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Teaching Government Information with Web2.0

During this past spring, I had the pleasure to teach a Government Information Sources course at San Jose State University.  The course was taught solely online via BlackBoard, which is a great tool for many basic class maintenance tasks, such as grading and posting assignments, however because it is proprietary, BlackBoard creates a silo of course data that doesn’t readily support open and participatory modes of communication that are associated with Web2.0.  Subsequently, I decided to use BlackBoard for the basic functions (grading & assignments) and use Web 2.0 tools to support course interaction, communication, and content creation.  What follows is a review of the tools I used in the course and how the class used them. I’ve also included the links to the resources.

Social Bookmarking

Connotea is an excellent tagging tool because it does some things other social bookmarking tools don’t. First, it supports SFX & openurls, which means it integrates with your library’s link resolver.  It also has a group feature that allows collecting, browsing and viewing multiple users’ library of tagged bookmarks at once.  Lastly, each user or group can create a wiki (called a ‘community page’) that is attached to the user or group’s  bookmarks.   Other major social bookmarking tools don’t have these features and, collectively, they are definitely a big sell for someone teaching a course.

In class, I used the Connotea wiki extensively as the class syllabus and weekly course notes.  I also tagged course materials with a unique week tag ( e.g. libr221-wk1) so students could filter on each week’s materials easily. Additionally, as part of a class assignment, each student was required to bookmark and annotate a number of government information resources based on certain criteria.  Since Connotea provides a RSS feed for each account, a feed for each student could be set up in  my Google Reader account, so I could easily monitor (and grade) their tagging.

  • Connotea: http://www.connotea.org/
  • Course Group on Connotea (libr221): http://www.connotea.org/group/libr221
  • Course wiki on Connotea: http://www.connotea.org/wiki/Group:libr221


MapBuilder is a cool mapping too that uses both Google & Yahoo maps APIs. Users can create and share a map, add locations to the map, and annotate those locations with textual descriptions or images.  As part of the first assignment, students were asked to map their location along with their local FDLP libraries.  Google maps now offers a similar product called ‘My maps’, which offers many of the same features. 

  • MapBuilder: http://www.mapbuilder.net/ 
  • Google Maps: http://maps.google.com/ (Google MyMaps now offers most of the functionality of MapBuilder minus the collaborative piece.)


I created a course introduction with a very inexpensive webcam and added it to my YouTube account. Additionally, I used Camtasia to create screen casts of government information resources or lectures and shared these with the class by uploading them to my web site.  I found this to be a very easy and effective means of one-way communication with the class.

For augmenting existing course material or for finding interesting ‘retro’ education resources, the Prelinger Archive, a public domain collection of over 60,000 ephemera videos (government & corporate PSA from the 50s, etc.), is a great teaching resource. I tried to select material that corresponded with the class topic, but sometimes chose material for just levity value. For a sampling of the
titles I used in the course, check out  The Powers of CongressJapanese Relocation, and  Meet Your Federal Government.  When time permitted, I would actually download the videos from the Internet Archive and then upload them back into YouTube. The benefit of getting it in YouTube was to take advantage of their superior video compression and the provided code that nicely embeds the videos in a course web page.

  • My YouTube account: http://www.youtube.com/user/jt14den
  • Prelinger Archive: http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger

Google Apps

Google Groups, a mail list service, provides a nice web interface and archive to the basic listserv. I created a google group for the class primarily because the email and discussion features in BlackBoard have big usability issues. A nice added feature in Google Groups is that it allows you to add web pages to the group, which is great for adding course information or a syllabus.

Google Documents and Spreadsheets is a browser based productivity suite that also allows for document sharing and collaboration.  In the course, we used this site primarily for the final class paper.  I let students submit their papers in whatever format they wanted (all students chose Word). I then uploaded, graded and shared my comments with them in Google Docs.  This allowed me to provide in-line comments and feed back on their papers in a convenient way. 

  • Google Groups: http://groups.google.com/
  • Google Documents & Spreadsheets: http://docs.google.com

Feed Aggregator

I used Planet Venus  to aggregate multiple blogs or feeds into one interface. In our class instance of Planet Venus — called GovInfo Planet — we pulled in other govinfo blogs (FGI, DocuTicker, etc.) and related news along with our own course blog entries and Connotea lagging.  This is a nice approach if you want to aggregate a number of information sources for a course. It also supports filters.

  • Planet Venus: http://intertwingly.net/code/venus/ (requires server
  • GovInfo Planet: http://www.romanuslonginus.com/venus/govinfo/


Meebo is a popular free web-based multi-protocol chat service. It also provides nice chat widgets that can be embedded into a web page.  for the course, I embedded a meebome chat widget into the SJSU faculty page and on the course syllabus page in BlackBoard.  This allows access for those students who don’t have an IM account on one of the services.

  • Meebo: http://wwwl.meebo.com/
  • Info on meebome chat widget: http://www.meebome.com/learnmore.html

Easy Forms and Polls

Wufoo makes it very easy to produce and distribute webforms. I used it to poll the class a several times during the semester. It is very convenient since you can embed the form in a web page (or blog entry) and have the results pop into Wufoo.

  • Wufoo: http://wufoo.com/

Social Software

Fantasy Congress takes the very popular Fantasy Football game and applies it to politics.  Users can select teams of members of congress and join a ‘league’.  The application also allows users to trade members.  In my course, I required students to select a team and join the course league. The great aspect of this application is that it pulls in information on current legislation.  Users can rate bills and explore educational information about how Congress works.  However, this application didn’t really take off with the class (or the teacher).  I think it is because there is a big difference between trying to assess and select the ‘best athlete” from selecting politicians.  For one, I bet most people know their representatives and a few big names, but beyond that most members of congress are unknown.  Secondly, there is a bit of a cringe factor applying the sports analogy to politics.  Maybe it comes
too close to the truth about perceived cynical aspects of politics. 

  • Fantasy Congress: http://www.fantasycongress.com/

Tim Dennis

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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