Bonding Through Social Bookmarking

July 15, 2009

Social bookmarking is the collecting and sharing of information, which is labeled by the people, for the people. The tagging system in bookmarking is user generated and is thus called social tagging or “folksonomy.” These two terms are used interchangeably, although they have slightly different meanings. Folksonomy is a way of tagging content for one’s own access, but is done in a social environment, so that the millions of users out there can benefit from your research. The great thing about this kind of labeling system is that you get an opportunity to see the connections that others are making with the same content, increasing the depth with which you understand that content. The more that a picture, video, or file is tagged, the more valuable it becomes. Thomas Vander Wal (2005), credited with establishing the term folksonomy, talks about the function of the social bookmarking system: “The people are not so much categorizing as providing a means to connect items and to provide their meaning in their own understanding” (Vander Wal, 2005). Social bookmarking is a bit of an oxymoron; it really is a selfish act from which everyone benefits. Originally, the mere concept of this user generated tagging system seemed chaotic to me. However, after tooling with del.icio.us , I have found that this chaos is organized in a way that makes sense. Why? Because I was able to tag items the way they made the most sense to me. Having a thesaurus handy made it easier to search the bookmarks of others as well. Resistors of social bookmarking remind me a little of teachers who refuse to collaborate. Who close their classroom doors and prefer to shut the world out. They are not interested in what others have to offer, nor are they interested in sharing what they have generated, meanwhile they miss out on the vast knowledge of others. Social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us and digg  are easy to use and help to satisfy the appetites of this generation that writers at trendwatching.com who have dubbed as Generation-C.

Paul Anderson (2007) reports several issues our education systems will face as we adopt new web 2.0 tools, such as social bookmarking. Some of these are very much applicable to my teaching context in Korea and pertain to my personal inquiry into issues surrounding technology integration in education.  These issues include needing a better understanding of students’ learning styles before adopting web tools, encouraging collaboration while assessing individual skill acquisition and concept attainment, and the ethical issues of ownership and plagiarism.

With regards to student learning styles, children in Korea have deep roots in this new digital age, as the Korean government has made it a priority to support technology  in education, business, and research. Most students here feel very comfortable using technology. The school I teach at, an international school with a steep cost of tuition, is quite affluent, and there is no shortage of funding to purchase new forms of technology. Needless to say, using social bookmarking as a learning tool would be well received, however, having students understand how to tag items would require a variety of strategies, as most of my students are English as a Second Language learners and struggle with vocabulary and spelling.

 As with most classrooms, I teach a diverse group of students with different learning styles, strengths, and ability levels. One characteristic that each of my students possesses, however, is the belief that one’s success in education is completely dependent on  standardized test scores. This focus on grades results in a fiercely competitive academic environment, leaving little room for collaboration. A potential issue, and I say potential because I don’t believe this applies to all Korean students, is that some students will be reluctant to share their best resources, in case it gives someone else an advantage.  And finally, academic integrity is an issue we deal with in Korea, especially in High School. Asking students to save any resource they use in research to a group social bookmarking site would emphasize the importance of citing sources and would make accessing bibliographic information much easier for the students. This would educate students on the importance of adhering to ownership guidelines.  I agree with Anderson (2007) that it would be quite difficult to assess a student’s information literacy skills independently, but I believe one could structure a collaborative project in such a way that independent assignments and formative assessments both contribute to a collective product. This would ease student and parent concerns about individual assessments and students receiving credit for their efforts.

 Personally, I have always been more comfortable with being able to categorize my resources and information into folders, however, one issue I always faced was where to put files that could be used in more than one category. Sometimes, locating lessons on our shared network at school was next to impossible as there were often similar folders saved in different places. Social bookmarking resolves these issues.

I checked out del.icio.us, diigo, and connotea. I began exploring del.icio.us by searching the tags “technology” and “integration” and from there, I found a number of useful resources from the public bookmarks of others. I decided I would also use this site to find information on the kind of laptop I should buy to replace the old one that has recently bid it’s farewell. I loved how easy del.icio.us was to use. My only challenge was my inconsistent use of tags, but I quickly sorted out a system that I feel will help me to quickly access any pages I save. I will most likely continue to use del.icio.us for my personal interests and for my professional development.

I was very impressed with Diigo, as it offered a teacher account, where a class of students could be registered and have access to the same account. You also have the option of highlighting and writing comments for other Diigo users to see. This site seemed more elementary classroom friendly, so I plan to try this out with the grade 5 class this year when we work on the annual science fair projects. I checked out Digg, but was not overly impressed, so I don’t believe I will use the Digg site. All in all, this exploration of social bookmarking tools was positive and one that I am excited about sharing with my students and colleagues.

The implications of social bookmarking are aptly described by Owen, Grant, and Sayers at Futurelab (2006)  : “we can create personalized and collaborative knowledge spaces, where learners can access people and knowledge in ways that encourage creative and reflective learning practices that extend beyond the boundaries of the school, and beyond the limits of formal education.” This web2.0 tool enables students to feel a part of a learning community. With the massive amounts of information that now bombard our students, teaching them to use a social bookmarking tool is an essential part of the information retrieval process, as it would be otherwise unmanageable given our current context. Owen et al (2006) states that in education, there has been a shift from what we teach students to how we teach students, which is consistent with the new focus at my school. Social bookmarking would provide an excellent opportunity for students to learn information retrieval skills, which could be applied across all subject areas.

 While our education systems have evolved to meeting the needs of all learners, our assessment methods also need to evolve in order to reflect this change. The changing technologies and availability of web tools like social bookmarking must be considered when designing assessment tools to measure each student’s success. There are several ways this can happen. Having students create a set of criteria for whether or not a bookmark is added to the account is one way to include self and peer assessment using a social bookmarking tool. Valuable discussions can be had about choice of tags and different connections to be made with the content.. Tag clouds serve as visual representations of the relationships between concepts and objects, which is a key instructional strategy for ESL learners. Having students create their own mind maps between tags, using a tool like bubbl.us, could be used as an independent assessment tool to demonstrate each students’ understanding of different perceptions of a particular bookmarked file.

I am now a believer and am hooked on social bookmarking. I look forward to sharing my experience with the grade level teaching teams at my school, so that they can collaboratively collect resources for their grade level and for their own professional development. I am also excited about the prospect of using Connotea, a social bookmarking site used by researchers, which I plan to use and encourage amongst my colleagues in the learning circles we will begin in the Fall.

The idea of social bookmarking was never clearer than when Owens et al (2006) quoted Weinberger’s analogy; “this looser knowledge structure (is) no longer being organised as trees but as a pile of leaves.  Trees provided externally imposed structures that have historic origins and may not be relevant for modern life. We can now have knowledge available to us organised in the ways we deem significant to us at this moment in time, and have different configurations later.” That is a pile of leaves I am no longer afraid to jump in to.

 Works Cited

Anderson, P (2007). What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies, and implications for education. JISC Technology &      Standards Watch,1-64.

Owen, Grant, Sayers, Facer, Futurelab, M (2006, Jul). Supporting new approaches to learning. Retrieved July 13, 2009, from Futurelab innovation in education http://www.futurelab.org.uk/resources/publications-reports-articles/opening-education-reports/Opening-Education-Report199

VANDER WAL, T. (2005, November 2). Folksonomy definition and Wikipedia. Retrieved July 13, 2009. www.vanderwal.net http://www.vanderwal.net/random/entrysel.php?blog=1750



  1. It is really interesting to hear about Korean schools and how receptive they are to new technologies. It would be nice if teachers in Canada were able to get the funding they needed to incorporate new technologies into the classroom.

  2. I agree with Ashley–it is really interesting to read about the Korean context and how that system is different (and similar) to the Canadian context most of us are more familiar with. I smiled about your comment that some students might not be comfortable sharing their ‘best’ resources with their classmates but I can understand how that mindset might make a project using social bookmarking or other collaborative tools more difficult. You could introduce students to this tool by using social bookmarking sites like diigo or delicious to set up pathfinders or sites of interest related to a specific topic (like your science fair projects).

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