Monday, October 11, 2010

Quit Being "It" - Playing Tag in the 21st Century

If you are anything like me, you are tired of being "It" in the information game.  And here's why...

Picture the following. You... one, lone individual... have just been plunked into the vast, Sahara desert.  "You're It!"  Somewhere in this vast, open space, you'll find a treasure.  You've heard that buried in the sand are golden nuggets.  All you need to do is find them. A difficult task, sure enough.  Doable, though? Perhaps.

Photo DVIDSHUB. Retrieved from 
Let's make it a little harder. Imagine every nugget of gold looks exactly like a lump of clay. Every time you are sure you have discovered gold, it crumbles between your fingertips. You begin to feel a little anxious.

Now, let's throw in a sandstorm.  Every time you turn, all the sand shifts and moves.  Just as you think you have discovered the sure path to a golden nugget, the landscape changes completely. You start to get disoriented. You begin to lose track of where you've been.

I would bet that no matter how long, hard and fast you search, that perfect, golden nugget will remain just out of your reach.   This is you, the WWW and information.  With greater than 10 billion pages of information (Richardson, p. 89) available at your fingertips, is it any wonder that you, all alone, find yourself continuously sifting for the golden stuff.

But, what if you could enlist some help?  Another "It" to chase down that golden nugget with you, doubling your chances? Or, better yet! What if you could recruit an entire community of "It"s to help you locate that nugget?  Ah, maybe even better!! What if you could retrace exact footsteps that would lead you straight to a pile of golden nuggets?

Enter Social Bookmarking. Now, let's play 21st Century "tag"!

Social bookmarking... T'week'ed first, for me

"I <3 my delicious network and its searchability." (Will Richardson on Twitter, October 5, 2010)

Let's just say that I had grown accustomed to playing "It" in the desert sandstorm. That is, before this week's blog assignment on social bookmarking

At its simplest level, social bookmarking allows you to store your links online.  It doesn't seem like such a big deal, does it?  That's what I thought at first, too. Certainly, this would mean access to my bookmarks regardless of where I am working or on which computer I am using.  A nice option, but it was no big "Aha!" either.

Then, as I read and reflected throughout these past two weeks, I discovered the power of collaborative, collective knowledge lurking behind social bookmarking!  "Aha!" This is the big deal.  So, just how does it work? You see, social bookmarking is based on user created 'tags', sort of like the Dewey Decimal for 21st Century Dummies.  The big difference is that when it comes to social bookmarking, you will find no dummies here.  Let me explain.

You see, when users create "tags" for their web links, they are actually assigning key words or tags that reflect their personal, constructed meaning of the site's content.  And when they share those tags online, they build onto the collective and collaboratively constructed meaning.  As more and more tags are created, or repeated, and new bookmarks added to our collective understanding, a new socially, constructed meaning, or 'folksonomy' emerges. This user constructed understanding can then become a powerful resource.  Will Richardson explains it well in Taming the Beast: Social Bookmarking: 

"In a nutshell, the operating principle behind these concepts 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 resource lists much more effectively than any one of us could working alone."

Now this is smart stuff!

The best part yet is that these tags and comprehensive resources become a user-generated, searchable engine.  Unlike Google, that computer-generates searches by popularity, social bookmarking sites help you connect with the information that other users found to be worth bookmarking.  Further stated in Teaching Today:

"The advantage in using social bookmarking sites is the human collaboration involved in the searching framework. (...) Sharing is what makes social bookmarking so powerful. More often than not, it is the Web savvy user who allows their tagged bookmarks to be available for public viewing, and this results in links to sites of higher quality."

Basically, thousands of users have already sifted the sand for you!  Caught you... You're It!

The learning process... putting Social bookmarking to work for me!

Although I was somewhat familiar with social bookmarking sites, having signed up for my own account (YDenomy) this past spring after hearing Will Richardson speak so highly of these tools at the Saskatchewan IT Summit, my account sat virtually unused. I guess I didn't have time to explore the tool in depth, so my use of it was limited, to say the least. At best, I used it to bookmark sites for future reference at the office.  It also filled a small void in organizing my bookmarks, but I certainly hadn't considered this aspect fully until recently. In addition to my Delicious account, I used Evernote, to share and organize content online.  Again, I wouldn't say that I really used this tool.

One of the key learnings from all the reading and thinking I did was the importance of tagging content.  I would often bookmark but not tag.  I now better understand why tagging is so important.  But, don't worry about getting it right or wrong.  I was a little anxious about this, at first.  I soon realized that it isn't a big deal if you don't 'tag it right' because it's based on your understanding, after all!  Of course, practice makes perfect (or at least comfort, when it comes to the web).  I found this article Tips from Top Taggers helpful, as well. 

Over the course, I heard significant praise for Diigo, so decided I needed to check it out and compare Diigo to my account.  It took only a minute to sign up for a Diigo account (YDenomy) using the Quick Link to my Google account option.  I did experience some glitches while trying to download the toolbar and had to close out and reopen the download several times before success.  But finally, with the Diigo toolbar installed, I have to admit that I am already really loving it!

A few features that are different to include the Read Later option.  I have found this to be a great tool while I am working on assignments, and following Twitter (my multitasking maximum).  Basically, when someone Tweets a great link, I just mark it for Read Later (as not to get too off task). Hopefully, I'll make time for those ''Read Later" links... my only concern.  

I liked the highlighting option, as well.  I see this as being useful already for when I am following the week's Trailfire and want to remember quotes that I might like to share in my blog post. Currently, I keep a draft post of the week's topic (this works, too).  I do think the challenge is consistency, so find something that works for you!

I like the Capture tool, as well. Right now, I use Jing to capture from the screen.  Diigo has this included on the tool bar, as well. I also found the Diigo Capture tool very simple to use.

Another bonus with Diigo was the ability to bookmark a .pdf document from the web.  For whatever reason, I was unable to do this on my Delcious account.  In the end, it looks like I am going to be a full Diigo user soon.

Finally, one last but cetainly not least use of any social bookmarking site is its power to organize and locate information we have saved.  This is a HUGE challenge today.  In fact, when I asked friends and colleagues about their greatest challenges in the information age, difficulty organizing digital information was at the top.  Here is a sampling of comments I heard over the course of the weeks...
  • Remembering document names.
  • Finding the document again.
  • Remembering where I stored it.
  • Everything housed individually, not enough folders.
  • Scroll through too many lists.
  • Consistency from one colleague to another in saving and storing shared documents.
  • Backing up resources.
In general, I can see that social bookmarking would eliminate many of these difficulties.  Using tag searches, for example, should help locate the document, regardless of the name.  This results in less searching and scrolling through lists of documents.  The main thing, is try to be consistent.  Another huge bonus, something that I am just learning and look forward to learning more in the next while is the ability to use RSS feeds to get the information delivered right to you! I have just started to figure this out... somehow I have subscribed to my own Diigo favourites (not what I had wanted to do).  But, learning will continue about RSS feeds shortly.

Regardless, after a week or two of playing with these tools, I can't imagine why I never used them more fully before.  If you haven't been using social bookmarking tools for your personal and professional learning, you're spending too much time sifting!
Social Bookmarking... T'week'ed for Learning

Lastly, I would like to talk about using social bookmarking sites in the classroom, library and staff development environments.

In the classroom, I see great collaborative opportunity for students.  Students working together, especially on inquiry projects, could create their own tag and build their own resource list.  Of course, you could add to their resource list by adding sites you think they could use, as well.  Most of all, I really liked Richardson's suggestion about individualizing instruction by setting up a class feed and a separate feed for each student.

"That way, every time you run across something you think Meredith might be interested in reading, you simple add the tag "Meredith" to it and her feed with automatically update." (p. 96) 

Great thinking! The wonderful part of this, it's just so simple.  Of course, it does require each student to have a Google Reader account and "Yes", it takes a little set up.  But in my opinion, once this is done, the pay off will be huge!  I think it's a worthwhile investment!

The more I learn, I am also seeing that 'tagging' in itself supports student learning.  By asking students to identify important key concepts and words, they synthesize their learning.  One of my favourite lessons, from Kyleen Beers' When Kids Can't Read, is entitled Most Important Word.  In this lesson, Beers (2003) states that this process "forces students back into the text to consider what was the most important aspect of that text." (p. 174)

In the library, teacher-librarians could easily add a link to their Diigo or Delicious accounts on their websites. For some, especially at the onset, it may be best just to store relevant websites for both teachers and students on their own accounts.  In a way, this replaces the need for Pathfinders, Trailfires or JogtheWeb paths. That said, I still think these are great options for younger students, too.  If teachers had a Google Reader account, you could set up an RSS feed for teachers, as a teacher would for a student.  Then, when you come upon a site of interest to that teacher, it would be delivered directly to their Google Reader account, too.

Finally, I see huge potential for staff developers with this tool.  This year, in Saskatchewan, we have all new curriculum documents.  Imagine if teachers could build a collective resource list of pertinent resources!  Why not establish a tag, such as SK3Science (for grade 3 Saskatchewan Science curriculum), share it with all 70 Grade 3 teachers in our division (or go beyond) and let's get building.  Teachers wonder why they reinvent the wheel over and over!  I ask, "Why are we all sifting the sand, searching for gold nuggets?"
"If the information is important enough to gather, organize and update, isn't is also important enough to make available, uniform and current by placing it online."
(Doug Johnson in his Blue Skunk Blog, Three Ring Binders: A Little Rant)
Additional Resources:
Beers, K. (2003). When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.


  1. I love you're idea having teachers create collaborative resource lists (in Delicious) on curriculum topics. This would be so helpful - for folks like me who are constantly changing grades and schools!

  2. Diigo has an Educator account you can apply for and then you can create student accounts - no need for Google there. Then you can easily forward links to students.