Saturday, March 2, 2013

Do You Know Instagrok.com?


Information Literacy | Learn about Information Literacy on instaGrok, the research engine

Whenever I start working with students on a research project or paper, I ask them if they have thought about the keywords that they are going to use to find information. After selecting a topic, I think finding quality and relevant keywords is one of the most important aspects of developing good research skills. This is important whether you are using print resources and need to use the index in a book or using a subscription database or even a general search engine. The problem with helping students find their keywords is that for large projects every student has a different topic. Working one on one is extremely time consuming. 

Last fall at an in-school staff development session, one of the teachers shared a resource called, Instagrok. It is a search engine, but it doesn't look anything like Google. It is very visual and uses concept maps to display results. The teachers in the room were fascinated by it. I don't know who mentioned it first, maybe it was me, but someone said that this web tool could be useful in helping students develop their selected topics in a research based assignment. I was thinking that the students who seem to flounder when trying to find information for their review of the literature for their independent research project (IRP) in science could really benefit from using Instagrok.

Students using Instagrok in English II on Digital Learning Day
The teachers seemed to agree that we should introduce this tool to the students and get them trying it. So we did. On Digital Learning Day, February 6th, I visited an English class as they were using Instagrok. The students were asked to write an argumentative essay on a topic related to justice. The teacher gave them broad topics from which to choose, but the students had to figure out a way to narrow their topics. Instagrok helped them do that. I tweeted out pictures all day long to illustrate the activities we were doing at Patrick Taylor for Digital Learning Day. For this particular picture, I shared it with the people who created Instagrok. They tweeted back to me which is how I met Andrew Bender, president of Instagrok. I asked Andrew if he would be willing to talk to some of my students, but he wanted to talk to me first. We set up a 30 minute skype one day where he gave me some background on Instagrok, and I explained how the kids were using it. In the mean time Mrs. Maher was interested in having the students in her web mastering class talk to Andrew. 

Mrs. Maher's 4th period web mastering class skyping
For this event, Mrs. Maher had some questions for Andrew. He explained that his partner founded Instagrok, and he came aboard when a mutual friend introduced them. Right now they are the only two running the show. Mrs. Maher really wanted him to explain what kind of educational background you need to run a start-up. Both Andrew and his partner have degrees in computer science, but many in the industry do not. He believes that being able to code is a skill that is highly sought after in his business. 

Ready to Skype
A couple of weeks later, I scheduled a skype with Andrew with a small group of high school students. These students either used Instagrok in English or science class. They were there to tell him what they liked about this resource and what they thought could improve Instagrok. He began by asking them specific questions. The students were extremely thoughtful with their answers and suggestions. One student explained how she used the topic in each bubble of the concept map for each of the paragraphs in her essay. Another said that she found new terms related to her topic by grokking. They told Andrew that they liked the sliding bar with Einstein that allowed you to get more sophisticated results, and they liked that there were no more than 10 bubbles for every topic. They thought the simpler, the better. He asked them about the gallery which none of them had used. They thought maybe the name of it should be changed to explain what it is.

Skype session in the library
Andrew explained that he would be traveling to SXSW in Austin, but when he returns to California in a few weeks, the students should be watching Instagrok because some of their suggestions might be incorporated into the updates to his program. This is the kind of 21st century experience that I could never have imagined when I was in high school. The students had the opportunity to talk to someone in the work force across the country, and their opinions about his product might be used in changing the product to make it more user friendly. That is so powerful  for the students, and it is what makes teaching so exciting to me.

By the way, there is a lot more to Instagrok than I described in this post: find key facts, links, videos and images all on your topic. Please click on my grok at the top of this post and take it for a spin. I was really impressed with the key facts that I got when I searched "information literacy." 

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