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Diigo: A social bookmarking tool for the classroom

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Most Internet users understand the concept of bookmarking -- that is, saving web site addresses to a list in the browser so that they can be found again when needed. The bookmarks, or "favorites," may usually be organized into folders of similar content, like "Real Estate," "Colleges," "Dogs," "Travel," "Cooking," and so on.

The limitation is that the browser is tied to a particular computer. Change computers, and you have to rebuild your bookmarks. The result is the same if the hard drive crashes or is reformatted. In the classroom or academic library, students doing research may not be able to count on always using the same computer, so building a bookmark list may seem like a wasted effort to them. Teachers and librarians express frustration with the rapid rate of growth in the number of web sites and the difficulty of keeping accurate resource lists for students.

Several social bookmarking sites are now available to overcome these limitations. These sites store bookmarks to an account on the Internet, rather than to an individual computer.


Overview

When it comes to Web 2.0 tools, "social" equals "shared." The social dimension of bookmarking with any of the popular applications (Diigo, Del.icio.us, and many others) means that one user can see another user's public bookmarks, just like Facebook users can see pages of their friends' friends. The benefits of a web-based, social bookmarking application are:

  • never losing another list of URLs from a conference or research project;
  • finding sites through more targeted searches of lists belonging to people with similar interests;
  • establishing a group account for collaborative research; and
  • accessing needed URLs from any computer with an Internet connection.

One of the most helpful features of any social bookmarking site is "tagging." Tags are labels each user creates to describe or categorize the bookmark. The more descriptive and complete the list of tags, the more likely it is that bookmark will be found in a future search. Multiple tags help increase the flexibility and accessibility of your information; and since most search engines on these sites do not automatically include plurals or synonyms, it is a good idea to enter both singular and plural forms, as well as related terms. The same holds true for abbreviations and acronyms. For example, if you save a site about assistive technology for students with learning disabilities, some tags you should include are: assistive, technology, AT, learning, disability, disabilities, LD, K12, K-12, special, and education.

One social bookmarking service in particular, Diigo, has other helpful features. Diigo permits a narrative description, in addition to the tags. Also, users may choose to capture the web site through the snapshot option offered during the save procedure. The snapshot may be saved as a static image, for use in a presentation, or as a complete HTML file. The HTML option archives the web site as it exists at that moment, so that even if the web content changes later, the information from the snapshot will never disappear. If a user does not choose the snapshot option during the save procedure, there is still a chance that the Diigo robot has grabbed the site. If the user finds a saved link is no longer available, she can click on the "snapshot" link under the title to see the version archived by Diigo. The date the site was saved may be different, but the content may well be the same -- especially if it was a magazine article.

Another feature of Diigo is highlighting and sticky notes. The user can select the highlighting tool from the Diigo toolbar and highlight text, just as he would in a word processing document. The highlighting will remain until its creator removes it. The same holds true for sticky notes. However, the sticky note also contains options for replies from other Diigo visitors to that site. So, one person reading an article may comment on a passage through a sticky note; another Diigo user will be able to read the comment and add his/her own thoughts. This is another example of the social dimension of Diigo. Both highlights and notes can be made public or private, and all can be hidden without removing them.


Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Expression

William M. Ferriter (2010) asserts that Diigo can help teachers get kids reading again. The advent of social networks, unlimited text messaging, Google searches, and collaborative online gaming has caused the printed word to pale by comparison. Static text, especially lengthy passages of it, holds no enticement for most students today. "Conversations," writes Ferriter, "play a central role in adolescents' lives. Understanding that participation is a priority, the best teachers create social reading experiences and blur lines between fun and work."

Diigo allows students to find, read, analyze, and synthesize information in collaboration with their classmates. Teachers can take advantage of students' preference for working in groups by designing projects with Diigo in mind. Students can be placed (or can place themselves) into small groups of three or four. Each group can be responsible for a topic within a larger unit, and each individual can have a role within the small group. However, all the information will be posted to the group or class Diigo account. That means that individuals can share within a small group, but also that groups can see and use the information found by other groups. Each post carries the name of the student who found it, so the teacher can tell who is on task and producing resources.

The exercise of tagging deserves some attention in classroom situations. The students should receive instructions on how to create meaningful, useful tags that the whole class can understand. The class may even delineate certain naming conventions, e.g., always including the plural form of a tag, or using a type of abbreviation like "edtech" for educational technology.

Ferriter (2010) also recommends teaching students about what makes a good conversation before embarking on a Diigo project. The annotations and tags are really a form of dialogue among the members of the class. He suggests pointing out the differences between spoken and written communication and helping students learn how to question and respectfully disagree through modeling and peer critiques. This will help reduce "reactive chatter."

Clearly, one of the greatest constraints with Diigo (or any other social bookmarking application) is the importance of tags due to the limited functions of the site search engine. The burden for creating logical, versatile labels rests squarely on the user. Also, many schools will not allow the Diigo toolbar to be installed on school computers.

However, the affordances of Diigo include the ease of use, the growing base of users, the tools for highlighting and annotating, the option for archiving web sites, and the various levels of privacy control (from public, to protected, to completely private). To overcome tag search limitations, Diigo also allows title and full-text search options. There is also an option for adding the Diigolet to the browser bookmark/favorites list if the complete toolbar cannot be installed. This is a little like "Diigo-light:" not quite as powerful, but with many of the same features. The Diigo home page offers excellent tutorials to help new and experienced users make the most of the application.


Social Bookmarking in Practice

Elizabeth Crispino is the librarian at Hidenwood Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia. She has been using Diigo with students in ways that teachers in every grade level and subject could easily replicate. The students use Diigo to collaborate on research and save web sites for future retrieval by themselves or others with similar interests. The learning skills of organization, critical analysis, reading comprehension, and categorization are all supported by Diigo in these activities. Listen to this interview where Ms. Crispino describes how she incorporates social bookmarking with learning.






For Further Reading

Social bookmarking sites are growing and changing constantly. The two most popular seem to be Del.icio.us and Diigo, but academic and special interest sites are gaining substantial followings as well. Here are some links to sites, reviews, and articles you may find helpful. Keep in mind that many are dated when it comes to specific names and features (e.g., Furl has now been absorbed by Diigo).

CiteULike: Everyone's Library -- This is a bookmarking application with a scholarly emphasis. Store and search references, read article recommendations, and store and search your PDFs.

Free Bookmark Managers -- Short reviews and descriptions of dozens of bookmarking applications.

New Reading, New Writing -- Blog by Will Richardson. Discusses the social reading that Ferriter references.

Save every web site: Best bookmarking tools -- Reviews from CNet.

7 Reasons Diigo Tastes Better Than Delicious -- Blog by David Pierce. Good overall review of Diigo's features with lots of how-to explanations. There is an especially helpful discussion of tags and a graphic of a "tag cloud."

Social Bookmarking Tools on Teaching Hacks.com -- This is an educator's wiki with a good foundation description of social bookmarking and its various applications in the classroom. There are also other digital tools topics available through the navigation menu.



References

Colvin, J. (2008). Social bookmarking: A tool for shared resource building. Music Reference Services Quarterly. 11(2), 153-156. Doi: 10.1080/10588160802143538 Link to this article

DesRoches, D. (2009, Spring). Diigo: Conversations through social bookmarking. School Libraries in Canada - CASL. 27(2), 43-44.

Ferriter, W. M. (2010). Can't get kids to read? Make it social. Educational Leadership. 67(6), 87-88.

Fontichiaro, K. (2008, May). Using social bookmarking to organize the web. School Library Media Activities Monthly 24(9), 27-28.

Gordon-Murnane, L. (2006). Social bookmarking, folksonomies, and Web 2.0 tools. Searcher, 14(6), 26-38.

Hargadon, S. (2007). Best of social bookmarking. School Library Journal, 53(12), 20.


This page was created by Sharon L. M. Stone, May 2010, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia.