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The EndNote Conundrum*


NOW will be THEN 52/52 via Dennis Skley on Flickr

*or, Do People Want to Learn Things When They Say They Want to Learn Them?

Last week I meet with three students beginning their literature review research for an independent senior thesis (what we call the St. Mary’s Project or SMP). Although much of the focus is on making sure they’re familiar with helpful research resources and able to gather all the background research they require, I do also offer a brief EndNote workshop. Although it’s not my favorite citation management software, our college has an institutional license, so it’s what we teach. I just want them to organize their research in some way; the particular tool is unimportant.

Inevitably, when I teach EndNote to senior students, I get loud exclamations and shocked expressions (complete with hanging jaws). “Why didn’t we learn this sooner?!?! Oh. My. God. This is AMAZING! We should all learn this as FRESHMAN!!!!!”

It’s that last line that always gets me–We should all learn this as Freshman. It’s absolutely true, but it’s also absolutely not. Case in point: I have a colleague who is routinely asked to teach EndNote to students in a First Year Seminar course. She thinks it’s a waste of time. The students think it’s a waste of time. The professor thinks it is critical. In many ways, it’s a parallel situation to my SMP EndNote workshop.

From their position as senior thesis writers, these students are able to see the applicability of EndNote to their previous years of study and research. As a scholar and researcher, the First Year Seminar professor can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t want to organize their references with something like EndNote. Their early-college-student-perspective is totally lost, and they can only look at educational scenarios through the lens created by past experience. It leaves librarians with the complicated task of determining the ideal timing for a learning experience. We might all claim to focus on point-of-need instruction, but is our understood point-of-need the same as that of our students?

I don’t know what the “right time” for an EndNote workshop would be for my students, so I continue to learn from trial and error. I sometimes wonder what the “right time” is for so much of what I teach.



  1. I think the right time is exactly when the learning hits the student like a ton of bricks and they are excited to put it to use. Maybe not ideal from their perspective, but definitely ideal from a teaching perspective. They see the utility, they will use it, and, as you say, they are also applying that new skill to other contexts in which it could apply past and present. Beautiful! Identifying that timing, however, is definitely the trick.

    I am constantly battling against professors who want students to learn something as freshmen in order to apply that learning as seniors. An example: Excel should be taught in First Year Seminar because they must use it as juniors. A second example: students should be required to ILL an article as freshmen because they will use it next year. Um, no. Not really. For so, so many reasons.

    • AGREED. I finally learned how to use (basics, of course) Adobe Illustrator because I had a project to work on that meant I would directly apply all of the online videos and tutorials I’d watched in past months and promptly forgotten. Talk about point-of-need learning in action.

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