Thursday, January 29, 2009

Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking is a popular term but what is it? Well, the word social can be a little inaccurate in the strictest sense. It's not just social as in informal or in the personal realm. It refers to linking communities. The concept is relatively simple. I may like the same sites and topics as my friends. Additionally, I may like the same sites as my friends' friends, even though I may not know them. Social bookmarking leverages relationships to point you to things that may interest you. It can access bookmarks through relationships, categories, or interests.

I'm fairly new to social bookmarking. I don't particularly like to share all my bookmarks. And I don't always bookmark everything that is of interest to me. However, I have found some value to this concept. I have been able to leverage it to find new information on particular topics. Within my PLN of professional educational technology educators, I have run across many new sites that I see as valuable and helpful to my professional growth. It has become a way for me to expand my community and find new sites that expose me to new things.

Social bookmarking really steps into the beginning stages of the semantic web, or Web 3.0. It is "smart" and helps you find places that are of interest and value to you. Some social bookmarking applications learn and tailor themselves to your preferences on what you like and don't like. The concept is really not foreign. Do you use iTunes? The genius feature of iTunes recommends music to you according to what music you have in your library and the particular song. It is tailored to you. Social bookmarking is really just making the same types of recommendations, just in a different sense. iTunes is not the first to use this idea...Amazon has been doing it for years.

Social bookmarking works largely off of tags. Users "tag" keywords to sites so they can be searched or are associated as relevant to certain topics. Tagging is a common term and commonly used on many photo sites. It has many uses and makes accessing relevant information easier. Tagging is great when people work together. Instead of waiting for me to tag 1,000s of sites, I can leverage others to help me tag good sites and be able to search and categorize them effectively based on the wisdom the collective group. Tagging is often associated with images because the only way to search the content is through tags. However, it is also helpful in something like this blog to reference ideas. (This concept also links to Wesch's video of The Machine is Us/ing Us.)

Examples of social bookmarking sites might include, StumbleUpon, Digg, Diigo, and just to name a few. I even noticed that Foxmarks, my Firefox add-on, is becoming a social bookmarking application. Wikipedia has a fair list of the many bookmarking tools available.

Friday, January 23, 2009

21st Century Skills: A doomed fad?

I recently read an article entitled The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad: 21st Century Skills by Jay Matthews of the Washington Post. The title is really a bit misleading on the content of his article but does lead me to a it a fad that will come and go?

To answer that, I can say for sure it will come to pass...everything does. When we get to the 22nd century, 21st century skills will not be the moniker anymore.

To look at the article in more depth, I'll summarize Matthews' ideas by saying he calls it a trendy buzzword that has the pendulum swinging too far. He sees some value in the ideas but argues they aren't necessarily new nor does delivery or the implementation meet the expectations and rhetoric about it. However, people can't seem to get enough of it. He ends the article by saying:
Great educators tell me that teaching and learning are more about relationships than content, more about asking questions every day of everyone in class than depending on students to soak it up on their own. In our poorest neighborhoods, we still have some of our weakest teachers, either too inexperienced to handle methods like modeling instruction or too cynical to consider 21st-century skills anything more than another doomed fad. There might be a way to turn them around, but if there isn't, instead of engaged and inspired students, we will have just one more big waste of time.
Although I think his article could use more focus and substance for that matter, he hits on an important point of teacher quality. No matter what we are teaching, if we do it ineffectively then it will not be a positive venture. Teachers are the most important factor in improving student learning. The research on this is clear. Schools have to get the right people on the bus and professionally grow these educators.

If you are a teacher reading this, are you the right type of person for 21st century learning? Let me rephrase...are you willing to learn new strategics and techniques to engage students? to model authentic learning? to engage students on their terms rather than your own? To explore new tools available to you? Are you willing to put students at the center of their learning? Are you willing to release control as the expert imparting knowledge and live with a "messy" learning process?

Another point that Matthews touches on is authentic learning. What are students learning? Is it really valuable and driven by the appropriate outcomes? It is not about having students jump through hoops or "do school." We need students to engage in their learning, critically engaging and problem-solving real world challenges.

Lastly, although I may not invite Matthews to my writing class due to stylistic preferences nor may I agree with some ideas that he wrote, the concept of balance is necessary. Our learning environment does need to be transformed into a 21st century learning environment. However, that does not mean all that we have done in the past needs to be thrown out. We need wisdom and discernment to mesh the new and the old together to create something new in its own synthesis of ideas. It is not about what is new or what is old, it is about what is best.

Getting quality teachers to engage students in authentic learning that is relevant to the context of the 21st century era is critical...and it is not a fad. From my reflections on this article, you can see 3 principles that I believe lay the foundations for success, transcending any trendy idea.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Common Craft

Simple is good. And in some cases, it may even make you a living. Common Craft does just this. These individuals make video explanations of more complicated ideas and try to simplify into ways anyone can understand. You can get many of their videos on Youtube or Google video in addition to their website. If you have questions about some of ideas like Web 2.0 or various tools, this is a good resource to check out for some simple explanations. They do extend beyond tech topics...such as saving money in plain English.

Do you think your students could take some complex ideas from any subject area and make them simple enough for anyone to understand? Aside from demonstrating understanding by their explanation in their own words, it requires effective communication skills...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Google Search Tips

If you want to know something, just google it! But as our information rich environment continually expands, it becomes not only a question of search for something, but searching effectively to locate relevant information efficiently. Many search engines work in similar ways but Google is obviously an industry leader in search right now. Here are some tips to help you make the most of Google. Many of these same tips apply to other search engines as well.

When you enter words into a Google search, it will look for all the words entered. However, it will prioritize them from first to last. It will ignore common words like a, an, the, etc. A normal Google search will also look for stems of the same word (so don't worry too much about plurals or suffixes on words).

If you want to search for one term OR another, just enter it like that (*word* OR *word2*). It will look for results with either word represented.

Search engines often prioritize pages that others link to for information higher in their results pages.

Quotes around the search mean the specific word or phrase is being searched for. If you are searching for a line out of poem or a phrase with common words in it, this may be useful. It may also be useful in checking a piece of student work for academic integrity.

If you want only a specific word (without plurals or related stems), just add a + in front of the word. (Example: +word) This is very similar to adding quotes.

If you want to know what a word means, just enter "define: *word*" and you will get a definition.

If you need to do some math, just put in the numbers into your Google search and it will act like a calculator.

So what is that "I'm Feeling Lucky" button on the Google search. If you click this button, you will be directed to the first result of whatever you are searching for without viewing a results page. So, if you think your search is good and the first hit is that, you can go directly there.

Google Search Cheat Sheet will help you easily reference some of these tricks.

You can also check out Google's help on advanced search for more tips.

If you are more of a visual learner and are a beginner, perhaps this Common Craft video would be helpful to you.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Personal Learning Networks

Have you ever heard of a PLN (Personal Learning Network)? If you do much reading on educational technology blogs, professional development, or 21st century learning, you have probably run across this term. However, on the off-chance you aren't familiar with it, a PLN is a web of resources that you access for professional growth. It may be email subscription like ASCD, blogs you read (like this one), websites you visit, colleagues you engage to help you reflect, etc. It can take many forms. The goal is to develop resources that you trust, engage, and are relevant to you. It is personal and you interact and reflect with the content. This blog is largely a reflection of my PLN as it relates to education technology and 21st century learning.

As we enter 2009, do you have a PLN? You need one. We all do. No matter what profession we are in, we need to grow and develop our minds. We need to collaborate and tap into the wisdom of others to experience new perspective and challenge our own ideas. Sometimes we don't even realize how limited a perspective we have until we are challenged by others.

PLNs are founded on collaboration and networking...a core component of the Web 2.0. Does the web define our culture or reflect it? I won't go down this road today but probably a little bit of both.

If you are looking for places to begin building your PLN, check out some of these links:

  • The 2008 EduBlog Awards might be a good place to look. They rank some of the best blogs in different areas and will also have links to others ones you may want to follow.
  • Free Technology Resources for Teachers won an award on the site above. I just ran across it about a week or so ago. I haven't checked it out much yet but may write more about it later.
  • You have to pay for some of the ASCD resources, but they do email updates that link to various news and information.
  • has "Ideas Worth Spreading" on their site. They update videos regularly...some are more recent than others. I have found some interesting and thought-provoking presentations on there. Presentations are usually 20 minutes or less.
  • Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach has some good resources on her blog.
  • The Partnership for 21st Century Skills
Do you have other recommendations?

Perhaps you have a PLN, but haven't used the term. Be intentional to professionally grow yourself. Develop your PLN in all areas of your life...not just education or technology. I hope you will continue to find productive resources here as we get into 2009.