Thursday, 1 March 2012

Collaborative bookmarking in education

To continue the series of posts on the theme of internet-based tools for teaching and learning, here is my latest thinking on collaborative bookmarking in education.

Firstly, the term I'm using is collaborative bookmarking rather than social bookmarking.  This is because I'm trying to put it within a educational context.  The emphasis, therefore, is collaboration or co-construction of knowledge and understanding and using an online bookmarking service as part of such a pedagogical design.

The best way of experiencing online bookmark is to experience it for yourself and, unlike other online tools with potential for education, there is a clear rationale for personal bookmarking as it's a much, much better than saving website links than the old favourites, folders way.  Part of this is about digital literacy, we really need to help our educators understanding and experience key social media concepts for themselves to help them comprehend how formal can utilise such tools.  For example, for social bookmarking tagging is key.  The power is in the multiple tags you can put against single sites so that sorting and categorisation can be nuanced and flexible.  Although tagging exists across all social media, it's amazing how it isn't used by the vast majority in most tools/services.  With bookmarking you pretty much have to tag, so it's a good way of forcing people to learn this skill and experience its benefits.  This is the folksonomy concept.

The learning context is simply - group creation of a relevant weblinks so that the workload is shared and the useful resources people find can be built up into a bank of resources for groups in the future.  The principle is sound so what are the tools?
I've used two services: http://www.delicious.com/ and http://www.diigo.com/.  Delicious has changed much over the years.  As a pure bookmarking tool, in its current version, this is my favourite.  It's brief marriage to yahoo didn't do it any favours (I went elsewhere whilst this occurred) and its progress has been set up a few years as a result.  It's strength is its simplicity and the stacks feature is a good one.  I can see how stacks could be utilise for student activities where they are asked to find and present as a resource relevant websites on a particular topic.

However, for a group learning context its not ideal.  For this I would recommend http://www.diigo.com/ as its more geared towards education.  A free education license (http://www.diigo.com/education) gives you the ability to create accounts for students in a group.  You could use such a group to share resources and I've helped a number of colleagues do this for their courses.  What's good is that you get a url for your group area which you can share and post to your vle area websites.  Also, with diigo you can make notes against each bookmark or make notes on the webpage itself.  I've used diigo to plan sessions like this one http://groups.diigo.com/group/web20_learning with colleagues.

So what's my experience of bookmarking in my UK HE institution?  Overall, I would say the courses I've helped with haven't made much use of their group bookmarking facility. Its worth reflecting on why?
  • Usability has an impact as it's not great.  Ok, there's a diigo toolbar but what if your educational institution won't let you do this? Well, you are left with their rather cumbersome usability. Also, access to any diigo requires a login.  Although you can create this for students its still an extra step.  I advise where possible you duplicate other logins they may have.
  • There's an ethos of sharing at the heart of social media and when shoehorned into a formal education context it often doesn't sit well.  There's an element of competition, an element of selfishness ingrained into the mentality of learners who have come through schooling and have arrived at higher education - at least at the moment.
  • The common context for use has been as a course wide sharing of readings and references related to the writing of the assignment.  Technically students should be collecting these throughout the course.  However, its common for this to occur in a mad rush at the end.  There's no time or use for sharing resources at this stage.  It would be preferable to relate the sharing of web resources to a particular learning activity so that the rationale and incentive is clear and you can quickly reach large number of bookmarks.  It's only when you have lots that you see the benefit of having a dedicated bookmarking service.  Otherwise, students will simply paste via a forum or email.
I've had a section within my session 21st Century Tools for Teaching and Learning on bookmarking since I started it a 3 years ago.  I've been able to create a diigo create and hand out logins for people to try out the uploading process.  It's worked well.  At the last day I did on 7th Feb there were interesting ideas of using it for sharing resources amongst staff and parents.

I'd welcome any comments about your experiences of bookmarking in education, whatever the context.

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