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Click-Happy with Bookmarklets and Extensions

Submitted by Sarah Ludwig on January 3, 2013 - 11:00am

“Stop being so click-happy!” a teacher at my school sometimes tells her students. She is referring to their habit of clicking the mouse, rapid-fire, while waiting for a page to load or a program to open. It’s a good habit to break, that’s for sure. But I’m “click happy” in a different way: with bookmarklets and extensions.

For me, it all started with Diigo, which I’ll admit I was reluctant to try as a devoted Delicious user. But the bookmarklet sold me. Clicking a button on the toolbar is so much easier than copying and pasting a link somewhere. (Delicious has since developed a bookmarklet.) Lately, I’ve been adding these buttons like a mad woman. Each one serves a separate but equally great purpose.

Note: I use Google Chrome exclusively on a MacBook. Your mileage may vary slightly depending on the browser and operating system you use.

What’s a bookmarklet?

A bookmarklet is a utility designed to perform a function with one click. This function might be changing how a web page page looks, extracting data from the page, or querying a search engine. Installation depends on the browser you use; you can either drag the bookmarklet onto the toolbar or paste code into a new bookmark (source). Either way, you’ve got a little button in your toolbar that functions quickly and efficiently.

My favorite bookmarklets

Pinterest (website) (bookmarklet)

The other day a third grader spotted Pinterest on my screen. “My mom uses that!” Yeah. All the moms do.  Seems so to me, maybe because I follow a lot of my mom-friends. Sometimes it seems like all I see on Pinterest is pictures of clothes, homemade cleaning products made out of white vinegar, and chalkboard paint. Nothing wrong with that, but Pinterest is also a powerful web research tool, especially because it’s driven by visuals linked to content.

When students click the “Pin It” bookmarklet on their toolbars, Pinterest allows them to grab any image from a website and pin it to a specific board, either one they have already created or a new one that they can create in the moment they pin the image. Students can organize these boards as they see fit. For personal interests, they might have boards about shoes or their favorite art. They could also have a board on each topic they’re researching: the cotton gin, for example, or the space race.

Students can click on any image in the collection to go to the original website. They can use a board during research, or it could even be the final product, a sort of annotated bibliography. Anyone can comment on an image, including the student herself. Therefore, each image could have a substantial explanation or analysis attached to it. Students would need to select the best image to represent each concept for a presentation. And because Pinterest always includes the source of the pinned image, it’s easy for students to both refer back to and cite the original source. Finally, with shared boards, a group of students can all contribute pins to one board. This would be great for a collaborative research project.

Resources about Pinterest in the classroom
Very Pinteresting!
Pinterest for Libraries
Ten Ways to Use Pinterest in the Classroom

Scoop.it (website) (bookmarklet)

I have been using Scoop.it to create monthly collections of resources and news for our faculty, and it can be just as useful for students. This bookmarklet makes it extremely easy to gather articles and websites into one cohesive newsletter. Scoop.it grabs not only an image (the user can choose any of them from a page), it also grabs text, which the students can modify any way they like, such as writing brief synopsis of the source. Additionally, Scoop.it suggests resources based on a student’s topic.

Once you have scooped something, you can move it around on the page, edit its description, change the representative image, tag it, and share it. Like with Pinterest’s re-pin feature, you can re-Scoop anything on your page or someone else’s. But unlike Pinterest, with Scoop.it you do not see a steady flow of scoops flowing across your page. Instead, you follow specific topics that others curate. So, a student could either use Scoop.it to create a collection of resources on a topic, or they could use Scoop.it to share resources throughout the course of a class or project. Teachers and fellow classmates can subscribe to these topic pages in order to stay abreast of new resources. Viewers can even suggest new resources easily and filter a page by individual tags.

For sharing, students can also link their social media accounts to Scoop.it, including Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and Tumblr. And, they can embed their topic pages right on their blog, if they’re using one for class. With a Pro account ($12.99/month), you can allow other users to add resources to a topic, but this seems awfully expensive for only one user. As of right now, Scoop.it does not have educational account options. That said, the free features are definitely sufficient for a classroom project.

Resources about using Scoop.it in the classroom
Become a “curator” with Scoop.it and create lovely online magazines
Educators curate content leveraging Scoop.it
Keep your content fresh with Scoop.it

Learnist (website) (bookmarklet)

Relatively new on the scene, Learnist is still in beta testing, and you need an invitation to use it. Like Pinterest, Learnist lets you create “boards” that you can organize in any way you like--here they’re called Learnboards. Also like Pinterest, you can grab the resources selected by people you follow. Pinterest calls this “re-pinning;” in Learnist, it’s “re-adding.” Learnist tells its users to “share what you know,” meaning that most people use it to gather resources on particular topics that they want to explore, either on their own or with others. Learnist calls these resources “learnings,” and they can be anything from videos to images to documents (the latter, which can be embedded, are a notable advantage over image-driven Pinterest).

With Learnist, you can follow users, specific tags, or individual boards. You may also add collaborators to any of your boards, or you can suggest learnings to others’ boards. Learnings are arranged in a chronological, visually-appealing way. You can, as a teacher or librarian, use these boards to share resources with others, or you can simply use your boards to organize your own collection. Using Learnist can be immersive; you start out looking at one topic and half an hour later, find yourself learning about something altogether different.

The Learnist bookmarklet offers a few more options than Scoop.it or Pinterest. When you click, you can select an image pulled from the page you’re adding or upload one; you can paste in a link to an image; or you can conduct a Google search right there in the bookmarklet window. Then you click “next,” and you can edit the title of the learning, write a description, and select the board to add to. When you’re finished, click on the name of the board you added to, and you can review what’s there.

Keep an eye on Learnist--librarians, early adopters as always, are loving it.

Resources about using Learni.st in the classroom
10 Ways to Use Learnist in the Classroom
Learnist: A Helpful Tool on the Way to Inquiry
A Social Studies Teacher Explains How She’s Using Learnist

Other bookmarklets

I haven’t used the following, but they also seem useful.

Press This (blog about content from any website on your Wordpress blog)
Storify (collect data from any webpage for your Storify story)
Tumblr (share content on your Tumblr)
Instapaper (save webpages to read later when offline)
Twitter (tweet any website, regardless of whether or not they offer a tweet button)

Resources about bookmarklets

Lifehacker’s bookmarklet category
Marklets (a huge collection of bookmarklets)

What’s an extension?

Extensions are programs that expand the capabilities of a program—for this post, that program is a web browser. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox both offer numerous extensions, Chrome through its Web Store and Firefox through its Add-ons marketplace. (Internet Explorer does offer some plugins and extensions, though not nearly as many as its two biggest competitors.) Extensions do more than perform a single function when you click a button; they change the experience of using the web altogether.

My favorite extensions

Diigo (website) (add-ons)

Though I now use Diigo less than I did before the advent of Pinterest, I still find it extremely useful for saving websites on the go, especially when they’re related to work. While PInterest’s focus on the visual makes it a perfect vehicle for storing stuff about decorating, shopping, and arts and crafts, Diigo is still the best way to collect research, in my opinion. I also find it an exceptional tool for student research, due in part to the ability to create groups, tag resources, and annotate websites.

All of this is possible through the Diigo extension. If you click on the “add-ons” link above, you’ll get to Diigo’s full collection of add-ons for various browsers and operating systems, including the iPad. My descriptions here refer only to the Chrome Web Highlighter. This powerful tool gives you multiple options for saving a webpage. First, you can turn your cursor into a highlighter (and even pick a color), which you can then use to select words and passages on the page.Second, you can bookmark the page. Here, you have several options. You can edit the URL and title, make the bookmark private, save it to read later, or cache it. You can write up a description and tag the link. Diigo lists the tags you last used, as well as makes tagging sugegstions based on the content of the site. Finally, you can add the link to a list and/or share it to a group. A list is a collection of links that you create--like tagging, it’s another way to organize your resources. Sharing to a group lets you publish the link in an existing group, or you can create one on the fly. Groups allow more than one person to add to and access the resources, and on Diigo.com, anyone in the group can comment on any of the links. Finally, the extension lets you add sticky notes to the page, which you can move around the page, make private, or share to a group.

What's great about annotations--the sticky notes and highlighting--is that as long as you are logged into Diigo, you can see them every time you visit that particular website. And, when you access your Diigo library, the annotations show up in the entry for the site. Finally, from either the Web Highlighter or from the Diigo library, you can share the link via Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, or email. And, Diigo gives you the chance to share the annotated link, complete with highlights and sticky notes, to anyone via a special URL.

Resources on using Diigo in the classroom
Student Learning with Diigo
Diigo Education Edition
Teaching Social Bookmarking with Diigo Education

Evernote Web Clipper (website) (Web Clipper)

Before I used Evernote’s Web Clipper, I was already a heavy Evernote user. I create to-do lists, take notes on meetings and at conferences, and use it to collect notes and musings for writing projects. The Web Clipper makes Evernote’s functionality increase tenfold. This tool allows you to clip images, text, or entire websites right into an Evernote notebook. If you use Evernote to collect information on specific tasks or topics, Web Clipper will prove extremely useful.

The Web Clipper lets you customize exactly what you want to save. Let’s start with text from a website. Highlight the text you want to clip, and then click on the Clipper button. A yellow border appears around the selection, with the rest of the website grayed out. You can edit the name of the clip, and then select the notebook you want to save it to, add tags, and add a comment. Then, you can either choose to save the entire article (this will change the parameters of the yellow border), the selection alone (this is the default selection if you’ve highlighted a portion of the page), the full page, or only the URL.  When you visit your Evernote notebook, you will see that the website has been saved just as it appears online (in other words, not just raw text). If you saved a selection, it again appears just as it does online.

When you have the Web Clipper installed, you can also clip images by right- or control-clicking on them. This opens up a menu that now includes “Evernote web clipper” and some options. You can clip the URL of the image or the image itself. You can also right-click on selected text to clip, an alternative to using Evernote button in your toolbar.

With Web Clipper installed, you can now create a true notebook of clippings, almost a scrapbook, that mixes your writing with images and text found online.

Resources on using Evernote in the classroom
Evernote for Schools
10 Tips for Teachers Using Evernote
Evernote for Education

EasyBib (website) (Chrome toolbar)

EasyBib is already a powerful, simple citation tool, but the Chrome toolbar, which is new, makes EasyBib, well, easier. Clicking on it when you are visiting a website will let you use almost all of EasyBib’s features through the extension alone. First, you can cite the source you’re viewing and select the bibliography that citation will be added to. A window opens up with the same fields that you see on the EasyBib website, populated where possible. Usually, you need only double-check the information and then click “create citation.” You can then keep researching or view the bibliography.

You can also see right away if EasyBib deems the site credible. By clicking on “learn more,” students can get a quick checklist that will help them determine the site’s credibility on their own.

“Search EasyBib” delivers search results enhanced through EasyBib’s Research feature with such information as whether the site is credible, how many times that source has been cited in EasyBib, and what type of source it is. Students can filter their results so that they’re only seeing general websites or academic results; they can also limit the source type, such as journals, chapters, or newspaper articles. If a student likes the look of a source, they can visit it and cite it right from the results page.

Resources for using EasyBib in the classroom
EasyBib Educators’ Portal
EasyBib: Mobile Research, Annotation, and Information Literacy
Easing their Citation Pain: Putting the Focus on Critical Thinking in Research with EasyBib

Bonus extention: Astrid

If you use Astrid, a fabulous productivity app and website, you can install their new Chrome extension, which allows you to add anything to a to-do list with the click of a button. In addition, I discovered that the extension also drops a “to-do” button into Twitter, so that you can add any tweet to a list, too.