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Digital Tools Review


March 24, 2015 by jrenner1

For our digital tool review, I selected Zotero, MyHistro, ProProfs and DocTeach. I found all these tools to have a lot of potential particularly in gathering and visualizing data. I also believe that these digital methods have both applications for me both in the short term in terms research and in the long term in terms of presenting material and assessing/evaluating the effectiveness or usefulness of that material.

Bibliographic management tool:

Ease of Use: 4.5/5

Certainly Zotero provided an easier way to gather and store all my research articles and images. By saving particular pages or a snapshot of a page, I was able to save information more conveniently and in a way that provided an organization schema through folders and tags that was much more useful than my typical practice of saving websites in a bookmarks folder. Zotero is a relatively easy-to-use digital tool, although admittedly, having been instructed in how to download and use the device in the classroom setting might have given me an advantage that an ordinary new user would not likely have. What makes Zotero truly an asset to one’s research is its ability to not simply to store information and provide the means for the information to be accessed upon request, but its ability to create useful endnotes and bibliography to documents.

My only complaint with Zotero is that it does not always capture all the data necessary to complete a full bibliographic citation. However, this is generally not a fatal flaw for the system as one can simply edit a source to include all relevant information. This can only be burdensome should one not initially catch the missing source information. As a recent Zotero convert, I intend to use this digital tool for a long time, and highly recommend it to those who have not yet experienced its benefits.

Digital research tool 1: MyHistro

Ease of Use: 3/5

I think MyHistro seemed very simple in practice. All one has to do is create a “story” and add events to produce a digital timeline. One can add images, descriptions, and a map location to each event. When the events are complete, a viewer can play the digital timeline to move through the historical content while seeing the physical locations of each event on a map. Viewers can pause the stream of events and click on a single item to view more information about a particular topic or examine an image more closely.

I determined that MyHistro might be a good way to present a timeline of the events surrounding the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895, particularly involving events that shaped the need for the South to redefine itself as something new and prosperous—a symbol of progress (for example, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction).  I also wanted to add events that showed what the implications of the so-called progress were for race (for example, Plessy v. Ferguson and an increasing number of Jim Crow laws). I thought MyHistro might help to organize a large amount of data in a way that would prove helpful to understanding the racial climate that contributed to the beliefs of white superiority that accompanied the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition. My overall hope for MyHistro was that it would breakdown information in a way that visually and spatially easier to understand.

In my use of MyHistro, I found it relatively easy to add events, descriptions, locations, and dates to particular “story.” However, I was unable to see the images that I added for each item. According the upload of the images dialogue box, the images were there, and I was not able to upload them again or add additional images, but I could view in the editable story or in the final project. This was very disappointing to me.

I really liked the idea of this digital tool, and I think it has a lot of potential for organizing and sharing historical based content. I especially think this tool could have great application for both teachers and students in a classroom setting. Where this tool really fell flat for me was its inability to display the historical images I uploaded for each event. It is possibly that if I used a different internet browser service or find an additional add-in, I might have more luck. Overall I really loved the idea of MyHistro and hope to actually incorporate it into my project, should I be able to make the image capability of the tool to work.

Digital research tool 2: ProProfs

Ease of Use: 5/5

ProProfs is a digital tool intended to produce easy-to-make polls. One simply has to type in a question and possible answers to produce a simple and comprehensible poll that can be shared via website, blog, facebook, twitter, or wherever that allows links or embedded sites. It also allows one to see how many people have viewed your poll and analyze statistical information from the results.

Admittedly, I have no yet used this item for my current research project. However, I think ProProfs could be an excellent tool in the production of an online exhibit to determine prior knowledge or potential misconceptions of viewers or to assess understanding of a particular topic after a user views the exhibit. It could also be a way to evaluate how useful a website is to its audience and what ways in which it can be changed to better suit viewers’ interests or needs. It could also be a way to make learning more interactive in a classroom or during a presentation with large numbers of people. If students or audience members had computers or cell phones, ProProfs could serve as a way to gather data quickly, to perhaps identify commonalities or misconceptions. Thus, I see the potential usefulness of ProProfs in upcoming projects, although it does not directly impact my research at this point in time.

Digital research tool 3: DocTeach

Ease of Use: 4.5/5

The last digital tool I choose to review is called DocTeach. DocTeach is a product of the United States National Archive and Records Administration and is intended to serve as a tool for educators to make primary sources like documents and images fun and interactive to students. I have used DocTeach in my experience as a teacher, and I tend to really like the interactive quality. I believe that this interactivity could make an online exhibit or archive more interactive for users. DocTeach offers a variety of formats based on your learning objectives for your students or audience (for example, do you want your audience to connect historical figures to important documents? Do you want your audience to examine a primary source and analysis its potential meaning? Or do you perhaps want to students to place visually depicted events or documents in a timeline or map?) With access to the National Archives digital documents and image, one is able to create an activity that would best suit one teaching needs.

This tool is generally very simple to use, particularly after exploring and experimenting with its possible activities. I found that my students required very little instruction to use the activity and it helped facilitate classroom discussion. Thus as a classroom tool, DocTeach is very effective. In an online exhibit or archive, it might be a little trickier without additional instructions or context. So I could see definite potential problems with particular audience members. But I believe as a supplement to written exhibit text, this could serve to make an exhibit more engaging, especially if teachers would like to incorporate it into a lesson plan.

The most difficult aspect of DocTeach for me is the limited number of options one can use to display in the templates (you can only use the documents that have been digitized by the National Archives). Although this simplifies the process and means that hundreds of images and documents are right at your fingertips, it neglects many opportunities to incorporate information from other sources. For example, I would easily be able to find documents about American Revolutionary War, but less documents about a more specific topic, like my Atlanta Rail Corridor Project of the Southern Cotton States and International Exposition. For that reason, I think that DocTeach is an excellent general tool with a multitude of applications, but also a number of missed opportunities.


  1. Adina Langer says:


    I particularly appreciate your review of the DocTeach and ProProfs teaching tools. Have you contacted the National Archives about the possibilities of extending DocTeach’s functionality? i wonder if they would be open to your assistance on such a project after your graduation?

  2. nsakas1 says:

    It goes without saying that we all have found Zotero to be an essential research tool. I was not familiar with ProProfs or DocTeach, but these both sound like they could be very useful in a public historian’s toolbox. One of the most valuable pieces of information for anyone creating an exhibit or public history project is audience feedback. Also gaining a better understanding of the ways in which personal memory works is something that public historians continue to struggle with. Proprofs sounds like a tool that can at least aid in this struggle. Additionally, making history enjoyable through interactivity with documents or artifacts has proven to be a successful way of teaching history. DocTeach sounds like a program that could be a very effective teaching tool.

  3. Alexandra Troxell says:

    I’m definitely interested in trying out some of these tools after your review. I find the pattern of shortened words for titles amusing among research tools and scholarly applications, but what matters is their utility, not their wit. From your description, I would certainly give proprofs and docteach a try. They sounds like they have a lot of potential for various projects. The myhistro tool sounds like something that could be useful for grade school students or teachers to create projects. A simple interface and limited functionality could bea good fit for a younger audience rather than a scholarly one.

  4. Susan Prillaman says:

    Both ProProfs and DocTeach have potential to help me professionally when working on exhibits and other public history programs. As you describe them, ProProfs is an easy tool for pre- and post-assessment activities and DocTeach may be used in or for the program itself. I’m reminded of some of the polls I’ve seen Atlanta Business Chronicle that highlight the importance of crafting a clear question and defined answers. In the ABC example, one is provided only two answer choices–frustrating when neither reflects my opinion.

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