Social Bookmarking – A Powerful Research Network

February 10, 2008 at 2:18 pm (social bookmarking) (, )

Chris Harris asks a very important question: Why is social bookmarking so important?  More specifically I wonder why is social bookmarking important to teaching and learning in classrooms, schools and lifelong learning in general? 

The answer I believe is in the potential that social bookmarking has to be, what Harris calls, a very “powerful research network.”  I emphasize potential as this won’t happen by itself.  Students and their teachers must have a basic understanding of how it works and be active participants. 

The obvious next question is how does it happen?  What does it look like and what can it look like in a school setting?  Until I saw examples of what I was reading about I didn’t know the power of what was being described. 

Social Bookmarking as A New Search Engine
Harris identifies social bookmarking as a human powered rather than a predominantly math powered search engine.  Will Richardson describes it as not just information, but information in the context of a network:

“In a nutshell, the operating principle behind [social bookmarking, tagging and folksonomies] is this: if I find something interesting enough to save, odds are good that you will, too.  And together, using these tools, we can build comprehensive lists much more effectively than any one of us could working alone.  Exemplifying the wisdom of crowds, these applications are fast becoming an important resource for relevant information.”

Richarson says that it’s important to be able to find information but it’s even more important to find people who can connect you to the information.  For example, if I am looking for something related to next weeks topic of podcasts, I can search through Jenn and Joanne’s del.icio.us bookmarks, those of my classmates or the bookmarks of other reputable individuals in the field (whom I’ve noticed sometimes link to their bookmarks, have a feed identifying recent additions in a sidebar regularly post new links from their bookmarks to their blog).  I could also search the social bookmarking service experts use and scan for names of people that I recognize who have saved links.  If my colleagues are looking to learn more about how to use a Web 2.0 tool, they could search my bookmarks knowing that I have explored the tools.  When collaborating with a colleague on a unit or professional development topic, we could Furl websites into one folder on that topic, describe, annotate or ask thought provoking questions of students or colleagues, then print it as a handout or resource list. 

If you create a uniqe tag that students can save bookmarks to, like apcalc06, which is then dropped into the sidebar of the class blog using an RSS widget or blogged as a separate post identifying new links, students can then contribute to a bank of resources to turn to when they need support or enrichment in a class.  (The drawback in this example, when using de.icio.us, is it is possible that inappropriate sites could be tagged and listed and then fed or posted on the blog.)  Penn Tags does what apcalc06 does on a larger scale.  It acts as a central location for many topics or projects that students can contribute to and access.  Students choose the content of interest to them which best meets their needs.  This is powerful stuff! 

More On RSS Feeds
Rather than searching through social networking sites, RSS feeds can be set up on tags of your choice, from specific users or the social networking community at large, from one social bookmarking site or many.  Richarson says its like having others do the research for you, going so far as to compare his aggregator to a textbook.  Could student textbooks one day be a thing of the past?  Instead, a class RSS feed or individual student feeds could provide up-to-the-minute information on curricular topics for class discussion, debate and analysis.  Talk about connecting learning to real life!  I agree with Elizabeth that when using an RSS feed there is potential for information overload (I have to get over the fact that I have 88 messages in my aggregator that I haven’t read) and with Jess that you still need be able to search and filter though the information (I can actually skim and scan them very quickly and mark pertinent ones as unread).  For me, the benefits of social bookmarking far outweigh the costs. 

Active and Critical Reading
With some social bookmarking sites, such as Diigo, it is possible for students to highlight text for specific purposes such as finding the main ideas, identifying key vocabulary or discussing bias.  Students can also add “virtual” post-it notes.  Using this technique, students are able to demonstrate active reading and use of reading strategies: questioning, clarifying, predicting, summarize, connecting to text, self and world, and tapping into prior knowledge.  It is kind of like a ThinkAloud but on paper!  The best part is that on a return visit the highlighting or post-its will still be there and they can be forwarded and added to by someone else.  Students can collaborate, adding post-its of their thoughts and questions to those of their peers and teachers or teacher-librarians can provide digital feedback.  This way, as Dave Ehrhart identifies, you are able to differentiate instruction by “ensuring that students actually read, understand, and comment on the text.  Through their feedback, I can check their research and respond directly or pose a question of my own.”  There is an IE or Firefox Trailfire plugin that can keep track of the sites users visit (your “trail”) and add post-it notes (called “marks”) to webpage.  I haven’t tried this one yet but I want to as it would help me to remember what I was thinking on my internet “road trip.”

Social networking draws upon individual strengths, interests and passions.  By saving links to a common location or making them public it has the potential to help everyone find the best information available.  A further benefit that I see is that the researcher can spend more time reading and analyzing then seeking and finding potential sources of information.  The ability to comment or question pushes people to think critically about the information that they are encountering and consider information and perspectives that they may never have found otherwise when completing independent research in isolation. 

The speed at which tagging has permeated all types of content available on the web means that it is here to stay.  Social bookmarking capitalizes on this.  It is transforming the face of research from using formal academic taxonomies to informal, individualized, user-controlled, spontaneous, non-linear “browsing, searching and finding based on user perceptions and needs” (The Horizon Report, 2006).  In order for this world to be opened up to students and for them to be able to access it as it continues to undergo transformations, students should be introduced to it in schools.  As Richarson says, “we have to help them experience the value of being embedded in communities of practice that can sustain their lifelong learning needs.”

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4 Comments

  1. tldlblog said,

    I think this Trailfire one would work well for pathfinders. Joanne and I and a tech guy in the faculty had a look at it last week. I can see how teachers and TLs could use this to guide kids through different resources.

    I will try to explore it more and figure it out sometime.

  2. Val said,

    Hi Arlene:
    I like the idea of highlighting and post it notes. I agree sb has the potential to be great but its how we as teachers and [tls] and the students decide to use it. As Jenn mentioned, its a good way to keep students responsible for their own reseach and accountable for the information gathered. Like you, I still want to explore it further before unleashing it on the kids. Yes it is a great collaboraton tool.
    Cheers
    Val

  3. Simon said,

    I like the RSS feeds. I’m still trying to figure out how to subscribe to the feeds.

  4. elizabeth said,

    Arlene,
    I also wonder if we might begin to see textbooks phased out because of the power of tools like social-bookmarking. One of the big factors in changes like this will lie with the teachers; while students may find it very easy to use these tools, considerable professional development will be required to get teachers using them as comfortably as they use textbooks.

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