Friday, June 12, 2015

Curating Content with @appoLearning

Curation, as many of you know, is near and dear to my heart. (Heck I even wrote a book on the subject!) And especially now, for teachers, its becoming increasingly important as more and more digital devices begin to enter the classroom. Finding the right apps, videos or other digital resources can be tough. And keeping it all organized can be even tougher.

I was excited to learn about appoLearning. This is a great resource where educators can find and share all the digital resources they are curating. All of the resources found there are vetted by other educators so you can trust that what you are search for will be the best of the best.

Recently they unveiled Collections. And this is something I am really excited about.

appoLearning Collections enable teachers to create, annotate and share lists of hand picked digital resources, including YouTube videos, iOS and Android apps, and websites, around specific subjects, topics or lessons. Collection creators can easily:
  • select from thousands of expert-vetted, standards-aligned resources from appoLearning search
  • and/or add their own resources (including anything that is URL-addressable including videos, apps, websites, assessments, Dropbox links, Google Drive links, Evernote links) and upload their own files (Photos, Lesson Plans, Videos, PowerPoints, PDFs, etc.). 
Collections empower teachers to continually manage the use of great digital resources into their classroom and to share these with peers, parents, students, and administrators.

Creating a Collection couldn’t be easier.

Click or tap “Create a Collection” to get started. From there, login via Facebook, Google or Twitter to get started. Once one has named, described and tagged a collection, there are three simple and fast ways to build it.

Some things to remember:

  1. Resources for any Collection can be pulled from the thousands of digital resources already vetted by appoLearning experts. Simply type in the search term on appoLearning, or browse by subject, grade-level, device and Common Core Standard, to find a list of vetted resources. While searching, one can also filter to show only FREE options. Simply press the “Add” button next to each resource to add to a collection. Click the “View” button to go back to the collection at any point.
  2. Add in resources from other collections by simply pressing the “Add” button for individual selections or the “Add All” button to grab the entire collection
  3. Digital resources that are not included in appoLearning search can also be added to a Collection. Simply paste the relevant URL - any URL, including those that point to a website, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play,  Prezi, Pinterest, Vimeo, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc., - of the selected educational resource, and it will be instantly added to the appoLearning database and included in the collection.
  4. Files can also be uploaded to be shared via a collection.Simply drag and drop the file - any digital file including photos, videos, lessons plans, quizzes, powerpoints, pictures, Smart Notebook software and more - and it will also be added to your appoLearning Collection.

We know that one of the most important parts of the curation process is sharing and sharing a Collection is easy. Each collection has its own unique URL that can be shared via email, messaging, or any social media channel.  appoLearning includes an embed feature to include the collection on a website in addition to one-click sharing for Twitter and Facebook.  .

All appoLearning Collections can be found via the search box at top of the Collections page or by using the tag navigation to the left of that page. So you will be able to see what others are creating and use those as a starting point for your own collections too.

You are probably thinking to yourself, what’s the catch. There has to be a subscription or a feee to do this. Nope. appoLearning Collections are free of charge.  As you begin to plan and organize your lessons for the upcoming year (after some well-deserved time off!), I encourage you to start creating and sharing your own Collections of resources to understand how easy - and addictive! - it can be.

The folks at appoLearning are getting tremendous feedback from teachers on how to make the product even better, as well as a lot of special requests for how schools and districts can best take advantage of the platform and technology.

You can get started right away, or contact them for a personal demo so YOU can become that teacher everyone turns to for recommendations.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Evaluating Technology? Here's What To Look For...

In my former life as a Director of Instructional Technology I worked with school leaders to make the best choices when it came to technology. We would spend great deals of time looking at funds and how they could best be used to make an impact on student learning.

I believe many districts do that. However, often, when the hardware is installed and the software has been trained on that is where conversations end and responsibilities shift. The problem with that approach is that how do we know that what we purchase is actually being used appropriately or even being used for that matter?

I began looking at technology after the purchase. How could we help school leaders better understand the technology they purchased and could they determine how effective it was really being used in the classroom.

With that in mind I development 5 questions that school leaders should be able to answer on a walkthrough. Now keep in mind, it takes time to develop an understanding of all these. And while you should be able to see some, you may not see all. And that doesn't automatically mean the technology is useless or is being used ineffectively. It just means that more time may need to be spent on understanding the purpose.

Who is using the technology? Is the technology being used exclusively by the teacher? By the students? Is there a mix of both? While this will be dependent on the type used, there are situations to be mindful of. Take, for example, the Interactive Whiteboard or any front-of-classroom display. Is the teacher the only one engaging with and interacting with the technology? If so, than we might need to look at pedagogy. We would install $10,000 teaching stations that would only ever be touched by the teacher. There's something fundamentally wrong with that. So look at the lesson and look at who is using the technology. Could something better be happening?

If you took the technology away, how different would the lesson be? This observation aims to get at the pedagogy and how the technology is being used. Ultimately technology should enable students to do something they couldn't do without it. I can communicate with students around the globe by having a pen-pal but by using Skype or Google Hangouts I can do it much quicker and reach a greater audience and potentially have a greater impact. Take a long, hard look. Could you do the same lesson and it have the same impact without the technology? If in English class students are using their laptops to just write a paper, that technology isn't very transformational. But if those students are creating podcasts or book trailers or something else entirely, than the technology might really be necessary and transformational. Think critically about how it's being used and would the learning be the same without it.

How much variety with the technology is there? When you see students using the technology are they always doing the same things. Are they just using Wikipedia or the calculator? Are they always on some type of self-diagnosing software or are they doing something different, using different sites, apps and programs? Variety is the spice of life and the spice of learning. We shouldn't pigeon hole kids into using PowerPoint because that is the only technology we know. Kids need to have opportunities to use several different types of apps and sites and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways as well whether the teacher knows them or not.

What opportunities do students have to collaborate with or through the technology? Students need the chance to learn with and from each other. And, again, technology enables us to do that much, much easier. Are there opportunities for students to share and reflect with each other and their teacher? Are they using a social network like Edmodo or Schoology? Are they maintaining blogs? Or are you just seeing one student using the technology individually. If so, depending on the purpose it may be time to evaluate how students work together through or with technology.

What opportunities do students have to create new knowledge or products with the technology? Learning really happens when students can take some piece of understanding and actually do something with. Either create a meaningful product or some new knowledge with that understanding. And, again, technology makes that creation much easier and in some cases more meaningful. When you see students using technology are just merely doing recall and low-level learning. Or are they truly creating something meaningful?

These questions should lead to deeper reflections with school leaders, teachers and students on how technology is being used in the course of learning. They meant to provide a starting point for conversations. They aren't the end all, be all when it comes to technology use in the classroom.

Interested in an infographic for this post? Download one here!

What do you think? What do you look for when evaluating how technology is used in the classroom? Is it these? Is it something else? Leave a comment below.

photo credit: Tracing relations via photopin (license)