November 18, 2014

Gettin’ Diigo With It: Social Bookmarking in Higher Education

by Tara L Blesh-Boren, PharmD, PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Sinai Hospital

As I sat down to begin working on this blog, I reflected on how nice it would be to increase my efficiency… or stretch time, but I’ve never been too successful at that! It seems that never-ending bumps in the road alter my well-designed schedule. When I was unable to find those important web links I was sure were saved in my browser, the irony of my situation hit me. Why, you ask? Because my blog topic was about using social bookmarking to enhance learning. A good bookmarking tool would have prevented the conundrum I had found myself in! One of the many benefits of social bookmarking is having an easily accessible, one-stop resource to quickly retrieve discoveries made during journeys through cyberspace. So, let’s discuss social bookmarking and how it might be used in higher education a bit more.

Social media use for collaborative learning has been rapidly increasing in higher education, with more than a 20% increase between the years 2012-2013 alone.1  Most often, faculty are asking students to use social media to create original documents (or other media) in teams or to participate in collaborative discussions, rather than passive learning through lectures or assigned readings. Social bookmarking tools have been increasing in popularity, with several companies offering products with slightly different features.

Top social bookmarking sites such as Diigo,, and StumbleUpon provide a variety of ways to bookmark sites and discover related sources that have been identified by other users. While StumbleUpon allows the user to discover new sources based on tags, saved preferences, and ‘liking’ new material the site suggests, it doesn’t allow group formation. This limits the utility of StumbleUpon for collaborative classroom work. and Diigo both allow users to selectively share saved bookmarks for web sites, articles, videos, and a plethora of other online media all in one place.2 One can organize these resources via unique titles, keyword tags, lists, and topic groupings. Both programs are cloud-based, allowing users to access information from anywhere, at any time. Since most students possess smart phones or digital devices, mobile apps are also available, further increasing adaptability. Where Diigo excels above some of its competitors is the ability to annotate the bookmarked materials. Users can make specific comments, highlight, and post sticky notes anywhere on the pages, and share these publicly or within created groups.

How does this translate to collaborative learning in higher education? Both and Diigo support creation of private groups, which allows educators to invite students in their class to share and interact without compromising student privacy. Since a large percentage of instructors feel trepidation about incorporating social media into the classroom due to privacy concerns, this minimizes this potential roadblock.1 Users create their own username, which is the only identifiable source of information shared within class groups.

This all sounds great, but you’re probably asking, “How can a bookmarking tool be used to enhance learning?  Certainly, it is a valid question! Gao recently published a case study looking at a collaborative learning activity designed with Diigo.3 Students evaluated an online article and participated in a group discussion utilizing highlights, comments and sticky notes to discuss and critique the assigned reading. Students’ comments often built upon a previous post or further developed someone else’s ideas. The author reported that the activity stimulated self-reflection, elaboration, and internalization. None of the students reported conflicts arising from the discussion, and the majority found Diigo supported learning and the tool helped them to effectively critique the article.

Social bookmarking and annotation opens up a realm of possibilities for use in health professional education. Utilizing social interactions, exploiting the availability of online media, and creating activities that stimulate “unintentional” learning opportunities, online collaborative learning is grounded in the social cognitive and situated learning theories.4,5 Students develop skills in information organization, resource sharing, and group discussion; together this advances critical thinking skills, meta-cognition, improved reading comprehension, and incorporates real-life application to classroom activities.5,6

A recent article in the American Journal of Pharmacy Education suggests social bookmarking can be utilized in pharmacy education to create a shared library for students to access resources during a project or course.7 Moreover, students can create this resource library themselves. In my opinion, this is a limited view, and I envision other possibilities.  For example, social annotation could be used in multiple courses throughout the pharmacy curriculum. One could create collaborative teams in therapeutics and assign a difficult patient case for small groups to follow over a semester. Students could highlight relevant sections of evidence-based guidelines, leaving comments and discussing how to best apply evidence to the patient case. The other groups in the class would do the same, creating an interactive, collaborative learning environment that might allow greater exposure to clinical application of class materials. One could also employ the bookmarking and social annotation function for a literature evaluation course. All of these methods help student build collaboration, organizational, and research skills, which are all essential to becoming a competent health professional.

One must utilize social media and bookmarking tools only if they naturally help achieve the learning objectives of the course.  These tools should enhance learning, not direct it. With the exponential increase of social media in education, and the desire to engage students in collaborative tasks mirroring the real-world, social bookmarking offers a very strong addition to the arsenal of tools we can use to create dynamic, engaging learning environments. I dare you to try it out for yourself. But I must warn you. It can be addicting!

  1. Seamean J, Tinti-Kane H. Social media for teaching and learning. Pearson Learning Solutions. [Internet]. 2013. [cited 2014 Oct 10].
  2. Ruffini MF. Classroom collaboration using social bookmarking service Diigo. [Internet]. 2011 Sep 17. [cited 2014 Oct 16].
  3. Gao F. A case study of using a social annotation tool to support collaboratively learning. Internet and Higher Education. 2013;17:76-83.
  4. Piaget J. The equilibration of cognitive structures: the central problem of intellectual development. 1st ed. Brown T, Kishore JT, translator. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Pr, 1985. 178 p.
  5. Lave J, Wenger E. Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 138 p.
  6. Novak E, Razzouk R, Johnson TE. The educational use of social annotation tools in higher education: a literature review. Internet and Higher Education. 2013;15:39-49.
  7. Cain J, Fox BI. Web 2.0 and Pharmacy Education. Am J Pharm Educ. 2009;73:Article 120.

No comments: