annotating the web

Reader lhuff from Justread opens a dialog regarding tools students can use to place comments on web pages or their own work, much like we do when we handwrite notes next to text in books or on papers. There are two digital annotators that I highly recommend for classroom instruction: Diigo and Scrapbook.

The most useful tech tools for the classroom are those that have use in the analog world, and can be extended to the digital. One of my most popular tips for taking notes from textbooks relies on those extremely handy ‘sticky notes’, tiny pieces of paper in various shapes and colors which stick temporarily to a page. Many college students refuse to write or even highlight in expensive textbooks so they can sell the books back to the bookstore at the end of the semester. Of course, k-12 students are not allowed to write in books at all. I advise my students to stock up on sticky pads with a large enough surface to write short notes to themselves. The purpose of this note-taking is not to rewrite what the book says, but to paraphrase and add a brief comment, then place the sticky on the page where the annotation belongs. When they later refer to the notes while preparing to write an essay or report, the first pre-write is there in front of them on the sticky notes.

Today, however, much of the ‘text’ comes from the web, and more and more student essays are written and captured digitally. Diigo and Scrapbook are digital sticky pads, two tools with extensive capability to comment and annotate the web.

Diigo is a research tool on steroids. You can write comments in the margins and place moveable sticky notes on any web page, or highlight useful quotes. Diigo collects the pages and your notes, saving them for you to reference at any time. As the teacher, you might collect a set of annotated web pages for a project to present to your class. Diigo allows you to set up your annotated pages as a slideshow. Maybe you have divided the class into research teams. Give each team a Diigo account, and let them set up the permissions for editing and viewing by you and the rest of the class members. I have even used Diigo on published Google Documents, something you might want to consider as you read drafts of your students’ writing [Google Docs does have its own very limited comment feature]. Students can use Diigo comments and notes to assess each other’s writing.

The Diigo creators are highly motivated, constantly updating and innovating this powerful tool. A possible drawback to using it is that you’ll have to download a Diigo toolbar to each PC the students use. If you only access computers through a school lab, you may need to convince the tech people that this is a worthwhile download. The fact that it is free may help.

Another free tool is Scrapbook, whose primary usefulness may be for the teacher, as its captured pages are not accessible for web viewing. Scrapbook is a free extension to the Firefox browser. [Most school computers I’ve seen use Internet Explorer, not Firefox, though that should change as Firefox becomes better known.] Scrapbook is first and foremost a page-capture tool. Say you find a web page that you want to present to your students. You capture the page–or any portion of the page–by right-clicking. Are there ads on the page you’d prefer to delete? Scrapbook provides an eraser tool that allows you to do just that. You can highlight text and type comments in-line with the text. My favorite feature, though, is the moveable sticky note. While Scrapbook doesn’t have a slideshow option, I have used the captured pages in a similar fashion. Utilizing the tabs in the Firefox browser, I place captured pages on sequentially-tabbed screens, and simply flip from one to the other using the overhead projector in my classroom. Scrapbook comes in handy especially when your room doesn’t have internet access, since you can use your browser without connection. Even when the web is accessible, sometimes the school’s server is so slow that it takes forever to load websites. Using Scrapbook-captures on the browser tabs is an efficient way to present web pages.

Even as amazing as these tools are, I think we’re just seeing the beginning of web-annotation development. As web 2.0 morphs into education 2.0, the web becomes the textbook, and we will leave our marks all over it.


1 Comment

  1. justread said,

    April 14, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing these two tools. My mind is racing with project ideas involving the two. One meaningful activity to help students learn to evaluate and document sources might be to have students work in groups to create a set of webpages, highlighting information needed to create a bibliography and writing sticky notes to comment on the credibility of the source.

    I’m off to download the Diigo toolbar.

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