Session Eight—Social Annotation


Today’s session explores the educational application of web-based social annotation. A 2006 Learning 2.0 blog and podcast discusses the how-tos of social bookmarking that includes a set of resources and exercises to help familiarize us with the research and teaching possibilities of this tool. Nick Gonzalez shares with us some ways that we can save, mark up and share web pages. Educause summarizes the educational significance of social bookmarking and Lee and Sachi LeFever clarify its benefits in a short and informative video.

We’ll also take a look at two interesting applications for social annotation that seek to transform traditional writing venues. The Institute for the Future of the Book has created an open source application for WordPress bloggers to add paragraph by paragraph commenting, that, in their words, “turned out to be a powerful subversion of the discussion hierarchy of blogs, transforming the page into a visual representation of dialog, and re-imagining the book itself as a conversation.” Moving beyond Google Docs, the Calibrated Peer Review program housed at UCLA and freely available to other educational institutions, seeks to provide a mechanism for educators to include more frequent writing assignments in their courses without increasing their workload while also teaching students how to appropriately review others and their own written work.

Of all the social networking tools discussed thus far, the adoption of social annotation in academia will perhaps most profoundly impact research and teaching, especially in the fields of literary and cultural studies, where collaboration has not typically been the norm. Could you see yourself using any of these tools for your own research and teaching now and what, in your opinion, could prevent their widespread adoption in the next five to ten years in your field of study?

Social bookmarking appears to be crucial for research and teaching possibilities. For me organization is the most important key factor in perspective to social bookmarking in three perspectives. 1.) I can search the web more specifically than simply browsing common research engines such as google or yahoo 2.) I also enjoy the fact that I can mark and comment immediately on pages-and therefore make sure, that I do not forget an idea or miss the paper I wrote on since I have access all the time wherever I am (except that there is a blackout as last week :O)). 3.) Finally, I think it is great that I can share my findings with others and learn through their links and comments. For researchers, who work on a specific topic together this is an amazing idea, since I can send an article to my colleague that has already my comments and suggestions on it.

In my opinion it is a good tool to get order in the flood of daily information and insight into up to date research. Nevertheless, for me the wonderful variety of website annotation services was also sort of confusing. Even if the articles, e.g. Five ways to Mark Up the Web, and Lee and Sachi LeFever’s excellent overview explained social bookmarking and annotation services such as shiftspace, diigo, Fleck, trailfire, and stickis in theory, it was necessary for me to experience these sites myself and to try their individual possibilities. And still, I have the impression that I am on top of an iceberg. But: E lucevan le Stelle and I am eager to learn more and get more used to these research tools.

Renato on Social Annotation.
Although social annotation seems a very nice and smart tool for people who are Internet addicted, as usual I will focus on the problems I see using these tools.
First: I don’t understand how you can make a mess with your own bookmarks, unless you are bookmarking 1000 sites per minutes.
Second: the interesting thing about Social Bookmarking is the possibility to use tags, so that your search operations will be more effective. Cool! Great! But it means also that I am “freezing” my bookmark because I will be looking always at the same few web sites I selected or (worse) that other people selected for me (a fact that already makes me uncomfortable because people sometimes bookmark useless things that they don’t even read). Instead if I go to Google I will already have a chance to select my search through web sites by languages, and by country… With the new option the “Advanced Scholar Search” you can… No I am not going to tell you because this is exactly my third and last point.
Third: let’s suppose I am a good scholar and I read all the articles and pages I browse, verifying even their sources. Well, do you think after I have been working at this level for my research I will easily give it away to the first sloppy researcher who comes along and finds the work already done? I think a little bit of cynicism is a must when we talk about the Internet.


Appeal for help.

As I read the articles, I constantly get the feeling that I do not understand the validity of the Web 2.0 features. From the Gonzalez piece I followed a link to read Kirkpatrick’s analysis of Diigo and I even went to the website itself to try it out, but I honestly do not see the difference between it and any search engine (Google for instance). In the tag section of the Diigo page I inserted “Tolkien” and got a list of pages that I would have found with Google. So what is the difference? Could someone (read, Barbara) please explain it to me? What is the purpose of social bookmarking if I can browse through a greater number of Google results and bookmark whatever I want? (Lefever’s statement that personal bookmarking “becomes messy” is laughable at best: it’s the same thing as saying that we should all take buses because cars get dirty) I then went to and did understand the purpose of the website at all . Shiftspace made much more sense to me: I watched the intro video and appreciated the concept of the decentralization of the Web through the annotation of websites by previous viewers (which, I would imagine, is the purpose of Stickis and Trailfire). I had just one question regarding it: doesn’t the Shiftspace imageswap option infringe upon copyright issues? I found Calibrated Peer Review an interesting concept but again I am put off by some of the overreaching statements made: it allows the incorporation of writing assignments into courses “regardless of class size, without increasing [the] grading workload”. My constant reference is my ILCS 101, enrolment 100 with no discussion groups. It is difficult enough to get my students to do the primary readings (in English, mind you) much less have them complete on-line expository writing assignments AND provide feedback on those of others (the a priori competency of reviewers is taken far too much for granted). It could be made mandatory, but this would entail my checking and grading them (to provide a minimal incentive) which in turn would entail “increasing [my] grading workload.” I full agree that “students understand more deeply when they write about what they are learning” but with certain classes it simply becomes an unruly endeavor. After hearing the comments of Renato, Alfonso and Manuela last week, I have come to the conclusion that all of these tools must be used cum grano salis and above all with a caveat that is never explicitly stated: they function well with certain class sizes at certain levels. In our case, 200+ level courses. Once that is accepted, everything else comes easy.
Pax vobiscum.


7 Responses to “Session Eight—Social Annotation”

  1. rventura Says:

    Caro Felice,
    I understand your doubts especially when you write about our classes. That’s is exactly the problem. It will be interesting to create a page (filled with mistakes and invented facts) that matches perfectly with the topic of one of our classes… and will be fun to see how many students will use it as a “source”.
    See you in class,

  2. Barbara Says:

    Now that we’ve had a chance to try out Diigo, and Flickr in class, explore how educators have used them for teaching and research and discussed the questions you raised in your blog posts, have your initial reactions changed?

  3. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    At this point. finally I have registered for both and Diigo, and tried the features. I have to say that usually is a matter of time that we can see the benefits of such “devices”. At the same time I understand Felice’s comments: I have to say that “My favorites” stored in my computer are not messy, I actually make a good job at finding what I am looking for. I would say categories are like drawers in a home: if you are organized, you know what’s inside, or at least know of only 2 possible places, 3 at the most.
    At this point of my initial diigo “career”, I have to say that the only big advantage I see is being able to retrieve this info on any computer. Diigo’s sticky notes look like a promise that I would stop using post-its like crazy (although can become on using sticky notes like crazy).
    I need time to decide whether bookmarks stored in my computer are to be abandoned, or find a way to correlate in a non-messy way with whatever I decide to tag with my new 2 annotation services.
    I want to add that earlier on the semester, I went to netvibes and subscribed to a portal. It has been growing ever since, with me adding the services already mentioned, plus facebook (that I did yesterday, found a message by Renato), etc. I am close to having most of what I use in that page (Huskymail is not listening, by the way).

    Finally, on a lighter note, perhaps all this subscribing, remembering passwords, overlapping of functions between services, social networking, blogs, e-portfolios, keep up to date ,etc, I might get the additional benefit of fighting Alzheimer’s… if we can remember all the data that runs this show, for sure our brain stays active. (Too much active, sleep deprivation, that’s another thing).

  4. rventura Says:

    Ok… I have a confession to make: I started to use and it is a great tool. I can log in from any computer and have my bookmark there where I need them. I still have some doubts about the sharing process, but will see. Only experiencing directly these tools we can have a better understanding of pros and cons.

  5. Barbara Says:

    You make an excellent point, Renato, about the need to explore and practice with these tools to really get a good sense of what they can do and how might be useful to us personally and professionally. I appreciate the recent feedback from class regarding the desire to spend more in-class time trying out these tools.

    I’m afraid I’m not as organized as Alfonso and since I spend time on multiple computers, works really well for me. I’m glad you find netvibes a useful personal portal for your RSS subscriptions, Alfonso. As we move more and more to web-based services, information portals that we can customize can help us quickly and efficiently review and follow up on items of interest to us.

  6. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    I want to remind you the scenario: I joined and Diigo some weeks ago. For a couple of weeks, I did not use this services (but was excited that at least I registered and felt proud everytime I would look at the buttons).
    Finally, I got to start using this services, especially Diigo. Let me tell you the 1.0 habit that this service just replaced. Whenever I found an article of interest, I either put it on my favorites, or copied it and pasted it in a Word document. Fine, if I want to read the complete article later or print it.
    But, what if I read it on the spot, underline, and have no printer? Is printing is the only option for underlining?
    So much information I am getting that I don’t think is worth it to print every single article or page of interest, unless it is necessary. With diigo underlining and use of sticky notes, necessity for printing becomes even more remote. It is kind of a dream come true: I basically do the same (that is, keeping the information I found important) but in a simplified way. Many steps have been eliminated. This last point is the ideal for technology, I guess: simplify life instead of complicate it (on a more philosophical vein, existentialist, to be precise, I think we are finding ways to simplify our constantly more complicated world: we should strive at least for a tie and not lose the battle).
    I still on Renato’s side on not sharing information. (I wonder if Renato is still on his own side: talk to you tomorrow in class…)

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