Using Delicious to encourage learner engagement

delicious imageA perceived weakness of the social bookmarking tool Delicious might otherwise be considered a strength. It may be criticized for failing to encourage the kind of participation or sense of community that alternatives such as Digg or StumbleUpon facilitate, but this has its benefits: Delicious might just be the right tool for those learners who struggle with active participation and collaboration.

Collecting and sharing links, perhaps with a common purpose in mind – an assignment, or project – is a more neutral activity than, say, contributing to an article on a wiki or discussing a topic in a forum. As such, this might be helpful in controlling the anxiety that is often associated with participation online – that our point might be undermined by our would-be ‘smarter’, better-informed peers. Sharing links requires no carefully expressed validation, no editing of others’ work or the offering of an opinion which may be gainsayed. The user is offering little more than ‘I found this useful, and you might, too’ when they share the link, yet their participation is tangible and calls for a direct engagement with the activity.

Paradoxically, it’s Delicious’ paucity of collaborative features, combined with its ability to do its task well, that makes it a good place to start to collaborate. As a tool primarily dedicated to the collection of shared links, Delicious does not have the functionality to discuss the idea further: the user can use ‘comments’ to add notes, but there need be nothing more than the kinds of metadata that make the links more specifically focussed, and it can’t sustain a complex dialogue.

That said, finding and sharing links is not entirely free from value: no choice is, no matter how innocent we may think of it. Even tags are an evaluation of sorts. As a result, those concerned with their choice of tags may be anxious that they’re finding the right bookmarks and tagging them in the ‘correct’ way. Here, the idiosyncratic nature of folksonomies could be positively employed. The learner can tag their bookmark with a word or phrase grounded in their personal way of organising links, but which also might be useful for others, helping offsetting arguments about which are the ‘correct’ tags. If it works for you, it might work for others. What’s more, there are often suggested tags when bookmarking, which is instructive in helping the learner understand how bookmarks might be classified. This could be usefully accompanied by a set of agreed tags for the group, a process that so often brings order to the potential chaos.

There’s a limit to how far this might be called a rich collaborative activity and such a process does not capture the flavour of much meaningful online participation we find elsewhere. However, using Delicious to encourage participation in those learners reticent to engage might not be an end to online collaboration, but it might be a beginning.

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3 thoughts on “Using Delicious to encourage learner engagement

  1. I have been a Delicious user for some time but found the site’s restrictions and lack of more sophisticated options to promote social interaction initially quite offputting. Once I started importing the shared links on Delicious also on Facebook, though, this seemed to become a more valuable tool. I found others who practiced the same, resulting in me also sharing my Google Reader items via Facebook, Last.fm etc etc. With the increasing number of social bookmarking and networking tools available, it is a question of customising them, it seems, and getting them to collaborate, if you will. Finding out how to make the most of them, what their limitations are and what needs they have to fulfil, needs that may change, though. However, I can’t help but think that some tools have been designed with little regard to what users may want to use them for and why, when and with whom they might want to share – Thanks for sharing, Phil 🙂

    • At the risk of flattery (but then again, why not flatter?) I think you are the kind of ‘power user (for want of a better term) that the kind of novice learner I had in mind in this post might aspire to. If those bewilidered, nervous, self-confessed ‘techophobic’ learners use something as seemingly benign as Delicious for sharing links, then it might be the first run on the ladder to what you rightly point our is a rich, inter-operative environment where web 2.0 apps talk to one another.
      I’ve worked with courses aimed at openings (pre first-year university) level students, as well as those who consider technology to supplement their academic activity rather than be the main focus of it, and I’ve found amongst their students various issues that trouble them when working online together. The use of Delicious as I’ve described above might be an inroad.

  2. Pingback: A different design for using social bookmarking? « social media in education

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