The Value of Custom Educational Technology in Reading, Research, and Writing Across Disciplines

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Understanding how students experience the use of and interpret the value of tools intended for specific purposes is an important element of teaching with technology online. This session will present data from students on their perceptions of value and experiences implementing PowerNotes in their reading, research, and writing across disciplines.


Catrina Mitchum is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Arizona. She earned her PhD in Composition/Rhetoric and Digital Studies from Old Dominion University. In 2018, she was, collaboratively, awarded the CCCC Research Initiative Grant. Her research interests are in retention and course design of online writing classes. She has scholarly work published in The Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, MediaCommons and Enculturation. She teaches first year writing and professional and technical writing courses online.
Rochelle (Shelley) Rodrigo is the Senior Director of the Writing Program; Associate Professor in the Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English (RCTE); and Associate Writing Specialist (Continuing Status) in the Department of English at the University of Arizona. She researches how 'newer' technologies better facilitate communicative interactions, specifically teaching and learning. As well as co-authoring three editions of The Wadsworth/Cengage Guide to Research, Shelley also co-edited Rhetorically Rethinking Usability (Hampton Press). Her scholarly work has appeared in Computers and Composition, C&C Online, Technical Communication Quarterly, Teaching English in the Two-Year College, EDUCAUSE Quarterly, Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy, Enculturation¸ as well as various edited collections. In 2021 she was elected Vice President (4-year term including President) of the National Council of Teachers of English and won the Arizona Technology in Education Association’s Ruth Catalano Friend of Technology Innovation Award, in 2018 she became an Adobe Education Leader, in 2014 she was awarded Old Dominion University’s annual Teaching with Technology Award, in 2012 the Digital Humanities High Powered Computing Fellowship, and, in 2010 she became a Google Certified Teacher/Innovator.
Kayle Skorupski is an Associate Professor of Practice in the School of Nutritional Sciences & Wellnessat the University of Arizona. She is the Director of Professional Programs in the School, and the Director of the ACEND accredited Future Education Model - Graduate Program. She has worked in health care for 21 years, twelve as a registered dietitian nutritionist, in settings including acute care, critical care, critical access, skilled nursing, long-term care, outpatient counseling, and community outreach. She holds BS degrees in Animal and Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona, a MS degree in Nutrition from the State University of New York at Oneonta and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in health promotion and wellness through Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions. Kayle holds a certification in nutrition support and was one of the first to be certified as an advanced practitioner in clinical nutrition. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her dogs Joey, Alfie and Reyna, reading, listening to live music, and attempting to garden in the desert.

Extended Abstract

Students increasingly access their instructional materials in digital environments (Gierdowski, 2019; Seaman & Seaman, 2019; Smale & Regaldo, 2017). Similarly, most of the library resources they find and use for secondary research are also digital (e.g., PDFs and ebooks). Combine this with research (Howard, Serviss & Rodrigue, 2010) that suggests although students include paraphrasing and quoting from sources in their writing, they rarely synthesize or demonstrate that they are engaging with sources at a deeper level which suggests students may not be reading or understanding their sources. In short, the problem is that students need support for reading and understanding digital secondary research resources in their entirety. 

Citation management applications like Zotero (free), Mendelay (free), and RefWorks (our library subscription ended in February 2021) predominantly focus on resource tracking and citation generation. Some provide more robust note taking (like Zotero); however, none of them allow for highlighting and note taking that support students in digitally synthesizing across multiple sources. PowerNotes ( allows for users to highlight text and images in digital sources, take notes on those sections, and then organize the notes in such a way to generate groupings of themed information and/or detailed outlines. PowerNotes also has a collaboration function that allows students to read and respond to one another’s work. Through peer commenting, students are “active agents in learning” who not only receive feedback but participate in knowledge construction (Nicol 502). PowerNotes is an application that can help most students who are conducting secondary research for papers or other projects. 

The core activity in PowerNotes is highlight, tag with a theme/keyword, and take a note. The learning curve for those actions is minimal. The learning curve for integrating and synthesizing the themed/grouped notes is a bit more difficult. As with any new technology, there are two predominate strategies for supporting new users: have them consume support materials (of which PowerNotes has: and design and assign scaffolded “learn the technology” assignments where the students complete low-stakes activities in the new technology before using it in higher stakes assignments. To support the scaffolded approach, we will  design and develop a quick video training guide and "a practice with the tool assignment" to be used in all of our classes. Having the uniform introductory assignment will help develop some alignment between the varied courses during the assessment process. 

In this education session, we will present data collected from an IRB approved assessment study, whose purpose is to assess the value of using PowerNotes as a reading, research, and writing tool for online students across disciplines. Research questions guiding this study:

  • What do online students perceive to be the value of PowerNotes to their reading, research, and/or writing processes?

  • How do students use PowerNotes as part of their reading, research, and/or writing processes? 

  • How do students in different disciplines and courses perceive the impact of PowerNotes? 

  • How do students experience the implementation of PowerNotes?

We will present data from students on their perceptions of value and experiences implementing PowerNotes.

In this session, we will show the data analysis while simultaneously asking the audience to: 

  • consider what the results might suggest about the courses that are being assessed;

  • reflect on how that information might be used;

  • consider how online programs might work to support reading, research, and writing;  

  • reflect on possible activities they can use to improve the student experience with reading, research and writing; and 

  • ask questions.

We will provide participants with copies of activity prompts different instructors used with PowerNotes as well as access to presentation materials and a reference list. 



Gierdowski, D. C. (2019). ECAR Study of Community College Students and Information Technology, 2019. Research report. EDUCAUSE. 

Howard, R. M., Serviss, T., & Rodrigue, T. K. (2010). Writing from sources, writing from sentences. Writing and Pedagogy, 02(2), 177-192. 

Nicol, D. (2010). From Monologue to Dialogue: Improving Written Feedback in Mass Higher Education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 501–517. 

Seaman, J. E., & Seaman, J., (2019). Freeing the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2018. Babson Survey Research Group.

Smale, M.  A., & Regalado, M. (2017). Digital technology as affordance and barrier in higher education. Palgrave Macmillan.