Social Annotation as learning tool

I came across a website almost two months ago, Diigo and decided to take a look today, maybe it is just me, but it sparked a number of exciting thoughts about potential educational applications . . .

Simply put, Diigo is a social annotation tool that allows users to leave comments as notes on web pages. These are then viewable by all Diigo users (public) or the users within a predefined group (private) that a user is a member of.

On first use it seems very easy to use. One of two methods for leaving comments on a web page – highlight text and then leave a note associated with the highlighted portion, or click the “sticky note” button create your note and move to your desired location on a page.

Once you have joined you add a little button to your favorites bar and when clicked a Diigo toolbar appears giving you the tools you need to annotate and when you move on the bar disappears until reactivated. A more complete discussion of setting up Diigo can be found at The Connected Classroom, Kristin Hokanson’s blog where she has a number of links to more about Diigo as well as a link to a screencast created by Liz Davis.

I was never a real fan of the webquest concept because it seemed to be taking the teachable moments permanently available on the Internet and turning them into more paper and pencil chases that, from what I have seen, usually deal in meaningless minutia and very little “real” thinking. With this tool a teacher can create an activity that is entirely web based by leaving comments and directions right on a web page. Guiding students around the web, having them leave thoughts and reactions – that of course would provide insight for future classroom discussions. Teachers would be able to gage understanding, identify preconceived notions, and plan for correcting large misconceptions that may exist within a classroom. It may sound cliche, but you extend the classroom AND class time outside of the traditional setting. There is also a discussion function within the group space that could serve multiple purposes for the teacher and students. Cory Plough provides a similar insight into Diigo’s use as a tool for providing content for his classes in this entry on his blog, The Next Step: Chiming in on Diigo.

When a user leaves annotates a page, the page is bookmarked under their ID and also within the group the user is a member of. A teacher could create a group for their history class, make it a private group and all bookmarks within that group are viewable and available to that group. Possible scenario:

Students are working on a project about the development of the
human view of the “concept of time” and are researching different mechanisms used to calculate time. Each time a student came across a valuable resource
they could leave an annotation and the page is bookmarked for the entire group (knowledge sharing).

My first thought was the elimination of textbooks as something students carry 300 pounds worth of in their backpacks. Instead a teacher could create their own digital textbook, composed primarily of original source material using the web and an annotation tool such as Diigo. No more being tied to a 700+ page tome of what someone else thought was more important than what really is (removes the politicians and textbook publishers from the education process – maybe, the best part of this idea – steps toward academic and learning freedom!).

I remember a number of years ago, back in the mid 90’s I think, a little app that was essentially the same thing as Post-it notes – complete in the wonderful legal pad yellow color of course – that was designed to do something similar. I don’t recall how extensive it was, or how it worked with the web, I just remember being curious about it. However, with the explosion of social networking and collaborative cyberwork this tool may, pardoning the pun, stick.

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One thought on “Social Annotation as learning tool

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  1. I had EXACTLY the same instincts when I started using Diigo. Teaching history, and not being a big fan of textbooks, I like to send kids to different pages online. However, I often dont want them reading the whole page. I want to be able to highlight and comment on key sections and create a link for that annotated page. That way when kids click on the link through my website, they go straight to the annotated page. Diigo looks like it could make that happen. However, cant quite get it to remember my highlights yet. Maybe its overloaded with new users since Version 3 came out?

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