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The story of how I failed teaching social bookmarking

The question of the value of using social tools is one I imagine my students asking when I present the lesson. I have no doubts that social bookmarking has a value, but many of my students have never heard of it. So how do I go about teaching -ok, showing- them how to use delicious or diigo?

I tend to think the need for the tool has to precede the adopting it. Identify the need and you get a teachable moment.

Last class I asked a small group of four students whether they saved bookmarks in their browsers. They all did. Some had already designed a complex folder system to organise them. So I asked: is it easy to retrieve a link from your collection? Does it ever get messy? One of them confidently answered:
-No, never.

End of my lesson.

Of course, I will show them what social bookmarking is on another class. The point is that my lesson, as I had planned it, failed.

I'm thinking how to go about it. I started using delicious when the folders were impossible to keep in my browser. Actually, how organised have I been with my own online bookmarks? Not that much. After five years of saving, I'm begining to create some quick access folders in -you guessed it- my browser!

Now, let me be authentic here. I do not easily retrieve bookmarks I remember saving. I may consider myself a very good tagger, yet I am not a good foretune teller. I cannot imagine how or for what project I will associate a long-ago saved bookmark. I generally get frustrated trying to find exactly what I want.

That was the case a week ago. I wanted to use a tool I had hardly explored for a vocabulary lesson. I couldn't remember its name; I just remembered what it did. The tag 'tools' in my delicious has some 300 items. How did I find it? I remembered who I had briefly discussed it with a year ago. I contacted the person and tried to search our chat in Gmail to no avail. She had saved the link in her own delicious. Success.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yet-one-more-pic/5351981824/

So, how do you authentically teach tagging and bookmarking without including a group doing it? What's the value of social bookmarking without a conversation around the findings? How do you go about not simply re-creating the conditions that made you adopt the tool five years ago?

These are the questions my new lesson plan will have to address.

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Perhaps a better question should be, "Do you need to teach social bookmarks?" I think if you introduce them and how they can be used, you have done enough. Not every tool needs to be used by every student. The students often don't know what they don't know, but when they find something they find useful they will figure out how to use it in a way that works for them.

Thanks for the perspective. The answer would be yes, I do need to teach it. They actually use delicious for a class project. I always remind them I just need a tag, the account is theirs and they may use it for whatever.

Just a few of them tend to adopt it for their own purposes. That's enough, I guess.

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