Using Mendeley in a Graduate Course
This semester I taught my graduate course “Food Physical Chemistry”. Each week the 15 or so students read a chapter of a textbook I’m working on along with a couple of research articles then come to class for lecture and discussion. If they haven’t read the material carefully before class then they are wasting everyone’s time and I was needed a way to help the students be more effective in their reading. I remembered as a new graduate student it was always better to get a copy of a paper from a senior student’s collection instead of a clean copy from the library so I could see not only the text, but also some annotations to tell me which parts were relevant. With that in mind I chose the free Mendeley reference management program to share material with the class and to coordinate readings.
Students were required to read the papers and annotate them within Mendeley before class met. They were free to make whatever annotations they felt most helpful but in general they tended to ask and answer questions, highlight key passages and post hyperlinks and clarifications. Members of the Mendeley class group could see one another’s annotations so the mark up of the papers became a collaborative and mutually supportive exercise. I joined in the discussion and post my own thoughts and responses. The fact the class was small and the annotations were not anonymous encouraged good contributions as did the small fraction of the grade based on participation in Mendeley.
I was generally pleased with the results of my experiment. A lot of the simpler questions were answered in advance of class and the more profound questions became the basis for further discussion. The fact the students had publically engaged with the readings in advance of the meeting made face-to-face discussion easier. The major downside was towards the end of the semester the students got busy and started to “game” the system by posting comments that looked substantive but lacked real engagement (e.g., “Do you think they replicated this analysis?” or just posting a link to a Wikipedia article on the method). I will use Mendeley again in my grad courses but I need to make more time to be visibly and critically engaged in the discussion and to find a better way to grade participation on the quality of their comments.