Webinars: Professional Development Across a Global Community of Learners

A post from Bernadette

Webinars and online interactive podcasts provide opportunities for professional development that is convenient and participatory. A key feature of webinars is the ability to cross time and space and to interact synchronously with key researchers and scholars in literacy in real time seminars. Participants can ask questions, make comments, and interact with colleagues in a global community of learners. In this blog post I want to draw attention to some of my favourite webinars and online podcasts.

I have been following the interpretation and implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the U.S. with great interest. Text Project, under the expert guidance of Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert, has been running a series of really useful and informative webinars on the core goals of the CCSS featuring speakers who served in an advisory capacity for drawing up the CCSS. For example, Professor P. David Pearson provided a very enlightening webinar entitled Research and the Common Core: Can the Romance Survive? where he discussed the research underpinning the CCSS with particular reference to comprehension. He provided a very illuminating critique of the interpretation and implementation of the CCSS. You can also view the archived webinars asynchronously on the Text Project You Tube channel . Other archived webinars include Dr. Timothy Shanahan on CCSS and Education. Upcoming events on the webinar series include eminent scholars and researchers such as, Dr. Karen Wixson, University of Michigan on Key Shifts in Assessment and Instruction Related to CCSS-ELA (24th of April, 2013); and Dr. Nell Duke on Informational Text and the CCSS: Pitfalls and Potential (30th of May, 2013). You can register for these webinars on the Text Project website.

The International Reading Association (IRA) has also conducted a series of webinars on Staying Ahead of the CCSS. Members can access the archive of these seminars for a modest rate on the IRA website.

Another series of webinars which I follow are the Global Conversations in Literacy Research (GCLR). Past webinars have included eminent scholars, from across the globe, on a diverse range of issues pertaining to literacy and have included Dr. James Paul Gee, Dr. Allen Luke, and Dr. Julia Davies. An upcoming webinar features Dr. Patrick Shannon (April 14th, 2013) on A Closer Reading of the Common Core: Reading Wide Awake looks particularly interesting. The GCLR team hope to begin archiving these webinars in the coming months.

Finally, I really enjoy the biweekly podcasts on the Voice of Literacy where Dr. Betsy Baker interviews researchers about recently published research in Tier 1 journals such as, Reading Research Quarterly (RRQ) or Journal of Literacy Research (JLR). These podcasts provide an opportunity to listen to a researcher flesh out their research findings in discussion with Betsy. The Voice of Literacy site provides a comments section where listeners/ readers can pose questions or provide commentary on the podcast. Our very own Literacy Beat Blogger Bridget Dalton has been featured discussing her research related to utilising digital technologies to support the development of reading comprehension and vocabulary with 5th grade monolingual and bilingual students. I have embedded the link below.

Designing technology to support comprehension among monolingual and bilingual students with Dr. Bridget Dalton

Current Issues in the Digital Divide Debate

Almost 35% of the world’s population are now online! The most recent World Internet Usage and Population Statistics (shown below) suggest high levels of access to the Internet in, for example, Europe (63.2%), North America (78.6%) and Australia (67.6%). Issues of physical access to technologies remain between the ‘haves and have nots’ (Warschauer, 2003). However, from the figures shown you can see phenomenal growth in access to technologies over the past decade or so in ‘developing’ countries, such as Africa.

World internet stats

The focus in the ‘digital divide’ debate has shifted in recent times from issues related to physical access to digital technologies to issues related to (a) the quality of access to digital technologies to enhance literacy and provide deep learning opportunities for our students; and (b) equality of opportunity in access regardless of socio-economic status (SES) or print-based reading capabilities.

The assumption that most of the ‘digital native’, Google, M2 generation have highly developed technological and information-seeking skills on the Internet lacks credibility within the research-based literature (e.g. Livinstone & Helpser, 2007; Williams & Rowland, 2007). To borrow from Ito and colleagues’ (2010) great title ‘Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out, Kids Living and Learning With New Media’, our students are great at ‘hanging out’ on social networking media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter; great at ‘messing around’ uploading and downloading videos from YouTube; and are great at spending considerable time online (Rideout, Foehr & Roberts, 2010). However, when it comes to ‘geeking out’ it is clear that the M2 Google generation are not a homogeneous population with a uniform digital upbringing, are not sophisticated users of technology, and have not realised the potential of the Internet as a site for deep learning and knowledge construction. If we erroneously assume that our student population have highly developed Internet and technology skills if gives us a free pass as educators and policy makers to disregard the need to explicitly explore and teach new literacies with our students or to fully integrate and embed digital technologies for literacy as essential components of the classroom curriculum.

Research evidence also suggests differences in equality of opportunity in access to technologies depending on SES (e.g. Volman, van Eck, Heemskerk, & Kuiper, 2007). While the Internet and other digital technologies have the potential to motivate and engage struggling readers from low SES communities, the converse is also true. The Internet could further compound the difficulties experienced by these students either through limited access to technologies (it’s too difficult for them) (Karchmer, 2001) or using digital technologies to develop decontextualized, constrained skills. While students from low SES school communities may be engaged in low level skill development using digital technologies, research suggests that their peers from more affluent schools are engaging with higher order, problem solving inquiry based skills and strategies. Those students who have limited home access to Internet technology, those who are struggling with print-based literacy “are precisely those who are being prepared the least” (Coiro, Knoebel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2008) for life in an information age.

So how can we provide improve learning outcomes for all students through the integration of the Internet and digital technologies with subject areas of the curriculum? I leave you today with a non-profit research and development organisation dedicated to building student engagement through the integration of digital technologies with subject matter content and skills. The CAST organisation bases its work on the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (Rose & Meyer, 2002). We have previously blogged on two free online tools developed by CAST; Book Builder and Science Writer. I would urge you to explore their website and view the brief video embedded below.

References
Coiro, J., Knobel, M., Lankshear, C., & Leu, D. J. (2008). Central issues in new literacies and new literacies research. In J. Coiro, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear, & D. J. Leu (Eds.), Handbook of research on new literacies (pp. 1-21). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Ito, M., Baumer, S., Bittanti, M., Boyd, D., Cody, R., Herr-Stephenson, B et al. Hanging out, messing around and geeking out: Kids living and learning with New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press:
Karchmer, K. A. (2001). The journey ahead: Thirteen teachers report how the Internet influences literacy and literacy instruction in their K-12 classrooms. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 442-467.
Livingstone, S., & Helsper, E. (2007). Gradations in digital inclusion: Children, young people and the digital divide. New Media and Society, 9(4), 671-696.
Rideout, V.J., Foehr, U.G., & Roberts, D.F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year olds, Menlo. Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Rose, D. & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age. ASCD. Available free online: http://www.cast.org/library/books/tes/index.html
Warschauer, M. (2003).Technology and social inclusion: Rethinking the digital divide. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.
Williams, P., & Rowland, I. (2007). Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. The literature on young people and their information behaviour Work Package 11. A British library JISC study. Retrieved September, 2, 2008 from http://www.ucl.ac.uk/infostudies/research/ciber/downloads/GG%20Work%20Package%20II.pdf.

Using Online Reciprocal Roles to Support Collaborative Learning

A post from Bernadette

Peer-to-peer collaboration supports the acquisition and development of online skills and strategies in a number of important ways. Working in collaborative groups allows students to:
• Share and exchange effective online skills and strategies;
• Apply and hone online skills developed through explicit instruction by the teacher with their peers;
• Challenge each other’s thinking as students contest, examine, affirm and expand ideas through active engagement with inquiry-based tasks in collaborative groups;
• Develop self-regulation as group members keep each other on task to plan, monitor and evaluate online activity;
• Acquire a level of self-efficacy in developing online skills and a ‘can-do’ attitude with the support of peers.

However, as you will no doubt have observed in your own classroom, peer-to-peer collaboration does not occur spontaneously! So in order to develop an effective collaborative culture in an online environment a number of structures need to be put in place to encourage students to share and exchange ideas, insights and strategies.
In a recent research study, conducted with 3rd to 6th grade students (Dwyer, 2010), online reciprocal roles (emulating the Palinscar and Brown (1984) model), were introduced, with prompt cards as temporary scaffolds, where students took interchangeable, leadership roles in triad groups as the Questioner, Navigator, and Summarizer.

The Questioner (a) guides the group to devise higher level questions to focus online inquiry; and (b) directs, generates, discusses and monitors the effectiveness of search terms for the focus inquiry.

Eileen (pseudonym) explained the role thus,

“Their job is to make the question that you want to find out…shorten the search terms so it won’t be too broad …use the plus sign it tells the computer that you want the two of them.”

The Navigator (a) pilots the group to move effectively and efficiently across multiple websites; and (b) encourages the group to carefully scrutinize the search results by examining the clues provided in the abstract blurb and URL and matching both to the focus of inquiry.
The Navigator as Colm explains,

“is  a finder or clicker . They scan the [results] page and decide what to click into [as the] first one [hyperlink] might be good but the last one might be better.”

The Summarizer (a) ensures that the group judges the relevance of the information retrieved to the focus inquiry question; (b) encourages the group to monitor and clarify difficult vocabulary; and (c) guides the group in encapsulating and summarizing the information generated by Internet inquiry.
Katie explains the summarizer role,

pull the most important things, put it in your own words and size it down [and] say what it’s about in one sentence… and see the words we don’t understand.”

Examples of the prompt cards for each of the roles are presented in the embedded document which follows.

How do I introduce these roles in the classroom?

  • Brainstorm with students what each role may entail. If students are already familiar with the print-based reciprocal roles of predicting, summarizing, clarifying and questioning or literature circle roles they could draw on this prior knowledge in constructing the possibilities these roles present in an online environment.
  • Roles should be introduced individually (before combining them) using the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). Sample prompt cards can be used as scaffolds to remind individuals of their roles within groups.
  • Roles should be exchanged within the group to ensure that students internalize the skills and strategies necessary for successful online inquiry. As with all scaffolds, the prompt cards are temporary aids and become redundant as students internalize the necessary skills and strategies and develop proficiency with each of the online roles.

If you have comments or questions about these roles do email me (bernadette.dwyer@spd.dcu.ie), or if you try them out with your students, do let us know how you get on.

References

Dwyer, B. (2010). Scaffolding Internet reading: A study of a disadvantaged school community in Ireland. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham: U.K.

Palinscar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1(2), 117-175.

Pearson, P. D., & Gallagher, M. C. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.

Finding the needle in the haystack

A post from Bernadette

Successful online readers access information speedily, effectively and efficiently (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro & Cammack, 2004). However, given the sheer volume of information available online, finding relevant information for a task focus can be laborious, rather daunting and somewhat overwhelming and akin to finding a ‘needle in a haystack’.

Two issues warrant attention. The first issue relates to judging the relevance of a search result blurb for your inquiry focus. As Eileen (a struggling reader in 6th grader) noted to me, “The blurb might tell you something but when you go inside it, it’s something different. Don’t get your hopes up if it says what you want to find ’cause it mightn’t always be inside it”.

The second issue relates to remembering ‘aha’ websites. Given the amount of time we all spend online finding your way back to particularly relevant websites, which you have previously visited, can be rather taxing. In this post I will explore two digital tools (Yolink and Diigo) which may help to enhance search functionality.

Yolink (http://www.yolinkeducation.com/education/) is an add on browser extension tool that scans web pages, search engine results and digitized books to find your inputted search terms and deliver information that is relevant to your inquiry. Yolink is a supportive digital tool in two ways. Firstly, it enables the reader to dig deeper behind the links without painstakingly navigating to and opening each website link in turn. It does this by previewing and filtering the search results and highlighting snippets of information from relevant sections of search results for the reader. Secondly, Yolink can also search within bodies of texts (e.g. digitized versions of books) for key words or phrases to find information relevant for a particular research focus. Yolink helps you move, as the developers say, ‘from search to find’.

Sample lesson plans and resources are available on the Yolink education site (http://www.yolinkeducation.com/education/teachers.jsp).

For example, the lesson plan for ‘Polar Bears in a Changing Climate’, prepared by Julene Reed, is an example of a Challenge Based Learning unit using Yolink, and is based on the Apple Learning Interchange. Students are assessed on abilities in areas, such as creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, research and information fluency and critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.

Bookmarking relevant sites by adding them to your favorites tab is one way to collect and retrieve websites that you visit. Creating subfolders with meaningful names is helpful when you want to revisit a particular website. However, if like me, you engage in squirreling behaviors where you tab multiple web sites on an hourly/daily basis you can end up with hundreds of websites in multiple subfolders. Just why you wanted to bookmark a particular website can be lost in the moment of tabbing! It is also difficult to backtrack quickly to a specific website when you want to locate information. So the proverbial haystack looms again!

A digital tool for organizing research online is Diigo or Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other Stuff. (http://www.diigo.com/ ). Diigo is a cloud-based information management tool that enables users to collect, highlight, bookmark, tag, clip, share and annotate websites.

Teachers can create an educator account with Diigo. This will enable you to generate student accounts and establish collaborative research groups within your classroom. Diigo is helpful when conducting research, creating personal learning environments and collaborating with others. Some of the features of this tool which are useful include:

  • Annotating and highlighting snippets of information on websites with sticky notes.
  • Saving a screen shot of a web site on a particular day and revisiting to review changes over time or simply to archive the website.
  • Categorizing relevant information through the use of tags and lists on websites for quick retrieval of information.
  • Creating collaborative groups where teams of students can research information and post their findings and annotations for others in the group to review. Members can then interpret, critique and synthesize information from a variety of online sources.
  • Accessing your own digital library, as part of a personal learning environment, from any computer or through apps on Ipads and Android Tablets or smart phones.
  • Developing professional learning opportunities for teachers through Diigo created educator groups.

Reference
Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J., & Cammack, D. (2004). Towards a theory of new literacies emerging from the Internet and other Information and Communication Technologies. In R. B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1570-1613). DE: International Reading Association.

Bringing it Together: Utilizing Digital Tools for Collaborative Learning Opportunities

A post from Bernadette

Digital tools can promote collaborative and social learning opportunities, enhance literacy development and extend the boundaries of the classroom. Digital tools can be used in ways that support receptive, expressive and generative processes. This coming semester I want to explore, with my teacher candidate students, the possibilities presented by a range of digital tools. In this post I will explore the possibilities presented by Voicethread and Thinglink

Voice Thread

Voicethread for educators (http://ed.voicethread.com/#home ) provides an interactive online forum for conversations and student collaboration. Voice threads are collaborative multimedia slide shows which integrate images, documents, and sound files. A voicethread workshop, with easy to follow instructions of how to create a voice thread, can be found here or you can view online tutorials.

Voice threads allow for anytime, anywhere conversations, and allow participants to annotate and comment asynchronously in five different ways: using voice (via a microphone), text (using a keyboard), audio file, video (with a web cam) or annotation through doodling. Participants click on ‘Record’ or ‘Type’ to add a comment which then appears around the border of the image, slide or video. Teachers can create free education accounts for their students. Participant identities are represented through images or avatars (created in for example, Doppelme.com) which are added to the accounts. The interplay of multimedia and commentary are essential parts of the process and encourage student response. Students can respond through for example, asking questions; offering opinions; or making text-to-self, text-to-text or text-to-topic connections.

At voicethread4education wiki (http://voicethread4education.wikispaces.com /) you can view 26 different ways to use Voicethread for language arts and the content areas in the classroom.

Here are some of my favorites for language arts from the list:
#1 A mystery scene: What is happening and what might have caused it? What vocabulary can be used to describe the scene?

#5 Video : view, comment on and review a short video. For example, comment one of the vocabulary videos produced by the class group.

#7 Novel: comment on a character or protagonist from a novel.

#10 Inferencing: what were they thinking? Providing an image from the creative commons on Flickr and asking students to comment. Great for developing inferencing and reinforcing vocabulary.

#14 Digital Portfolio: Students could create a digital portfolio using images video and text.

Thinglink

Thinglink (http://www.thinglink.com/ ) is a digital tool that allows students to explore topics through collaborative discussions. Students can insert interactive links to tag an image by adding pop up multimedia hot spots. Hotspots can link to music, audio files, video, descriptions, definitions or quotations.

In the Thinglink example from http://auntytechideas.tumblr.com / images were added to illustrate the target word Perseverance.

Thinglink Hot Spots for the target word Perseverance include a dictionary definition, a quotation using the word and a short video showing how people from a range of backgrounds (e.g. sports, music, politicians) persevered against the odds. You could also add examples for the target word used in a context, an audio file for pronunciation (great for English Language Learners), or a vocabulary video to illustrate usage ( Bridget  previously blogged about vocabulary videos on Literacy Beat ).

A photo collage created in Photovisi (http://www.photovisi.com /) could be created by groups of students to tag each image with a pop up of descriptive adjectives, synonyms or antonyms. Further information on Thinglink can be found on Donna Baumbach’s list of ways to use Thinglink in the classroom on Google docs or alternatively you can visit Pininterest to view how teachers have used Thinglink in the classroom  here

So in the dying embers of your summer vacation do take time to mess around, play with and explore the possibilities presented by these digital tools to enhance literacy development in your classroom. Happy exploring! Good luck with the new semester!

Digital Technologies for Literacy in Early Years Classrooms

A post from Bernadette

There is considerable evidence that young children (aged from 0 to 6) are immersed in a digital world from birth. For example, surveys conducted in the U.K. revealed that young children were active users of digital technologies engaging in a range of multimodal experiences (Marsh, 2005).

However, recent research has highlighted a dissonance between technology use in the home and at school and indeed a general under-utilisation of digital technologies in early years classrooms (Aubrey & Dahl, 2008).

Given that young children are engaging with digital technologies and digital practices in the home the possibilities afforded by these early digital experiences need to be more fully explored and accommodated within the classroom curriculum.

So how can we utilise digital technologies in ways that support children as readers, writers and thinkers? How can we use technologies to support the development of essential early literacy skills and increase motivation and engagement with literacy and learning?

I have been reflecting about this recently and here are some tentative musings and suggestions.

• Young children should engage with digital literacies in ways that encourage “playfulness, agency and creativity” (Burnett, 2010). Indeed, research has shown that children can draw on narratives and characters from their use of multimedia in their own play (Pahl, 2005).

• Digital technologies should not replace ‘busy’ workbook type activities in the classroom in drill-and-practice type scenarios. Freddy Hiebert noted, in her Frankly Freddy column, that “tricked out rote exercises will not support children’s love of language and literacy in the long run” (Hiebert, 2012).

• Digital technologies and multimodal texts offer the potential to support the development of early literacy skills. They present multiple means of representation, provide robust supports to meet the diverse needs of pupils in the classroom, and reduce the barriers to text (e.g. decoding difficulties) through embedded supports.
BookBuilder from CAST (CAST.org ) is a particular favourite of mine and I have previously blogged about how BookBuilder can enhance the Language Experience Approach

• Digital technologies should complement or supplement teacher read aloud. For example, children can listen to or re-read favourite class room texts though storyline online, developed by the screen actors guild (http://www.storylineonline.net/) or through apps such as, a Story Before Bed-Personalized Children’s Picture books.

• Digital technologies should build on the creativity of children, provide opportunities for engagement and response and encourage children to become authors and producers of text. In addition digital technologies should encourage experimentation and expression with regard to the generation and construction of a story or message. Apps such as, Sock Puppets allow child to create a story, choose a background and record their voices. The sock puppets then automatically lip-synch to the child’s recorded voice. Other examples include Strip designer, for creating comics; Book Creator for Ipad and Story kit for creating stories to share with an audience outside the classroom walls.

• Digital technologies can supplement the development of fine motor skills for handwriting. Apps such as, Dexteria, which was developed for children with special needs, develops fine motor skills e.g pincer movements, finger strength and hand movements and letter formation. Watch the You tube video and you’ll see how appealing this app is. I would caution, however, that to my mind, nothing replaces concrete materials, like pegs and peg boards, sand trays, and making letters with plasticine for the development of fine motor skills for handwriting.

Would love to hear your views on ways to embed and integrate digital technologies to support literacy development in the early years classroom. Jill has recently blogged on Expressive Learning: Encouraging Students’ Multimodal Expression to Enhance Content Learning and using apps for education so do read her blog here.

References
Aubrey, C. and Dahl, S. (2008). A review of the evidence on the use of ICT in the Early Years Foundation Stage. BECTA. Accessed online May 2009 at: http://partners.becta.org.uk/uploaddir/downloads/page_documents/research/review_early_years_foundation.pdf

Burnett, C. (2010). Technology and literacy in early childhood educational settings: A review of research. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 10(3), 247-270.

Hiebert, E.H. (2012) Children’s literacy learning and screen time accessed June 2012 at http://textproject.org/frankly-freddy/children-s-literacy-learning-and-screen-time/

Marsh, J., Brook, G., Hughes, J., Ritchie, L., Roberts, S. Wright, K.(2005). Digital beginnings: Young children’s use of popular culture, media and new technologies. Literacy Research Centre, Sheffield

Pahl, K. (2005). ‘Narrative spaces and multiple identities: Children’s textual explorations of console games in home settings’ In: J. Marsh (2005) (Ed.), Popular Culture, New Media and Digital Literacy in Early Childhood, pp. 126-143.London: Routledge.

Search engines and multimodal representations

I was recently working with my third year, teacher candidate, students exploring the skills, strategies and dispositions necessary to successfully conduct Internet inquiry within the information-seeking cycle. The information seeking cycle is comprised of (a) planning inquiry questions and forming goals for internet inquiry; (b) generating and revising search terms; (c) investigating search results with a critical eye; (d) locating and transforming information; (e) critically evaluating information; and synthesising and communicating information to others. The students undertook an Internet information challenge, What caused the downfall of the Mayan civilisation?, to develop metacognitive awareness of their own skills, strategies and dispositions when conducting Internet inquiry. What I observed was that some students began this information quest by exploring videos and images relating to the Mayan civilisation. Helen explained the strategy to me, “I usually search for information by looking at videos and images to get the main concepts related to a topic. Then I will look up some articles when I have this background information”. Does this strategy represent a shift from privileging text as the primary source of information to favouring more multimodal representations of information? In this blog post I will explore some search engines which provide multiple representations of information.

Googling’ has entered the lexicon to become synonymous with searching for information online. The left hand panel on the Google interface, as shown in the screen shot below, provides a number of interesting representational choices such as, images, video, blogs, discussion fora, news features and time ranges. However, you can also customise your search results according to reading levels at basic, intermediate or advanced reading levels. This is a positive affordance for struggling readers. The Twurdy search engine (http://www.twurdy.com/ ) will also sort search results according to readability levels. You can also, of course, customise the search results by using the customised Google Search Engine Tools (http://www.google.com/educators/p_cse.html ). See Jill’s wonderful post on Customised Google search engine on Literacy Beat, March 2011

screen shot of Googel left hand panel

Screen shot of the left hand panel on Google Search engine

Other search engines privilege a more multimodal, multi-representational approach to presenting information. The Qwiki search engine (http://www.qwiki.com ) combines images, infographics, video and voice to enhance interactivity. Some of the pronunciations, especially for Irish place names are hilarious and entertain my students greatly! Qwiki is also available as an app for IPad, IPhone and Android devices. Qwiki Creator has just been released by the Qwiki team in alpha format and is currently available by invitation only. Qwiki Creator allows the user to create their own Qwiki representation with voice, text, images and video. I can see many possibilities for using Qwiki Creator with students in our classrooms. I think it’s certainly one to watch out for. A screen shot from the Qwiki interface is shown below.

Screen shot of Qwiki related to Inishbofin, Galway, Ireland

I have also recently begun to explore the Instagrok search engine. (http://www.instagrok.com/ )
Instagrok provides both a visual representation and a journal format. Watch the video for an overview.

To grok, the developers tell us is to ‘understand thoroughly and intuitively’. Instagrok presents a visual graph of the key concepts related to a topic. You can click on any of the key concepts to investigate that concept more thoroughly. In addition, on the right hand side of the screen, you can view key facts related to the topic¸ web sites, videos, images, and quiz topic questions related to the topic. You can pin any of these representations on to the visual graph. See my screen shot related to a grok I conducted related to the collapse of the Mayan civilisation. There is also a slide bar at the top of the screen to adjust the level of difficulty of the information presented. What really excites me about Instagrok is that you can also create a journal, which is automatically generated, as you annotate the visual graph. See the screen shot of the journal below. As Instagrok allows the teacher to create student accounts you can view the work of students in these journals.

Screen shot of a grok related to the collapse of the Mayan civilisation

Screen shot of the  journal created by Instagrok realted to the collapse of the Mayan civilisation

So have fun exploring these search engines. Have you noticed any changes in the ways you are searching for information online? Do you privilege text over other formats such as, video, voice or images? What about your students? Do let us know by replying to this blog.

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