The Social (Bookmarking) Life of a Teacher

“I need a better way to organize my bookmarks.” I’ve been saying that for several months now.  What with preparing topics for discussion in my classes, researching issues and points for debate, and general browsing on topics that interest me, I’ve come across numerous websites that provide a wealth of pertinent information, all of which are added to my Firefox bookmark list. However, as the list grew to hundreds and hundreds of links, the thought of ever being able to recall and find a particular link in the future became an impossible task. The problem was that I did not have a good system to label what sort of link I was bookmarking, compounded by the fact that I did my bookmarking across a number of computers, so I was having troubles syncing links between computers. This past year I’ve been using Read It Later List to try to solve the syncing issue.  This app allowed me to save a webpage to read later, the idea being that when I got home I would go through my list and label and sort them into a master bookmark list. But when my Read it later list grew to over 100 links that I planned to “read later” I realized that this was not going to work; kind of like when you put all your mail into one single box with the idea that you will go through it later.

So when I learned more about social bookmarking through my online course on Web 2.0 technologies for education, I thought that this was exactly what I was looking for to organize all my links. My dream was to build up a library of resource and research links that I could refer to at any time and from any location when the need arose, easily searchable by keyword (aka tags). Delicious seemed to fit the bill, and I’ve been playing around with it the last few weeks.

The idea of social bookmarking is that many pairs of eyes can find more relevant resources than one. You can search the links that other people have saved using a particular tag and you will then be able to see the webpages that other people believe may be relevant to that keyword. This can lead to more relevant webpages than what you may find on your own simply by doing Google searches.

The most tedious task in setting up my own Delicious account was going through and tagging the hundreds of bookmarks that I imported from my home computer. After a couple weeks I’m still not even close to finishing. I guess it’s kind of like organizing a file drawer that has had everything thrown in there. But once I finish tagging everything, the reward is that I will have easy organized access to all the useful links that I have saved over the years. The magic of an app like Delicious that can not be accomplished by a physical filing system is that links can be tagged with multiple keywords. A physical document can only go in one file folder. But a webpage addressing the historical account of the Galileo affair can be tagged with the terms science, religion, history, and geocentrism, so that it pops up when I search for any of those terms on its own. Or I can search more precisely only for links that address both history and geocentrism. This certainly trumps even the best physical filing system.

These links and tags can also be displayed on a personal blog, for example, so that others can see what you are tagging. I tried adding a linkroll and a tagroll to this blog, but the default formatting provided by Delicious did not work well with the custom layout of my blog, so I ended up deleting them.

 

Use in the Classroom

How might social bookmarking be utilized in the classroom?  I can certainly see the advantage of this for a research project, as multiple students look for and tag good sources of information from the Net, starting perhaps with the links that the teacher has already tagged.

Another way social bookmarking can be utilized is to restrict the number of sites that students can refer to when researching about a topic to only those that the teacher has already tagged.  Though this may constrict the "social" aspect of Delicious, it does serve the purpose of ensuring that the sites that students refer to have already been deemed useful by the teacher.  I've had students who simply didn't have the discernment to tell what was a good site with valid content versus one that gave invalid or irrelevant information.  Rather than simply giving them a static list on a paper of sites that they can use, I can tell them to refer to the sites that I have specifically tagged in my social bookmarking account. This way I can continue adding relevant sites to the list even after the assignment has been given. I am already envisioning using this for my research assignments on the age of the Earth debate or the issue of Intelligent Design. A simple arbitrary search in Google using “Intelligent Design” may not necessarily turn up the most informative results, so this way I can enable my students to benefit from the inordinate amount of time I have spent searching and reading up on the issue. This would definitely address NET-S #3, Research and Information Fluency.

Another way that social bookmarking can be a helpful tool for students is when I ask them to set up wiki pages detailing the major points regarding a specific issue. Students can use social bookmarking tools to tag relevant links that they have come across so that their teammates can see what they have found. This would address NET-S #2, Communication and Collaboration.

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