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Sunday, December 02, 2007

A discussion of strategies for managing social bookmarking teaching and learning activities (using del.icio.us)

Many educational benefits are attributed to the activity known as social bookmarking. Whilst re-iterating these benefits this article will discuss and offer a solution to the task of managing social bookmarking learning activities.

Three reasons why teachers and students should join a social bookmarking site

1. Accelerated Knowledge Acquisition: Through personally tagging, building a network of informed users, through subscribing to specific tags and from connecting with like minded taggers, you will acquire phenomenally fast access to resources of interest. What this means is that your access to knowledge is increased dramatically, your knowledge and understanding will develop more quickly and your awareness of current issues will keep you up to date and at the forefront in your field.

2. Portability and Flexibility: Because social bookmarking websites can be accessed anytime from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection the opportunity to tag bookmarks, retrieve information from saved bookmarks and keep up to date with the tagging activities of your network is increased dramatically compared to the option of saving your bookmarks to a location bound home or office based personal computer.

3. Easy and fast searching and retrieval of Resources: your own bookmarks, your network members bookmarks and the bookmarks of all members of your social bookmarking site can easily be searched by keyword or tag to retrieve previously bookmarked resources or find new resources of interest.

More reasons to join a social bookmarking site

4. Easy organization and categorization of resources means teachers can offer improved support for students. Students have a mechanism to assist themselves in self directed study. Tagging allows bookmarks to be organized in a number of different categories, not just one as is the case in a hierarchical folder type set up. Bundling of tags is an additional organisational tool

5. Connections: Tagging can reveal other individuals that have bookmarked the same resources as you and who may therefore share the same interests. Apart from adding them to your own social bookmarking network it could lead to collaboration, support and access to other knowledge resources external to the social bookmarking activity.

6. Sharing your access to knowledge: For teachers’ resources can be made easily available to students and colleagues either through the social bookmarking site itself, embedding bookmark links into web pages or by using RSS Feeds. Students can do the same and learn these valuable skills for other areas of their life e.g. work, family, hobbies.

Individual Motivation
In my view initially the use of a social bookmarking tool such as ‘del.icio.us’ is essentially a tool for the individual to have a convenient location to store and categorize bookmarks for their own benefit, thus enabling 24/7 access from any internet connected computer. In relation to the wider world of the web, the individual tagging of bookmarks has unwitting, unplanned and uncontrived social and group benefits.

As the concept and features of social bookmarking have evolved it is possible that some individuals develop a collective consciousness and the tagging of bookmarks may become more of a social act as well as just for individual benefit. That said, as there is no overwhelming reason or obligation to conform to a tagging standard, then it would seem that primarily the tagging of bookmarks is for individual gain. Which I guess is how it should be for it to be a genuine folksonomic tagging system (that reflects the true tagging intentions of its members). Tagging habits may change overtime depending how influenced an individual is by the rest of the tagging community.

Social Bookmarking in relation to teaching and learning activities
As part of their definition Phillip Jeffrey and Samia Khan from the Human Communication Technologies Lab describe social bookmarking as a “non-hierarchical and inclusive process of groups cooperating ad hoc to categorise and share information using reader-created (e.g. del.icio.us) tags” They add “This non-hierarchical concept of tagging to classify and share is called a folksonomy.” (Jeffrey and Khan 2005) .

The differences between social tagging and collaborative tagging are highlighted by comparing the definition of collaboration; “to work together, especially in joint intellectual effort” and the definition of social; "living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation" (ASC 2007) to emphasise that collaborative tagging has more purpose and is perhaps a better way to describe the tagging that will occur in a contrived teaching and learning activity.

Whilst informal social bookmarking has all the benefits mentioned previously, more formal teaching and learning social bookmarking activities bring a number of additional issues relating to secondary tasks such as for example reorganisation and retagging of bookmarks, reviewing and critiquing bookmarks or discussion of tagging strategies. The specifics of various teaching and learning tasks are for another time, the focus of this article centres around two main issues; 1) Task management and 2) A single account strategy.

Scenario and Issues to address

The number of students, the intent of the task and the time in which to do the task will all add to how a task is organised and facilitated. As an example we shall use the following scenario, and assume that the task is completed using the ‘del.icio.us’ social bookmarking site.

If we imagine a scenario where a teacher has 150 students to teach. In order for the individuals in a group to develop some kind of bond and to give focus to the learning activities, the group of 150 is split into 15 groups of 10. Tagging, organising, reviewing and critiquing tasks can ensue from here. The two issues of interest are:

1. Activity Management: How can a teacher maintain and control a number of different groups attempting the same social bookmarking activity.
2. Single Account Strategy: How can this group work be achieved without the need for a separate group account being setup.

Perhaps the first issue is more obvious than the second, but I think both issues are closely related in developing a satisfactory strategy for both teacher and student. I’ll take the second issue first as I believe this is at the heart of a potential problem. When social bookmarking moves into the arena of teaching and learning the emphasis moves onto group work, collaboration and the requirement to complete specific tasks. For social bookmarking the formation of a separate group account seems an obvious and easy solution to organize and control the task. But is this either satisfactory or necessary for the student? Should a student have to work with more than just there own personal social bookmarking account? For the student it is a major inconvenience to interrupt their surfing activity to have to switch from one account to another. For the teacher it is not so much of an issue as one way or another they need to isolate the bookmarks into 15 separate groupings rather than one big group,

Solutions

Options include:
1. Separate group account – Students all login and contribute to the group account with bookmarks that are specific to the purpose of the learning activity. (teacher can still view activity without having to log into group account, by subscribing to RSS feed)

2. Tag as Individuals; View in separate group account – teacher to create a network of the users in the group. Teacher and users can tag in their own account, and also view the group network tags through ‘del.icio.us’ or RSS feeds. (bookmarks not relating to the learning activity will also appear)


3. Tag as Individuals View in separate group account - using the ‘FOR’ function
students add bookmarks to their own allotted groups whilst tagging in addition to tagging for themselves.(RSS feeds do not appear to be available for this feature)

4. Tag as Individual with unique identifier tag - We can ask the student to include as one of their tags a unique identifier such as the institution name plus a course code and then a group number e.g DMUabcd1234_G1. Then set up a subscription to this tag. (note: there is potential for misspelling, but both teachers and users can access all bookmarks through ‘del.icio.us’ or RSS feeds)

5. Tag as Individual with unique identifier tag. Use a separate group account – Same as four above, but isolates specific learning activities away from other subscriptions teachers or students may have. (So for a teacher that could potentially be capturing many groups subscriptions in one place, they can look at all subscriptions ensuring bookmarks not relating to the learning activity will not appear)

With all of these options (except the FOR function) viewing of contributions would be best achieved by looking at the network, subscriptions or specific tag pages, either
a) Directly within the ‘del.icio.us’ network or
b) By setting up an RSS feed on the ‘del.icio.us’ tag.

Conclusion
If we start from the premise that no extra group accounts are to be setup and that students will only need to tag as individuals using their own ‘del.icio.us’ account then that rules out option 1. We now have to decide what of the remaining four options seems to be the most suitable to manage the activity of fifteen groups of ten. As I would prefer to view any bookmarks via an RSS feed reader this would rule out option 3. Option 2 with the possibility of unrelated bookmarks being included is also ruled out. For similar reasons I would rule out option 4 as this could also include unrelated subscriptions.

Option 5 will allow students to use their own individual account and tag bookmarks with no restriction on how they tag, other than adding a unique identifier tag.
There is no major burden for the teacher by setting up a separate group. The teacher can use the group account and its subscription feature to collate unique identifier subscriptions for all 15 groups, whilst having the flexibility to flick easily to anyone of the smaller subgroups to view specific group unique identifier subscriptions. These benefits can apply to students as well.


What do you think?

Do you agree with the strategy, have you any other ideas in mind? Can you see any problems or inaccuracies with the five options mentioned.

Bonus Point!
For archival purposes bookmarks for each groups subscriptions can be exported to a separate html document.

Food for thought!
Tagging strategies – if you have a blog post on a particular subject that you want to publicize then tag your own blog to circulate to your network and for those people that might subscribe to a particular tag.

2 comments:

Britt said...

Steve:

I used Option 4 with a class of 22 graduate students. After 12 weeks, what I noticed was that three-quarters of the class was using delicious for their individual use and were tagging using the unique tag we established for our course, but few were taking delicious to the next level and creating robust networks. Of course, this is just a first look at a course still on-going, but most had only 4-5 others in their networks...and so were not using delicious to share among their classmates. In hindsight, I should have emphasized the social advantages and created some helpful guides to creating RSS feeds from their own networks (which I do use).

Steve Mackenzie said...

thanks for the feedback Britt. I think my fifth option even saves the student's the bother of setting up the networks. Maybe it can be used as an example for those that have not yet fully appreciated the power of the network.

I have not tried the option 5 approach, but will have a run through with a few colleagues soon.

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