Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Google Options? What's That?

Google has added another feature to their arsenal of search tools. After you do a search, you will notice the “Show options” link (which toggles back to “hide options”) on the left side below the Google logo. When you click this link, you will have access to a variety of alternate search features that may make your life easier. As I review these, think about not only how it will help you, but how it will help students as well.

1 All Results: If you leave this button alone, “all results” remain. However, under this option, you will see “videos,” “forums,” and “reviews.” Depending on your search, one of these might be a handy tool to expand your understanding of the topic. Clicking video might help if you are researching a musician; with one click you can listen to a performance by Yoyo Ma. The next tab, forums can put you in touch with blogs and discussion boards on the topic. Today we are constantly telling kids to “collaborate;” this makes connecting just a bit easier. Reviews is self explanatory. Clicking this tab searches for reviews on a product of your choice. Perhaps a consumer education teacher might like this feature. I myself am in the market for a new MP3 player and found the reviews quite helpful.

2. Any Time: This button works in conjunction with the “All Results.” If any choice other than “videos” is chosen, you can select items by how recently they have been posted; “recent,” “past 24 hours,” “past week,” or “past year.” If videos is selected, the time choices refer to duration of videos: short, medium, or long.

3. Standard Results: With 1 above set at default, this button offers two features for your current search. First, Images from this page displays thumbnails of pictures on this site. I can see an advantage here for students researching to create a digital documentary. More text adds text from the webpage so viewers can quickly get a better understanding of what the page contains. The advantage of Standard Results is that searchers get a bit more information about a site and can compare it head to head with others before opening.

4. Standard view: Probably the slickest feature, the view can be changed to Wonder Wheel or Timeline. Wonder Wheel takes your current search and creates a web (concept map) of alternate search possibilities. And yes, each one of those is a live link that, if clicked, creates another wheel, and another, and another. Each time a link is selected, a new, refined set of links appears on the right. For students who have difficulty researching related topics, this can be quite a help. Historical searches can greatly benefit from the Timeline view. Clicking this will display an appropriate timeline. Below, will be significant years for the event which are links to more sites related to the topic. I can hardly wait to show this to my social studies teachers.

Clearly, you would never use all these features in a search. But as always, it isn’t about the tools, it’s having them available to know when to use them. Thanks, Google.

View the introductory video here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why Technology?

My colleague, and DST pro, Ben Grey asked me to consider a very basic question in our field, “Why technology?”
Why technology? This is akin to asking Tom Brady, “Why football?” or Frank Sinatra “Why sing?” or, closer to home, an English teacher, “why read?” Each asks us to look at the essence of what we do: sometimes that question is hard to answer. To begin, here is an excerpt of my summative professional growth plan for this year:
“I feel that we are at a critical cross road at this school. The idea of technology being an “add on” must become obsolete. We must embrace two truths: first, technology is no longer optional in education. Second, we must build curriculum with technology inherent, ubiquitous, and transparent to improve achievement of our students. This stems from developing sound learning targets, including formative assessments, and allowing students more autonomy in their own learning. At the heart of this, Content, Pedagogy, and Technology must play equal roles in the development of what, how, and why we teach.”
This idea of technology having the same “weight” (TPCK model) is nothing new. For years, we designed lessons keeping in mind paper, pen, chalkboard, overhead, and word processor. Clearly, today there is more to consider.
We must keep in mind that “Technology,” per se, is NOT a panacea for all education woes. Tied with sound content and pedagogy, skillful use of technology improves achievement. A study done by Passig and Schwartz in 2007 supported that on-line collaborative writing resulted in richer communication than did face-to-face collaborative writing. In other words, kids write better (in this case) with the technology.
Especially for our disenfranchised students, judicious use of technology pays off. A teacher in my school uses blogging as a means for recording ideas and giving feedback (Assessment FOR Learning) on writing assignments to a group of Emotionally Disabled (E.D.) students. The teacher is receiving more and higher quality writing than he did using paper and pencil. ELL teachers find that Digital Storytelling, especially for their first-year students greatly improves pronunciation and articulation when recording voice over. MN students create “video resumes” to submit to prospective employers. Business owners have said that students have been hired, in part, due to this powerful method of introduction.
So why do we have such an uphill struggle? Clearly, some teachers are just not confident in their abilities using technology; no teacher wants to look stupid in front of kids. But I think it is deeper than that. One of my colleagues said it best:
“Perhaps the people who are resistant to [technology] use are the ones who believe they are the fountains of knowledge and students can't learn unless they're in the presence of a teacher.”

This, I feel, gets to the germ of the question “Why Technology?” We need to remember than in using technology wisely, we must focus on developing autonomous learners. This requires teachers to loosen the grip of control in the classroom, while at the same time nurture the skills and ethics needed that stem from such privilege. As we all know, change can be very difficult.
Today’s technologies, if used to support the teaching of a fundamental literacy, foster student autonomy as never before. But we must choose our tools wisely to support that autonomy, and teach a whole set of approaches we never dreamed twenty years ago. To diminish the current disconnect kids feel between school and “life” we must make the technologies as useful and pervasive in here, as they are out there.