How I Use It
To start, I'll note that I'm actually writing about Zotero, not ZoteroBib, since Zotero does not appear to have an entry here of its own. Truly, this app can be used at every stage of the research project process. I would start by instructing students on how to manually input the metadata from a source into the tool. This activity would really not be much more than a substitution for manually recording information needed for a bibliography later but it would show them how to do it in case they were using a physical book as a source and it would reinforce the sort of information they need to construct a bibliography. Next, I'd show them how to use the browser plug-in to automatically add a source and its metadata to the tool. This along with the note-taking function in the tool certainly augment more traditional methods of conducting research since they automatically arrange and archive sources while making a clear connection between those sources and the information gained from them. Once we were further along in the project, perhaps at the outlining stage, I would introduce the tag and relationship functions which further augment the research process by making specific items easier to find once it's time to start drafting. The relationship function also makes the analysis of their research more intuitive since any connections between items that they notice along the way can be preserved for later. In this way, this tool even modifies the way that research can be done effectively, if not the finished product of the research itself. Finally, once we began drafting, I would show them how to use the citation plug-in that Zotero installs in Microsoft Word. This is another augmentation tool that makes citing sources as simple as clicking on the source connected to their notes. It even allows the user to change format on the fly, fixing all of the previous citations automatically. Once they finish drafting, the "Add Bibliography" button draws on the metadata saved from each source that has been cited to produce a complete bibliography for the project.
I was very impressed by this product and wish that I had known about it a couple of years ago. It would have made my time writing as an undergrad much easier. My only possible criticism would be its appearance. It has a minimalistic, utilitarian appearance that might not be particularly inviting to some. Personally, I loved that about it, too, but I can certainly see how someone who was already not particularly excited about the prospect of doing a lot of research and writing a paper or putting together some other sort of research project might also be put off by the way this tool looks. They might even feel a little intimidated by it since it is not always all that intuitive. That is why I would recommend introducing only one or two functionalities at a time as they are needed for the stage of research the students are in. That said, once students become comfortable with it, Zotero has the potential to really demystify some of the most daunting and often least interesting parts of doing research and creating something out of it. All of that time students often spend trying to organize their research, losing and having to rediscover sources, misplacing notes or forgetting where they came from, and finally making sure that they use the right format to cite sources and build a bibliography is time better spent on the actual project. This may not be the sort of tool that can be used on its own to gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic but it allows teachers and students to spend less time on organizational and formatting matters so that there is more time to ensure that the assignment it facilitates does do that.