark stands for Hash Bookmark.

So send ‘#bm’ on Twitter and then you can look up your Twitter name on and see all the links you’ve saved. Here’s mine: (yes, I know, exciting!) It works with URL shortened links, too.

Writing Studio e-Portfolio

The Writing Studio is a courseware system for writing based classes provided by Colorado State University. It’s a great system for classes with lots of collaboration, peer-review, and other course related features, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about today.

The Writing Studio is unique in courseware systems that I know of in that its first entry is not course-based. You first sign up for the system as an individual writer. You get a suite of tools, like a to-do list, wikis, work folders for organization, blogs….and e-portfolios.

There are lots of reasons for having an e-portfolio. Most of the common ones are work-related, or more actually job-hunting related. But e-portfolios can also be very useful for privately keeping track of projects and other work. The e-portfolios in the Writing Studio are HTML-page based, so you can include links to web-based work (videos, photos, blogs, etc.) or upload files to the site. You can modify the appearance, using themes, images, and color choices.

You can choose to share an e-portfolio with everyone (public web), or with groups or individuals on the Writing Studio. A job-related portfolio, for instance, could be live on the public web, but a portfolio of stories could be shared with a friend or writing group for review.

You can see my (not very comprehensive) e-portfolio at

I should note again that the Writing Studio has LOTS of great tools for anyone who writes, including an online word processor, citation tool, outliner, calendar, etc. As with any online tool, you shouldn’t store your ONLY copy of important documents in something like an e-portfolio. Be sure to backup your drafts and save copies of your work, either offline or with another online service.

April 29, 2010


Not only am I finally getting around to Evernote, but this will be my first “mobile” application review.

Evernote has been around for a while, but I never got around to trying it out. Now that they have: web-based access; browser plug-ins; downloadable software for Windows and Mac; AND apps for mobile phones; I really don’t have an excuse for not trying it out.

Basic functionality: Evernote takes notes. (Yah, no kidding.) But it really takes notes: text via all the various software applications, or via Twitter; audio via the software and phones; images like photos from your phone (like a photo of that napkin you were scribbling on), screenshots, uploaded images. Evernote organizes notes. I’m using the active voice here for a reason, because Evernote will actually do some basic organization on it’s own, plus you can add your own folders, tags, etc. If Evernote can process the note for searching (indexing keywords, etc.), it will do so.

Impressions: the thing that appeals to me most is the multiple access points. I can take a picture of something or write a quick text note on my phone, and find it in the web account. I can install the browser plug-in in IE, Firefox, or Chrome to capture links and screenshots.

I also like the fact that this is private. I have a bunch of ways of saving things publicly (Flickr, Delicious, etc.) but my private stuff is all in my email.

I can definitely see myself using this for organizational purposes for saving pictures, links, and notes for posting on the library Facebook page, and collecting websites, images, articles, and ideas for a presentation I’m putting together. I’m definitely going to be using the Twitter integration to save tweets I want to follow up on. I could even use it to save services I want to try out for this blog. If I were a student, I’d be adding websites and online articles for papers, snapping pictures of the chalk/white board in class, and taking notes.

Like many of the free services I’ve reviewed here, Evernote has a premium, for-fee version. For the reasonable price of $5/month or $45/year (as of this writing), you get a much larger upload allowance, expanded file type viewing, collaboration abilities, increased support and security, and ad-free service. Some of the partner services that Evernote works with require their own premium services, like Reqall Pro which can extract Evernote notes to add to your reminders. (Tempting!)

I’ve just started to explore Evernote, so I may post an update once I’ve used it for a while.

April 22, 2010


Filed under: Presentation,Web based @ 6:30 pm

Prezi is a online presentation tool with many cool features and effects. But I just can’t get into it. This probably says as much about me as about Prezi.

Prezi helps eliminate the linear function of most presentation software, i.e. PowerPoint. You have an essentially unlimited flat surface upon which to put your presentation text, graphics, etc. You can connect ideas and group concepts. It reminds me a lot of mind-mapping software, actually.

The big addition is scale. You can zoom in and out, so that details are unreadable at the big picture level, and then become visible as you focus on a particular topic.

You can create a ‘path’, making the unlinear linear, or you can manually move from concept to concept.

It ought to be great, but I just can’t wrap my mind around it. I have the same problem with mind-mapping programs. Love the concept, just can’t seem to use them myself. Maybe I’m not visually oriented enough. Don’t let this stop you from trying it, especially if you’ve used and liked mind-mapping.

By the way, the most common complaint about Prezi seems to be motion sickness. The zooming in and out, twisting, etc., gets to some people. Prezi does have a nice video with some advice on how to avoid this by properly grouping and layering your Prezi.

Prezi’s help and tutorial material is quite good, and the service is very easy to use even without the help. The only thing I had to look up was inserting links (just paste the URL in, Prezi will automatically make a link, though you might have to save, exit, and reopen before you get a working link.)

And if you are like me and can’t seem to make it work for you, check out the Showcase where public Prezis are posted. You might get inspired. When you finish your Prezi, you can make it reusable, too, if you want to allow others to use your content. You can also download your Prezi for offline use.

There are premium versions that allow private Prezis, removal of the Prezi branding, offline creation (downloadable version) and more online storage.

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