Visual Search Engine Instagrok is a learning tool too

After looking around for some more visual search engines, I decided to have a play with instaGrok. The first thing to note is that it does not work with Internet explorer so I used Google Chrome to do my searching (or you can also use Mozilla Firefox).

InstaGrok is designed to help learners find educational content.

It is not simply an alternative to others I have used in the past ie. Eyeplorer or Google’s old Wonder Wheel. It is a fresh approach which is very easy to navigate and offers so much more than a simple web of suggested search terms.

I tried searching “Tasmanian tiger” which was one of the research topics our year 8 students were given recently.

instaGrok searched this topic and quickly collected an assortment of useful and related content that is categorized and displayed under  lists of facts on the “Tasmanian tiger”. The screen is split into two main areas. On the left side of the screen you had a cloud showing the concept/keywords you initially entered into your search with other related terms surrounding it. Students often need help to refine their searches and this offers a visual way to see some of the topics that relate to the initial search. If you double-click on one of the related topics it offers another array of options but you original search also stays on the screen.

On the right side of the screen, under the heading “Key facts”, there were links to different forms of information on that topic. These change as you refine the search. Here you have the more usual type of information.

They options include:

  • key facts (great for students to get started on a topic new to them)
  • websites
  •  videos
  • images
  • quizzes on the topic and
  • concept cloud at the bottom for another way to refine the search

Decide what type of resource you want and open, for instance video or photo, and look in this area you get little thumbnails that are linked to their site. You can choose “more” and the screen changes to show the thumbnails to the right of the sites they come from and, on the left of this screen, there is a long list of themes and concepts you can “tick” to refine your search again.

Another nice little option is the slider. If the results that you find are too difficult to comprehend or are too basic, use the difficulty slider to change the results.

You don’t need to join to use the search but if you do you have some extra options. When you find materials that are useful for your research, you can pin them or add them to your instaGrok journal. You can add notes to the links in your journal as well. The journal can be emailled or printed

When logging in for the first time you have three options. You select whether you’re a going to be a regular user (General), teacher or student. Teachers can create a class code for their class (case-sensitive) and students can then enter that teacher’s code. Using this option allows teachers to check student’ journals and their searching history. This would help teachers to develop a better understand the researching capabilities of their students and assist them to help students improve with the most appropriate skills tips.

In short the things that I thought instaGrok offers students (and teachers):

  • It is easy to visualize concepts and their relationships
  • The key facts are simple and help users to gain basic information about their topic
  • Offers an easy way to explore websites,videos,images
  • Users can easily select the difficulty level of concepts/materials
  • Allows users to organize materials and links into an account
  • Students can test their knowledge with the auto-generated quizzes it creates

Curation – some words and a video from Joyce Valenza

I have been reading about curation in articles for a while and at a SLAV conference this year Joyce Valenza certainly challenged all of us to get on board. I also follow Joyce on Twitter and as a feed to my google page. So I was not surprised to read that she has created a new video to help explain curation and, as she is want to do, in the form a musical – very humorous. She, in collaboration with her students, has created some great parodies. This one is called Curation the musical!

Curation (song parody) from Joyce Valenza on Vimeo.

If you want to see more about curation she also has a slide presentation here. She makes some great points and explains curation very well in this presentation so it is a great starting point for teacher librarians interested in assisting their students. 

A quote from one of the slides:

Curation comes up when search stops working. But it’s more than a human-powered filter. Curation comes up when people realize that it isn’t just about information seeking, it’s also about synchronizing a community . Part of the reason that human curation is so critical is simply the vast number of people who are now making and sharing media. Everyone is a media outlet. Clay Shirky (NYU Professor, blogger, author)

And some more:

We can no longer be content to train students to understand the difference between peer- reviewed journals and popular magazines, to appreciate the value of books, newspapers and reference sources, and to understand how to evaluate garden variety Web sites. We are on the cusp of profound changes in the scholarly process. The evolving nature of publishing, scholarly conversation and peer review is rich fodder for our students. This makes the work of forward-thinking instruction librarians challenging, but not impossible. These librarians can, among other things: Make students aware of the emergence of social scholarship. Teach students about Authority 3.0 – or whatever you want to call it. Alert them to the expanding world of scholarly communication. In conjunction with this, abandon of the notion that there is a clear distinction between traditional peer-reviewed authority and authority derived from social scholarship.

And a final quote:

So what is curation? The selection and assembly of a focused group of resources into a web-based presentation that meets an identified purpose or need and has meaning for a specific audience. Resources can include traditional library resources, links, instruction, artifacts, widgets, media, ebooks , personal commentary, analysis, more!

Useful sites (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

EyePlorer – beta visual search engine

eyePlorer2I have been looking at other visual search engine alternatives to SearchMe. Beta visual search engine EyePlorer is a reference search engine that takes your initial keyword search term and displays related terms in a color wheel of information based around that term. When you hover over the different areas of the color wheel or click on a topic, information (from Wikipedia) is revealed about that term in the default eyePlorer facts window that opens up. If the information is useful and you want to save for later use, you can drag it  onto the EyePlorer notebook at the side. These facts you put into the notebook can be rearranged as needed. Once you have your notes, you can either save, copy or email them.You also have the option of choosing websearch view, that offers links to other sites or an images window (results from Bing). The images are also linked to their sites of origin.eyePlorer-images

These short explanations from Wikipedia could help give students an overview of the topic without having to read the whole article. They could then go on to do a more indepth search with a better understanding of the topic. All students I know understand about checking the data for accuracy.

Other options for EyePlorer users include:

  • “i” button under the search box. Click on this to get a quick summary of the topic
  • “+” button to add search parameters
  • the paper button to go to a Google search.

Class use:

This is a an interesting way for students to think about research and explore for new information.  Students very easily create a visual guide to their inquiry. It is then a very easy step to drag and drop what they find out into a notebook. This can form the basis for more in-depth research. The brief notes could enable students to see note making as a way taking down main points and important ideas, rather than copying whole slabs of text. The way that the information in the notebook can be rearranged could  also help them to go on to think about or work on organising ideas into some sort of order to form the basis of some structure for an argument, conjecture or essay.

It could also be used on a class wide basis.  When a teacher wants to introduce a new concept/idea. Using a data projector, so the whole class can watch, the teacher could type the subject into the search and then the whole class could work together to decide which information they want/need to save in the (class)notebook for later. It would also allow the whole class to work on the above ideas.

eyePlorer was created in Germany so you can choose to search in German or English. I had heard that you need to manually choose English but I typed in search terms with English spelling and it automatically searched for results in English for me

Twitter study

Uploaded to Flickr by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Uploaded to Flickr by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Why do we use twitter? I had a couple of conversations with students about Twitter over the last week. We (at least I) discussed how it could be a useful tool. “Tool” being the operative word – the old saying “A tool is only as good as the person using it” – seems to be in play here. I agreed with them that it could be a useless self-aggrandising tool but it could also be much more.

I know that there people who have to decide what to do about social media  such as  Twitter, especially when it might be an important commercial decision.  In schools, is it a useful and safe tool for students to use. I talked about some of the uses that I had noticed and now there is some data. TNS and The Conference Board have just completed a study investigating this  newsworthy Web2.0 tool.  

Whilst there are good number of us who use it to keep in touch with friends the breakdown looks like this:

  • 41.4% use it to keep in touch with friends
  • 29.1% used it to update their status,
  • 25.8% to find news and stay updated
  • 21.7% for work purposes
  • and 9.4% for research. 

School educational uses (and I have posted about some of them in this blog) do not seem to have been incorporated into this marketing study. Of course there is some overlap in the results but it is interesting that non-social uses are in the majority. The self-promotion and headline grabbing uses that have have dominated in the news media and been responsible for the contempt shown for this this tool appear to be wrong. It is still in its very early days but education and information seems to be a very big part of the way it is going.

Fake websites – Internet literacy

Why is our first impulse to believe something that we see, read or hear? Especially if it is in print, online or comes in an “officially” looking packaging? How do we teach ourselves and our students, that another impulse has to follow the first one immediately: Evaluate…critical thinking… learn to listen for and to your own “gut feeling”… cross referencing…”

So far I have brought together some of the hoax sites and will work on organising some suggested activities that will lead the students to “discover” the problems with not evaluating the information they find.

So I have included most of the sites I have found, and believe would be useful in classrooms, below. Any other good sites would be welcomed. Next step some simple and medium level activities

Don Tapscott: more on growing up digital

This is a short interview of author Don Tapscott (Grown Up Digital) and family talking about growing up in the digital world.

Interesting that when discussing multi-tasking. He describes the difference between the young and those older.  The Read/Write web also posted something about the topic of Multi-tasking, The Older You Are, the Better You Multi-Task (If You’re a Woman).

In new data, released by Integrated Media Measurement Inc. (IMMI), it claims to give us insight into how men and women engage in “simultaneous media use.”  According to the study, it’s more common for women to watch TV and use the computer than it is for men. What’s more, women supposedly get better at this multi-tasking as they age. I always though that it was a given that women were better at multi-tasking, and not just in a digital sense, because they have been doing it in all sorts of areas for years. This study just adds more weight to my long held beliefs.

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