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Three’s Company When Curating Content

by Julie D. Ramsay
 | Jun 26, 2013
In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this monthly column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.

Recently, I’ve been engaged in several professional conversations about the role of a teacher in today’s world. As the debate rages on, I couldn’t help but wonder: If we, as educators, are resistant to change, are we really looking towards meeting the needs of our digital age learners? Are we strictly content disseminators? Do our students need us for that anymore?

Where do we fit into the picture?

As teachers it is our job to help every child grow and move along the learning continuum, but are we doing that if everything that we teach them could have been answered or found easily with a simple Google search? Is that really educating students? Is it about giving them simple facts they all could have found using the devices they have in the palms of their hands?

Of course not! Our jobs are to teach these students how to find the relevance in their education and apply it to other aspects of their lives. Today’s students are looking for meaningful ways to use what they are learning in our classrooms to create something new to share with one another or to apply it to solve a real, authentic problem.

Today’s students expect more than many of us received in our education. However, with these changes comes a new set of challenges. We now have an overwhelming amount of content to absorb and process before learners begin synthesizing, evaluating, and critically thinking about publishing something new for their audience. The vast quantity can easily become unmanageable and chaotic for our students, causing them to lose focus on their objective. How can we help our students curate and organize their content in a meaningful way?

Here are three ways that my students and I have found to curate information that assists students in gathering their content before they begin walking down the publishing path.

Wikispaces. Wikispaces, now called Wikispaces Classroom, was the very first collaborative tool that my students and I began using. I loved it instantly because multiple users from different locations could add, edit, and revise each page. If you have ever used a word processing document, using Wikispaces is intuitive. With Wikispaces, in addition to adding text, you can upload all kinds of files: audio, video, URL links, images, Word Documents, PowerPoint, and spreadsheets. Also, you have the ability to embed projects from other sites such as Voki, Voice Thread, Padlet, ToonTastic, Glogster, Google maps…the list can go on and on. Whatever content you or your students locate online can be connected and housed within Wikispaces.

One of the exciting parts of Wikispaces is that they are always listening and changing to meet the needs to today’s teachers and students. Wikispaces has added an easily manageable private social network to their pages where you and your students can communicate about the content being added to the wiki. It stretches the classroom time beyond school hours and gives students the opportunity to work collaboratively, leaving one another notes or comments upon their work. As the teacher, you have the ability to monitor complete history of student discussion, writing, and file uploads, giving you the ability to formatively assess their learning.

Through Wikispaces, students receive the support that they need to curate relevant, meaningful content for their publishing and adds the authentic audience and social aspect that today’s learner craves.

LiveBinders. I know that I have written about LiveBinders previously, but this is a tool that easily helps students (especially older students) manage the digital content that they encounter while building background knowledge. Because students are familiar with the organization of binders with tabs, this is a format that will be familiar to them. LiveBinders easily formats and organizes web pages, PDFs, videos and images all in one place. Instead of students running around all over the Internet, everything is housed right there in the binder ready for them to analyze and synthesize into their writing and publishing. LiveBinders also offers a collaborative aspect as binders can be shared and built upon by more than one user, which is great for students working together in group projects. In addition to being an online tool, LiveBinders is offered as a free app giving you and your students more flexibility in curating content.

EdCanvas. EdCanvas is the relatively new kid on the block when it comes to content curation, but it offers a lot of options that make one sit up and take notice. Once signed up, a user builds canvases of Google, Flickr, Educreations, DropBox, YouTube, Google Drive, URL bookmarks, and much, much more. You can even upload slideshows, PDFs, media, and audio files. All of these are all done within the dashboard of EdCanvas. Once an item is located within the dashboard, you can drag and drop it into the canvas. As a teacher, you can monitor the amount of time students spent on different resources within the canvas and see student’s comments or requests for help.

As an additional note, a couple of weeks ago, I was using EdCanvas with my students and was having some technical difficulty. I tweeted about this glitch and within a couple of minutes, EdCanvas began helping me troubleshoot and solve the problem. They are hands down the best tech support that I have ever had. They are very dedicated to providing teachers and students with a quality tool while continuing to update and adapt to meet the needs of today’s digital learner.

There are a multitude of uses for these curation tools across content areas and grade levels. I love that these tools are flexible for the students or the teacher to use, from school, home, or around the world. I have used each of these tools to curate content that I wanted to give every student access. But, we also have used all of these tools to curate a collection of each student’s work on one topic, such as their Innovation Day projects that they published on Wikispaces at the Twitter request of a class in Canada. With these three tools, students, parents, and our global peers have easy access to our writing and publishing.

So as the debate continues about the role of teachers, one thing that does not change is our privilege of working with students and guiding each one towards reaching their highest potential. Today’s world is ever changing; thankfully, we live in a time where, with technology, we can rise to challenge and provide our students with the best learning opportunities possible.

Join @JulieDRamsay & @IRAToday for a Twitter chat on "Writing in the Digital Classroom."  The chat will take place on July 18th at 8pm EST. Use #IRAchat to join the conversation!

Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator and the author of “CAN WE SKIP LUNCH AND KEEP WRITING?”: COLLABORATING IN CLASS & ONLINE, GRADES 3-8 (Stenhouse, 2011). She travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.

© 2013 Julie D. Ramsay. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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