Thursday, May 7, 2009

I'm in love with Nota

There have been a number of cool applications that I've come across recently, but I really want to sing the praises of Nota. I love it! According to its developers, it is

 "a unique, cutting-edge collaborative web platform that allows users to create, share and collaborate on presentations and virtually any other form of online material. Using Nota’s proprietary toolset, users can instantly integrate text, video, maps, clip art, photos from web album or on the local computer, or license-free images from Flickr, and material from an ever-expanding array of sources. Users can then instantly embed their work in Facebook or blogs, and can share and collaborate with friends."

In other words, everything you ever dreamed of. Well, that may be overstating it a tad. Today I used it to take notes at a professional development workshop led by Rochelle Jensen, E-Learning Advisor from the University of Waikato. The workshop focused on the uses of ICT in Education, and I found that taking notes on Nota, I could create moveable text boxes, grab a youtube clip (that Rochelle had shared) by doing a quick search on the sidebar and positioning it wherever I wanted on the page, and I could hyperlink to all relevant pages with ease. Here are my notes from today's session (heaps of excellent links from Rochelle, by the way, so worth having a look!).

What's more,  a reader can make comments on a particular part of the page by clicking on it, making it an extremely useful feedback tool. It's also fully embeddable (is that a word?). In fact, rather than just link to it, I'll try embedding it now...

Great! Even embeds with scrolling. Try clicking on it and see if you can comment, or scroll through the comment bubble options. Very cool. Please check it out, especially their one minute demo video and this page about educational uses. I'm thinking about the possibilities of using this as a platform for e-portfolios with my class, as one possible use. My wiki of choice for now.

Another thing I'm using Nota for is to report on a small scale action research project I'm undertaking for my MEd which is about the effect blogging might have on learners' motivation to write. When I finish I'll post a link here at Webb-ed Feet so that you can read it if interested.

On the blogging note, this week has seen my class set up individual blogs using David Warlick's classblogmeister. So far so good, a few teething problems which I'll save for another post, but on the whole, great to be getting them connected. I'll provide links once the posting really gets going. 

In the meantime, go and sign up at Notaland and have a play!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Google, the Gatekeeper and the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus

I've been doing some reading around digital literacy for an essay due in June, and came across a great article by L.A. Henry (2006) called 'SEARCHing for an Answer: The Critical Role of New Literacies while Reading on the Internet'.

In the article she provides a great overview of a framework (SEARCH) for showing learners how to navigate such an unwieldy beast as the Internet:

1. Set a purpose for searching.
2. Employ effective search strategies.
3. Analyze search-engine results.
4. Read critically and synthesize information.
5. Cite your sources.
6. How successful was your search?

The thing that stood out to me most of all was the need to train our learners how to use a search engine (Step 2 above). I think we can assume sometimes (and our learners assume too) that everybody knows how to 'Google' something, but this is simply not the case. The results of an inefficient search strategy can be incredibly time consuming. Henry refers to this skill as a 'gatekeeper' skill in online reading:

Students who can quickly read and locate information are then able to use that information for learning and move on to other elements of reading on the Internet; students who cannot are unable to move beyond the search process. Because searching for and locating information are such critical parts of information use on the Internet, they demand our attention. (p.616)

There are a number of search tools/engines that I've found recently, that have been specifically designed for younger learners, and could be useful in helping this 'gatekeeper skill' of effectively locating information.

The first of these is Kidsclick, a website designed by librarians. They developed this to help develop the skill of locating information. It doesn't block any sites, being intended to 'guide users to good sites, not block them from bad ones.' It uses the SWISH-E search engine.

The next one I found is Ask Kids, designed for 6-12 year olds. This website is filtered, and each website in their core index was selected by their editorial team as child-appropriate and relevant. Great visual layout, and easy to navigate.

The last one I'll talk about today is Kidrex, which uses the Google search engine. This site has a page for parents with tips on how to help their children use search engines effectively and stay safe online. This one is also filtered and tested daily by reearchers to make sure it's working as it should. They also have a webpage removal request tool, so that you can report any inappropriate sites that do sneak through. It doesn't have an index like the sites mentioned above, just a search window, so it could be a little harder for kids to use.

Once at the website, of course, students need the skills to know whether or not a website is credible and worth reading. I wonder how many of my learners would be able to pick this website about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus as a fake?

Kathy Shrock has some great resources designed to help learners take a closer look at a website and evaluate it.

I particularly like the '5 W's of Web Evaluation' and her Critical Evaluation of a Website sheets that students can fill out to evaluate websites. These tools are great for developing information literacy skills.

Andrew Churches has a good collection of links to some great boolean search tools here.

The internet is a vast space with some wonderful opportunities for learning. Learners can miss out on this if they lack the skills to even get through 'the gate' and efficiently find what they are looking for.