Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Horizon report, pt.2

So I'm just reviewing parts of the Horizon report and want to start talking about the technologies the consortium has highlighted. The first one up is user-created content.

This is a topic we've all heard so much about that I'm not sure that I have anything to add at this moment. We all know that one of the key trends for Web 2.0 are applications like del.icio.us, flickr, and, of course, YouTube. We know what is interesting about these sites are the ways in which people can openly share content that they have either found on the web or have created with others. We know about blogs, Digg, and other sites that let us choose what we want to say and (collectively) what information should rise to the forefront of the web's consciousness. And we know that with all of these tools, the real key is tagging the information in a proper manner so it can collated effectively.

We know some things about how we might use these technologies in our classroom: we could use del.icio.us to create a set of shared bookmarks on, say, a Toni Morrison novel. Each student who is looking for relevant materials could save their locations to a tag or set of tags (say, "English_363" and "Jazz"). We can ask students to write responses to readings or class assignments in a blog as well as to read each others' thoughts on the subject. We can assign a video project throughout the semester and watch its iterations as students upload each version to YouTube.

The two new things I learned in the report were about Zotero, which I've written about already, and an interesting project at UPenn, where they have created their own tagging system to be used throughout the university. It appears that you can tag not only URLs from around the web, but also items in their library catalog and those from subscription databases like JSTOR. What I really like about this idea is the implementation within a library catalog. Have you ever had difficulty finding something in EUCLID? Or, more likely, have you ever wished there was a way to browse the books on a subject without being in the library or having to depend on the Subject headings? Well, if we were able to tag our library's collection, then we would have a way of identifying important texts for ourselves or for the classes we teach and we would have the benefit of others' experience with texts insofar as they may have tagged them in ways that the acquisitions department might not have known about or thought important. You could then follow the tags to other interesting materials or follow the tagger(s) to see what other projects they have been working on that might be of corollary interest to you.

Unfortunately, the Penn system doesn't show the tags within catalog entries, which I think would be ideal. Otherwise, I'm not sure what the difference is between what they've been doing and simply using del.icio.us (except that someone, somewhere can talk about how s/he instituted a social computing at Penn on his/her vita). Perhaps it makes it easier to link to subscription services. In any case, they have a start on creating their own tags and I would hope that this would make it possible for the library to implement them in a new and interesting way.

So, I'm left asking myself how best to use user-created content in our courses. I really like the idea of having students do some blogging or author parts of a wiki to teach them some different writing skills. As students learn the conventions of writing in different media, we gain the opportunity to teach them about differing rhetorical exigencies that pertain to each type of writing. I like the fact that students who write in a shared/open space have the opportunity to receive feedback on their ideas (not their grammar, most of the time) from their peers as well as from their professor. I really appreciate the ease with which these tools work; that they are mostly free; and that the publication of these materials can help students feel like their work is not just a very one-sided conversation between them and the professor.

The difficulty with user-created content--and specifically with tagging--is that it can produce so much material to sort through. If I'm tagging materials on Jazz and if all of my students are, how do we determine which of the articles are worth reading? And if we use the same tags from year to year we will amass even more materials (although with the benefit of having a wealth of materials).And don't even get me started on the problems associated with misspelled tags or the inability to edit them.

I like the technologies and platforms that come along with user-created content. But as with everything, we need to think about how we will use them in the classroom. Hmm. I'm guessing I'll be able to end most every post this way.

P.S. I'm very proud of myself for resisting the whole meta-implications of this post.

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