User Perspectives of Reference Management Software in a Context-Based Learning Situation


  • Sara Akramy KTH Royal Institute of Technology
  • Fredrik Offerlind



Scientific writing is an important aspect of the student's education. Writing requires the student to give reference sources in a proper manner in accordance with a certain style. Experience has found that the process to deal with different styles requires time. Critical thinking is a fundamental requirement in scientific work and as such requires no detailed knowledge about different styles structure. Today's technology makes it possible to facilitate scientific writing using reference management software. The current reference management tools available are license-based and others are available free through the Internet.

In recent years, social media, such as Facebook, Blogs and Wikipedia have received increasing attention. The discussion, in educational settings, has touched on the pros and cons, but also on the potential opportunities using social media in educational settings. Social media creates opportunities for communication, which in turn affects learning. This learning can be described as collaborative. Illeris (2007) points out that such learning refers to activities where a group of people strive to learn and develop something together. Thus, it is the technical possibilities that facilitate communication and learning. From an educational point of view Vygotsky appears to be central in terms of pedagogy and technology. His theoretical argument is based on a sociocultural perspective where people learn from each other and are believed to be active in its social context using technology as a helpful instrument. Individual knowledge thus grows between individuals (Vygotsky, 1978). The teacher's role, based on Vygotsky's sociocultural perspective, is to encourage good learning environments, and thus use existing technology in the educational setting.

With this background, the purpose of this study was to examine two different reference management software tools, Zotero (a social media free downloaded from Internet) and EndNote (license based), and how these can help to encourage positive learning environments that are connected to the new generation of students.

A pedagogical implementation was conducted in spring 2010 for all students (semester 1) in occupational therapist and physical therapist programs. The methods used were interviews as well as a questionnaire. The material was analyzed according to content analysis. The result showed three categories: Usability, Accessibility and Learning Situation. These illustrated the students' perception of how easy, convenient and time saving it is to use reference management software tools. Accessibility describes the technical requirements associated with the tool and learning situation is described by the increased communication through networking and the students feel that they're willing to use the tool in different contexts in the future. Based on the results, we noted that students are positive about the use of reference management software tool. From the results we can conclude that it is crucial to select a reference management software tool which fulfills the requirement of availability. This study shows that neither EndNote nor Zotero meet the requirements regarding the availability of an optimal learning situation. As an educator it is most important to take into consideration, when using technical devices, that the student feels competent when using devices. This is advantageous for the student by offering them a sense of security and continuity in the learning process.


Illeris, K. (2007). Lärande [Learning] (2. ed.). Lund: Studentlittertur.

Vygotskij, L. S., & Clole, M. (1978). Mind in society; the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard U.P.



How to Cite

Akramy, S., & Offerlind, F. (2013). User Perspectives of Reference Management Software in a Context-Based Learning Situation. Nordic Journal of Information Literacy in Higher Education, 5(1).