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Tools for Asynchronous Learning

This guide contains information for conducting class activities at a distance or online. It provides some information on platform privacy, and some sample assignments for last-minute transitions to distance learning.

Critical Organization with Zotero

Critical Organization with Zotero


Organizing sources critically is a necessary skill in many aspects of scholarly practices. The critical development of genealogies of thought or methodology is one approach, while another might be the classification of particular works into keyword categories. These approaches would be useful for students to gain experience in the classification of materials for their own writing, or for building an understanding of the development of theoretical approaches, witnessing how scholarly discourse changes and responds to new modes of practice. For example, budding historians could be asked to classify works into broad historiographical trends to aid in the critical analysis of applications of Marxist vs Postmodernist theoretical approaches, which can then be discussed with the rest of class.

If you would normally discuss a collection of readings or materials in class to determine their contributions to an intellectual tradition, this new assignment would allow for students to collaboratively propose organizational structures, and then practice debating and justifying their reasoning. Similarly, this assignment could be used for practice in classifying works into various traditions, themes, or intellectual/theoretical approaches. An alternate approach would be for professional development of an understanding of authorial keywords for future publication.

This assignment was originally developed for use in collaboration with Dr. Jeannine Murray-Román, Assistant Professor of French and Spanish in the FSU Modern Languages department.


Students will use this assignment to examine the intellectual traditions of authors, works, arguments, or styles and propose a taxonomic organization through relationship networks, keyword “tags,” and structured “collection” folders utilizing the organizational features inherent in the research management system Zotero. Students will then describe and defend their decisions through collocated notes documents, revising and responding to comments and feedback as appropriate. Alternatively, students can use this exercise to practice classifying works (theirs or their colleagues’) with accurate and concise keyword tags, to gain experience for their own scholarly writings.


Installation & Setup

  1. Students and instructors will need to download the Zotero standalone program and internet browser connector, create a account, then link the program and account following the steps outlined at
    1. Students should then send their usernames to the instructor for use in Step 3
  2. Instructors will need to create a new “Group Library” through the online interface:
    1. Go to
    2. Log into your Zotero account
    3. Click on “Groups”
    4. Click “Create a New Group”
    5. Enter a group name (something simple like “ARH1000-SP20” is fine)
    6. Choose the “Private Membership” group type
    7. Ensure that the “Any group members” item is checked in the “Library Reading,” “Library Editing,” and “File Editing” categories
    8. Click “Save Settings”
  3. Instructors will then need to invite their students to this new group library
    1. From the Zotero Group Library Settings page, click the “Members Settings” link
    2. Click the “Send More Invitations” link near the bottom of the screen
    3. Copy/Paste your student Zotero Usernames into the invitation textbox, separating each one with a comma.
    4. Click “Invite Members”
  4. Students will then need to accept the invitations through their Inbox
    1. Students will need to log in to, if they aren’t already
    2. Click “Inbox” in the top-right corner of the screen
    3. Find the new invite message and click to open
    4. Follow the link included in the message for the new group library
    5. Click the “Join” button on the right side of the screen, just above the “Members” profile pictures
  5. Collect materials into the group Zotero library as normal (instructions available here). This can be done in advance by the instructor, so that all students are working to impose an organizational structure with a common group of materials, OR students can be assigned to find their own materials and organize from there.
  6. Students will then impose some form of organization on the materials using the “Collections,” “Tags,” and “Related” features within Zotero. Instructions on the use of these features can be found here.
    1. It is suggested that basic instruction be given to students on how to do the organizing task, but less directives on how to organize materials, to best give students the opportunity to come up with a system that makes the most sense to them.
    2. If students will be sorting materials through the use of Collections, it is suggested that a top-level collection with the student’s name (or FSUID, etc.) be created, and all materials drag/dropped into this collection to help differentiate any hierarchical structures and prevent loss of access for other students
    3. If organization will be primarily Tag or Relationship-based, materials do not need to be separated out into student-specific Collections
  7. Students should then use the Standalone and Child Note features to write short justifications for their choice of organizational structures
    1. Child Notes will work best when describing Tags and Relation organization
    2. Standalone Notes will work best for describing Collection-level organization features.
  8. If synchronous, classes can then devote time to student presentations on their organizational structures, outlining their decisions and justifications for their choices. Their colleagues can critique and question, sparking discussion.
  9. If asynchronous, notes can be submitted as pseudo-discussion board posts. Student colleagues and instructors can then read and respond with other notes.
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