As many of you will know, Murray Goldberg developed WebCT while working at the University of British Columbia in 1995-1996. The company was later bought by Blackboard. Murray continues to develop interesting projects, and I am very pleased to offer this space to Murray for a blog on his latest project, Brainify
My Foray into Academic Social Bookmarking: More than just Sharing Websites with my Students
I started using various forms of learning technology as a university instructor as early 1990. Back then, of course, we were somewhat limited in terms of the variety of generally-available technology that could be applied to teaching. But even back then, the kinds of tools that appealed to me the most were those that facilitated communication and sharing on a scale broader than one-to-one. Tools that facilitated the sharing of ideas, questions and resources among the class. Tools that made it easier for all of us to learn from one another. Whether I have been successful or not, that has been a central theme in all the work I have done in the educational technology area with my research, WebCT, Silicon Chalk, my consulting and now Brainify.
This term, I am teaching a 2nd year Computer Science class of 120 students. With the launch of Brainify (http://www.brainify.com – a website for academic social bookmarking and networking for university and college students), I am planning to go much deeper with the idea of having my class share resources as a group. Before I talk about what I am doing in class though, let me just make sure that everyone knows what I mean by “academic social bookmarking”. I suspect 99% of us are familiar with social bookmarking – the act of bookmarking websites in a public forum (like del.icio.us). This allows others to benefit from the sites we add and even provides a modified form of peer-review through popularity and ratings. If we prepend the word “academic” to “social bookmarking”, we simply limit the domain of bookmarked sites to ones useful in academia.
So what am I doing in class this term? Well – first, I went to Brainify and created a group for my class (click on “my groups” and then “create new group” at the top of the resulting page). I then started adding bookmarks to web sites that my students would find useful for my course. When I did so, I was sure to add those bookmarks to the group’s collection in addition to my own; in Brainify, groups can have collections of bookmarks just as users can. And more importantly, I have asked my students, at their option, to add their own bookmarks to the group when they come across something useful. It is all about learning from one another.
Brainify is meant to be set up nicely for this kind of interaction. First, groups can be created with open or closed membership, and with open, moderated, or closed bookmark addition. Also, bookmarks are not only there for later reference – they can also be the foci of deeper debate and discussion. Brainify supports this by including a discussion area with each group and bookmark. Another nice aspect is that when a bookmark is contributed, Brainify asks you to place it into an academic taxonomy. This, along with the tags, rating and description you are asked to add means that every new bookmark builds the public collection of browsable academic websites. My hope is that, over time, Brainify becomes a phenomenal repository of academic bookmarks, rated, tagged and described. A place where students and we, their instructors, can go and be sure to find the best resources, as defined by our world-wide community, to help students understand a concept, research an assignment, or study for an exam.
But just as importantly, I am hoping that Brainify becomes more than a bookmarking resource – emerging into a strong academic community. As faculty members, we have pretty strong discipline-based and university-based academic communities already. But our student’s academic community is typically pretty small, often limited to a subset of the students in their courses. With Brainify, I am hoping that this community can be expanded for students – allowing them to learn as easily from a student across the globe as they can from a student in one of their classes. The Brainify groups, question area and other features are an attempt to help facilitate the building of this community.
Anyhow – being the beginning of term, I am only starting with academic social bookmarking with Brainify. But only a week in, a good number of students have joined my group and a nice collection of bookmarks is building for my course (though Brainify as a whole is still quiet – the website is up but we have not really advertised it broadly to students yet). I will report more as the term progresses.
I invite you to try this out. Join Brainify and create a group for your course. I would love to get your feedback. Brainify is still a baby, so your suggestions can really help it grow and evolve.