Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Website Review: Diigo

Diigo: The Researcher’s Best Friend
Website Review

Diigo has taken social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to the next level, offering not only a way to connect with people but a way to compile research and engage in the research done by others. Using the Diigo toolbar, users are able to create a bookmark for any webpage they view. This bookmark is saved to the user’s account so that he or she can easily link to the page from any computer. On the bookmarked page itself, users can highlight text and add sticky notes so that annotations and important passages can be recalled later; these user additions to the webpage are saved along with the site itself so that when the bookmark is pulled up, the highlighting and notes are found too! Users can form or join groups working on similar research topics so that they can all share their sources. As the Diigo site points out, this method of searching for resources is much better than using search engines because the sites saved on Diigo have already been sifted from searches done by the members. After the user compiles some bookmarks of his or her own, the research profile even allows Diigo to suggest some relevant bookmarks. This website could help students achieve a range of the NETS standards, including number 3) Research and Information Fluency: Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. According to indicator b, students must locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources. This standard practically defines the content found on Diigo because it is a digital tool designed to help people find more specific sources, keep track of their analyses of them, view how others rate and evaluate the sources, and link back directly to the original source so that proper citation can be compiled. I rate Diigo’s content and site goal as very high!

Once you get the hang of the Diigo interface, it is relatively easy to use. You have the option of installing the Diigo toolbar which you will then have access to as you surf the web, allowing you to bookmark, highlight, etc. while you research. I have chosen to use the smaller toolbar option, Diigolet, because it allows the same basic functions, but uses less space and is easier to command for new users and casual researchers. On any webpage, the user has only to select one of the options on the toolbar and the command will be completed; for example, when the bookmark tab is pressed on Diigolet, a menu comes out in which the user can title, tag, and summarize the bookmark, which is then saved on the user’s Diigo profile page to be accessed any time. On this page, users can join groups and view the various bookmarks there. If the user wants to share one of his or her personal bookmarks with the group, there is an easy option for this function on the user’s bookmark page. At the top of the page, there is a search bar where people can type in research topics and receive other users’ bookmarks that fulfill the search criteria. Users can even filter these searches to look within the users of a certain group. It takes a little time and some trial and error to get used to the Diigo site and how it functions, but once a person is familiar enough with it, it becomes a very easy and useful tool, giving it a high rating for its interface.

Web Quests have become a very common classroom activity in the past few years. With this learning tool, students are given a research topic or problem and sent onto several suggested websites or search engines to gather some information regarding the issue. At the end of the quest, students usually complete some sort of project that allows them to display what they have learned. I think that the Diigo website would be a great resource within the Web Quest activity because it could make an individual assignment into a classroom-wide investigation. The teacher could open a group in which she bookmarked the sites meant to get the students started on the background research into the topic. Then she could assign students or groups of students a specific aspect of that topic and have them find sites that deal specifically with that area. This division of research would be great in an English classroom when trying to tackle a persuasive research paper. Students could be split into pro/con teams on an issue and in this way have access to more research. It is really great to have both sides of an issue represented in one research forum because often students will focus only on research that corroborates their point of view without looking at the opposition. If the research done by the opposition is easily accessible, then it saves the students time sifting through it themselves and still gives them the time to focus on their own side of the debate. Diigo is a very powerful group researching tool, so I would rate its learning value as very high.

The tech support behind Diigo seems quite strong. On the Help Page there are several video tutorials that range from a brief introduction to the site’s functions to a more detailed explanation of the site’s full capability. There is a menu that breaks down each of the Diigo tools, such as Bookmarks and Highlighting, so that users can go directly to specific topics of interest or personal difficulty. Some of these subheadings even have video tutorials of their own. There are several articles from the users themselves about how to reap the full benefits of Diigo and troubleshoot the common frustrations found in actual experience. Although I did have trouble finding ways to contact the site administrators regarding particular user difficulties, I still give this site’s help functions a high rating for being able to tackle such a large and complicated site in a way that is manageable for users of any tech skill level.

I am so excited that this class introduced me to Diigo. So many times I have gotten home after hours spent researching in the library only to realize that I have to go back and redo all the research on my home pc; it is so frustrating. But, like GoogleDocs (which I have also fallen in love with), I can access my research from anywhere. Not only that, but I can access the research of others who have been facing the same research struggles as I have so that it is easier to find sources that have already been filtered for usefulness, reliability, and interest-level. I would love to use it in the classroom as a way to keep students involved in research communities. With the advent of the web, it has gotten easier for students to have access to a wealth of information, but with this access comes the problem of being able to sort through it all and find pertinent academic-level sources. That is tricky! Diigo is a good practice ground for students to develop these judgment skills. Users have pared down the wealth of research so that it is less overwhelming, and, with the option of sharing their own research with the class, students can help each other evaluate the sources. Rather than have students resort to the old research compilation method of recording sources on note cards, Diigo relies on the same type of logic but in a more sensible and accessible manner, especially in today’s technological world. I strongly recommend that all high school teachers implement Diigo in at least some aspect of their curriculum because it allows students to become part of a learning community beyond their school. I think the interface is a bit much for younger students to handle, but elementary teachers could implement research sharing skills that would prepare them for tools like Diigo. Overall, I cannot say enough about how exciting a program Diigo is; I give it a very high, if not the highest rating of just about any website I have ever used because it is really a meta-site that allows management of the web content as a whole. From my experience, the aspect that I am most excited about is the highlighting/note function. I have always hated reading from a computer screen because there is no way for me to interact with the text by marking and annotating it. Diigo has solved that problem—and so many other web research issues! It was about time for a site like this.

The bookmarks I have shared with the EDUC 422 group:

My best bookmark: