E-learning with web 2.0


- ► category - Folksonomies, whose social nature is reflected in the inclusion of the word 'folk' in their name, are a classic web 2.0 tool. They depend on, and represent, the collective intelligence which can be generated online. Common folksonomy web services are also available in app versions which can be used on mobile devices (see Going Mobile below).

--► what - Folksonomies are user-generated indexes of online materials. After setting up an account with a folksonomy (or social bookmarking) service such as Diigo, users are prompted to download a tagging button to their browser bar. Using this button, they can add items to their index by 'tagging' them, that is, adding a descriptive term or terms. The most common display form of folksonomies is the tag cloud. The more often a particular tag has been used, the larger and darker the font. At left is an extract from the Diigo tag cloud on the E-learning tag cloud page of this wiki. Clicking on any tag on that page will take you to a list of all of the materials which have been tagged with that particular term. An extract from another Diigo tag cloud, originally from the Electric Shepherds blog, is shown below right.

Note that many educators formerly used the Delicious folksonomy service. However, changes to the Delicious platform over recent years have made it difficult to create tagclouds, which has led many users to move to Diigo as an alternative.

Folksonomies represent a significant shift away from traditional top-down taxonomies - that is, hierarchical indexing systems - for several reasons:

  • the tagging process itself is organic rather than methodical or mechanical: you simply add a tag or tags to relevant materials as you come across them
  • there are no pre-set categories or subcategories: you can use whatever descriptive tags seem relevant and add new ones as often as you like, meaning that the index is flexible and extensible
  • the resulting index is usually presented in the non-linear form of a tag cloud (as seen in the accompanying images)

Diigo2011.png- ► why - Folksonomies depend on the web 2.0 principle of collective intelligence, since they are a way of indexing distributed knowledge. They are a great way to keep track of online data trails and useful resources that have been discovered. Although folksonomies can be individually generated, it is also possible for groups of people - whether educators, researchers or students - to collaboratively create folksonomies of resources on particular topics, with criteria for inclusion being negotiated by group members. Given the usefulness of well-designed tag clouds, these may be consulted by members of a wider community of practice on the internet and, for students, may even provide a means of entry into such communities.

- ► how - For a light-hearted and clear explanation of social bookmarking, see the Common Craft video Social Bookmarking in Plain English. You might also like to take a look at Thomas Vander Wal's slideshow Bottom-up All the Way Down. For a comprehensive overview of social bookmarking and related tools, including Delicious, Diigo, Instapaper, Pinterest and Scrible, see Nik Peachey's Tech Tools for Teachers: Social-Bookmarking.

- ► where - If you want to create a folksonomy and associated tag cloud, you can set up a free account in a matter of minutes at Diigo. After downloading the tagging button to your browser bar, you're ready to start building your index and creating your tag cloud. Nkwiry is an alternative social bookmarking site designed specifically for schools.

- ► going mobile - The major folksonomy services, Delicious and Diigo, are available in mobile app versions.

- ► examples - For an example of a folksonomy created with Diigo, see the E-learning tag cloud on this E-language wiki.

- ► variations - There is a blurry line between folksonomies and social sharing and at least some of the following examples could be said to belong to either category, as they often involve tagging as well as sharing of online materials.

In addition to being a folksonomy service, Diigo functions as a social annotation tool for highlighting and leaving comments on webpages, as does Stickr. LessonPaths (formerly MentorMob) allows teachers or students to compose 'playlists' of materials related to a given topic; Bag The Web allows the creation of curated collections of materials on a topic; and eduClipper allows you to collate and share educational resources. Tizmos for Teachers lets you share lists of materials displayed as visual bookmarks. InstaGrok identifies key materials on a given topic, allows you to pin those materials to a mind map, and helps you record the materials found in a journal format. Some of these services very much resemble social sharing services like Pinterest.

LibraryThing and Google's My Library are sites for tagging books and sharing reviews. CiteUlike is a reference management tool for storing and tagging links to online resources. Evernote allows you to enter many kinds of data - from text to photos - which can later be tagged and searched. Zotero allows you to collect, manage, tag and share resources. Instapaper allows you to quickly compose and annotate a list of web resources to return to later. Readability allows you to save, compile and read articles on a clean screen stripped of extraneous material. StumbleUpon is a social bookmarking service which also suggests new sites you may be interested in based on your preferences. It has some similarities to social news sites like Digg and Reddit.

To convert any text into a tag cloud index, try Tagul. The widget below, created with Tagul, functions as an index of the main web 2.0 pages on this wiki. For further examples of Tagul menus, see the E-learning references page.

Word clouds are a popular variation on tag clouds. They display the key words in a text using the tag cloud metaphor (with more commonly used words shown in larger fonts, but without being clickable or linked to an index). The best-known example of such a service is Wordle; you can see a number of examples on the E-language wiki, including on the homepage, while the RWW blog has used Wordle to contrast inaugural presidential speeches by Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. TagCrowd, WordCloud and WordItOut are similar services. Other services such as Tagxedo and Word Mosaic allow you to create a similar textual display using the tag cloud metaphor, but with the overall text shaped into the form of images.

- ► dangers - There are two main potential problems with folksonomies. Firstly, a folksonomy does not usually involve traditional information mediators like subject experts or librarians and may thus lack informed input. Secondly, without clear agreement on a tagging system, it is possible that different members of a group - or even individuals, especially over time - will use an eclectic combination of tags, making it hard to reliably locate resources (though services like Diigo make it easy to alter or combine sets of tags after they have been created). Folksonomies may be best viewed as indexes with fuzzy relevance to the areas being indexed. A number of libraries are now experimenting with combining traditional taxonomies and folksonomies, by displaying user-generated tag clouds for library resources within the traditional taxonomic classification system.

- ► more - For academic and journalistic references about folksonomies, see the E-learning references page. You'll also find current information in the E-learning tag cloud.

Credits: The image above left shows an excerpt from the E-language tag cloud, powered by Diigo. I owe the Diigo links image on the right to Paul Chamberlain, the Instapaper link to Nik Peachey, the Readability link to Selena Tenakov, and the Word Mosaic link to Sarah Cesare.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki. Like all wikis, this one is a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation, content and links. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.