Narrowing the search: Sharetabs and Diigo together

Having students do research on the internet is always an adventure.  Left to their own devices, I find that students tend to end up on wikipedia and run into a wall of information too dense to narrow down into meaningful research.  Luckily, a couple of simple tools can help teachers get around this.

Diigo Education, in conjunction with Sharetabs, can give the research experience far more depth and help students stay focused on relevant information.   Sharetabs, and many other sites like it, allows you to create a tabbed list of websites in one place.

I use it to find websites about the topic(s) students will research that are student friendly.  Many sites about scientific topics have a reading level too difficult for middle school students, but with a little digging it’s not too hard to find sites that work better for them. My students might eventually find these, but our computer time is often limited and I need to make the most of it, so I often set up a sharetab.

The next step is Diigo, which I use in two different ways. Diigo allows users to highlight content on webpages. It keeps track of all this on your own user page (you can make this public or private).  Sometimes I’ll highlight some of the pages I’ve put onto a Sharetab to pull out the important parts that I want students to look at.  A wikipedia entry or article may be 40 pages long, but I only want them to focus on 1-2 paragraphs, so I’ll highlight those paragraphs.  My students can then go to my Diigo page and read the two paragraphs that I’ve highlighted instead of trying to find the proverbial needle (see example).

I also have my students use Diigo, which has had a huge impact on the way they research.  For $0 you can sign up your class for Diigo.  Once you’re approved, you can create student accounts (no email necessary) and make them public or private.  The teacher can monitor the accounts and set up groups for the students.  I had my students use this to complete some research for a project we’re working on right now.  After creating the accounts, I had a few students log in and install the Diigo toolbar on our classroom computers.  The next day, the students worked in shifts to complete their research.  Each student could login to his own Diigo account at any computer in the room.  From there, they navigated to the Sharetab I’d set up, located the correct page for their topic, and opened it in a separate window.  At this point, they were able to highlight important material which they could use for their reports later (see The Brink of Insanity).

The students picked up on the highlighting very easily.  At the end of each research session, I would look over their highlights to see that they’d gotten the most important information (see student sample).  If they were struggling, then I would work with the group or individual to get the most relevant things.  It was a quick and easy assessment – something that would have been much more tedious and time consuming without Sharetabs and Diigo.

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