Dogears and classroom ROI

Interesting brief article in Queue on IBM’s Dogear social bookmarking tool for the enterprise. It appears to be a system like del.icio.us, but with the ability to assign groups and to set up levels of privacy.

They skip over the most interesting and difficult part: How to get folks to use it! They casually mention that they built RSS right into the system, as if that was an immediate sell. I think it could be used to great effect in classes and in academic meetings, but it seems to have had a lukewarm reception in these venues.

In particular, the Association of Internet Researchers meeting encouraged tagging for the conference. First off: not sure that an academic conference encourages tagging. It seems to me to be something that has to happen over a long period of time. Second, they gave folks too many options: suggesting del.icio.us, Technorati, and Flickr tags, to an audience among whom (ironically, I think) tagging is not a common practice. In all, the effort fell flat. But it had the standard “let’s do it and see what happens” vibe. Nothing wrong with that vibe — it is very Web 2.0 — but as I said, the value of tagging something for a fairly broad conference seems limited to me, especially (and this is key!) if it isn’t integrated into the whole.

I’ve also had my classes tagging this semester. Since the class “home page” is an aggregator (like this one) it’s easy to pull the RSS from del.icio.us and integrate it with the standard stream. Yet only those who already knew about tagging are tagging.

I’m now thinking about the Cyberporn and Society course for next semester (yes, it is a little late), and how to better integrate tagging into the course. I think an important step is to provide more of an overview of what tagging is all about and how to do it so that students have a better idea of what it is.

It is always a trade-off in a course: how much time do you spend talking about blogging/wikis/bookmarking/etc. and how much time do you spend with the actual substance of the course. In other words, what is the ROI (return on instruction) for focusing on the “ways of doing” rather than the “ways of knowing.” I have generally shied away from “teaching the tools.” Set up some expectations for product — I always thought — and students would teach themselves the tools.

Recently, I’ve been reconsidering this a bit. It’s a truism that we are never teaching, but hoping our students learn to learn. It strikes me that certain kinds of tools (how to use a library, for instance) have a very high long-term ROI. While my “don’t teach the tools” made sense when we were dealing with Flash or GoLive (v.1, yikes!), when it comes to social computing, it may be something worth really focusing time and resources on.

Sure, some of you may say “duh”! But that’s a bit of a new direction for me.

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