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Creating Tutorials for Asynchronous Citation Management Instruction

May 6, 2022

Zotero + LibWizard = Success!

Image of person typing on a laptop.
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Zotero is a citation manager that has been widely used across many college campuses by students to collect, store, and cite their research references, often at the suggestion of a librarian or professor. As a librarian at the University of Pittsburgh’s Johnstown Campus, I have witnessed the look of amazement on a student’s face once they realize how valuable this tool is, especially if they are working on a lengthy research paper or plan to go to grad school and continue their studies. Anyone who has taught Zotero (or any citation manager software) workshop should be well familiar with this reaction.

Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between lately. When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, I found myself, like many others in academic librarians, wondering how to best provide valuable information literacy instruction virtually. I also found myself thinking about ways to provide citation management workshops online.

In the fall of 2020, I decided to try out a flipped learning activity for a communications research course that I had worked with on citation management tools the previous year. As someone who has taught Zotero workshops in person pre-pandemic, I knew how technology issues could derail an entire instruction session and I wanted to find a way to provide instruction through asynchronous means, but still be able to connect and engage with the students.

I proposed to the faculty member that I create a self-guided tutorial using Springshare’s LibWizard for her students to complete prior to the class session that I would attend with them on Zoom. This allowed for the students to learn the basics of installing and using Zotero before the class met synchronously online and could ask questions they had about the tutorial or learn more specific information that the tutorial didn’t cover. As this was a course outside of my regular liaison area, I had help from my colleague who supports the discipline, and he was able to show the students how to find resources that students could then import into their Zotero libraries.

This approach seems to have worked well, based on feedback from the faculty and students. When instruction resumed in-person, we tried this approach again with success. One of the students answered, “How to cite articles in a much easier way” to our post-class evaluation question about the most useful part of the session, so I know at least one student found some value in learning Zotero, which is a success in my book.

Creating a Self-Guided Zotero Tutorial with LibWizard

  1. Create your learning objectives (I kept mine broad to be able to use the tutorial for any student, independent of a class requirement).
  2. Create an outline of how to structure lesson (it helps if you already have this!).
  3. Organize your LibWizard slides using your outline.
    • Welcome message/intro
    • Intro about Zotero
    • Lessons on how to use Zotero (where recorded videos will be inserted)
    • Conclusion/Where to get help
  4. Test out tutorial (ask for volunteers or student assistants).
  5. Make changes as needed.
  6. Share the link and review reports for follow-up.


To help create the lessons, I recorded narrated videos that demonstrate the steps I use in an in-person class. I used Panopto, which is available at our institution, but since then I have found Active Presenter to be a more user-friendly software for video creation. In later tutorials, I have created videos with Active Presenter and then uploaded them to Panopto. Be sure to include captions and edit any mistakes. Chunking the demonstration videos into shorter lessons helps the user digest the content more easily, and hopefully helps them to retain it better as well. I also included places in the tutorial where the user can submit questions with their email address so I can follow up with them after completion.

If you would like to try the tutorial out yourself, please do so online (Intro to Zotero Tutorial). Please feel free to leave any constructive criticism so that I can make improvements over the summer. I know that there is a new Zotero 6.0 version out now that may offer new features, so I may need to update the lessons.

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