When I first began teaching in computer classrooms in 1994, I was excited about all the potential, especially when the Internet began to offer me and my students so many useful sites to enliven our research. But one thing that always drove me nuts was that if I bookmarked a website that I wanted to remember on my home computer, that bookmark would do me no good at all when I got to the classroom. With the rise of the read/write web (or "Web 2.0" or the "participatory web") in the last several years, I've been finding a lot of ways to rethink "bookmarks" and also how to make research a more social activity in my own classes.
One of the best ways to do this is social bookmarking. Social bookmarking began as a way for web users to keep up with important essays, news stories, etc on the web. While I might still bookmark IMDB or Amazon or such sites on my home computer – sites that I go to and search or jump around on – when I read longer articles from the New York Times or The Atlantic or some of the online journals in my field, I want more than just a link back to the article. Social bookmarking sites like Delicious, Spurl, and Diigo allow me not only to archive articles that are worth a second (or third or fourth) read, but also to highlight sections and provide comments on the whole document or the individual sections I highlighted.
Here's a video from the "In Plain English" folks on how social bookmarks work:
This fall, I'm using Diigo for my English 4885: Digital Writing course because Diigo allows me to create private groups. Once I have an account at Diigo, I can create groups – in this case Eng4885 – and invite my students to join the group. Once they're in, they can see any of the articles that I or they post to the group; other Internet surfers, however, cannot. This allows us to keep up with the articles we're finding related to classwork. Many of those articles this semester will come from sites like Wired.com, but I also want them to start working with scholarly articles like the ones they will find at the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. In the following video by the makers of Diigo, you can see how much social annotation could help teachers and students communicate about research:
Already this semester, I've enjoyed sharing interesting stories and interviews with my students in order to get them thinking about some of the ways that digital media are reshaping our interactions with older technologies like pencils and books, as well as how current technologies often function as metaphorical extensions of older technologies (e.g., desktops, file folders). Because I can highlight pieces of a longer article and comment on it, I can use those spaces to ask questions that students then answer. All of this text gets captured online by the Diigo site so that we have access to it throughout the semester.
The first article we looked at is a recent interview with Clay Shirky, "Can the Internet Save the Book?" I wanted the students to think about several ideas related to digital (re)production, so throughout the article I highlighted bits of text and posed questions. I was using this to demonstrate methods for reading and interacting with digital texts.
When the students read the article, they could highlight the same sections and pose answers to those questions or pose their own sets of questions.
Diigo has given me a space to help my students to think carefully about their research practices in online environments. With it, I can see what sites they're bookmarking for their projects and use that as a space to intervene if their sites are not very well-written or authoritative ones. I can also use this to help them incorporate their source materials more effectively into their own writing; rather than simply accusing them of plagiarism, I can say, "Hey, you bookmarked this website but a chunk of it shows up in your paper without citation. What's going on there?"
I hope that our Diigo group will be a helpful way for us to see research and inquiry as a social activity, one that we're all involved in and one we can use to help each other. Often enough, I happen upon an article that would be useful to the students. With Diigo, I don't have to remember which student is doing which project; I merely have to add it to the group, pop in a few keywords (tags) from the article, and know that when my students log on, they'll see that I (or their classmates) have tagged a new article that might be useful to their own projects.
Diigo isn't a magic cure or silver bullet for any research-related problems, certainly, but I'm excited about how I might use it with other classes in the future. What do you think? Does it look useful for the classes you teach?