March 2, 2009

Academic Website Helps Students Collaborate

Print More

Without question, every Internet user has felt the frustration that arises when searching among thousands of websites for specific information. Online social bookmarking, which looks to ameliorate this fact-finding process, has now decided to venture into the field of higher education.
While customary online bookmarking is the process of saving to your computer addresses of websites one would like to revisit in the future, social bookmarking allows one to save the links to web pages on a social bookmarking website. The website then organizes the links chronologically and places them under specific categories with tags that describe it. In addition, the bookmarks can either be open to the public, shared with groups of the user’s choice or saved for the user’s personal viewing.
The first social bookmarking website known as itList was first available to Internet users in April of 1996. Since then, the concept of online social bookmarking has become very popular and has thus been a segway to the creation of various other social bookmarking websites such as Backflip, HotLinks, Delicious, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Ma.gnolia, Diigo and Newsvine. In the past two months, bookmarking has ventured into the field of higher education, establishing a bookmarking website solely dedicated to academic-related content.
On Jan. 20, the first academic social bookmarking was launched and made available to faculty and students from 300 universities from around the world.
The creator of this online academic community, Murray Goldberg, has been a faculty member of the University of British Columbia in Computer Science since 1990. Prior to Brainify, Goldberg had developed WebCT, which is now owned by Blackboard Learning System, a website geared towards aiding instructors and allowing them to put courses online for the students.
“I had a desire for students to be able to connect with each other around the world,” Goldberg said. “In the last few years, I noticed that students spent more time online, mainly because of the improvement in online resources available to students. I decided to build Brainify to give students a place to connect, learn from each other, and answer each others questions.”
The website contains a collection of academic links that users have bookmarked there. Once one saves the link, it is then placed under the appropriate academic subject. Then, one is asked to add metadata, which is information that describes the site, varying from related websites or sub-topics.
In addition, Brainify also supports academic groups that one can choose to create or join. As a member in these groups, students can ask post questions in the hopes that fellow students can provide them with answers.
“We can learn as much or more from one another than we can learn from all the websites and databases in the world,” Goldberg said. “Brainify is the place where you can get the information on almost any academic topic you need. If you have a question, there is a student somewhere who has the knowledge to help you. Brainify is the place to make those connections happen.”
In addition to allowing people to post information of their choice, but they can also rate the quality of others’ posts. The website is that it keeps track of every contribution a member makes and assigns reputation points based on the quality of the material a member loads.
On Cornell’s campus, many students are beginning to take a keen interest in the site. Danielle D’Ambrosio ’10 highlighted the different capacities that Brainify had to offer its users.
“I think it’s good that the members have to rate the websites because there really aren’t that many search engines that I have used where rating is an option,” D’Ambrosio ’10 said.
Emily Nowacki ’12 also has positive comments about the website’s ability to foster cooperation amongst students.
“I would find a website like this extremely useful,” Nowacki said. “It creates an academic community. It’s good that students can feel together and not in constant competition with one another.”
While 14 different professors were contacted to make a statement concerning Brainify, none felt comfortable, saying that they did not have enough knowledge about the Brainify or social bookmarking.
Since the website is still in its burgeoning stages, Goldberg hopes that the it continues to gain popularity over time.
“We want this to be an incredible academic resource for students the kind that we wonder how we ever did without,” Goldberg said. “We’re all in it together. We learn from one another. Somehow there is a notion that students must only learn independently. They should learn from each other.”