A great essay by Steven Johnson in the Wall Street Journal this weekend “How the E-Book Will Change the Way we Read and Write” has me thinking hard once again about reading and writing skills and literacies as we move toward an even more digitally integrated world of texts and links. It immediately made me think of one of my other favorite essays on the topic, Kevin Kelly’s “Scan this Book” from the Times a couple of years ago, not necessarily because I agree with everything that both authors discuss but because each makes me take a look at my own reading and writing process through an adjusted lens.
But what was different in my reading of the Johnson essay as opposed to the Kelly essay was my ability to interact with it through Diigo. Over the last few months, I’ve become more and more enamored with Diigo as a tool for notetaking and bookmarking, sure, but as a platform for some interesting conversations. And, while I’m not sure Johnson even knows of its existence, it’s already bringing to fruition many of the social reading potentials we’ve been thinking of as futuristic. The idea that I can not just annotate a paragraph or a sentence or one idea on a webpage but that I can engage with others in sharing our thinking about that particular sentence or idea is at once powerful and daunting. I mean, imagine the meta conversations we might be able to have over different passages in the classics once they all get scanned and put online by Google (or someone else.) As Johnson writes:
As you read, you will know that at any given moment, a conversation is available about the paragraph or even sentence you are reading. Nobody will read alone anymore. Reading books will go from being a fundamentally private activity — a direct exchange between author and reader — to a community event, with every isolated paragraph the launching pad for a conversation with strangers around the world.
I’d say that is a pretty profound shift, wouldn’t you? One that is not so well understood and, in many cases, not even desired by many “traditional” book readers out there.
So when you compare the un-annotated Kelly essay to the marked up Johnson piece (this link lets you see all the notes), there is a vastly different feel, for me at least. And it would be even more different if you would add your own annotations to the piece. In my presentations, one of the most powerful examples of how this particular tool is a potential game changer is when I show this article, “Is Technology Producing a Decline in Critical Thinking and Analysis” in the un-annotated form and then turn the highlights and conversations on. There is nothing but critical thinking and analysis happening there as supported by, um, technology. The irony is palpable.
Is social reading and social writing in our kids’s futures? I don’t think there is much doubt about that. More and more I’m finding Diigo annotations and notes cropping up on the articles and essays that I read, and by and large I’ve found the commentors to be serious, thoughtful and articulate. In other words, while they do add volume, they also add value. Those of us who are mucking around in these new reading and writing spaces have no formal training in it, obviously, just a passion to connect and a willingness to experiment and engage in conversations around the the topics that interest us. But there are skills here that if developed with some intention (read: taught and modeled) can improve literacy in interacting with texts and people in these digital spaces. As always, however, we have to begin to see this shifts as natural progressions in the evolution of reading and writing and not simply tools that bring a temporary WOW! factor to the process.
Michael Walker says
While I agree wholeheartedly with the potential, one issue I have discovered with Diigo is with URL’s on blogs. I tried assigning commenting to a group of teachers I was working with to annotate my Blogger blog. They did so, but some went to posts via the main URL, some went via the direct link on the post,others via the “older posts” link, and still others by clicking on the month and year the post was from. In each case, Diigo pulled a totally different URL for the comment, and thus unless you navigated exactly like the person commenting, you did not see the comments! I hope they can resolve this issue!
I love the irony of your example and plan to share it widely.
Once again it’s not really about the technology, it’s about the passion to connect – which the wonderful Diigo technology supports.
Bill Farren says
Thanks for the article. It’s a really good read–chock full of good thinking. I passed it on to my school’s librarians.
I always thought it would be interesting to read certain people’s marginalia. For example, I would love to know what someone like Thomas Friedman is scribbling as he reads Omnivore’s Dilemma; or to know what parts Steve Jobs is underlining as he reads Wisdom of Crowds. (Of course, these notables (and not-so notables) would have to opt in to such a system).
Lisa Huff says
Tools like Diigo give us an incredible tool for modeling “marking up a text.” Mortimer Adler championed and modeled how to mark up a text, a skill that so many students find difficult because they lack the reading strategies to drill deep into a text and to connect and question the ideas in the text. Beyond reading strategies, what other skills and strategies would we need to explicitly teach students so that they could effectively read collaboratively?
Lisa Huff says
Okay–I signed up at diigo and spent several hours exploring and researching educational implications. I immediately thought of having my high school English classes (English 11 and AP English Language) annotate and collaboratively read texts. I tested diigo on a few NYT articles. Brilliant. Then, I tried reading a novel on Google Books. The floating comment is not working. It won’t stay beside the part in the text where you put it. And, you can’t highlight. I suppose because these are images–books that have been scanned–rather than text. Dang. I was getting excited about diigo’s potential for analyzing classical literature. I’m heading now to other online copies of classical texts. Has anyone tried this? Am I missing something?
Lisa Huff says
Yeah. It works on sites that have text versions–rather than scanned pages–of literature. My mind is clicking!
Sean Nash says
Try accessing classic text via Lit2Go… text as far as I can see: http://nashworld.edublogs.org/2009/04/24/how-to-be-right-more-than-twice-per-day/
Gary Stager says
What about flow?
Michael Stevenson says
Thanks so much for this thoughtful and insightful post on critical literacy. Your demonstration of the potential of tools like diigo is likewise excellent and well-placed contextually.
John Soares says
Much food for thought here. As the digital revolution progresses, we’ll find very useful tools for enhancing how we take in, interact with, and share information.
As a recent publisher of an ebook, I’ve become a great fan of disseminating information electronically. This post has me thinking about how I’ll shape future products.
Anthony Negron says
Very interesting material here. Considering that I am an active note taker, I can now be as active while reading articles online.
Melanie Jennings says
Diigo Rocks! I did a presentation for our state’s technology coordinators today, and Diigo was a major piece in the presentation. (Thanks by the way, for sharing resources for the presentation!)
I wrote about classroom applications of Diigo here: http://laptopsandlabcoats.blogspot.com/2008/10/diigo-social-bookmarking-for-classroom.html
I claimed that it was Part 1 of a two part series, but I never made it back around to Part 2…
We use Kindles in 6th grade literature circles as well as video conferencing with authors upon completion of books in my 6th grade room. The social connection to people while reading is what it is all abotu to me! Book clubs are as old as books themselves and I think these digital options just expand this idea.
Kobus van Wyk says
Thank you for a great article. The possibilities for learning and enrichment is enormous – available tools are magnificent. Unfortunately the digital divide still exists and many millions on the African continent is not even aware of what is available. We hope that this situation will change over time so that these folks could also become part of global conversations.
Bob Rowan says
It recently occurred to me that using Diigo is a little like reading a used textbook in school. You get to see everyone’s highlited and notes in the margins.
Jeremy Brueck says
Much like Mr. Richardson points out, I’ve been finding Diigo annotations more and more myself since I started using the Diigo toolbar for Firefox. When I read that quote initially, it had me thinking about how Diigo might look in a classroom environment. I guess I was thinking more of a 1-on-1 environment. However, upon further reflection, I don’t think that would be the best way to integrate Diigo.
Why, you ask? To me, Diigo is a tool that you use during those quiet, reflective times. Alone to your work, Diigo is there to help you push that bright yellow highlighter across digital text, rather than the thin pages of a paperback. You don’t really use Diigo with a crowd. You use it during “me” time, when you’re in a reflective mood and capable to be attentive and think critically about what you are reading. For most students, I don’t think that type of “me” time happens very often during the 6-8 hours that they are cramped in a classroom desk with 30 other kids around them.
READ MORE: Extending Classroom Walls with Diigo on Raised Digital
Kim Gomez says
In work now spanning more than 5 years, we have been designing approaches to annotation. We think of it as a strategic literacy support approach to recognizing the structure of texts, identifying the elements of these texts, and help students develop a metaanalytic perspective on the structure of texts.
Andrew B. Watt says
On the one hand, reading text simultaneously with others is a major shift, as you say.
On the other, the shift to reading a text alone is relatively recent. As recently as the 13th century, Marco Polo opened his Travels by wishing that “Emperors, kings, dukes, marquises, merchants and others who wished to know of the various part of the world and the people that inhabit them, take this book and have it read to you.” There was a clear assumption that the book would be interpreted by someone else for a literary (if not exactly literate) audience.
Going further back, St. Augustine of Hippo notes in his 5th century AD Confessions that St. Ambrose of Milan was the first person he, Augustine, had ever met who could read silently without moving his lips. Augustine was a grammarian and rhetorician to the Emperor, and moved in literate circles; this suggests that reading used to be a very public activity.
That we are returning to reading as a public activity â€” albeit remotely â€” should not strike us so much as unusual, as a return to our roots.