Day 1 - Online Research Published 2006-12-14 under , ,

In a recent project with which I was involved, participants in a U.S. History workshop developed an annotated list of websites relating to American History. There are over 100 sites reviewed providing teachers and students a wonderful place to find a site that might relate to a topic with which they are interested.

The problem with the resource is that the only option for viewing the list is to see all sites in alphabetic order. If your needs are specific, such as looking for a site on the Civil War, you need to go through each site and read the description to find one that might relate to your particular interest.

A similar problem exists when you bookmark a site on your browser - the site is just added to a long list of other sites. As the list of bookmarks grows, the more difficult it is to find a particular site. Browsers have helped users organize their favorite sites by allowing bookmarks to be placed in a directory structure. Thus, a site relating to the Civil War might be placed in the "Civil War" folder within the "US History" folder. This certainly makes it easier to find a particular bookmark.

Several issues remain:

  • What do you do if a site relates to multiple topics? Do you create the bookmark in each of the requisite folders?
  • What if you want a list of all bookmarks within a folder and all sub-folders within that folder? In the example above, what if we wanted not just Civil War sites but also Revolutionary War sites?
  • What if we want to share our bookmarks as part of a collaborative project? (After all, this is about collaboration.)
The answer is social bookmarking - "tagging" specifically. The king of online bookmarking and site tagging is With, you can bookmark sites with categories (tags). For example, a particular journal article relating the differences between the presidency of Andrew Jackson and that of John Quincy Adams could be tagged with "us history", "presidents", "jackson", and "adams".

This bookmarking could be part of a bigger project in which students are assigned the task of researching a particular topic in U.S. History. Each online source would be bookmarked in using appropriate tags. One of the tags would be term designed to identify the bookmark as part of a particular assignment. For example, students would include the tag "MrsSmithsAmHistoryProject06" on each of their bookmarks identifying it as part of Mrs. Smith's American History Project for 2006. Then a student could see all of her bookmarks for this project by clicking on her "MrsSmithsAmHistoryProject06" tag.

The student is not restricted to just viewing her own bookmarks. She could also view all bookmarks on for a given tag (or set of tags). While each student is working independently, they are forming a collaborative effort by tagging their sources with the project identity tag. At the end of the project, the class will have collaboratively developed a list of resources on U.S. History that not only can be shared within the class but with the whole world (including other U.S. History classes - current and future). Another benefit of this method is that the teacher can monitor the classes progress by occasionally reviewing the "MrsSmithsAmHistoryProject06" tag. also allows you to annotate your bookmarks. This space can be used by the students to provide details about the site that will be useful to not only themselves but others viewing the bookmark. By writing a description and/or summary of the site, students are engaging in reflection, enhancing their research process. It also provides a vehicle for formative-assessment whereby other students (and/or teacher) review the annotations providing the student with feedback on their summary.

Summary provides a wonderful tool for students and teachers to organize their online resources so that they can be easily accessed and pooled into a collaborative list of resources.

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