In my opinion, one of the easiest entry points for teachers into Web 2.0 is to start a social bookmarking account. Getting them to really grasp the power of this tool is more challenging. Most teachers like to collect useful websites even if they’re not web-savvy enthusiasts and the methods employed to keep track of them can range from emailing links back to themselves, creating hotlists in Word to relying on browser Bookmarks or Favorites. These lists usually aren’t very big because they have to be kept manageable.
There are management issues with these methods. How do you search piles of emails (unless it’s GMail!) for that elusive link? Do you start a new document each time for a new hotlist category? What happens when the computer you host your Favorites on crashes and you lose the lot? (And if it’s a Windows machine, it’s a matter of when, not if!) So when I talk about a better way, most teachers are all ears.
I like to recommend del.icio.us. It’s simple, very powerful when harnessed correctly and where the biggest community of users can be found. As I’ve blogged before, there isn’t a whole heap of help guides and resources with an educational bent – what I have found is usually of very high quality. So, getting teachers to sign up, installing the browser buttons and adding a few sites is not too hard. Getting them to understand tagging is harder – people want to try and follow set rules for this. They try to apply subject areas, age levels, strands and they want everyone else to be following the same rules as well. Then I explain how tagging enables you to control subsets of sites through a unique tag and they see how sites can be pre-tagged for easy retrieval for a unit of work, a particular lesson or PD session. For example when I co-presented with Yvonne Murtagh at CEGSA, we used the tag kooltools07 to group all of the sites we wanted to share. By inviting others to contribute, this list continues to grow. (Thanks, Jim Sprialis!) For the school’s Open Night, I used the tag opennight and amazed parents when I could so easily pull up web resources to match curriculum areas. So, it takes a bit before the strengths of folksonomy becomes apparent to the newer user.
Some are still uncomfortable about the open nature of del.icio.us.
“You mean anyone else can see what I’m bookmarking? I’m not sure I like that.”
Once I remind them that it’s only listing websites, not airing dirty laundry or trade secrets, they relax. When I tell them that the openness is vital to gaining some traction and saving some time, they are less apprehensive. I show them how to find other people’s bookmarks, how scanning their tags gives you a feel for their relevancy to what you’re interested in and then save items of interest back to their own account. Adding names to create their own network is a harder sell but having a constant flow of handpicked sites from trusted professionals worldwide is a smart, efficient way to operate. Sometimes, the only way is to demonstrate and even then you run the risk of moving too fast, too soon and being written off as a smart-aleck.
But I’ve seen a real willingness from my staff to get on board with social bookmarking. Some are using it a lot and others have the mindset of “I know I should but I keep forgetting” or “I still like using Favorites.” But there’s almost enough of a groundswell to support the wider sharing of sites and resources suitable for our Interactive Whiteboard program. So when all of our staff have each other listed on their del.icio.us network, whatever gem is discovered by one staff member is discovered for all.
Update: There’s always more than one side to the story and I recommend you check out the comments to this post to get more quality insight into the subversive and innovative use of del.icio.us.