Diigo (Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other Stuff) is a free social bookmarking tool that allows its users to store, manage and share Internet resources. Users can bookmark, highlight, tag, and annotate selected web pages while reading online. As they are stored in the cloud, bookmarks can be retrieved from any computer anytime and anyplace. Resources may be shared with other users.
As a social bookmarking tool, Diigo clearly has the potential to make reading and research a social activity in the classroom. In collaboration with our social studies teacher, I’ve used Diigo with our 4th and 5th grade students: 4th graders were researching the pre-colonial French settlement Fort Caroline (Jacksonville, Florida) and 5th graders were gathering information on the Lost Colony of Roanoke (North Carolina). Using the researched information, students are currently in the process of creating eBooks about their topics.
Objectives for students were:
- to research and become familiar with informational texts about their respective topics
- to use Diigo to collect and organize their new information
- to apply various Diigo features, including highlighting and annotating of web pages or text passages and tagging of web pages for organization and classification
With an educator account, I created a Diigo Group for each class. Privacy settings of educator accounts are pre-set, limiting communication to assigned teachers and their students. Also, by default, student profiles are private. Each student was provided with their login information and created an avatar for their profiles using one of the following websites:
In each classroom, we then created tag dictionaries to categorize websites, ensuring consistency of keyword tags. We brainstormed tags to include in each dictionary, for example “Ft. Caroline” instead of “Fort Caroline”, or “Native Americans” instead of “indians” or “natives”.
Since our students already had an introduction to Web search techniques in an earlier unit, I began by focusing on annotations. The great benefit of Diigo’s annotation tool (virtual “sticky notes”) is that it allows students to summarize a website’s important concepts and main points. Annotations encourage student interaction and engagement and are central to collaborative research. The students explored: What are the elements of a quality annotation? We brainstormed and I used the definitions students gathered to create a reference sheet:
While the process may seem straightforward, students struggled with the concept of a quality annotation. I’ve blogged about this issue here.
Research is not simply about finding information, but also evaluating and synthesizing the information found. The skills necessary to evaluate and synthesize require students to read text closely and paraphrase the useful information, respectively. These are critical, transferable skills, but working with elementary students I have learned that these are often the most difficult for the students to grasp. Thankfully, we were not under any time constraints, giving us time to model and review when needed.
For my students, Diigo is a powerful collaborative learning tool in the classroom. Students interacted with informational text and with one another and were motivated to stay on task. They read, highlighted, tagged, and annotated relevant websites for their research projects.
The annotation process, however, was harder to learn for my 4th than my 5th graders. Fourth graders also spent a lot more time looking for relevant images than focusing on reading text. Reasons may be maturity, existing skills, class size (20 vs. 11 students), time of day (Friday afternoon classes for 4th grade), or a combination.
Overall, this was a great collaborative project. Diigo allowed my students to not only manage information, but also to hone their communication and collaboration skills — all vital to success in school and their overall future. I would like to repeat this lesson, possibly on a grander scale: Not only with a classroom at another school, but perhaps “classmates” in another country.