Why we need more visual texts in our teaching and learning

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Found this fantastic infographic touting the success of infographics. Reading it ( or more correctly, viewing it) immediately focused my thoughts on the use of visual texts in classrooms today. Click on the screenshot above to view the animated, interactive info graphic that presents  13 reasons why we should use infographics ( or visual texts in general). Unlike other infographics I link to on Mr G Online, I’m not going to discuss the specific points presented – that would be contradictory to the message of the infographic. I’ll let you get your own meaning from it. However, I am going to reflect on how it made me consider the use of visual texts in education.

If we take at face value the research this infographic is based on, human beings are, at heart, visual learners. Our first written languages were image based (hieroglyphics). Our first recorded historical artefacts are cave paintings. Before the Bible was printed, the story of Christianity was predominantly told through Church Art. Museums are based on our desire to see artefacts firsthand.

I in no way want to devalue the importance of reading. Making connections with the printed word promotes creativity and imagination as we strive to interpret the  detailed writings of an author. Words allow us to add our own meaning to written texts rather than have an artist’s or film maker’s interpretation forced upon us. Reading is vital for learning and engaging with the world.

Having said that, though, Literacy Education has been dominated by the written word, and to a lesser extent, spoken word in the form schooling has taken over the 100-200 years of formal education as we know it. In recent curriculum documents we have seen viewing make its long awaited debut, but it still seems to be a poor relation compared to the other strands of Literacy. Improvements are being made, but as teachers do we fall back to written and spoken texts because its easier for us?

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.57 AMIf our brains are visually wired, then it makes sense that we visually present information, instructions, new learning, methods. If half our brain capacity is involved in visual processing but we present our lessons verbally or in written text form, how much are we getting through to our students? If 70% of our sensory receptors are in our eyes, then why do we persist in TALKING so much as teachers? How much more learning could take place if we had much less word based instruction (written or oral) and much more Visual instruction, considering we can make sense of a visual scene (0.01 sec)  so much more quickly than a spoken or written scene.

I’m not saying teachers don’t use visuals – I’m saying we need to A LOT more.

 

 

 

  • In Mathematics we take away the visual representations far too early in our quest to rush in Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.25 AMthe algorithm and written methods. Singapore’s visual pedagogy in Maths Education is an example of how it should be done.
  • Textbooks include plenty of visuals but are still dominated by the written text in putting forward the primary content. The visuals seem to be add ons. It should be the other way around. Start with the visuals as the primary content and support it with accompanying text.
  • How often do we complain that our students don’t follow instructions? Or that they don’t remember anything we taught them? How often are these instructions 10 minute monologues based on fifteen points teachers think are important to get across but in reality have no hope in getting across to overloaded children’s memories? Is ‘teaching’ verbally for 10 minutes resulting in students ‘learning’? Yes it takes more time to create and then present a visual alternative but do we waste even more time repeating lessons or instructions that would have been delivered more effectively with visual elements.
  • In our quest for improved standardised test scores, we cram more literacy lessons based on written texts at the expense of the Visual Arts. We spend countless hours teaching children to comprehend worded Maths problems but ignore how much visual representation of number concepts can improve their problem solving techniques.
  • “Flipping the classroom” has its pros and cons. Like any pedagogy it can be done well and poorly. But if at its heart is the ability to provide relevant, purposeful visual resources that can provide  a learner with extra support outside and within the classroom environment, we can’t be doing a bad thing.

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The world of our students IS overloaded with information. The expectations of our curricula are overloaded with information. How we present that information then is important. If it is primarily written and verbal we may well be banging our and our students’ heads against the proverbial brick wall if, despite the best of intentions, that information is not filtering through the brain’s barriers to processing and retention of information. We owe it to ourselves and our students to dig deeper into the theories and statistics highlighted/implied in this infographic to ensure we are giving everyone the best chance to learn. What do you think?

Using “secondary/tertiary sources” (yeah Wikipedia!) to improve your research

My last post highlighted my recent use of a web tool, Meograph, in creating a history resource about Australia’s history for my 5/6 team at school. While my previous blog entry centred on my presentation of the topic, today’s post is more concerned with how I collected the information contained within my Meograph.

Wikipedia can often get a bum rap from many in the education community. Sometimes, it’s for good reason, as it can be a VERY overused information source by students AND adults alike. I wrote a post in defense of Wikipedia back in March 2012 so I won’t go into battle for it again. Today I want to reflect on its benefits as a starting reference or secondary (maybe tertiary) source to start of your research, based on how I used it to research my History resource.

When I undertook the task of creating my Australian History Meograph, I had no qualms about heading straight to Wikipedia as a starting point. I searched Australian HIstory timeline and sure enough, I found the Timeline of Australian History Page as well as, with the help of Google (the lazy student/researcher’s other ‘great friend’) various other timelines of varying quality, accuracy,reliability and depth.

Now I could have just copied and pasted dates from the Wikipedia article, added some pictures and I would have had my Meograph finished in a day, ready to be used as a quick reference for a group of 10-12 year olds to access at the start of a History unit. How much do we want kids of this age to read about anyway? That, of course would have been unprofessional and a waste of an opportunity to follow a process I hope to instil in students ( and hopefully, teachers) I work with this year and beyond. ( in no way am I suggesting I have started a revolution in researching here but particularly for students in pre-university, it’s a process that needs to be modelled and taught better than it has been in the past.)

The Wikipedia timeline became my starting point for every moment that I added to my Meograph. It was a comprehensive, wide ranging collection of events in the history of my country, many even this old “font of useless knowledge” ( one of my official nicknames!) wasn’t aware of. However, it was just a collection of facts, which students might think is enough, but it isn’t. What I want my students to come to terms with this year is that bibliography filled with Wikipedia, Answers.com and Google Search results  links is not a bibliography, nor is it evidence of any sort of research .

Instead, each event on the Wikipedia timeline became the beginning of the real research as I sought out first of all verification on the actual date ( some were wrong –  but then some were wrong on some official Australian government sites too!), a collection of sites to corroborate the facts on the event ( while I was only able to reference one link on the Meograph, I fact checked every event with several references) and whenever it was possible, actual primary sources that proved the event beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now, of course, I could have done this without Wikipedia but I believe starting with the much maligned site had several benefits that will transfer over to the students’ use.

  1. Where do I begin? The biggest problem I have found with student research in the past ( apart from them just using Wikipedia and the first page of Google search results) is the difficulty they have getting started with a Google Search. Despite years of workshops on “How to use Google Search more effectively”, the problem still comes down to what do they actually type into the search engine. I’m of the belief that starting with a Wikipedia article sharpens the focus of a student’s research. This is because a wikipedia author has already pooled many of the basic facts a student needs into the entry, meaning the student has most of what he needs to research in front of him.
  2. Key Word search – From there, the student can better put together the required key words and phrases to make his search on Google much more productive. I’ll admit that I found better results using the basic points found in the timelines I used rather than thinking of what to search for with such a broad topic.
  3. Secondary source drives me to primary source – Because I knew I was starting from a secondary/tertiary source like Wikipedia or one of the other timeline sites I found, I was more focused in finding evidence from more specific sources. Starting from the secondary meant I had the basic idea I needed to complete my timeline event; what I needed was the primary source to verify the facts. I didn’t just do this with Wikipedia articles I browsed to; I did it to every site I went to, be it an official government or university linked-history site or a left or right leaning history site like Convict Creations or Creative Spirits. Having some specific details to work with though made it easier to search for evidence. As a result. I came across some fantastic primary source sites for Australian history like Trove, a digital archive of historical newspapers from as far back as the first published newspapers in Australia; Founding Docs, a site that had scanned copies and explanations of all the bills and laws debated and passed leading to our Federation and future governments; the National Archives, which had a range of photos, videos, paintings and documents related to historical events.
  4. Effective time management for checking sources - Having the secondary source, in my case the various timelines ( I eventually left Wikipedia and and moved onto the Museum of Australian Democracy site’s more specific Federation timeline) as the reference point for all of my research, i used my time more effectively. I could go straight to a specific search for an event each time, rather than randomly searching for major historical events. This allowed me more time to check the validity of the websites I used, going to the About us sections that outlined who the authors were. I found out the Creative Spirits site was not run by Indigenous Australians at all, but a German/Australian with a big interest in their culture, who spent time sourcing info and getting approval from those whose history and culture he was depicting. Reading the introduction, I found out that Convict Creations was compiled by someone with a “fair and balanced” conservative leaning who spent time looking for alternative interpretations from the accepted left leaning history that is commonly accepted. The time I had thanks to using secondary sources as starting points allowed me to find a range of sources with different points of view that I can use with students instead of what I personally consider to be narrow views in official texts and resources from Education Departments.

 

Level 6 History Skills Descriptors

I want to be able to use this experience as a model for the students this year. In fact, I want to be able to lead them through this very process, not as a one off workshop presentation which just leaves them with a list of instructions they won’t follow effectively, but as a shared research experience. We have the technology for large groups to collaborate on research, starting from a secondary source like Wikipedia ( or alternatives) and sourcing references for various facts within the  events. The technology that allows direct hyperlinking to references is also an effective way to check on the type of sources they are using as well. This would be a better way to develop the research skills that our History curriculum in Australia expects, particularly the Historical skills.

As adults, we are expected t0 have advanced research skills. Students, on the other hand, are a long way off. We need to guide them to be better researchers. I think a good way ot start is to allow them to access secondary sources as a starting point to find the real evidence. What do you do when teaching research? I would like to know what others are doing. Join the conversation.

The future of Learning ( a great post on Teachthought.com)

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I’m sharing a great resource here today that looks a must read ( or view actually ) for schools (and education and government bodies) who are serious about being involved in the Education revolution that is being trumpeted so much. In a post titled “What 100 experts think about the Future of Learning” the staff of TeachThought.com have collated 100 links to online videos featuring lectures, panel discussions, talks and seminars from TED, RSA and the USA’s major universities, categorized under the following topics (number of video links in brackets):

General (5) – learn about making technology work in education
Sharing Education (18) – explore the idea of open, shared education
Creativity & Innovation (18) – how you can foster innovation and the creative spirit
Internet & New Media (11) – how the Internet and new media has an impact on teaching and learning
Leadership (4) – how to better foster leadership
Educational Technology (18) – explores technology made for education
Brain & Psychology (8) – study how the brain works in learning
Technology Education (10) – about the state of technology education
Teaching Methods (12) – innovative teaching methods
Institution (2) – how technology impacts the institution of education.

From reading the summaries, you’ll be able to pick and choose what is relevant for your educational
setting ( from primary/elementary through to higher learning). Yes,there are talks we have seen before ( who has not seen Ken Robinson’s TEDtalk?) but the way TeachThought has grouped them makes it easy to find something for your own reflection on education or to use at your next related staff meeting or PLT.

I’ve put it on my blog instead of my usual Scoop-it or Diigo page so I can access it quickly and remember it through a Future of Learning tag rather than trawling through pages and pages of bookmarks. Hope you find something that can inspire you and your school in your revolution.

Who should we consult about technology in our schools?

Thanks to edtech times for this infographic
From their website:

Nonprofit Project Tomorrow aims to make student voices heard in education. Speak Up, an initiative of Project Tomorrow, surveyed 294,399 students, 35,525 teachers, 42,267 parents, and others in fall 2010 to determine the benefits of certain types and uses of technology for teaching and learning. The results are depicted in the infographic below.

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I think we can learn a lot from the results of this very extensive survey. On reflection, I wonder why we do things so differently to the rest of our society. Politicians, businesses, the entertainment industry, sports organisations spend up big on researching the stakeholders in their product or idea or policy. Education departments and schools too often make the mistake of deciding what is best without asking the real stakeholders in our system what their opinions are, often to the detriment of what follows.

What I really appreciate about this survey is that it focuses on ALL THREE ( I’m not including the bureaucratic side ) interested parties in education – Students, Parents and Teachers. While I haven’t seen the actual survey, this infographic suggests that in-depth questioning took place and the results encourage a lot of thinking about how we should go forward in planning for technology in schools. It also raises questions about what we as educators consider important as opposed to the parents and students think. Finally, it would also be interesting to conduct this same survey two years on in 2012, when the use of technology has accelerated so much, to see if there has been significant change in perceptions.

Student Responses
I found it interesting that the factors that scored highest involved independent activity. Students find tech beneficial in organizing their times, managing their own learning and working at their own pace. With the push towards student centered learning, this shows technology can contribute to the success of this learning strategy in the eyes of those that count – the students. It’s also an eye opener that well less than half of the students surveyed find tech as motivating or the key to easy success. This is a cautionary tale for those tech advocates ( me included ) who think that iPads, 1:1 programs and web tools are the answer to all engagement and learning problems. We need to balance our thirst for tech spending with reflection on multiple intelligences and learning styles research that stresses students have different preferences. Technology is not necessarily the answer for all students.

Another observation that comes to mind is that we have work to do on some of the skills we want to ingrain in the learning behaviors of our students. Collaboration and asking questions are important but the survey suggests our students are not necessarily using tech effectively for that, despite all the great collaborative, sharing, networking tools at our disposal. It brings home the point that its not enough to introduce Edmodo, Diigo, blogging and the like to the students and expect it to just happen. We have to work hard to show them how it will improve their learning. Obviously, we also need to do the same for teachers, parents and leadership as well.

Parents responses
I was particularly interested in this section of the infographic. Parents are often the last people we consult when we make decisions. They are often the first we get concerned about though when they start to question our decisions or pedagogies. Maybe we should communicate more with them and find out what they want. Then we can address the issues they raise and educate them in what we believe from our training and experience is best for their children.

What interested me most from the survey results in the infographic was the motivation behind the parent responses to what can help them assist their children in their learning. They want access to curriculum materials so they can support their kids. How often have we heard ” I can’t help my son because you do it differently to when I was at school.”? Technology today gives us the perfect tool for sharing what we do in school with the parents. Blogs, social networking sites, video lessons ( only 22% in this survey – before the flipping classroom boom – but it would be interesting to find out what the interest would be now ), online newsletters are practical ways to communicate how we teach the students in a contemporary classroom.

It’s encouraging to see such large percentages of parents wanting regular updates and viewing of children’s work. They don’t want to wait for reports or interviews or portfolios to come home at the end of term. They want technology to provide them access. This is a huge challenge for us as schools as we are not used to parents seeing the students work before its “ready”. There needs to be a shift in thinking about what this access to students work will entail. Parent and teacher education ( and students too) will be needed so there isn’t a misunderstanding of the difference between work in progress and published work. Technology has the potential to allow for real partnerships between all the stakeholders in a child’s education. From this survey parents want to be a part of it. We just need to make sure we get the balance right in the partnership.

Another fascinating tidbit from the infographic was the response to purchasing tech for students to use at school. Without knowing the demographics of the survey, it’s enlightening to see such a large percentage of parents willing to buy mobile devices for their children to use AT SCHOOL. It raises the weighty issue of BYOD ( bring your own device ) programs in schools. To me, this suggests there needs to be serious discussion between school and parents about the prospects rather than just dismissing the idea. Of course, just because parents might think it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it is. Many parents aren’t necessarily in control of the tech use of their children and don’t understand the pitfalls of such a program. Again, it means Parent Education in responsible digital citizenship, their responsibilities and how they can support their children will be needed but if they are prepared to make the commitment the discussion needs to be had.

Teacher/Student responses
Some telling observations can be made from the results in this part of the infographic.
First, it is apparent that digital literacy is not clear to either teacher or students in some cases, particularly in analyzing, interpreting and detecting bias in media stories. It suggests we need to have a conversation about new Literacies with our teachers and why technology has an important role to play in this.

Not surprisingly, students don’t place importance on checking their sources. This is a big part of digital literacy – the more children are using the Internet for both research and presenting their findings in a public forum, the more we have to change their behavior. They are exposed to so much info in such easily accessible and unchecked ways, we have to place importance on convincing them this is important. We think of them as ‘digital natives’ but they’re still not skilled in the nuances of its use. We have to consult teachers, parents and the students themselves in this area.

One final observation here is the low percentage for producing digital media reports from both teachers and students. Again, a lot has changed in the last two years since this survey in the proliferation of web tools in schools. Nevertheless, less than one in three teachers and only 40% of students thinking digital publishing is important is interesting to consider. This is one area I would really like to investigate at the local level before making massive investments in technology.

Final thoughts
It seems to be accepted that we need to invest in technology on a large scale to prepare our students for the tech rich world they are going to be living in. Before making this investment though, it seems to me we need to make sure we consult with everyone involved. A lot of time, effort and most of all money can be wasted if we don’t find out what our clientele wants. That’s teachers, students and parents. Decision makers need to consider all stakeholders. When you look at the numbers of people involved in this survey, its hard to ignore the importance of the responses received. I would love schools to conduct a similar survey to find out what everyone involved thinks. It would allow for considered decisions to be made rather than hasty purchases. What do you think?

Digital Media and Learning – what’s missing in our curriculum documents

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Credit goes to John Elfrank-Dana for posting an article on Schoolbook titled “Wanted:New Standards that Embrace Technology” that has inspired me to reflect a little deeper on my understanding of this topic.

It seems that many countries are in the midst of new curriculum documents being introduced. In the time between the last and the latest, personalised learning and student-directed learning have been positioned at the forefront of contemporary teaching and learning. What has also accelerated over that time is technology possibilities in schools. I use the word possibilities deliberately here because, while everyone seems comfortable with the theories and pedagogies behind personalised/student centred learning ( even if it hasn’t quite come to fruition just yet), in many schools great numbers of leaders and teachers are still behind the 8 ball on what can be achieved with technology in their classrooms. Sadly, our new curricula, still appears to be as well.

Elfrank-Dana, in the post credited above, laments that the USA’s new Common Core standards hasn’t addressed the impact of new media. Likewise, in my country Australia, our new National Curriculum, which comes into effect in 2013, is also struggling to show a deep understanding of digital technology and its role in learning. Yes, it often includes the phrase ‘with digital technologies’ and ‘media texts’ in many of its content descriptions but to me they stand as add ons to the more specific literacy or numeracy skill they are referenced with. We are yet to have a National Curriculum for Technology and are still stuck with state level documents that were written “pre-Google”(let alone have any relevance to the Web 2.0/social media of 2012 and beyond).

So it is left up to individual schools to push the boundaries of digital learning until our curriculum writers catch up with the pace of change. If we are going to be true arbiters of change in schools, we need to be aware of the skills that aren’t listed in our curriculum but are vital for developing learners who can cope with the fast changing world they are growing up in. That’s why I was grateful to find in the article above the white paper on Digital Media and Learning by Henry Jenkins et al from MIT, titled “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” (downloadable as a PDF if you want to read the whole 72 pages!)

This part of its summary really caught my attention:

A central goal of this report is to shift the focus of the conversation about the digital divide from questions of technological access to those of opportunities to participate and to develop the cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement. Schools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture; the greatest opportunity for change is currently found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities. Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

The new skills include:
Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

Fostering such social skills and cultural competencies requires a more systemic approach to media education in the United States. Everyone involved in preparing young people to go out into the world has contributions to make in helping students acquire the skills they need to become full participants in our society. Schools, afterschool programs, and parents have distinctive roles to play as they do what they can in their own spaces to encourage and nurture these skills.

While the skills listed above rarely reference digital media specifically, it is clear that all of these skills are both developed and needed in using digital media for learning. While it is true that many of these skills have been and can be developed with traditional media and teaching practices, it is clear to me that they haven’t been in may cases and need to be addressed for all of us to succeed in what the Jenkins refers to as today’s Participatory Culture, one that is awash with digital technologies.

So how do we address each of these skills with digital learning as the focus? I’m going to give that a try.

Play — the fact a 2 year old can master the basics on a iPad quicker than her mother suggests that students already have the Play skill down pat. It also suggests that our students can learn a lot through play, which can be undermined by the “chalk and talk, drill and test” pedagogies still prevalent in many (certainly not all) classroom environments. We need to let children learn through playing more, something that is hard to do with just words on paper or a whiteboard or from a teacher’s mouth. Digital media offers the opportunities to explore preferred media sources. It also allows students to work at their own pace and level by choosing their entry and exit points to a learning task delivered through digital media, rather than sitting through 10 minutes of teacher lecture about content they already know. It also teaches them to think about possible solutions and strategies rather than always calling on the teacher instantly. On the creation side, being able to use digital tools allows the student to explore the possibilities of the software, restart quickly if the original idea didn’t work, try out the vast array of tools available and do it all independently IF we give them the opportunity to play with it (instead of giving then a narrow focused teacher tutorial based on our ideas).

Performance — As teachers, we ask students to connect with opposing points of view , people in history and characters in stories. Traditional drama and role play has an impact here but digital media offers the students opportunities to role play independently. Setting up Facebook type profiles of historical figures or novel characters allows them to use their communication model of choice to explore relationships and share each other’s interpretations. Twitter can be used in a similar way to have dynamic, realtime comversations as adopted characters. Adopting avatars to communicate provides introverted students the ability to communicate their ideas behind closed doors yet still get to perform. Using a web tool like Xtranormal lets them create and view re-enactments or conversations in an attention grabbing format that exceeds listening to a shared reading in a traditional model.

Simulation — Once the domain of the highly trained tech geek only, now children can use a myriad of web, tablet and computer based software to make sense of their world. From simple programming tools like Scratch, 3D modelling with Google Sketchup to Animation packages like iStopmotion and data crunching software to create real time graphs of statistics, students are no longer restricted to interpreting visual representations of information but also showing their understanding of it through creating simulations in a form they respond to – visual.

Appropriation — There is so much content on the Internet today that Google alone cannot sort it out for you. A big part of participatory culture now is curation tools. People all over the web are taking responsibility for collecting relevant websites under topics of their choosing and sharing them with the world. Tools like Scoopit, Pearltrees, Pinterest and Diigo can be searched as alternatives to search engines as the curating has been done for you. It’s not a easy skill though as many just grab any site they find and don’t sort through what is worth keeping. This has to be taught. This is a great way for collecting media content for class research as well and an alternative to boring, wordy bibliographies.

Stories can be told by pulling content from your social media feeds through tools like Storify. Emerging web tools like Meograph lets you publish compelling stories by combining video, audio, images, maps and text, creating multimodal texts that appeal to this generation and replicate the multimodal style of non text references we work with today.

Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details. An important skill in today’s busy environment, students need to develop skills in handling multiple tasks. Digital learning used well allows us to keep track of all of our work, giving us the ability to move in and out of different work spaces online or stored on our personal hardware choice. Organised digital media makes it easy to locate multiple sources, if we’ve worked on our appropriation skills.

Distributed Cognition — for me, this is the result of mastering all of the other skills in the list.

Collective Intelligence — Social bookmarking tools like Diigo, collaborative tools like Googledocs, sites like Edmodo and blogs where students and teachers can interact with each other purposefully will develop the idea that we work and learn best when sharing with each other, the antithesis of standardized competitive testing and comparison.

Judgment — Probably the most important one on the list. When I was a child, I had two newspapers, a couple of channels we watched the news on and Encyclopedia Britannica. We didn’t have to make many decisions about whether the information was accurate or not. Fast forward to today and our students are confronted with 59 million results for a Google Search, limitless cable news channels of varying bias, opinion based blogs, millions of YouTube videos and a combination of gossip and factual news coming from Twitter and Facebook feeds. If there is one thing we do with our students in time at school it is to teach them how to sort fact from fiction. Explain that just because the site appears first on Google doesn’t mean it’s the best. Tell them the difference between .org, .com, .gov and .edu. Show them the importance of checking the references on Wikipedia. This should be the number one skill in any curriculum for today’s schools.

Transmedia Navigation — I think I covered this in appropriation but suffice to say that most of the media today is awash with varied media types. Students need to learn how to disseminate.

Networking — The important skill needed to work with collective intelligence. In a global world, networking is vital and we can’t lock kids away in their classrooms and hope they learn how later on. This leads on to the final skill…………

Negotiation — up there with Judgement in importance, this is reflected in the message of the cartoon at the start of this post. We can’t network if we can’t cooperate with others and treat them with respect. We can’t network if we don’t know how to accept but still argue with different viewpoints. And we can’t expect cyber bullying to stop if we don’t educate our children how to responsibly use social media. As parents we need to be in control and as teachers we need to embrace digital learning at school so we can give them opportunities to use digital media for useful purposes instead of just writing garbage on Facebook or Twitter about a kid or celebrity they don’t like. This has to be part of our curriculum, not blocked by decade old laws like COPPA and SIPA.

So when you open up your new curriculum in the new year, follow what’s in there. It covers important skills we all need. But don’t be slaves to it. There’s a lot more we need to do to create the learners we want for the challenges of 21st century life.

Alternative iPad Browsers with tricks Safari can’t do

Educational Flash web sites aside, the iPad is a great device for browsing the internet. At the heart of this is Apple’s flagship browser, Safari. Overall, Safari is a capable browser on the iPad but there is some functionality missing from the app when compared to its big brother on Macs. Fortunately, iOS has enough tricks available for third party apps to fill in the gaps that Safari for iPad doesn’t address.

Here are three alternative browsers that I use regularly to perform tasks I think are necessary for educational use and general use that I can’t do using Apple’s default browser.

iCab

This fabulous app has become my default browser on my iPad. It’s as quick as Safari, as consistent in rendering and loading websites as Safari and has all the functions of Safari. But it adds so much more.

The big winner for me with iCab is its ability to download videos, including from Youtube. It means you can download videos to watch offline, add to iMovie for editing and reuse in presentations. This is particularly useful in a school setting. It is as simple as touching the video and a popup command appears as shown here.

Once the video is downloaded, it can be added to the Photo Library on the iPad by going to the Downloads icon and saving to Library. From here is becomes accessible to any app that uses videos. UPDATE: Unfortunately, this feature has been removed on request from Apple. Apparently, it infringed on App guidelines. 

Another great feature of iCab is its multiple search engine access. It comes installed with the major search engines plus Wikipedia and IMDb. You can add your own search engines simply by going to your chosen site ( e.g. Creative Commons search) and adding it to the list in the Settings. When you go to the Search field, all of the available search engines are available for the user to choose, depending on the type of search needed.

A third feature that is useful in iCab is its sharing and downloading options. By default, all you can do in Safari is Tweet on Twitter, email and print.iCab spoils you with choices.

You can share to your linked Diigo, Delicious, Pinterest, Facebook or Stumbleupon accounts, add files and web pages to Evernote or save sites to your Google Reader, Instapaper or Readability accounts. You can also save PDFs straight to the Goodreader iPad app, convert simple text based webpages to epub or PDF ( not always reliable) and open up locations quickly in Googlemaps. You can also add Web Archives directly to Dropbox as well as take Screenshots and save to Photo album, the built in Downloads folder ( and then open in other apps), save to clipboard and then paste in apps or save to Dropbox. This makes iCab a very useful research tool on the iPad, far exceeding the capabilities of Safari. The only draw back is its $1.99AU price tag ( hardly a bank breaker!)

Diigo Browser

This is a great browser for annotating web sites during research. Through an unobtrusive floating toolbar on the side, you can access annotation tools that overlay the website currently open. Annotation tools include square, circle, arrows, straight and freehand lines, smudging and text tools. You can change the colours of each option.

When you have finished, you can crop the page and take a screenshot of the page, saving it to the photo album, email or Twitter.

Similar to iCab, Diigo browser also has a lot of sharing options not found in Safari, including Diigo ( strangely not as effective as the iCab Diigo tool ), Evernote, Tumbler, GoogleReader, Instapaper and ReaditLater as well as Twitter and Facebook. Combined with its annotation tools, this makes Diigo Browser an excellent research tool for students and teachers using an iPad ( there is also an iPhone/iPod Touch version.) Its free too.

Photon

The Photon Browser, is the best of a range of iPad browsers for accessing Flash Websites. While it is well publicised that iOS devices don’t support Flash websites, Photon does a fairly good job by accessing servers that stream Flash functionality back to your iPad. Because of this streaming method, the whole experience is a little delayed and at times choppy. Nevertheless, it does work in may cases. Videos work well, Flash games are reasonable and even some Web 2.0 tools used in schools are useable. I have tested Prezi, Voki and Glogster with Photon. Voki works quite well ( albeit a little slowly as I mentioned).Glogs can be viewed with full functionality and editing Glogs is possible but not easily. Prezis can also be edited but with some difficulty. Viewing is more enjoyable using the dedicated free iPad Prezi Viewer app, which also allows for some basic editing ( but not creating). I’ve also been able to view Flash based Wix websites created by teachers who use Wix for gamification in education.

To access Flash websites, click on the Lightning Bolt icon in the top right hand corner.
This begins the streaming session using the flash compatible servers the app connects to. When in “Flash” mode, the app provides a keyboard that works with Flash functionality ( you can switch to an alternative game keyboard for Flash games ) as well as different mouse like functions via dedicated buttons.

Beyond its Flash capabilities, Photon doesn’t provide anything to rival Safari as a general purpose browser. There are separate iPhone and iPad apps, meaning you have to purchase separately. The price itself is also an issue. (AU$5.49 iPad, $AU4.49 iPhone. Using AppShopper, I was able to take advantage of a drop in price to $0.99 in 2011). So you have to consider whether the cost is worth the good but not great Flash capabilities. Rover is a free browser that successfully accesses Flash educational sites ( many are natively linked to the app ) but doesn’t work very well with Web 2.0 tools and complex Flash websites in my experiences ( I have heard others have more success.)

For just a small investment you can turn your iPad into a more effective browser with some alternatives to Safari. You would like to think with its apparent dedication to education, apple would add some of these features to future Safari versions. In the meantime, try these three browsers out. There are a lot of other Browsers on the App Store. You might have tried others that have unique features useful for school. Feel free to leave a comment to let us know about more alternatives.

UPDATE: 26/7/2012 A couple of comments about how go get video from iCab to photo library. Hope this screenshot helps.

20120726-091132.jpg

 

 

The iPad as a research tool

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog lately reflecting on Big Education ideas. During that time, my little buddy the iPad has felt a little neglected and unloved. So I thought I’d get back to talking about everybody’s “favourite little tablet that could”. Today, I want to explore the possibilities the iPad has as a tool for researching information. As I’ve said many times, what I describe here can be done on laptops but the purpose of this post is to show how the iPad can be used for all tasks if you have decided to use iPads as your main computer. Having said that, there are some iPad specific functions and apps that for me offer a superior experience.

One criticism of the iPad is that it has the “one app open at a time” limitation. This can make it less that ideal for research. The desktop interface of regular computers allows you to have a webpage open alongside your word processing program. However this is now possible with a couple of integrated browser apps. PaperHelper is a split screen browser app that allows you to simultaneously view web pages and take notes at the same time. The app has a note taking screen side by side with a browser ( you can select which side of screen depending on your preference ) and provides tools for transferring website addresses to the notes page with a sale click. The browser has 5 favorites buttons that you can customize to link to preferred websites that you are using during our research for quick access over multiple sessions. You can use it in both landscape and portrait, depending on your preference. While it makes the browser screen a little small compared to normal iPad usage, it still provides you a window bigger than an iPhone screen and you can of course zoom in easily. I find it quite useful when wanting to copy and paste notes from Internet articles. The app also allows you to open and save your notes in word processing apps like Pages or just save the text to Dropbox or other file saving apps.

WikiNodes is a different way of browsing and collecting information from Wikipedia. Instead of presenting Wikipedia in its standard web page format, a specific topic is expanded out into key sections via a concept map type interface. Every time you select a ‘node’ it expands out into more connected topics. Each node map gives you the specific sections within a Wikipedia article as well as related topics. It is a nice visual way if laying out the information that suits today’s visual learner and the way it generates related topics can helpc students expand their ideas. You have the option to view the article within the node or view full screen via Wikipedia.

A welcome extra feature is how WikiNodes allows the user to save, store and organize information from the Wikipedia article. You can store written or audio notes about each topic you are exploring, set tags and labels to organize notes, share your information via Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote or email and view all your notes linked to a topic via a presentation the app creates for you.

Notability, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is a versatile note taking app that I think has some useful features for research. If your research involves listening to lectures or presentations to gather information, Notability enables you to take written notes while simultaneously audio recording the speaker. You can also take photos directly from the app while the recording is continuing. The beauty of the note taking and recording combination is that the app automatically links the written notes to the recording so you can go directly to what was said when you wrote a specific note. I think this would be useful during practical experiments in the classroom as the students could record their thoughts while taking photos of their experiment stages. They could then work back through their written and audio notes for revision. For children who struggle taking notes, having the audio available means they can write less then review the audio for what they missed. Alternatively, the teacher or more able student could share their notes with children who are unable to take notes due to learning difficulties.

An additional feature of Notability is the ability to browse the Internet within its own browser. Users can then save a web clip of the site they were reading within their notes that take them directly back to review the information. This is more efficient than copying and pasting web links or bookmarking sites outside of your note taking file as yoou have it readily available within our note taking area and it gives a visual reminder of the website as well in the form of a miniature screenshot of the website.

Often research involves using specific articles that are given to us to read. If you can download or convert them to an editable PDF file then you can use a range of PDF annotation apps on the iPad to make notes directly on the file. My app of choice is GoodReader, which I have used since I’ve had my iPhone and then upgraded to the iPad version. I’ve always found it easy to use so haven’t sought alternatives. GoodReader enables the user to highlight, write text notes, underline or strikeout words and phrases and draw a range of basic shapes directly on the article text. You can save the annotated file for later use and transfer it to virtually any cloud service like Dropbox, Box and GoogleDocs as well as WebDAV servers and email accounts. Notability can be used in the same way but it’s more of a freehand annotation experience, whereas GoodReader annotates accurately. Reading and annotating is also great in iBooks as well, with the added feature of all annotations being saved in a single space for easy access and reading.

Automatic news curating apps like Zite and Flipboard are great ways to have quality articles delivered straight to your iPad without any searching. Zite in particular is very useful in finding news reports, web sites and blog posts that are tailored to your interests. Simply enter your specific topic and it is likely to be a category contained within Zite. Examples include Urban Planning, Climate Change, Tennis, learning, Australian History, Drawing, and so on. The suggested articles are refreshed throughout the day and can be shared with others through a large range of social media sites and bookmarking tools. Flipboard can be set up as a magazine style RSS feed reader, allowing the user to read and share any collection of news articles or blogs. It can be customised to create direct links to specific blogs or newspapers and have all the most current article fed to a single icon that is linked to that site.

Both of these apps offer possible solutions to the aimless Google searching that happens in classes around the world because they filter out a lot of the useless links you get in Google and other search engines. Zite can also be used to automatically search for related articles or other entries by the same website or author.

Both Instapaper and Diigo are available online from any internet enabled device but they also have dedicated IPad apps or bookmarklets. As bookmarklets, Instapaper and Diigo allow students to save websites for later study. Instapaper’s added bonus is that it saves sites for reading when no Internet connection is available which is useful when students may not have wifi access but want to continue their research.The app allows users to create folders to store related articles together to enable easy retrieval.

Diigo’s strength is its social bookmarking capabilities. Students can share bookmarks in a common group as well as annotate and highlight pages straight in the website they are reading collaboratively with others. every time the Diigo iPad bookmarklet is activated, the highlights and annotated note reappear, regardless of what iPad or any other Diigo linked Internet device you are using. This kind of shared note taking allows students to collaborate in real time on any any research task involving reading information online. Diigo has an iOS app that can be used to quickly access your tagged links, although it lacks the ability to search via tags. I prefer to use the Diigo link within the bookmarklet.

Another useful bookmarklet that can help sort and store research information links to Scoop-it, an excellent magazine style website curation tool. Once you create a free Scoop it account, you can use the bookmarklet to quickly add sites to your Scoop it page. One of the benefits of using other users’ Scoop-its is that they have done a lot of the searching for you, saving you the hassle of trawling through countless Google search pages to find something useful. Scoop it has a search feature that can lead you to curated pages on the topic you choose and you are likely to find useful references on someone’s page. Pearltrees and Pinterest are other curation sites that offer similar opportunities but I am yet to explore them as options.

Tools 4 Schools is a relatively unknown app that is a collection of graphic organizers that allow for focused note taking for specific purposes. It’s useful for students who need some scaffolding in organizing their thoughts during research. Completed organizers can be emailed to others to share notes collated on them.

20120512-203332.jpgThe App Store is of course flooded with a huge range of reference apps that relate to specific topics. The beauty of this source is the price of the apps when you compare them to reference books providing similar depth of information. Also,the interactive multimedia nature of these apps make them an easier to follow option for many of today’s learners. There are too many to list here but here is a good link to another website that mention some of the better apps.

There are other great options for research on the iPad but that’s enough from me today. If there are other options out there, I would love to hear from others. Join the conversation.

Wikipedia – what are we afraid of?

WikipediaVia: Open-Site.org

I’m one of the 23% who don’t ban Wikipedia.

I don’t understand the concept of banning an information resource. I get the criticism of Wikipedia. I understand the limitations of Wikipedia. For the life of me, though, I don’t understand banning its use. Why are we in the Educational World so fearful of this Wikipedia thing that 73% of teachers according to this infographic still prevent its use?

We all want our students to be good researchers. Part of this desire, I assume, has led us to develop programs in our classrooms that help to improve our students’ Web Search skills. I mention that because perhaps one of our problems with children and Wikipedia is that 99% of its articles end up on the first page of any Google Search. Are we banning Google Search? No. Well then, instead of banning Wikipedia, let’s look at whether we are educating our students in how to disseminate accurate information from the garbage. Why? – because the other 9 sites sharing the Top 10 Search page are just as likely to be as potentially unreliable as a source of information as the Wikipedia article, sometimes more so. So let’s work out how to support our students in learning good research skills through accessing the tool, instead of avoiding it.

Wikipedia references its sources of information.

Go to any article of useful length on Wikipedia and you will find linked references or quoted text sources. WIkipedia is often a summative recount of all those sources of information. It’s why students go there. It does a lot of the hard work for them. Now, if you want them to do the work, require them to seek out some of those sources and check the accuracy of that information. What is the reliability of the source site? What bias might this source have? What type of website is it? ( you can discuss the merit of .com v .org. v .edu or newspaper articles vs blogs or discussions) If we use textbooks instead of Wikipedia, isn’t this what we would be doing – comparing and cross-referencing for accuracy? Surely it is an easier learning task to check out 10 sources online than trying to flick between 10 different books and random pages within it? Technology isn’t about making it easier so that we don’t have to think. It’s about making it more effective so we do the job more quickly while still learning the same amount or possibly more. If we teach effective use of Wikipedia, this should be the result.

Wikipedia is no more or less biased than any other source of information.

One of the big bugbears with Wikipedia is that it can be contributed to by anyone. This can definitely result in biased, unsubstantiated garbage that needs to be filtered out. Any Obama/Bush/Gillard/Abbott/Lady Gaga/David Beckham/Charlie Sheen (etc, etc) hater can freely post hate speech on a wiki article. Eventually, though, it is found by Wiki editors and removed, but yes, by then it has already spread to the ill informed. But guess what?  This same overheated, one way stream of half truths can be spread by every other form of media from both sides of the political, ideological or religious spectra. We don’t ban our Left wing or Right Wing shock jocks from spouting their diatribes of exaggeration on a daily basis. So why ban Wikipedia? Again, let’s use it along with the extreme views of other media sources to educate our students about fact and opinion, checking out both sides of the debate, fact checking your information. This is of far more educational value than banning a resource that has much to offer, despite its limitations.

Wikipedia is about as accurate as any other resource. Check the stats.

Look at the above infographic. We’re quibbling over 0.94 mistakes per article when comparing Britannica to Wikipedia; 2% accuracy differential when comparing textbooks to Wikipedia. Are those numbers a reason to brand it unreliable and ban it? When any school library would be full of books about the Solar System that still list Pluto as a planet and have atlases without East Timor on the map as a nation? There is no such thing as 100% accuracy. All surveys come with that +/-2% disclaimer. In the 21st Century Curriculum, in which critical thinking is one of the key skills, we should be embracing resources that encourage challenging their reliability and allowing us to edit for accuracy.

Make the students part of the solution, not restricted from the problem

Wikipedia is open source. If we find mistakes, we can fix it. An error in a textbook stays there. A misquote in a news program remains said. If we want to engage our students in truly useful research, then get them involved in editing Wikipedia. Make them check their sources. Get them to be the information creators, not the takers(plagiarisers). That’s real learning. And it’s far more useful than banning.

Throughout history, banning has never worked. Cigarettes and Drugs are still around. Inappropriate websites find ways to be accessed. Hey, Nazis and KKK members are still out there in numbers. Banning the use of Wikipedia is not going to stop us from using it. Just look at the stats above. So let’s get serious in Education and embrace this information provider, using it as a teaching tool for critical thinking. That’s my take. What about you? Does your school ban Wikipedia? Do you agree or disagree? How do you encourage good research in your students? Join in the conversation.