Hello and happy new year! For many people, the change to the new year represents a symbolic time where they can reflect on the events, memories, and achievements from the last, and also to set new goals for the year ahead. Coincidentally, the new year also represents the halfway point for the school year, a time where teachers are given a chance to catch their breath and reflect upon their own and their students’ learning.
When school is in session, we all often feel pressed for time, and the likelihood of having extended periods of time to focus on our own development is slim. Despite this, each year teachers are expected to continuously learn about new strategies, resources, and ways to enhance instruction and ultimately help students learn. In the past, this often meant taking detailed hand-written notes and handouts from conferences and/or workshops, scanning/copying them, and storing them in a file cabinet for later reference. Fast-forward into the digital age and now educators have opportunities to attend conferences and webinars online, conduct research through a simple Google search, and receive up-to-date content via subscriptions and memberships to online associations, journals, and networks.
With the ever-expanding proliferation of content being uploaded to the internet and the increasingly connected culture that exists through various social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) educators are in a much better position than in the past to engage in continuous professional learning without having to leave their students or classroom.
But where does all this information go and how can I easily access and share information and resources I’ve found?
To answer that question, this month’s digital skills article focuses on using technology to curate, organize, and share digital resources. I’ve reached out to area educators to see what technology they’re using to publish, search, categorize, and share information.
What options are out there and how are educators using them?
Jerry Schneider, Instructional Technology Coach at Fargo North High School and Ben Franklin Middle School, generously shared multiple tools and platforms he currently uses or has used in the past.
“Diigo groups are a large part of my Personal Learning Network (PLN) serving as a place for me to store web resources as well as share resources with others,” says Schneider after noting he’s been using Diigo for the past six years. “It’s outline feature has also been a help for both teachers and students stay organized on research papers.”
Schneider simply explains the tool as “searchable (search bar for searching by title or tag), taggable (add tags to sites for organizing and searching purposes), and shareable (add web addresses to groups, share groups with others, and have others add web addresses to the group)”. It allows for separating resources by their discipline or course as well as saving selected text on a webpage as well as images, videos, and screen captures. Schneider shares links to these groups of resources with different groups of educators based on their role and content area. Members of the groups have the option of electing to receive notifications as new resources/content is added. This tool is great to use with students, too, as it gives them the ability to add resources to a group and later share that group with teachers for research purposes! “I have presented how to use this feature in a number of classes who are doing research for papers and presentations. Diigo works well with citation tools like EasyBib for creating works cited. There are also English teachers using Diigo in their classes for active reading, highlighting text in different colors for different purposes (i.e. research for or against a topic).”
“I belong to eight different Google Communities and browse each community every week to engage in continuous professional learning.”
Schneider compares Google Communities to Facebook groups that are created focused on a certain topic and members share links and resources with others in the “Google Community.”
This online bookmarking website allows users to create personal collections of bookmarks that can be categorized and shared with others. It allows users to save bookmarks on the platform and have access to these resources anywhere they have an internet connection. On Symbaloo, you can create your own separate landing pages for bookmarks related to certain topics or content. An additional advantage is its capability to compile RSS feeds from website blogs. See an example of the Symbaloo interface below.
Schneider has also found a great use of Toby, a Google Chrome extension when organizing tabs and bookmarks for future access. One advantage of Toby is the ability to have access to your tabs anywhere.
Another educator’s insight comes from Darcy Bakkegard, professional development coach for Prairie Public Education. Bakkegard was a teacher prior to her current role at Prairie Public and wanted to share how Schoology was used at West Fargo High School to communicate and share resources with each other, students and even parents.
“As part of a teaching team, there was a need to share resources so we all 1) had the same version of a test, handout or other resource (without five different versions); 2) could find resources year to year; 3) could easily share resources with new hires; and 4) could split duties to save time and stress. If I created a test, unit or cool activity, it was important for colleagues to have quick and easy access to it,” explained Bakkegard
Schoology has served multiple purposes and provided many solutions for the teachers at West Fargo High School. “One intention behind using Schoology was to increase the sharing of resources with students AND parents and to prevent ongoing excuses from students about losing handouts for a class. Other uses included sharing the same version of a test, handout, or resource amongst teachers, being able to access resources from year to year, for sharing resources with new hires, and in general to split duties and minimize stress. It has even helped increase teachers’ clarity in their communication with students. An additional benefit of using Schoology is that parents can access the materials and lesson plans for each week.”
What type of training was involved to implement these tools?
Schneider indicated that he conducted training on setting up accounts and exploring different groups during his Tech Tuesday sessions with his teachers. He also presented on Diigo and EasyBib for classes who are engaging in Genius Hour projects.
Bakkegard indicated that their district made the choice to switch learning management systems to Schoology. “It’s always hard to switch to something new, but it was quickly clear that this tool was just so good and so easy, which made the switch far easier,” explains Bakkegard. Although, there were some teachers who had used Schoology previously, “the school also set up a Schoology team and offered both one-on-one coaching by appointment and lunch-time topic sessions, both of which helped the transition and maximization of the tool.”
As for the other resources identified, Symbaloo has its own certification program where participants complete an introductory course (for $10) and they have a PD Certification Program which teaches about how Symbaloo works with other web tools (i.e. Prezi, Evernote, Edmodo, etc.). There is not much training involved with Google Communities, as you are immersed in the community at the outset.
Do these tools have a cost?
Many of these resources have free accounts with options for paid premium plans. Additionally, some resources have group-rate payment options for businesses/schools. I encourage you to explore each of the resource websites for more specific pricing information.
What changes have you seen?
Bakkegard explained that with the communication tools and the ability to upload assignments and test dates to the class calendar so students were aware of upcoming due dates,
“Schoology helped eliminate the ‘I don’t know what I was supposed to do’ and ‘I couldn’t find the handout/assignment’ complaints received from her students. Plus, I was also able to hide past and future resources, so students only had access to the resources that were relevant to the lessons I was currently teaching.”
Other resources worth mentioning
Another option that works as a blend of Symbaloo and Google Communities is EdShelf. EdShelf allows users to compile websites, mobile apps, desktop programs, and electronic teaching and learning products into collections. Users can create their own collections of resources either publicly or privately, and search for collections that other users have created.
Like EdShelf, Scoop.it allows users to compile articles and other web content into collections. Users can search for content (AKA “scoops”), users, and topics (i.e. collections). The interface is organized similarly to Pinterest where users can follow other users and topics. Users can also share content with social media accounts and create tags for resources.
EduClipper is also similar to the examples above, but it also allows teachers to create classes where they can share resources with students as well as create assignments and digital portfolios.
Links to resources mentioned in the article:
Google Communities: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities
SHARE your Story with Us!
This article is part of a larger article series focused on Digital Skills for 21st Century teachers discovered through an Infographic from EducatorsTechnology.com. Below is the schedule of digital skills that will be addressed each month. If you, or someone you know, is using technology effectively to engage in any of these skills, we want to connect with you and share your story! Email me at Chris.Thompson@k12.nd.us with the subject line “Digital Skills” and I will reach out and discuss how we can incorporate your learnings, best practices, tips and/or tricks into a future article!
- February: Create engaging presentations
- March: Create infographics and posters
- April: Create digital portfolios
- May: Create Professional Learning Networks, connect, discover new content, and grow professionally.