January 30, 2007

Back to the future – Zenome recreates the collegial library on-line

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Inspired by the venerable card catalogues in libraries of yesteryear, Zsolt Szigetvari, a media studies teacher at Dawson College, has created a way to make browsing on the web less like a popularity contest. An experienced on-line teacher, he has taken the fruits of his experience with on-line courses and built a site called ‘Zenome’, which is an on-line directory that organizes material by communities of interest. An Interview by Norm Spatz.

For example, Zenome links students of urban design researching the topic of Paris to material on Notre Dame Cathedral and not to news about Paris Hilton. He calls his idea ‘a directory of communities’.

In such a community, like minded people, real people, work together to evaluate resources on the web that relate to a subject of common interest.

Zsolt is the editor of a topic called ‘Business Communication’. He uses the pseudonym of ‘Spike’. Students of his evening course at Concordia in business communication are members of that community and research web sites of interest to potentially recommend their inclusion. Unlisted entries are retained until the editor either approves them or removes them. The Zenome editor can also make his community livelier by creating a subject based threaded discussion forum or by including registration to an RSS feed among its resources. Resources, once approved, advance in the community by a formula based on frequency and duration of use.

Anyone can suggest a subdivision or related community within a community. According to Zsolt, this process of subdivision follows the same logic used by authors of textbooks to make chapters. As the work of each class builds upon its predecessors, listings become more complete. Time and use permit sites of quality to rise to the top of each related community. Students are now questioning the need to purchase a text when so much of the course material is on-line within the community.

Although it probably won’t make Zsolt and his partners Darren Redfern and John Connolly as rich as Bill Gates, Zenome does have a revenue flow through advertising. The site survives through its advertisers, yet it keeps them in their place. Many browsers deliberately indicate paid references poorly to blur the distinction between results and advertising. Advertising on Zenome is clearly indicated as such. Revenues permit the site to share revenues with its editors. Links to commercial sites such as Amazon can provide a real convenience to users. For example, a teacher can make the course textbook available for purchase directly online.

Zenome feels like a nice mix of humanism and technology, but how does it fit into your classroom? The site has a page full of suggestions that you can use linked here! Zenome creates a collaborative environment among its users. Students in a community are working on a common project of building a body of knowledge through links to sources relating to a common theme. They are required to read the information on sites that they are proposing and to summarize it for their partners in the community. Students then receive feedback from other members of the community as their suggestions rise or are rejected by other users or yet more drastically the editor. Students can also exchange information about their topic in the discussion forum. They also learn of new developments through the RSS feeds suggested by the editor.

A Zenome community is the fusion of tradition and technology. It is an innovative blend of many of the tools that were discussed in Alain Farmer’s article on web resources. The site is free to users and can be a dynamic yet structured addition to course content. It makes an interesting addition to a course text and can in some cases evolve into the course’s main resource.

To view an active community, under the category ‘business + work’ select ‘business communication’ – do this by going

Right click on your mouse to download an mp3 file and listen in to an interview between Zsolt and Norm Spatz of the animaweb team. download the Powerpoint and put it in the same folder (or on the desktop) as the mp3 file. Now open the Powerpoint presentation and start the diaporama. The soundtrack will automatically start on the second slide. What is fun about this presentation is that it is incorporated into a Powerpoint presentation. You must

Make sure that you have a cup of coffee (preferably in a Profweb mug) and pretend that you are sitting in the café with Zsolt and myself. Let me know what you think of the presentation below.

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