Web-Based Information Organization Tools for the Online Classroom

by Staff Writers

There's a great big World (Wide Web) out there, and it's hard to keep track of everything you find in it. Even if you do remember to bookmark a page and come back to it six months later, what are the odds of remembering why you bookmarked it in the first place? While this situation might be frustrating for your average Web surfer, it can be infuriating to the online learner or educator who may have been counting on returning to the information and rekindling a memory of why it was important to their studies or teaching. Fortunately there are a bunch of tools available to let the Internet remember for you. Curation and annotation tools allow you to not only "remember" a web site, but also to take notes about the pages you've visited, save them right on the pages themselves, and even share them with others.

Web Curation
The Web is a social system. People post information and others read, respond, repurpose, repost, forward, and rank that information in many different ways and for many different reasons. This leads to an incredible amount of material with no real rhyme or reason to its organization. Google, Yahoo, and Bing all do a nice job of helping you locate useful sites when you search for them, but what if you want to collect a bunch of sites, videos, images, and people's comments about them, and save all of it for later or share them with classmates or your students? Enter the relatively new concept of online tools for site curation – meaning to keep, maintain, or catalogue something. Some tools allow you simply to keep track of online information that is of interest to you, but the best curation tools allow you to remix information from various sources and share it via a variety of social networks. Here are some of the best tools currently available.

  • Pearltrees – This Firefox extension allows you to capture content from the Web and graphically organize it into meaningful patterns. It also has a nice option to create collaborative trees which form a sort of hybrid semantic map.
  • Delicious – One of the first curation sites, Delicious, allows users to collect web-based resources into stacks which can be shared within the community and added to by others.
  • – operates by creating "bundles" of tweets which contain links, images and videos collected around a specific topic. The site provides a repository of all of these bundles which can be shared.
  • – This curation program allows users to create and share their own themed magazines designed around a given topic.
  • Storify – Storify is used by many journalists. It has a powerful drag and drop interface to allow users to search multiple social networks and pull pieces from different sources into one place and add their own text to tie it all together.
  • Bundlr – Bundlr combines elements from several other tools to allow users to "clip" specific content from multiple sources and visually organize it in new ways.
  • REDUX – This video-based site allows users to create their own channels which combine Internet videos to create unique collections.
  • Keepstream – This Twitter-focused tool allows users to collect pieces of their Twitter streams and save them as collections that can be displayed on a web site.
  • Bagtheweb – This program allows the collection of information into "bags" which can then be linked together into larger networks, including the "bags" that others have assembled.
  • Eqentia – This program does the social networking for you by suggesting connections to others with similar interests based on the collections you create.
  • – Based on the newspaper metaphor, allows users to assemble their curated content into virtual newspapers that include social media information as well as traditional website clips and media.

Online Annotation
Whereas curation programs allow you to collect and organize information, annotation tools allow you to clarify that information for yourself and others by adding notes that appear connected to web pages that you can save, sort, and even share with others.

  • Diigo – This annotator allows you to highlight information on a page and add sticky notes associated with the highlights. Saved annotated pages can be shared via email. One drawback to this is that it doesn't work with dynamic web sites.
  • Stickis – Literally place a virtual sticky note on a web page and save it. Not as precise as a highlighter, but sufficient for broader commentary.
  • SharedCopy – This program allows both highlighting and notes, however the notes tend to cover some of the text that they are intended to illuminate.
  • MyStickies – Uses the same concept as Stickis (above).
  • Trailfire – This unique metaphoric take on annotation allows users to place comments on pages and link them to other comments on other pages to create a trail of knowledge that others can follow.
  • DrawHere – This bookmarklet allows users to doodle on web pages as they browse. The drawings can be saved and will appear to other DrawHere users who visit the same page.
  • Protonotes – When installed on a website, Protonotes allows visitors to the site to leave notes concerning the content on a given page.
  • JumpKnowledge – This application allows for highlighting and comments which are then placed in line with the text.
  • – This service allows multiple users to collaboratively comment on a variety of different types of documents online including Word and PDFs.

For the Online Student
Think of these tools as your keys to making sense of the vast amounts of information you are bombarded with as a student. You can take notes on all of your online readings, save them, sift through the information and synthesize your own meaning. They also present a nice way to connect with your fellow students in order to learn collaboratively.

At another level, these tools can provide you with a way of finding or making connections between subjects. Particularly for the online student whose face-to-face interactions with other students or professors may be limited or non-existent, using both types of tools can help you see how different topics interconnect. This will broaden your knowledge base and make your learning relevant across all of your courses. This is one way of starting to craft your own liberal arts-like experience even as an online learner.

For the Online Educator
Realistically, if properly planned for, all of the content for an online class could be collected using curation tools and shared with students with your annotations included. Students themselves could add resources to the collection, include questions, make new connections, and share them with you and the other students in the course. In a broader context, they could be used to provide an interactive conceptual framework for an entire program or course of study.

Minimally these tools provide a way to support your own research and teaching by developing, cultivating, and annotating collections of related materials that can later be accessed for publication, shared with colleagues, or presented to students as course materials. The great thing about these collections is that they can grow as new information becomes available. Depending on your diligence and the tools you choose, that new information can be integrated into an existing knowledge framework on the fly. Even more interestingly, you can establish groups of colleagues and students who collectively curate and annotate content bundles to create shared knowledge in your field.

For the Adventurer
Using these tools for class assignments allows students to collect and synthesize their own knowledge and share it with you or the class. Requiring students to create their own newspaper, or to blaze collaborative trails of knowledge with Trailfire, gives them an opportunity to interact with course-related information and take ownership in a way that simply reading a text never can. Using these tools allows students to become stewards of their own knowledge and to be able to invest in their own learning in new and exciting ways.

If you go exploring the virtual jungle of the Internet or decide that you are going to set up a permanent camp there, you had better bring the right equipment so you don't get lost or eaten by the big bad information overload. Web curation and annotation tools are some of the handiest things you can bring on your journey to the Web, particularly if you are an online student in search of knowledge or a more permanent resident – an online instructor.


Image: taoty /