When teachers in Oregon's Meriwether Lewis Elementary School want to review resources on emerging Internet technologies earmarked by tech-savvy principal Tim Lauer, they can visit his page on the free del.icio.us Web site. At this "social bookmarking" site, they will see links he has grouped or "tagged" by keywords, including RSS, podcasts, weblogs and Wikipedia. "I find del.icio.us to be a great tool to organize Web data and share it with others," he says.
Similarly, Lauer assigns "Technorati tags" such as Google Earth, Gmail or MapBuilder to the topic of each entry in his Education/Technology blog, so the Technorati blog-indexing tool will compile his thoughts on various subjects, and report them with other items given the same tags. Lauer also uses tag labels such as schoolart and scienceproject to post albums of school-related pictures on the photo-sharing site Flickr. Whether applied to Web sites, blogs or media, tagging technologies enable users to quickly find specific online content, and offer powerful grassroots alternatives to traditional searches. Tagging has been described as the "next big thing in search tools."
Although Americans conduct nearly 200 million Internet searches daily, a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found only 17 percent say they always find what they are looking for with search engines. Instead, many users express frustration with inefficient results spread across hundreds of pages selected by computer algorithms rather than humans. Furthermore, links to "favorite" sites are usually saved in long haphazard lists on single computers, so retrieving resources is onerous.
In contrast, items that individuals tag with descriptive labels are grouped by categories on personal Web pages that can be kept private or made public, are accessible through any online computer at school or at home, can easily be e-mailed to students and colleagues, and continue to be available online even if machines crash or are replaced. And while users can gain the benefit of reviewing resources others have deemed useful on various topics, those who register can tag resources they wish to track in their own words. Some sites such as del.icio.us also offer downloadable toolbar buttons for tagging sites at the click of a mouse, and allow users to comment on items and rate their quality.
The effectiveness of tagging services depends on the quality and quantity of the tagged searches that are saved. Users also need to agree on tag names in order to share information, for example, "staff development" compared to "professional education." Not enough people are yet tagging online materials, but interest is building rapidly, and last year Technorati received more than 81 million posts with tags. Tagging tools for specialized applications such as news, business and shopping resources are also coming online, and examples include Digg.com, PreFound.com, Scuttle.org, Shadows.com and Wink.com.
While tagging in schools has essentially been limited so far to early-adopter tekkies, the recent acquisition of del.icio.us by Yahoo, and the integration of tagging features into Yahoo's My Web personal search tool, will help bring the technology into the mainstream. It is also predicted that tags will eventually be added to the major search engines including AOL Search, Google, MSN Search and Yahoo. Tagging technologies offer tremendous power for your staff and students to discover, manage and share online information, and you can use the resources below to get started. Never lose a good link again!
Odvard Egil Dyrli, firstname.lastname@example.org, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.