Instagrok – Education Search Engine+

Instagrok is a dedicated search engine for educational queries.

I have been reading about Instagrok on Ed Tech pages so I decided to check it out for myself. I was not very enthusiastic prior to my search because I was anticipating another run of the mill tailored search engine. After playing around with it for quite awhile, I came away very impressed.

Features:

Users type in their topic of interest in the search area and the site begins to “Grok”.

  • Search results come back in the form of a web.
  • Clicking on the sub-topics in the web will drill down to further sub-topics.
  •  On the sidebar several drop-down menus appear with related information. The menu items include: Key Facts, Websites, Videos, Images, Quizzes and Concepts.
  • Users can delete information in order to streamline the search.
  • Useful information can be pinned to a journal in order to collate ideas in one place.
  • Journals are not dedicated to a particular search. You can populate the journals with information from multiple searches.

Search Results:

The search results can be filtered by the required depth of information and by grade level through a scrolling bar at the top of the page. The default position is in the middle but you can move it to a more basic level by sliding to the chalkboard icon or find more advanced information by sliding it towards the Eisteinish cartoon.

Click below to view the Instagrok created brochure:

Instagrok Brochure

Optimism sucks! Be Hopeful.Be Fearless.

“Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tends to be based on the notion that there’s enough evidence out there to believe things are gonna be better, much more rational, deeply secular, whereas hope looks at the evidence and says, “It doesn’t look good at all. Doesn’t look good at all. Gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.” That’s hope. I’m a prisoner of hope, though. Gonna die a prisoner of hope.”
― Cornell West

Like Dr. West, I too am a prisoner of hope. I have a really hard time with optimism. It is too shallow and thin of a concept. The hopeful person acknowledges that there are problems in the world and does not hide from them. The hopeful person decides to fight the problems rather than pretending that they are not so bad. I see optimism as an empty smile or an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. Rather than rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty fixing a problem, the optimist takes a passive approach.

My biggest problem with optimism is that it leads to incrementalism. The change agenda is slow and plodding with a complete lack of bold action. As Dr. West says, hope is based on visions of new possibilities. The incrementalist approach brought on by optimism also leads to low expectations. The hopeful person sets audacious goals and fights hard to achieve them.

So what does this have to do with education?

I really believe that we must have high expectations for our system, our boards, our leaders and ourselves. If we want education to move into the 21st Century, then we have to be bold and fearless. We have to map out a real vision for progress and not just a piecemeal or retread plan packaged as a vision. The best way to craft such a vision is collaboratively. When we are supported, we are more confident. When we are engaged and involved, we are more passionate. If we want big change, we need a larger pool of ideas from which to draw. Take bold action to incorporate collaborative technology into our system.

The video in the header is from the Case Foundation started by Steve and Jean Case (early builders of AOL). The goal of the foundation is to spark innovation and collaboration around the world. The plan that they set out for collaboration and innovation is bold yet attainable. Please take their pledge seriously. Real change comes from a collective and hopeful vision.

Please click on their logo to view the Case Foundation site:

BE BOLD. BE HOPEFUL. BE FEARLESS. Remember, we are all in this together!

Put down your Haterade and stop judging!

Clay Shirky is an author and media expert out of New York University. He specializes in a subject near and dear to my heart, technology as a tool to create and empower networks. I am most intrigued by Shirky’s concept of “cognitive surplus”. Essentially, cognitive surplus is the free time that is afforded to people as a result of our modern society. We don’t have to spend all of our time finding ways to survive like our ancestors.

The 35+ age cohort spent the majority of their youthful free time watching T.V. The net generation has used their free time in a much more creative manner. We (as in adults and educators) are VERY quick to dismiss much of this work as nonsense. Be honest, how many times have you described a student’s time online as a waste of time?

Shirky uses the site lolcats as a cognitive surplus case study. This lovely site is a repository for funny cat pictures that have been digitally annotated or altered as seen here:

As silly as this picture may be, it is still a creative act. It was then shared with a larger audience helping to create community.  Creative acts like this are gateways to more productive and powerful online activities. Wikipedia represents one of those higher forms of collaborative action. Rather than spending countless hours viewing a one way medium like T.V, the digital youth are creating and curating content. They are creating audiences of their own, rather than being a Nielson statistic.

There is a powerful message here for teachers. We have to facilitate purposeful connections for our students and most importantly, we have to stop judging! Am I tempted to call lolcats a waste of time? Sure, but I really believe that any creative act is better than nothing. At least it is a starting point for something more.  The goal is not to criticize but to guide. The more authentic opportunities for collaboration that we provide for our students, the more Wikipedia type ventures we foster. If we don’t provide rich and collaborative digital activites, lolcats and the like will be the extent of our students digitally creative acts. So, repeat after me, “I solemnly swear to bite my tongue and no longer describe my students online time as a waste. I will provide rich collaborative opportunities to guide them towards more productive and powerful creative acts.” 

What the heck is Digital Literacy anyways?

One of my TCDSB colleagues tweeted an article from the NY Times this morning about the new digital gap. Rather than it being an issue of access to technology, it has now become an issue of use. Kids from homes on the lower-end of the socio-economic scale are spending more time using technology for games, social networking and video viewing. The implication is that kids on the higher end of the scale receive more supervision from parents when it comes to use of technology. The article mentioned the need for “digital literacy skills” to be taught in order to help combat this problem.

This got me thinking about what “digital literacy” really means. Is digital literacy a universal term? Are their cultural nuances? How is digital literacy best imparted to students? Like any good digital citizen would, I started searching for answers online. I went to Slideshare first because I love the concise nature of slideshows. The work of Doug Belshaw popped out at me immediately. Belshaw is an Englishman and Ph.D. who wrote his doctoral thesis on Digital Literacy. I have included his TEDx Warwickshire talk about digital literacy and the slideshow that accompanied his talk. I have also included another presentation of his about digital literacy that can stand on its own. The TEDx slides only make sense within the context of the talk.

I would be interested in seeing people’s viewpoints and personal definitions of digital literacy and also best practice in regards to teaching to our students.

TEDx SLIDES:

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies Presentation:

Video – Tools for the 21st Century Educator

I was playing around with Animoto this morning, making videos of my kids. I thought that I would make one highlighting 21st Century Education resources. PLEASE enjoy and share as often as possible.

Social Media & Authenticity: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

As I inch closer to my new role in school administration, issues like culture and collaboration occupy a prominent spot in my mind. These are issues that are best approached with a design mentality.  The more integrated the approach, the greater the likelihood of successful implementation. Many initiatives that are rolled out by school boards and local schools are done in a piecemeal fashion. A paint by numbers approach may include all the correct elements but it lacks the impact of the real thing.

Companies that can truly call themselves “social organizations” approach culture and collaboration from a true design perspective and the impact is stunning. Starbucks makes use of social media not just to promote products but to craft an experience. The phone app makes life easier for the customer, a rewards program encourages frequent usage and “My Starbucks Idea” allows consumer to become co-creator. The level of integration makes the customer feel like a partner and the experience becomes truly organic. A complicated process becomes simplified and elegant.

Too often we decry the lack of parental involvement in schools and chalk it up to parental indifference. This mentality would never fly in the private sector. When Starbucks started to lose its way, it lost customers. Coupled with the “Great Recession of 2008”, a juggernaut really stumbled. Howard Schultz did not throw up his arms and blame the customers for not buying his product. He rolled up his sleeves, got back in the game and got busy reengaging his base.Does the education system treat parents and students as co-creators or passive consumers? Profits are a great motivation for change but moral imperative is even more powerful.

School boards should strive to become social organizations. Social media gets a bad rap sometimes from an organizational perspective because it is regarded as primarily a marketing tool. As it stands right now, most boards are guilty of using social media as a marketing tool. Plans are created within the hierarchy and then shared with the stakeholders as done deal via some social media platform. This is reductionism at its best. A powerful tool is stripped of its power and simply becomes a more expedient newsletter. The goal should be co-creation and consultation during the development phase, not simply notification of a completed product.

Fast Company’s Co.Exist recently published an article about how three old school, non-profits have used social media to great effect. Goodwill, The United Way and Red Cross are hardly sexy brands but they are creating a big social media footprint. The strategy was to connect with the support base from a new perspective. Rather than simply soliciting donations , these companies are creating partnerships with potential donors. A community is being developed that can be a source of support in both the short and long term. They have created an affinity for their organization and people are much more willing to lend a hand. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why school boards cannot do the same. People want to feel valued. A recent poll showed that people would be willing to take less pay for a job that made them feel valuable. Parents will make sacrifices if they feel valued. Volunteers teas and the like are wonderful but they do not create a sense of value. Real affinity comes from participation.

Below is a great infographic from Craig Newmark (Craig’s List Founder) showing the use of social media by public organizations.

Trends in Technology 2012

I found this presentation on my new favourite site – Slideshare. The slideshow was created by frog production, the home of Mr. Disruptive Innovation himself, Luke Williams.

Three of the trends could potentially have a huge impact on education:

  • Taking Computers out of Computing: The introduction of Siri-like voice commands and Kinect type motion interfaces will make technology that much more available to our students of all needs and the teachers who doubt their tech abilities.
  • Reign in the Cloud: As information moves towards the cloud, the more universally accessible it becomes. Information becomes seamlessly integrated into our lives. This will also change the way that we view technology in schools. Devices will serve one purpose – to get on the web. Ram will be the important metric and not hard drive space. Schools can invest much more in mobile tech or allow students to use their own.
  • Remote Collaboration: Working with people from around the world is becoming easier by the day. Skype and other digital platforms stretch the limits of what we used to believe possible in regards to collaboration. Our students can now work with students in almost every corner of the world and learn together.

The Evolution of Education Tools

Interesting infographic found on Pinterest displaying the growth of education tools over the years.

Education Collaboration II – Connecting Ideas

I was really happy to see the response to the Education Collaboration post from yesterday. The goal is to continue these posts and solicit suggestions for bringing educators and their ideas together to foster student success.

Before we discuss tech platforms for collaboration, the genesis of ideas should be examined. One of the foremost experts in this field is Steven Johnson, who funnily enough penned the book, “Where good ideas come from”. An RSA summary narrated by Johnson himself can be found in the header of this post. Johnson points out that many great ideas develop slowly and manifest themselves more as a hunch in one’s mind. Often these hunches are pieces of a bigger puzzle that only really take off once they are combined with the hunches of another. A good example would be Jobs and Wozniak – each held a piece of the Apple puzzle.

Johnson points out that the coffee houses of the enlightenment were so important because they brought great thinkers together under the same roof, helping to connect hunches to form great ideas. What platforms will serve to connect people for an educational enlightenment? Statistics show that face to face collaboration is the most effective, but how often do we have face time at school?

The ideas that will move education in the desired direction will come from the connected hunches and intuitions of teachers dispersed around the world. How do we connect them? There are so many social media platforms that will facilitate the connections but how do we stoke the flames to get people interested in mass collaboration?

Share here or at:

#educationcrowdsource

I found an interesting article on Edutopia about a group of teachers leading such a collaboration movement under the name “The Educator’s Village”. It is a very good read and it provides you an opportunity to collaborate immediately via a Google Form. Click on the picture to read the article.


Goalbook – Digital IEP Tool

Goalbook Beta Overview from Daniel Yoo on Vimeo.

As schools move toward a full inclusion model for special education, communication regarding students becomes even more important. A student with an IEP may work with several teachers during any given day which can make the tracking of modifications and accommodations difficult. GOALBOOK is a collaborative digital tool that allows teachers to track the progress of special education students based on the specifics of their IEP’s.

To create an account, use your board assigned email address(e.g – xxxxx.xxxxx@tcdsb.org). Once you have created an account, you can add your school and anyone with the same board assigned email stem can join as well. You can add your students and the particulars of their IEP to your own class and add the other teachers that work with that student. They will have access to that student’s progress and will be able to make updates as well. Student progress is tracked graphically and anecdotally. Privacy is protected because only invited teachers will have access to a particular student profile.

The potential for this digital tool is incredible. The more available that any resource is to a user, the more likely that he or she will be willing to use it. Likewise, the easier it becomes to track and coordinate the progress of a student, the more likely that a collaborative model will be used to support the needs of that student.

Socrative

Socrative is a free digital tool that allows you to interact with your students in a variety of ways. It can be used to test students, to poll an audience, the carry on back-channel conversations as well as an effective way for students to provide exit cards after a class. The app is completely free and works on any device with an internet connection.

As we move towards B.Y.O.D (Bring Your Own Device), tools of this type will become even more valuable. The potential for organizing data and promoting a paperless environment is intriguing. I have played around with Socrative and I have found it really intuitive and easy to use. You can find a full review on Edshelf.

Socrative introduction video (new) from Socrative Inc. on Vimeo.

Crowdsourcing a Solution

UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has established 6 goals to ensure access to education for all citizens of the world. Click on the banner to see the goals:

 

The mission is to achieve these goals by 2015. This deadline will be impossible to meet without a new and more radical course of action. Rather than relying on big money consulting groups and think-tanks, UNESCO has partnered with NOKIA and several other groups to crowdsource the cure. Individuals from around the world are invited to share their ideas for using mobile technology to provide educational opportunities for those in the most remote areas of developing countries.  You can share an idea at: www.ideasproject.com/efa.

This idea can be easily applied to a North American context as well.  There is tremendous insight and collective knowledge in the ranks of each and every school board.  This knowledge just needs to be connected and networked. The power of crowdsourcing lies in the fact that no one individual needs to have the whole answer, each member of the community adds a piece to the puzzle. We have the technology to easily operationalize the age old proverb, “Many hands make light work.” We have to shift away from viewing schools and the individuals within them as isolated entities. Networking with colleagues should not occur at some workshop once or twice a year in a situation that has no context.

Imagine relying on fellow educators to help solve problems rather than have an outside “solution” applied to particular problem.  We can put an end to  “square peg and round hole” answers to localized problems. Tapping into resources like NING, Google+, Google Groups, Facebook, Edmodo, Salesforce Chatter, etc. could easily network schools.

The greatest resource that we have in education is each other.

Crafting Social Media Guidelines for your School

Social media represents the best and the worst of this digital generation. It can create strong collaborative cultures that serve to flatten traditionally hierarchies or it can become a marketing tool for businesses to shill their products.

In her book, “Get Bold”, Sandy Carter (IBM Vice President of Social Business) brings us the concept of a social business. Social business differs from social media in terms of the level of integration into the heart of the business. Social business should be a way of life that promotes openness within an organization and with its customers. We can adapt her concept of a social business to that of social organization in an educational concept. All schools must make use of the best aspects of social media to create an open environment that connects all stakeholders together to promote student success.

The darkside of social media means that schools must have a carefully crafted policy for social media integration. Steven Anderson, prolific blogger from “Blogging about the Web 2.0 Classroom” put together a comprehensive set of guidelines complete with resources to help both schools and boards create guidelines of their own. I have embedded this document into the image below:

eBook Usage Infographic

Our friends from Online Universities Blog have brought us another amazing infographic. There are several interesting statistics to be found but the most striking one is that 88% of ebook users still read printed books. Hopefully this will quiet the “chicken-littles” who bemoan the death of the printed word. The relationship be ebooks and printed books is not a zero sum game…BOTH CAN SURVIVE and THRIVE!

E-book Nation
Brought to you by: OnlineUniversities.com

Sparking Global Student Collaboration

The Oracle ThinkQuest design challenge offers students 9 – 19 the chance to create a website based on their particular educational interest. The competition is unique because once the students form teams, they seek out their own coach to support their development. This is a real testament to the power of flattening the educational hierarchy. Coaches are there in a support and guidance role rather than to direct the process. Teams are made up of 3 to 6 students with NO restrictions on location. The team highlighted in the video was comprised of students from several continents.

You can visit the ThinkQuest page by clicking on the picture:

Imagine local school boards adopting a similar competition or attitude towards collaboration. Taking advantage of the collaborative technology available to our schools could easily make this possible. Using project-based learning in a networked context would have tremendous upside for both staff and students. Embedding 21st century fluencies into daily practice does not have to be directed from up above. Facilitating opportunities for mass collaboration is much more effective and sustainable because it is student directed.

Sandra Mustacato and Mike Papadimitriou from the TCDSB AICT team delivered a powerful  Prezi at the Area 1 Innovator’s Day at Msgr. Percy Johnson (organized by VP Marcello Mancuso and Area 1 S.O Loretta Notten) where they displayed the power of Skype to facilitate such collaborative student learning possibilities. Follow this link to view this fantastic Prezi:

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Drag On Tape

As the concept of “Flipped Classrooms” continues to take root, teachers must find ways to more effectively use video. Frustration sets in when only 2 minutes of a 15 minute video is relevant to your lesson. We end up saddling our students with 3 or 4 full length videos just to get the appropriate content across. Drag on Tape allows you to edit YouTube videos and grab the clips that you want and splice them together. You can use the native YouTube search to find videos or cut and paste a URL. The main feature of Drag on Tape is the ability put YouTube videos together to create a mixtape of content. Instead of overwhelming them with excess, we can engage our students even further by targeting video content to meet specific needs.

Click on the picture to take you to the site:

Iconbug.com

There was a lot of interest in the “Icon Archive” post from yesterday. I found another image and icon site that might have even more potential for educators. Icon Bug provides free images for download in a variety of formats. All images are licensed and like Icon Archive, the type of license is given for each image. The big advantage for Icon Bug is the ability to download single images. On Icon Archive, you end up downloading collections. The site design is also much cleaner without the shady looking advertising.

Click on the logo to have a look:

Icon Archive

As we teach our students to become digitally responsible, it becomes a struggle to find images that are usable under copyright law. I came across this amazing site on Twitter yesterday that will help to solve this problem. Icon Archive is an icon and image resource bank. All downloads are free and have creative commons licenses. The extent of each license is listed with the image. The quality of the images is really quite amazing.

www.iconarchive.com

The pictures below are examples of the quality that you can expect to find:

Lessons from Abroad – Singapore

Edutopia in conjunction with the OECD created a series of videos highlighting the education reform movements of several countries. I will post each of the videos along with a brief summary. I found these videos to be EXTREMELY helpful. Finland has been getting most of the accolades when it comes progressive systems but Singapore deserves some love as well.

This snapshot of education in Singapore was enlightening on many levels but three things really stood out for me:

1) The focus on Student Engagement. The school leaders explicitly stated that “fun” was a priority.


2) There was an acknowledgement that technology was core to the being of the students. Rather than view it as a distraction, the teachers and administrators found ways to integrate into the curriculum.


3) Professional Development as a networked activity was HEAVILY emphasized. Technology allowed these teachers to create learning communities that extended FAR beyond the walls of the school.

NEXT UP…FINLAND

From the mouthes of babes…

As educators, we spend a lot of time dissecting the gigantic topic of “Student Engagement”. I wonder how often, we truly entertain student perspectives when we unpack this hugely important topic. Edutopia.org has been exploring Student Engagement from a variety of angles. The most powerful article came from Heather Wolpert-Gawron of www.tweenteacher.com. She surveyed 220 students regarding what motivates them to learn and stay engaged at school. She turned the student responses into a top ten list for teachers.  Not surprisingly, the top two responses were 1) working with peers and 2) working with technology. These responses underline the fact that we must adapt traditional schooling practices or risk being perceived as irrelevant in the eyes of our students.

Click the Edutopia logo to read the full article: