Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Me & IT, Part 2

Another confession: Before last week, I knew our library subscribed to EBSCO Host, and that it was supposedly a good research resource, but I’d never really explored the site, assuming it was a lot of dry, scholarly articles that were beyond my students. 
But first, a word about information, and I’ll come back to my confession:
“[W]e are the memory of mankind....we teach to the vulgar just as much as we want to teach them” (Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali 1).  
When I read the Sundiata Epic from 13th century West Africa earlier this spring, I was startled to realize how storytellers in an oral culture control the information--such a foreign concept to a child of a print-based culture. Come to think of it, there has been a corresponding expansion in availability of information from my high school days to my children’s fully-wired high school days. 
The second half of Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students by Sara Kadjer is about what that “wiredness” means for classrooms. Students still need to take in information, think about it critically, and communicate their response. They even still need to read and write. The additional challenge and opportunity is that there is more information available in more modes with more communities to process with and for. 
In the fire-hose stream of today’s information, the challenge is to find, evaluate, and manage what you want without being overwhelmed, paralyzed, or misled. Internet-savvy students may already have some strategies for this--all students need them. I need to teach my students to use the Google search engine expertly (here’s a great infographic to help), to choose search engines beyond Google (Kadjer has a great lesson plan for this in chapter 4, having groups run the same searches on 5 different engines and, comparing the results, discuss how the engines work and what they’re good for), and to take advantage of the school library’s online resources. 
Yes, now I’m back to my confession. I’ve spent some time this week exploring EBSCO Host, which to my delight (and chagrin at missing it for so long) includes an exciting number of possibilities beyond just scholarly papers. In the Student Research Center you can pick topic (arts & media, English & language arts, current issues, history, social studies, etc), what to include when searching (from magazines and newspapers to photos, maps, & flags or primary source documents--think of the possibilities for designing DBQ practice!), and reading level (elementary, middle, and/or high school).  That’s not including the button for AP Sources and Teacher Resources. 
And that’s only in the Student Research Center! I have barely begun exploring the English Language Learner Resource Center (which includes a function for highlighting text and clicking “listen” to hear it read), the History Reference Center (which has a whole section on how to do research), and the Literary Reference Center (with citation help and a very thorough literary encyclopedia--think “senior lit terms test”). I haven’t even touched Kids Search, Searchasaurus, or Science Reference Center.
Information from EBSCO Host will be pretty reliable, but the vast amount available online will need to be vetted, and Kadjer provides a helpful rubric for doing so on page 58. It has 11 criteria, from checking out the author’s background to triangulating information.
Then there’s the task of managing all the information, which I am beginning to run into myself with all the information (blogs, websites, articles...) I’m gathering for my PLC, my focus group, my class, my own professional development, and my own personal reading. A colleague has suggested Evernote, and Kadjer suggests Diigo. I haven’t gotten to that exploration yet, but there’s still more than a month of the summer to go!
So I’ve found, evaluated, and managed my information. What now? The chapter on multimodal communication was just sort of “beyond the book report”--using VoiceThread and podcasts. Maybe I’ll get around to experimenting with VoiceThread this summer; podcasts are a distant future for me, if ever. 
I do see that the number of ways to receive, construct, and communicate meaning has ballooned with the internet. And as an educator I do know that I need to differentiate learning tasks and design ways to assess the understanding of students separate from their writing and speaking skills. So: projects. But who makes construction paper posters in life outside of school? On the other hand, kids and adults do post photos, write blogs, contribute to wikis, create with iMovie or GarageBand, and share on YouTube. Voila! The new, improved project is web-based. (The photo journal from the perspective of a character in The Great Gatsby using Flickr, a photo sharing site, was actually a pretty cool-looking assignment.)
Sharing...that is the third “more” that technology affords--more community: more people to learn from and with; to argue with, take advantage of, and deceive the unwary. And that is ultimately the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity: everything online is real. Real risk, real feedback, real audience. 
Don’t we want education to be real?


  1. I am so glad you had a chance to look at EBSCOHost and see how it can be used in your classes. I hope that you will be able to share that excitement with others in your PLC so that we can make good use of that resource.