Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Curation & Sharing Strategies

Over the last month I’ve been a guest on a couple of Google+ Hangouts and podcasts in which I’ve been asked about my process for curating and sharing resources. I realize that listening to me get long-winded on a podcast or Google+ Hangout isn’t for everyone so I’ve outlined my curation and sharing process below.

Feedly: Even before Google announced the demise of Google Reader I was using Feedly on my Android tablets to browse through my RSS subscriptions. I currently subscribe to 284 blogs and websites through Feedly. Feedly has two big appeals to me. First, the visual layout of vertical tiles on my tablet’s screen and vertically scrolling rows on my laptop’s screen just fit with how I process information. Second, from Feedly I can quickly share to Evernote for bookmarking and to Google+, Twitter, and a myriad of other social networks. (I should note that Feedly seems to act a little differently for my on my iPad. For that reason I tend to use my Nexus 7 or my laptop when catching up on feeds).

Twitter, Google+, Diigo, Emails from readers: Not everything that I write about is discovered through my RSS subscriptions. Some things are discovered through social sharing. Tweets, Google+ posts, Diigo shares, and emails from readers also lead me to good resources. It’s part of the reason why I follow more than 10,000 people on Twitter. I always try to acknowledge in my blog posts whenever one of those social channels leads to a good resource.

⅓ Get Bookmarked or Shared: I flip through thousands of items every week. Of those, maybe ⅓ get bookmarked for further reading or sharing with others. Of those items some have no relevance to my readers, they’re just for my own interest (like things I bookmarked while researching skiing and sailing in Iceland). Other items are worth sharing to my followers on Twitter or Google+ but don’t warrant me writing my own blog post about them (news about an edtech start-up getting a new round of investment is interesting to some followers, but not for most visitors to my blog - I’ll leave that stuff to Audrey Watters who handles it much better than I would).

25% get written about: Of the items that I bookmark and share on social media, perhaps 25% actually make the cut down to where I will try the tool and write a review about it. For an app or website to make that cut it has to meet a few guidelines that I follow for myself.

Making the cut: To make the final cut to appear on my blog an app or website needs to have a user interface that is intuitive enough for the average classroom teacher to feel like he or she doesn’t need a computer science background to use it. In other words, when I take a look at it I think to myself “could all of the members of my department understand how this works?” If the answer is “no,” then I move on from it. There are some exceptions to this rule. Sometimes I come across things that I know will take a while for a teacher to understand how to use, but once they get the hang of it, they’ll benefit from it for a long time. A great example of this is the Doctopus Script for Google Drive. I always tell people that the first few times you try to use Doctopus you’ll probably not get the results you want, but once you get the hang of it you’ll love it.

My other big consideration in deciding what does or doesn’t appear on Free Technology for Teachers or or is whether or not the app or site offers anything different from its competitors. The difference doesn’t have to be huge, but there has to be some difference worth acknowledging. For example, there are hundreds of places to find educational games online, I could write about those all day and night. I only write about the ones that offer something slightly different whether that is they were coded by students, they’re raising money for some charity (see or they have a mechanism for teachers and parents to track students’ progress, it has to have some difference worth noting.

If an app or site is designed for student use I do consider how much advertising or kind of advertising it displays. Pop-up ads that distract students from the flow of an activity will generally lead to an app or site not making the cut.

Spark Inquiry With Geoguessr & Geosettr

Geoguessr is a fun and challenging geography game based on Google’s Street View imagery. The game presents players with imagery of a location in Street View and the player then has to guess where where in the world that place is. Some challenges are easier than others, but none are actually easy. To guess correctly players need to study the imagery for little clues that tip-off the location.

While investigating the imagery in Geoguessr your students may become curious about the things they’re seeing. Then when they finally guess and discover the correct answers they may become even more curious about what they’re seeing. I recently saw this happen with a group of adults to whom I had just introduced Geoguessr. They quickly started investigating the Street View imagery in detail and asking questions like “what is the language on that billboard?”

If you don’t want to leave the entire activity up to chance, you can create your own Geoguessr activities through Geosettr. Through Geosettr you choose the locations you want displayed and the clues that students can see. This could be a fun way to begin a unit of study about a continent or region. For example, if I was starting a unit of study about South America I might include Street View imagery of Christ The Redeemer in the Geosettr game that I create for my students.

Make Data Analysis Visual With Maps

The phrase “data analysis” gets no one except for the most numbers-happy people excited. Rather than having students simply stare at data sets and try to develop statements from them, consider having your students create visual representations of those data sets. Google Maps Engine Lite is well suited to visual data analysis. Google Maps Engine Lite allows you to import a spreadsheet and have the data within it displayed on a Google Map. Google Maps Engine Lite supports creating three layers of placemarks. Use those multiple layers to compare sets of data like 1990 census information with 2000 census information. Click here for complete directions on using Google Maps Engine Lite.

Another option for mapping data sets can be found in the IBM program, Many Eyes. Many Eyes is an online data visualization tool developed by IBM. Many Eyes provides tools for creating a wide variety of data visualizations including maps by using your data sets or data sets hosted by IBM. If you're not interested in creating visualizations but just want to explore the visualizations created by others, you can do that on Many Eyes too.

Search Before You Move On - Another Simple Search Tip for Students

In my previous post I shared that I like to have students create a list of things they know before they start to search. Once they move on to Googling things another common bad habit often rears its head. That is the habit of only glancing at the webpages they open from the search results page. Or worse yet, only reading the brief snippet that appears below the link in a search results page. The reason for this behavior that students often give is “it takes too long to read the whole page.” To remedy this teach your students to use “Control F” (Windows) or “Command F” (Mac) when they open a webpage from the search results page.

Control F or Command F allows you to search within any webpage for any letter, word, or phrase. Using this function can be quite helpful to students who want to determine whether or not a particular webpage contains information relevant to their research topics. Simply seeing the count of the number of times a word or term appears on a page can be an indicator of whether or not the page contains information relevant to a research topic.

Search Tip for Students - Think Before You Search

One of the bad habits that I see many students fall into when it comes to research is simply entering into Google the first thing that comes to mind. While this strategy can work, it often leads to a lot of time wasted on searches for information that students already have. That’s why whenever I lead a workshop in which we discuss web research strategies I always insist that before students touch the keyboard they make a list of the things they already know about the topic the plan to research.

By creating a list of what they already know before they start to Google things, students accomplish a couple of important things. First, they’re reviewing their current knowledge of a topic (never a bad thing). Second, they’re identifying search terms that could help them in their quest for new information. For example, if my students are researching movie directors from the 1920’s their list of “what I already know” items will include “films” is often used in place of the term “movies.” That little piece of information will help my students alter their search terms when they run into a “dead end” using the term “movie director.”