Saturday, October 9, 2010

Social Bookmarking

I tried every diet in the book. I tried some that weren’t in the book. I tried eating the book. It tasted better than most of the diets.
 ~ Dolly Parton in My Life and Other Unfinished Business

I am a chronic dieter. I have tried diet after diet after diet. I have had successes and failures. I am always trying to find a better diet, a diet that is a better match than other diets I've tried.  A few years ago, a trainer I was working with told me that "any diet works if you actually follow it."

This is how I felt this week as I examined Social Bookmarking tools.  There are so many social bookmarking tools out there and each promises great results.  Each tool offers something a little different and aside from popular bookmarking tools, there are many less-known tools that have various features.  They each have different bells and whistles and each promises a new kind of organization.  Just like diets, some seem to be quick and easy while others seemed to require more of a commitment. I found articles and organizational charts like the one at "Interactive Inquiry" which highlights features of various tools, but I realized without digging in, I didn't really understand the differences.

Before I really dug in,  I realized I had to get my head around exactly what social bookmarking is.  I thought I understood it as I have been using some of the tools for several months.  But I quickly realized that I have only using the "bookmarking" part of the social bookmarking tools. I have been using Delicious and Evernote for my own personal bookmarking and notetaking and I never really thought about the social piece of these tools.

I found a definition that helped me think through the ways I could grow in my personal use of these tools on the Digitally Speaking Wiki. It states, "Designed as information management tools that allow users to categorize web finds through the use of tags---keywords that allow for easy searching and grouping of content---social bookmarking applications take advantage of the wisdom of millions of users to identify resources worth exploring." 

I thought back on my use of the tools over the last several months and tried to figure out how to get the most out of these tools. I realized that I had been underutilizing the whole idea of social bookmarking and decided to dig deeper.

Delicious: My First Attempt at Social Bookmarking
Delicious was the first social bookmarking tool I tried. I quickly found that the tool was easy to fit into my everyday life. There was not much to think about on a day-to-day basis and once I installed the tools, it allowed me to save articles and links that I wanted to revisit.  For years, I had started word documents with links that I knew I wanted to go back to with no formal way to organize those. With Delicious, I quickly learned that I could save these in a way that was far more convenient and  efficient.  I was thrilled with this ability and for a while Delicious met all of my bookmarking needs.

As I began to rely on Delicious to save important links, I began to have several problems. First of all, I had jumped in without having understood the importance of tagging.  So as my collection grew, it became more and more difficult for me to find the links I was looking for.   I realized that sometimes I would tag something "video" and at other times would use the tag "videos".  This happened so often before I realized it, that it has become almost too big to fix.  I think Delicious is a tool that allows users to jump in and learn as they go but many people I know abandoned Delicious because once they understood the ways that it could work, they had already created a mess of their bookmarks.

Last year for my spring course, I decided I would use Evernote completely for my final paper.  I had seen the benefits of Delicious and was sold on this type of tool in general.  But I needed something with more options in order to really use the tool to research a topic and create a product. I set up an account and decided to do all of my research collection, note-taking, etc. with Evernote.  I was glad I gave myself a job to do with this tool because it let me see how different the process could be than the ways I had worked on research/projects in the past. I had enough experience with Delicious to dig into something bigger and I loved the tool.

The whole layout and organization of Evernote seems to be a great transition for people who like the idea of "note cards".  Evernote allows users to pull out quotes from an online source, create note cards, organize notes into topic-specific notebooks and tag. Each "note card"  includes all of the information necessary and the site is easy to navigate.

For me, one of the best features of Evernote is that I can use it on my iPad.  During BLC10, I took conference notes exclusively on the iPad Evernote app. I was able to jot down things from sessions, bookmark sites that presenters mentioned, and organize it all into a notebook called BLC10.

I used Evernote throughout the summer to organize my online reading as well as conference notes.  For me, Evernote really helped me to see the possibilities for collecting information and the evolution of what notetaking could be in the 21st Century.

Diigo was the social bookmarking tool that I was least familiar with before this course began. I had heard about it but hadn't played with it. I knew that it promised more than the others and my friends who use it have raved about its features.  I spent much of my time during the last few weeks exploring the features of Diigo. I think I went into Diigo with a solid understanding of what social bookmarking can do and I knew the challenges that I had encountered with other tools.

I was interested in what Will Richardson mentions in his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, "But Diigo also has some unique features that extend our ability to read and write socially in compelling ways. Not only can we bookmark the pages we find interesting, we can actually annotate and highlight them for ourselves or with others." (p. 92)

The Diigo Toolbar was the thing that sold me to the tool. I loved the idea that I could bookmark, highlight, add a sticky note and more.  For me, Diigo totally changes the way I can read on the web. It allows me to annotate in a variety of ways.

I played with every tool! I learned that I could save a picture from a site (with the source right at my fingertips, of course.) I learned to highlight and to add a bookmark. I loved the fact that I could see these things as I looked at my library --this allows for easy scanning within a tag.  The variety of tools in the Diigo toolbar allows for any kind of note taking, quoting, saving that would be needed in my reading.

I am also ready to begin to understand the social piece of social bookmarking.  I looked for friends and colleagues who had Diigo accounts and followed them. One of the things I quickly realized was that the reason I love Twitter is because I love learning by reading what others I respect in the field are reading.  Instead of waiting to see what is tweeted out by those I follow, Diigo allows me to have access to their public libraries on a regular basis.

Up until this week, I had never understood the point of blog posts like this one that appear regularly in my RSS feed.(  In this post, Dana Huff of shares her weekly Diigo bookmarks with readers.  Up until now, I did not understand why I would care what other people were bookmarking to the Diigo account.

Playing with Diigo this week helped me understand (finally) the words of Will Richardson (p. 99), "...the idea that we can now use social networking to tap into the work of others to support our own learning is an important concept to understand. It's another example of how the collective contributions by the Read/Write Web are changing the way we work and learn."

Although I am not using the tools to this extent yet, I suddenly realized the capabilities of social bookmarking tools when they are used collectively and collaboratively.

Which one is a match for me?

Just as in dieting, no one social bookmarking tool is perfect. As with every diet I've tried, I've learned something new about how best to change my life habits to live in a more healthy way. Each diet has helped me live my life a tiny bit differently and when I put all of the knowledge and experience together, it becomes clear how to eat in a healthier way.  I discovered the same type of thing when examining the variety of social bookmarking tools. Each provides a little bit of something that helps me rethink the way I read, write, research and organize. I have come to the conclusion that for me personally, it is the way in which these tools work together that is powerful.

I realized that I love each of these tools for different reasons and I seem to use each a bit differently. I continue to use Delicious when I just want to make sure I save a site I want to revisit. I have become better at tagging and this is the quickest, most efficient way I have found to keep track of the things I read and want to save.

Evernote is my favorite of the tools when it comes to my own personal organization. I think I will be using it often for specific projects. Evernote allows me to focus in and to gather information from a variety of sources. I see Evernote as being the tool I will use when I am working on a project. It seems to be a great match to the other social bookmarking tools like delicious and Diigo but Evernote allows for a bigger variety in organization of information.

Diigo seems to be the one that invites the most collaboration.  Not only can I see what people are reading, but I can begin to explore the ways in which my thinking can come together with others by collective annotations and more.  The tools that I have learned allow me to see what is possible.  Diigo helped me understand the "social" part of social bookmarking in a way that I hadn't before.

What Does This Mean for Schools and Libraries?
I have worried over the past few years about the ways in which schools are not changing to meet the new demands of the 21st Century. As teachers, we tend to fall back on those things that we have done in the past and I see social bookmarking tools as being something we can't ignore. These tools demand that we, as educators, rethink the things we are asking our students to do when it comes to research. I worry that we continue to do the country reports, animal reports, and biography reports that we did when i was in elementary school. And I worry that we are asking students to go through a research process that is very outdated.

Social Bookmarking tools give us so many more possible ways to make research more authentic for our students. Some questions I am asking myself about my work with students in the library are:

Are we falling back on traditional research projects when there are other possibilities that would better meet student needs?
Are our students still required to write out long web addresses in order to cite work for a project?
How are we supporting note taking in ways that go beyond handwritten notes?
Are we utilizing tools for students to quote experts who have up-to-date information on a topic?
How are we helping our student organize and access notes in new ways?
Are we helping them see the power in collaboration when it comes to research or are they isolate in their work?

I think our libraries can be key in helping teachers rethink what is possible when it comes to research.  Libraries everywhere are trying to include social bookmarking tools to the resources they provide for students. In The Academic Library and the Net Gen Student: Making the Connection (2007) Susan Gibbons states, "Because social bookmarking can in fact be an efficient research tool to help students "keep found things found," academic libraries should do more to promote and support their use. For example, the bookmarklets of popular social bookmarking systems like Delicious should be added to the Internet browser of the library's public computer terminals to make it easier for students to use them.  The University of Pennsylvania Libraries have gone a great deal farther in their support of social bookmarking. Recongnizing the  value of social bookmarking, they created PennTags ..., a local social bookmarking service designed specifically for the university community." (p. 72)

Last year, I followed Buffy Hamilton's reflection about her Media 21 Project in which a group of students worked on long-term projects using Web 2.0 tools.  In a post near the end of last school year, her students shared their reasons for choosing Evernote. Her work with students has been incredible and her sharing has helped me to see what is possible when students are given tools to do authentic learning.

We have several teachers who use Delicious accounts as a way to share links quickly and efficiently with students. My thinking is to create a Delicious account for our library where students can easily access so many of the sites they visit in the library.  I discovered that Shannon Miller has her Diigo links as part of her library website.  This seems like a great way to begin to use social bookmarking.

I am not sure where this fits into an elementary school. I want our students to begin to move toward more authentic reading, writing and researching and social bookmarking tools seem to be a great first step toward that.  A classroom delicious account with the teacher in control of the account,  can help kids understand the process of bookmarking, strategies for tagging, etc. but the individual contributions to the collective learning become lost.

I am interested in learning more about Diigo Educator, a new tool for teachers who want students to begin social bookmarking.  I spent a great deal of time reading about the tool and the safety features for students. I was impressed with all that it offered and it appears to be a great scaffold for students new to social bookmarking. The new upgrade allows educators to create a private group with an account for each student (no email address necessary). The privacy and safety settings seemed to address so many concerns I have with this tool for young children. Finding classroom teachers who wanted to collaborate on this tool would be ideal as it isn't something that can be created on a whole school basis.

Final Reflections
At this point, our students seem to understand the concept of bookmarks as they relate to individual interests. They use their bookmark tools to bookmark sites they want to return to but the bookmarking has not changed the way they read, write or research. For me, the next step in thinking is to really work to help students participate in a more socially constructed research project where social bookmarking is a tool for collaboration as well as information-gathering.

For me, social bookmarking tools have changed the way I've learned and I can see that I am just beginning this journey.  The question for me is how can we utilize these tools to help our students read, write and collaborate in ways that move them to deeper learning.

1 comment:

  1. Linking to the AASL standards here might boost your "why for kids" argument. Nice post and love the screenshots.