Sunday, 26 October 2008

Serious Talk About Wikis

Ok, I’m getting serious for this post. No goofy anecdotes about my dog (who just ate my daughter’s food wrapper in what I can only assume is a collaborative effort between my husband, my dog and my kids, to get my attention and make me clean up the basement that has completely gone to heck since I discovered wikis). No silly amusing side conversations with myself (Umm, I don’t think that’s going to go over very well, Christine). No funny business, just serious academic discussion about how TOTALLY AWESOME WIKIS ARE!

Oops, got a little excited there, sorry, back to being serious . . .

This week I did everything in the “correct” order (I know, totally out of character for me!). I read Chapter 4 of Will Richardson’s book, and then I followed the trailfire left by our illustrious instructor, Joanne. I could barely contain my excitement. It was like discovering the Lost City of Gold for me. Since the beginning of this class, no . . . since before the class even began. Since I knew I was enrolled in a technology related course, I have been trying to find something that I could use as a classroom “website”. I put quotations around the word website mostly because at the time I began my search, I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and so that’s what I thought I was looking for. Boy was I wrong.

Let’s back up a bit. I’m a share-er (I know this isn’t a word, just bare with me. Boy, I’m not good at curbing the crazy self-talk am I?). I share everything with colleagues (well no one knows my pin number or what size pants I wear, but I do share most of my professional self . . . yes I know: curb the crazy). I am constantly offering up ideas and resources to colleagues, parents, students, admin, friends and just about anyone I think can use it or benefit from it. Its not that I think all these people can’t live without my help. I just know that when I first started out, I was so thankful for all the help I got from my teaching partner. I figure, if I’ve already done it, why not pass it along so someone else can make use of it too? I mean we’re busy enough without having to always reinvent the modem. So naturally I also love to collaborate with fellow teachers on everything from single lessons to whole integrated units to running in-services or to facilitating committee meetings.

But when it came to my quest for the perfect Web 2.0 tool for me to use with my class, I just kept coming up disappointed. I thought maybe this blog would be a great thing to use, then I discovered that I can’t upload and post word documents (see my previous posts on this topic!) among other obstacles. Why oh why couldn’t I find a great web resource that would allow me to continue my sharing and collaborating ways? Then I discovered wikis. Yep wikis! Now that’s what I’m talking about!

In fact, I got so excited about the collaboration possibilities, I actually created two separate wikis (using two different wiki providers! I’ll get to that later, I promise. . . ) With maybe a third wiki a possibility (and maybe a fourth for a staff professional development I would love to do for my school on all this awesome tech stuff I’m learning!) Maybe a little over the top, you might say. But WAIT! Let me explain. Each of my wikis has a distinct purpose and use and very different audiences.

Firstly I decided to use PBWiki, because everything I looked at or read said it was super easy and I liked the idea of being able to control the privacy and security of each page. That way I could create non-editable pages to provide information and still have editable pages that my students could use. (At least that was originally my thinking. But as usual, the tool did not live up to my expectations, but I’m getting ahead of myself . . .)

Because of the collaborative nature of the tool and also because of the video Joanne provided in her trailfire (Wiki’s in Plain English) I was immediately inspired to use a wiki to help we with my “Big Project” in my other course (EDES 540). The project involves me working in collaboration with the Teacher-Librarian of a high school to create an advocacy plan of action, in which we aim to increase collaboration between the TL and the teachers of the school. There’s more to it, but that’s that course and this is this course, so let’s just stay on topic!

So here is my first wiki: All was going according to plan, until I began creating a page that I wanted to limit security on (specifically the “Services for Teachers” and “Services for Students” pages because I wanted those to be editable by me and the TL, but no one else, whereas, I wanted full access for two other pages). What I discovered is that the awesome feature that PBWiki advertised as being so great for educators is actually a feature that you have to pay for (if you’ve been reading my posts you know how much I hate the idea of paying for a tool that I can get for free from somewhere else, especially when its touted as “free” for educators). Unless you sign up for a “contest” to “win” a free upgrade (for only a year) by sucking other unsuspecting educators and friends into signing up for a PBWiki account. I just think that’s a little despicable. But I had done all that work, so I figured that wiki would be fine for the purpose of collaborating with my colleague on the action plan, and if she wanted me to set up the Library wiki (see my wiki if you’re confused), I could copy those pages into a new wiki somewhere else at a later date. Still, it’s quite frustrating (ARGGG!)

So then I went back to Wikispaces, where I had originally thought about going, but was enticed by the FALSE ADVERTISING of PBWiki to abandon. This is where I created my classroom wiki that I hope to use on a regular basis upon my return to work in January. Here it is:
This wiki will be a place for me to keep administrative type stuff (in pages only editable by me) like class policies and course outlines and class notes and assignments. The reason for using a wiki for this is simple, its simple. No really, its so easy to update my policies from year to year, change a due date if my class has successfully lobbied for a postponement, and upload class notes on a daily basis in literally seconds. It’s also a way for parents (and students) to stay in touch and find out more about me and my beliefs about teaching and learning. But . . . (here’s the BEST PART!) it will also be a place where my students can collaborate on all sorts of online projects (which I haven’t fully developed yet, but I have so many ideas . . .), link up to pathfinders and webquests I will create for them (which I would really like to learn how to do in the 2nd half of this course Joanne: HINT HINT), store links to their online projects for their parents to visit at student-led conference time, and even maybe help me in the creation of a respectable virtual library for our school! (After last week’s assignment I’m still reeling at how bad our school’s site is!)

The great thing about having set up two wikis, is that now I can compare them. For anyone wondering about the differences: they are virtually identical in their ease of use and interface. Both have limited options to customize the look of the page, but with the ability to change colour and theme, Wikispaces wins on this one. Both have great security features, and if PBWiki just gave these features to teachers without the games, they would definitely win out on the security issue. But again Wikispaces wins because they GIVE AWAY free educator accounts with no strings attached, and no having to suck friends in to get it either. They also offer a function that allows you to “lock” a page so no one but the organizer can change it (which is virtually the same as PBWiki’s security for each page feature). The editing on both is easy, but I’d say that PBWiki has a better format for editing (PBWiki has an undo button, which would definitely be an asset for Wikispaces to add). Both providers make it easy to upload all file types (even word doc, pdf, jpeg, just about anything you can think of), directly from your desktop. That’s right, no having to upload to the net first! (I knew it didn’t have to be that hard!) So you see, there really are not that many differences and if I wasn’t jaded by the false advertising, I’d say it really didn’t matter which site you used!

The best uses of wikis I’ve seen so far are all of Vicki Davis’. She has a class wiki (which is a great example for me follow), and special wikis for special projects (like Digiteen which I will use as a resource with my students, Horizon Project and Flat Classroom, which I will follow this year and may think about trying next year, maybe. Or maybe I’ll find my own great book for inspiration and start my own worldwide project!) There are obviously many many wikis on the web and I have only seen a few, but I am still really impressed by Ms. Davis and her use of online tools. Another example of wiki use is Joyce Valenza’s Links for Teachers which can be accessed off of her virtual library. This wiki is simply a list of good links under various topics. This is quite a useful site, even though its really rather simple. Another wiki I came across was teacher librarian wiki which is also run by Joyce Valenza and also has some very good links, but unfortunately it is unfinished (as most wikis usually are I suppose, but this one has pages that haven’t been updated for years!). I also came across these interesting wikis: Alice Yucht Wiki, Teach Library, Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki, and for something a little wierder: Obsolete Skills Wiki.

In my search for some “research” on the subject of wikis. I cam e across this article in The Cronicle from July 15, 2005. In it a Professor’s foray into wiki use is described. I mention this because one of the ideas presented was very interesting:

“On the wiki that Mr. Phillipson set up for the course, John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" appears not as an old war horse, but as a hot topic of conversation. By clicking on an assortment of key phrases sprinkled throughout the poem's text, visitors can link to students' ruminations on the language's imagery and its import.”

I had never thought about posting a story or poem and having students respond to it by highlighting specific sections of text and creating a new page where they discuss their thoughts on that specific section. Really cool idea! This article also explains that the professor involved set some important guidelines for his students, mainly that they could not delete another student’s work and they had to post with usernames (no anonymous comments). The professor said that “those restrictions are necessary to keep a wiki focused on scholarship, not name-calling.” I complete agree and will definitely incorporate those rules into my classroom use of the wiki.

The article goes on to say:

“A key language of the wiki is the hyperlink: Sites expand when users select a piece of text from an existing page and create a new page about that term. As a wiki grows, these networks of links become more labyrinthine. And concepts like authorship and organization take a back seat to the exchange of ideas, at least in theory. The ideal wiki is "a group of serious people working out a way of looking at things," says M.C. Morgan”

I knew wikis were serious buisness.
(I think you can be serious and crazy at the same time, though!)

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Virtually Virtual in a Virtual World

Our assignment this week was to explore and report on virtual libraries. No problem, I mean how many virtual libraries could there be? But . . . what the heck is a virtual library? Better figure that out before I go looking for them, otherwise I’ll get lost on the virtual highway, wouldn’t want to make a virtual wrong turn!

As usual I decided to start somewhere other than the obvious. Our wonderful instructor provided us with a multitude of links to virtual libraries, but I wanted to know what I was looking at before I looked at it. So, I went to Wikipedia, because, as one of my colleagues in this class recently pointed out, its becoming increasingly clear that Wikipedia is a great place to BEGIN research. According to Wikipedia “Virtual Library” can also be termed Digital Library. The definition provided comes from The DELOS Digital Library Reference Model, and is reported to be:

“An organisation, which might be virtual, that comprehensively collects, manages and preserves for the long term rich digital content, and offers to its user communities specialised functionality on that content, of measurable quality and according to codified policies.”

WOW that’s a mouthful! Is that really all a virtual library is? An organisation that collects, manages and preserves digitally? I’m pretty sure that virtual libraries are much more dynamic and fluid, or at least that’s what I would expect. I’d better do some more research . . .

I found this article by Audrey Church called “YOUR LIBRARY GOES VIRTUAL: Promoting Reading and Supporting Research.” In this article Church says, “Your school library Web page is your library’s presence outside of the physical library walls. It provides you a space and an opportunity to inform, guide, and instruct. It can be an advocacy tool, a visibility tool, and a public relations tool.” Okay, a virtual library is like a school library web page that is full of virtual life and virtual activity, and interactive (?). Let’s read more . . .

Church lists 10 things a virtual library should have to promote reading and 10 things it should have to promote research, they are as follows:

To Promote Reading: an online catalogue, links to author websites, e-books (and audio books), online games based on books, reading lists, Computerized Reading Program Test Lists (like Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts), book recommendations, book blogs, PR concerning reading events and subscription to What Should I Read Next or NoveList. (I added the underlined one; it seemed applicable as well).

To Promote Research: subscription databases, curriculum-related web sites, Pathfinders (see for an example), Information Literacy Skills, search tools, critical evaluation of web sites, guidance through the research process, citation guidance, connections to other libraries, and a virtual reference service (instant message or ask a librarian service)

WHEW! That’s a pretty comprehensive list of requirements. But now I have a much better sense of what to look for and how to critique the virtual libraries I visit. (I’m actully scared to look at my own school’s web-site, because I KNOW it does not have many of these items!)

But just before I go looking and get lost in the virtual ocean that is the web, I wanted to ask one more question: Why do we need virtual libraries in the first place? My practical brain says: “DUH, it just seems like the next logical step in the evolution of libraries”, but lets see what the research says . . .

After reading many, many articles (see the list at the bottom of my post) I have discovered that essentially there are 4 reasons to go virtual. The first and most obvious is to improve access to the teacher-librarian’s skills and the libarary itself. According to Virtual School Libraries by Brenda S. Gonzalez,

“your mission as a professional librarian is to provide students and staff with seamless access to information resources and to teach students information access skills needed to become effective users of ideas, information, and technology.”

But as The Virtual Teacher-Librarian: Establishing and Maintaining an Effective Web Presence by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson points out,

“as a busy media specialist, you're often pulled in many directions as you try to meet the diverse needs of your patrons. While you can't clone yourself, you can create an online environment providing virtual resources and services that are available even when you're busy with other professional activities.”

Another reason to consider improving access as a reason to go virtual is that when you consider who your users are, mainly students, “they prefer the Internet to traditional libraries because they consider the Internet to be easier to use, more convenient, open 24/7, and full of more up-to-date material (Digital Disconnect )” (Church). So it seems only natural to meet their needs with a virtual library. One more aspect of improving access is the fact that “library managers know that they cannot afford to acquire all the information their users need so the managers secure access to the information not available at their library” (A Delphi Study) by utilizing a virtual library with links to outside sources.

The second (and third) reason I found to go virtual is to improve student achievement by improving student engagement. According to Virtual School Libraries, “research on the effectiveness of technology in schools concludes that technology positively affects students' attitudes toward learning and achievement, as well as promotes student-centered and cooperative learning.” So how can virtual libraries engage students more? Well according to Joan K. Lippincott, in the chapter “Net Generation Students and Libraries” teacher-librarians and virtual libraries can do this “by blending the technology skills and mindset that students have developed all their lives with the fruits of the academy, (then) libraries can offer environments that resonate with Net Gen students while enriching their college (or elementary or middle or senior) education and lifelong learning capabilities.” (brackets are my additions!)

The last and maybe most important reason is that virtual libraries can provide a venue and an audience for library advocacy and marketing. Lamb and Johnson suggest that “by using Web-based materials you will be encouraging young people to use the virtual resources as well as the physical library materials.” And Shifra Baruchson-Arbib and Jenny Bronstein in a Delphi Study argue that “library and information professionals also need to believe in their skills and in the services they provide and conduct “outreach” and marketing for their users.” What better place to conduct this advocacy, than the Virtual Library?

So now I know what a virtual library is, and why I should build one, let’s look at some examples, both good and bad (yikes!). Let’s start with the good.

I took a look at all the links provided by my instructor and of all those the one that I gravitated towards the most was Joyce Valenza’s Springfield Township HS Virtual Library. I liked the visual interface and when I compared it to the twenty items Church listed as items that promote reading and research it scored quite high in the research area,, but could have had more to promote reading, like linking to author blogs, or podcasts.

I also found the Calgary board of Education online Library. It has a link to 3 different library pages one for elementary, middle and senior high school students. Each site is visually appealing and has many links that are applicable to students, not to mention they all have many of the items on Church’s checklist.

Other Virtual libraries I liked were Awesome Library, Latimer Road Virtual School Library (which is actually a site developed by a former student in this course I think!) and Greece Athena Media Center all of which had a visually appealing interface and a lot of very good links, reference materials and online resources, all easily accessible by students.

One of the “recommended sites” I looked at, but didn’t like very much was Bessie Chin Library. Although it does have almost everything on the list suggested by Church, I just found the site way too busy with way too much information.

I also decided to check out my own school division’s websites. In my division, all schools have their own school websites and the school library has access to a page (or multiple pages) off that main school homepage. Unfortunately, we have a policy that restricts access for updating and changing the website to one person in each school (who is not the teacher-librarian). I looked at all 11 middle schools and all 6 high schools in my division and of those I found 4 middle schools didn’t even have a link to our divisional online catalogue, 4 only had a link to our online catalogue, two had mediocre supplemental links to other resources and one had a decent library site with much of the information suggested for promoting research and reading. In their defense, many of these schools did have curricular links and other links to online resources, but they were not part of an online school library site, they were just part of the school’s basic site. The high schools fared a bit better with only 1 having no reference to a library at all, and 4 of them having decent sites that are just in need of updating and revamping. Two of our high schools had good sites. Feel free to check them out for yourself. Go to our divisional website and click on the link to each school. See if you can find the library!

One thing I did notice, and was very aware of, was the use of Web 2.0 tools on these various Virtual library sites I was viewing. Not many of the sites took full advantage of the available Web 2.0 tools. Librarians who had blogs themselves, and were actively participating in the Web 2.0 world ran those sites that did include many of these online tools. Joyce Valenza is a perfect example. She has many links to podcasts, voice threads, videos, Wikis, blogs, and many more.

I think this is an important lesson. To achieve the goals of a virtual library i.e. to promote research and reading, improve achievement, engagement and access and to advocate for your services the teacher-librarian should use ALL the tools at her fingertips, especially those that his students are most familiar with. And those are online in the virtual Web 2.0 world.

This post is very long and I apologize for that, but after much work and reading, I now know that when I return to work I will be a strong advocate for updating and revamping my school’s awful excuse for a Virtual Library!

List of Articles:

The Virtual Teacher-Librarian: Establishing and Maintaining an Effective Web Presence. By Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson

Virtual School Libraries – THE TIME IS NOW! By Audrey Church

YOUR LIBRARY GOES VIRTUAL: Promoting reading and Supporting Research By Audrey Church

Virtual School Libraries by Brenda S. Gonzalez

Extending Library Services Through Emerging Interactive Media

A view to the Future of the Library and Information Profession: A Delphi Study

Helping Students Use Virtual Libraries Effectively

Virtual Libraries Supporting Student Learning

Whose knowledge? Whose management? Cognitive considerations for the provision of virtual library services to school communities

Lippincott, Joan K. “Net Generation Students and Libraries.” Educating the Net Generation. Eds. Diana G. Oblinger and James L. Oblinger. 2005. 24 March 2005.

The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between Internet Savvy Students And Their Schools

Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Attack of the Pod(casting) People!

All right, so I’m going to let you know right off the bat that I am not in a good mood! I’m very sick (cough cough hack hack gag gag sniff sniff ache ache) and I’m actually quite frustrated! I thought his whole podcasting thing would be . . . well not easy . . but . . . not harder than anything else I’ve done in this course.

All these other people seem to be podcasting and subscribing to podcasts (even my husband, who is quickly falling behind me in his tech knowledge, subscribes to a couple of podcasts). And admittedly that is quite easy, as simple as a quick visit to my husbands iTunes account and I’ve subscribed to three podcasts (I am becoming one of the pod (casting) people!) I have subscribed to David Warlick’s podcast, to “Women of Web 2.0” and “Why? The Science Show For Kids” as I’m hoping to find some things I can use with my students. So I’m not frustrated about the listening part of podcasting, that’s very easy.

I’m actually very excited about turning my students in to pod people. Almost all my students have iPods, or some other kind of MP3 player. Our division has recently passed a policy stating that no electronic devices are to in the possession of the students during class time (including MP3 players, cell phones and digital cameras etc) UNLESS they are being used for educational purposes. (See this post from Will Richardson that speaks to this issue of dealing with technology and hand held devices in the classroom)

Oh how popular I would be if I had my students download a podcast the night before (something created by someone else, or me, and applicable to the day’s lesson) and then gave them 10 minutes in class to listen to the podcast and then another 10 minutes to discuss it with their friends, then on to the meat of the lesson. I know its not really about being popular, its about engaging students and hooking them by using the things they are most familiar with and use on a regular basis.

And oh how wonderful it would be for those students who hate homework too. Imagine if I were to tell them that their homework was actually to go home and download a podcast episode and listen to it before the next day’s lesson. And what about those kids who can’t access the science text because its actually written at a level that is 3 grades above their real grade and they actually read at a level 2 grades below their real grade! A podcast of me reading the text and stopping to explain items using my funny metaphors, examples and anecdotes could really help those kids and they may actually be willing to listen. Plus listening on a MP3 device is a private thing so if some kids are listening to one version of the podcast and others are listening to an easier version, no one will know or be embarrassed.

I’m also energized (ok strong word since nothing could really energize me right now (hack gag ache sniff) but I’m energized in spirit) about the possible professional development opportunities for myself. I am VERY VERY busy. And to be honest I can’t see myself spending hours online everyday to look at all my bookmarks on Diigo, or to look at all the videos from the professional development channel in TeacherTube. I just don’t have the time. But down load a couple podcasts, while I’m sleeping, pop the ear buds in while I drive to work or clean the house or cook dinner . . . THAT I CAN DO!

So let’s get to the frustrating part . . . I had trouble figuring out how to get my podcast onto my blog. Luckily I had no trouble creating the audio file. I was fortunate to find this link: Podcasting for Teachers & Students while I was doing all my Social Bookmarking stuff last week, and as some of you may know I offered it up to my classmates as a starting point for our podcasting assignment this week. For anyone who is thinking about podcasting with students, this is an excellent resource. I followed the instructions given and downloaded Audacity. Then I started recording and editing. SUPER easy. Then I downloaded The Levelator, as instructed in the Podcasting booklet and optimized the sound on my file. All done. So what’s the problem? First I couldn’t figure out how to get my file on to my blog. I tried divShare but when I tried to link the uploaded file to my blog it didn’t work. So I went back to the Podcasting booklet and read some more. Oh there it was, I had to convert the “wav” file I had to an MP3 file. DUH! So then I exported as an MP3 file and tried again.

While I was waiting for my file to upload, I put the RSS feeds for my podcast subscriptions on my blog (see over there à). Which wasn’t as hard as I first thought it would be. Then I began to check out what the “pro’s” say about podcasting. While searching I found this post from Will Richardson about teachers loving podcasting because it really engages their students (as I thought it would). I also found this post from David Warlick talking about Media Literacy and he asks some important questions:

“This increasingly ubiquitous access to multimedia production technology makes me wonder what affect it has on basic communication skills for the future — literacy.”
“What skills are our students already practicing, and what new avenues of conversation are they defining and bringing with them into their future?”

On the same topic of Media Literacy in a digital age I found this podcast delivered by Susan E. Metros, Deputy CIO & Associate Vice Provost at the University of Southern California. Its called "Challenging IT Leaders to Mashup, Twitter, Tag, and Poke: New IT Strategies for a Digital Society". Here is a description of the podcast:

“Today's youth are digitally titillated, visually stimulated, and socially connected. To educate and engage this new breed of learners, institutions of higher education are revisiting and revising the basic tenants of a general education by asking, What does it means to be literate in today's society? As educators transform the way they teach and conduct research, IT leaders also must alter their institution's IT strategy to best support a mobile, global digital citizenry.”

Again, more talk about what it means to be literate in a digital age (this seems to be an ongoing theme in this course), and again some very interesting points are made. However, this podcast is 57 minutes long, which brings me to an important aspect of podcasting: you do actually need to find the time to listen to them. As I mentioned up there, I would do it while I’m doing other things, but this blog post I found by Eric Woods on JABET (Just Another Blog on Educational Technology) discusses something I had never thought about: learning addiction, which is when a person “continues acquiring vast quantities of knowledge far and beyond any practical ability to apply it”. Mr. Woods goes on to mention some of the problems with podcasts, including the following:
“there is very little navigational control once you are in a ‘chunk’ of audio. Thus it is much harder (than with a newspaper or internet article) to:
· skip to the next topic,
· read a topic heading and decide if it is relevant to you,
· skim through a topic of minimal interest,
· bookmark a topic to look into further later,
· or jump to the references and read about that item in more depth.”
He then says that “the system generally makes us consume more information than we need to - possibly causing, but at the least, supporting ‘learning addiction’.” This is an interesting concept that I can definitely understand. There is a temptation to sit online or listen to podcasts all the daylong and do nothing else. Which is where we must refer back to David Warlick for this little piece of wisdom:
“The best thing we can do is to open up as many avenues of connection and conversation as we can — to give our students opportunity, support, and encouragement to develop their communication skills by communicating richly and authentically.”

Its all about authenticity and applicability. We as teachers should never ask our students to listen to a podcast or create a podcast in a class-type setting unless it is directly applicable to an authentic educational experience. (deep thoughts!)

Ahh finally, my upload is complete.

So here is my podcast of me reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom:

(Oops, it’s actually an alternate podcast, listen and you’ll understand!)

So after all that, podcasting wasn’t actually as frustrating as I thought it was while I was in the throes of it. And I could probably do another podcast episode in about 10 minutes. Lesson learned today: do not attempt new learning when very tired and very sick!

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (weekly)

Sunday, 5 October 2008

I'm not Anti-Social, I Swear!

I’m not anti-social. I just want to make this fact clear to everyone. I know I haven’t been sharing much with all of you out there in the WWW (just my inner most ramblings), and I apologize for this. But just because I wasn’t sharing my bookmarks with you doesn’t mean I don’t like you. I just never realized that I was being so selfish and inconsiderate. Well, I’ll have you know that I have recently rectified this horrible situation, and you can now all share in the glory that is me (or at the very least see my bookmarks)!

I decided to join Diigo rather than Delicious (note there are no longer any periods in the name as they have revamped their format). I did this for a couple reasons. Well for one reason actually, Diigo allows you to highlight and add sticky notes as well as bookmark, annotate and share just like Delicious. Will Richardson describes it best in this blog post from January 2007 (but many other “pros” have also recommended Diigo over Delicious as well):

“With Diigo, you can do most of what you can with in terms of saving links with various tags, connecting to other users who have saved the same post or used the same tag, and tracking either users or specific tags (or specific tags of specific users) via RSS. Even more, however, is that like Furl, Diigo captures a copy of the page, so if it disappears from the Web at some point, you can access it in your archive.

But what’s really different is that Diigo allows you to highlight certain sections of any Web page you’re on, and also gives you the ability to attach sticky notes to the site. Those highlights and notes are then visible should you visit that page again. But even better, if you have a Diigo account and I have “forwarded” the page to you, you can see them (and) add your own when you visit the site as well. Think digital feedback on student work.”

So with that kind of endorsement I just had to check it out. I signed up, installed the Diigo toolbar, edited my profile sparsely, and began bookmarking, highlighting, annotating and adding “sticky notes.” I then created two lists, one for this class (EDES 501), and one for my other class (EDES 540). I will eventually create others I’m sure. I also watched these two videos and found them both helpful:

Diigo intro video

Diigo Tutorial: Social Bookmarking: Making the Web Work for You

It was at this point that I sat back in my well-worn computer chair and stared blankly at the computer screen. I could see the potential for this tool in the classroom and professionally, which I will get to later. I had found various references from the “pros” as I like to call them, and so felt I had the required readings in the bag (later I promise . . .). What I wasn’t sure was how I was going to “demonstrate my knowledge” of this new tool (one that I was very quickly falling head-over-heels-never-use-another-book-highlighter-or-actual-sticky-note-again in love with). So I did the usual, I clicked away on my Diigo dashboard and found that I could set up my Diigo account to allow me to send a bookmark, annotation, highlighted section or sticky note directly to my blog (very much like the “blog this:” function that Flickr has). Then I discovered that I could also create a tagroll of all my tags from Diigo as well as a linkroll of my 5 most recently bookmarked sites, with annotations. But it took me a bit to figure out that I had to use the “HTML/Javascript” gadget and then paste the script created by Diigo into this gadget. So I did that as well (see over there -->). I also signed up for a weekly blog post of my Diigo bookmarks and annotations, so every Sunday morning Diigo will automatically post my previous weeks bookmarks. Very cool! I then decided to sign up for some Diigo groups (you know that whole sharing thing . . .) and found quite a few worthwhile ones. To “prove” this I also signed up to an RSS feed of the Literacy in ICT group’s bookmarks and included it on my blog as well (see over there again -->). Whew! After doing all these things I realized it’s probably overkill, but I’ll revamp my blog later. For right now, you get to see all the wonderful things you can do with Diigo! (See I’m sharing :) )

Another perk of Diigo is that they have an Educator Upgrade available to Teachers. All you have to do is apply for it (very easy) and it allows you to:
· Create groups for your classes
· Create accounts for your students that are preset to only allow messages from “friends” on Diigo
· Automatically make all students in the same class friends to allow for class exchanges of bookmarks
· Create accounts for all students in a class using a single function and it automatically creates student user names and passwords (this requires students full name, but even they suggest using a code name)
· Manage, moderate, add to and delete the class’ bookmark collection as well as the ability to delete, ban and reinstate anyone in your group.
Unfortunately, there is currently no way to keep your own things private from what the students in the class groups see. Diigo suggests having two accounts, a private one with personal book marks using a user name your students wouldn’t know and a professional one where the students can see what you’ve bookmarked for them and for yourself that relates to your curriculum.

Implications for the classroom and teaching are numerous, but I will simply mention a few. The first and most obvious to me is that a class can be set up as a group on Diigo and then the class can collectively search for sites applicable to any number of topics or projects related to their classes and subjects. The teacher can then check the sites for authenticity, validity, accuracy, etc. If the teacher finds a site that is inappropriate for any reason, she can delete it. This allows the students (and teacher) to be sure they are using good references in their research and it cuts down on the time needed for researching. This can be done as a project in and of itself or it can be done in preparation for a big project at the end of a unit. It also allows the students to have a multitude of sites to go back to and look at (including their highlights and/or annotations), for studying for tests. Students can also divide their topic into subtopics and collect sites on their subtopics, essentially contributing to the larger groups research. Students can even search what others have found on the same topic through the tags on Diigo.

Another great thing that can be done with Diigo (or any social bookmarking site) is that it can be set up as a Professional Development opportunity for fellow teachers. For example, a group of teachers at your school has become interested in Literacy and Technology integration. Well, simply set up a group, have all the interested teachers join the group and start collecting, annotating, highlighting and bookmarking sites related to the topic of interest. It’s a great way to share resources with colleagues, but it’s also a great place to discuss those resources as discussion can take place right on the Diigo group site.

Okay, let’s get to what the “pros” say.

One of the little expeditions I went on while researching this blog entry was for the answer to the following question: “What the heck is a folksonomy?” In my quest for knowledge and understanding on this topic I found out that the creator of the term “folksonomy” is one Thomas Vander Wal. He explains how the term was coined in this webpage, and defines it as:

“the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one's own retrieval. The tagging is done in a social environment (usually shared and open to others). Folksonomy is created from the act of tagging by the person consuming the information.”
The value in this external tagging is derived from people using their own vocabulary and adding explicit meaning, which may come from inferred understanding of the information/object. People are not so much categorizing, as providing a means to connect items (placing hooks) to provide their meaning in their own understanding.”

Ahh . . . now I see. I also found the original blog post by Gene Smith that brought the term to the attention of the world. In this post the author suggests some pros and cons that he sees with the emerging habit of tagging (or folksonomy). This is worth reading as it was posted in August of 2004 and provides insight into how far (and not so far) the ideas of folksonomy and social bookmarking have come. I particularly like these three points he makes on the “con” side:

· None of the current implementations have synonym control (e.g. "selfportrait" and "me" are distinct Flickr tags, as are "mac" and "macintosh" on
· Also, there's a certain lack of precision involved in using simple one-word tags--like which Lance are we talking about? (Though this is great for discovery, e.g. hot or Edmonton)
· And, of course, there's no heirarchy and the content types (bookmarks, photos) are fairly simple.

Smith then suggests, “Maybe one of these services will manage to build a social thesaurus.” Which is an idea I find very intriguing!

On a totally different tangent I also found this reference from July 28 2007, which David Warlick made about social bookmarking sites being like libraries:

“But is far more than just sharing bookmarks. It’s a growing library of web-based resources that are loosely (but effectively) organized around tags that are applied by those who contribute. And here is one of the qualities that I would lump with Web 2.0 applications — that they invite, rely on, and respect the cooperation and contributions of the community. Not only are social bookmarking systems like libraries in how they are collected, but also in that I can check out, so to speak, web resources based on topic/tag and even based on the contributor, and I can train those web links to appear automatically in my own web sites and online handouts. This is new, this ability to organize dynamic documents that reshape themselves based on the contributions of others.”

This makes so much sense to me! It is just like a library, a much more accessible and social library, one that I can see being much more appealing to my students than the actual physical library in their school or community. Not that I would encourage this attitude, but I think this type of thinking can definitely lead to a revolution in how we see libraries and how we use their resources and how we promote them with our students, and even how we structure them and organize them!

On this topic of real library vs. digital I found a great article from the New York Times about the future of books in a digital world. They reference the tagging phenomenon and describe it thus:

“Because tags are user-generated, when they move to the realm of books, they will be assigned faster, range wider and serve better than out-of-date schemes like the Dewey Decimal System, particularly in frontier or fringe areas like nanotechnology or body modification. The link and the tag may be two of the most important inventions of the last 50 years.”

A very interesting comment, but even more interesting is Will Richardson’s response to this article in which he poses the following questions for pondering:

“Should we be thinking about how to prepare our kids for a linked, tagged world? What strategies do we need to develop to read and write in a linked, tagged world? How do we best harness the potential of a world where knowledge is easily connected and, therefore, increasingly overwhelming and, as my wife pointed out, perhaps paralyzing?”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Some very important issue to think about as educators, don’t you think?

Enjoy sharing your knowledge . . .

Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (weekly)