“Scholar? What’s that?" you say.  While you were finishing up holiday shopping, Scholar, the first property from the Blackboard Beyond Initiative, went live in open beta. Scholar is a social bookmarking service, customized for education, and integrated with Blackboard Learning System. We launched quietly as most folks were on holidays. We’ve got some plans to make more noise about it later this month, but, as you might expect, attentive bloggers like Scott Leslie at EdTechPost noticed it and started writing about it.

Like Scott, you can check Scholar out at http://www.scholar.com for a little hands-on exploration, and even subscribe to RSS feeds of various bookmark views. But a lot of the cool stuff that’s the "customized for education" part requires a Blackboard Building Block or PowerLink to be installed on your Blackboard Learning System.  So since you can’t see it all from the public site, I’ll describe it a bit here.

What makes Scholar different from other social bookmarking services you may have used or heard of (e.g. del.icio.us) is how it works in an education setting.  Scholar has all the typical features you’d expect from a social bookmarking service (tagging, tag clouds, RSS feeds, a bookmarklet for browser integration, etc.), but we wanted to make social bookmarking more relevant for Blackboard-powered courses and academic research. We spent a lot of time thinking about the problems students and faculty encounter when they go about doing web research or building engaging courses, and gettting feedback on those ideas about how social bookmarking could be enhanced for education. I’ll give you a couple examples.

Pretty much all students and instructors do web research as part of their academic work. When they find resources that they want to keep around, tagging them makes them easier to find later.  Since they’re students and teachers, we know that it’s likely that they are saving the resources for a particular course, or for research in their discipline, specialty or major. So we created special tags that let users tag for disciplines or specific courses really easily. We make it extra easy by using the integration with the Learning System to automatically generate your course tags based on your courses enrollments in Blackboard. You won’t see any course tags when you browse the public site because we’re protecting student privacy by not disclosing users’ course enrollments.

But we took it even further so that Scholar could be used not just as a personal tool, but as a course tool as well. For starters, from within the course you can search Scholar for resources and import them directly into your course – a great way to discover supplemental learning resources for your course. Maybe you find managing lots of links in your course to be a big pain in the you-know-what, but you still want to provide those types of resources to students. You can set up a Scholar course home page that appears for your students from within your course.  You define the dynamically updating streams of bookmarks that appear there. Maybe you only want to show what bookmarks are coming from other instructors in your discipline?  Maybe you want to show the collection your librarian is building?  Maybe you want your students to contribute to a course collection?  You can do all this with Scholar!

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