I've been teaching a seminar course for several years now designed for students who may be headed to grad school or who simply want to know more about the ins and outs of research. It meets once a week for a couple of hours and many students can fit it into their schedules without having to sacrifice another course or pay an overload. It's a lot of fun because we get to debate research ethics and discuss copyright and open access and the trade-offs between convenience and privacy and all the interesting issues that makes my field so exciting, but which tend to get trimmed away when you have an hour or two to get students up to speed on using the library to complete an assignment. Although this course attracts a small number of self-selecting library geeks, even they seem surprised at how much there is to learn and how interesting it can be.
It's also an opportunity (as every course is) to realize how much things change from one semester to another. It's not just new research sources or new database interfaces (though why nearly every major database had to undergo a complete redesign in the past six months is a bit of a puzzle to me, particularly since I'm not really noticing any improvements); it's also the tools that I find totally indispensable, even the ones that I only learned about a few months ago. How on earth did I get by without them?
So here I'm asking for your help. If you were creating a Swiss army knife of basic, portable tools for a young scholar to carry around, what would be on it?
I'm planning on giving them some experience with a bibliographic citation manager, an RSS feed reader, a place to save Web bookmarks, and a way to store things in the cloud so that they can access files wherever they are. In the end, they'll choose which tool works best for them, but we'll start with Zotero, Google Reader, Diigo, and Dropbox.
What tools do you give your students? Which ones do you find essential for your scholarly work?