Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Changing research

This morning I met with a PLC team at my school, as an observer, while they discussed a research project our juniors do: It is an advocacy project, where thay take a current event, view both sides, and "advocate" for one side. Their method of research is to view articles from library data bases and synthesize the information. The idea is to gather info throughout the semester and have the project culminate in a major research paper.

Needless to say, I have other ideas for them.

Everyone today is talking about "21st Century Skills." I still am not sure what those are, nor how they really differ. I would hope that we have been trying to Create, Collaborate, and Connect for some time now. If anyone comes closeto explaining, it's the good people at The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. However, there is no denying that the big change is in "21st Century tools," which can help create much more meaningful, authentic outcomes. Here is what I suggested to the teachers. All students should:

Get a Delicious account. Social bookbmarking has incredible advantages. Not only can kids save, access, and organize their web pages, they can also include each other on their networks, especially those who are researching similar topics. Diigo, another social bookmarking tool, is more robust, allowing you to hi-lite text and place virtual "sticky notes" on articles; however, it can also be a bit cumbersome for new users. Now, when students search the web, they can save their resources and access them wherever you go (Hint: have your IT person install the Delicious shortcut buttons on your computers).

Create a Google account and go to Google Reader. OK any RSS aggregetor will do, but I found Google reader to be very intuitive, and, let's face it, there is a certain familiarity with Google... especially for kids. At this point, students need to create an RSS feed from the blogs etc., to the aggregator. The great thing about RSS feeds is that they continually send you updates on recent posts to the blog. Checking all your sources together is much quicker.

Do a "custom RSS" search. In Google, type in a keyword for your current event or controversy. When you get your returns (probably a bazillion hits) click the "news" icon on the top. This will reduce your hits significantly and limit your hits to news articles. Then, click "date." This will organize your articles to show the most recently published hits first. Finally, locate the "RSS" link on the left. Clicking this will give you a new URL. Copy this URL and follow directions below for "Linking your RSS feeds to your Google Reader."

Do a Technorati search Many folks are not aware that blogging is more than just personal journaling. Many experts in most fields blog as a means of both publication and connection. Technorati is in essence, a search engine for blogs. For this project, students would be wise to select a blogger from each side of the issue, read their posts, and eventually comment directly to the experts. What a bonus to be a student, and to pose pointed questions to those experts. (We from the "Reader's Guide Generation" anre in awe of this concept.) Technorati offers an "authority" rating to determine the reliability and credibility of the author. In my field, someone like David Warlick, or Will Richardson, as a much higher rating than, well...I do. And rightly so! Decide on two bloggers with divergent (even polar) perspectives.

Link your RSS feeds to your Google reader Linking your feeds consists of going to your desired blog, clicking the orange semicircle icon to get a "feed" URL. (Sometimes, there will even be an icon that says "add to Google reader." Click that, and you're done) Then, copy the new URL and go to Google reader. Follow directions for "adding a new subscription." Now you will have automatic updates from that source.

Do an "Invisible Web" search. Many valuablepages on the web are not accessible through ordinary search engines. Complete Planet is one such tool that searches the Invisible Web. Make sure to include an "Invisible" web search in your research. When you find good sources, add them to your Delicious account.

Now you are ready to, over time, gather information, organize ideas, tag valuable sources, and even contact those people you are following to ask more questions.

Next: What do I do with the research.