The Quest for Content in a World of Google, Gadgets & Graphics

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Let’s teach young people the importance of deep understandings, critical thinking, and clear communication by matching quality content with effective technology for engaging learning experiences.

As Web 2.0 applications become commonplace, the line between technology consumers and creators is blurred. From the Kindle to the iphone, gadgets provide easy access to information. Digital cameras are tools for instantly sharing multimedia information with the world. The purpose of this session is to identify ways to create effective, efficient, and appealing learning environments that incorporate the best of what technology has to offer without losing the depth of thinking and richness of information that comes from authoritative content.

In a universe where googling is a pastime, gadgets fill our pockets, and graphics replace words, how will we teach young people the importance of deep understandings, critical thinking, and clear communication? The key is matching quality content with effective technology. Use technology-rich resources and experiences to provide a context for subject-area communication and collaboration. Help young people use technology to access, evaluate, apply, and create subject-area information across the curriculum. Apply quality content to meaningful learning contexts.


The World of Google, Gadgets, and Graphics

In 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote an article titled As We May Think for Atlantic Monthly discussing a machine called the "memex" that would record all of a person's memories. His goal was to make knowledge available to everyone. View the cover page and read more about digital history at the Teaching Digital History blog.

In many ways, Vannevar Bush's dream has become a reality. Total Recall by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell focuses on how the e-memory revolution will change everything. Bell and Gemmell state that digital recording, digital storage, and digital search are the three streams of technology feeding the "Total Recall" revolution. For more information, check out the MyLifeBits project.

Gadgets and teens are leading this revolution. This is particularly true outside the traditional classroom. My husband and I are 4-H volunteers working with a group of young people known as the SET (science, engineering, technology) Squad. We collaborate with teens to set up learning experiences for younger people. During the setup for a recent event, we noticed that almost every teen was either talking on the phone, texting or taking photos between activities. The family night event was digitally recorded by volunteers and parents alike with 12+ cameras, 400+ photos, and 10+ videos. Images were shared, tagged, and commented on Facebook.

As we were reviewing each science activity I pointed out that other cool projects could be found at Steve Spangler's website. Since they would be setting up the activities for their own after-school programs, they were very interested. A couple teens immediately "googled" Steve Spangler on their iPhones and started exploring the possibilities including joining the Twitter, Facebook, and Blog feeds. Someone else pointed out that the video demos could be downloaded to an iPod. These aren't wealthy, suburban kids. These kids live in a rural county of 2500 people with less than 1 person per square mile and a per capita income of $15,000 per year.

As I think about these teens and technology, they have many digital tools at their fingertips.

... But what about Digital Content? If the information and resources are "out there," what's our job as educators?

Regardless of whether a student ultimately becomes a chemist or an accountant, the ability to effectively use information is critical. As young people become information scientists, they must be skilled as both information consumers and creators. A wide array of content is available to educators and their students to build these skills.

What makes a novice different from an expert? Based on our knowledge of the differences between novices and experts, how do we help student information scientists develop the necessary repertoire of knowledge and range of skills and strategies? Consider some of the following key areas:

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The Quest for Content

Many young people lump all information types together. They don't differentiate between a primary and secondary source or notice the difference between fact and opinion.They lack skills in evaluating and synthesizing information depending on "copy and paste" for reports and papers.

Let's explore four ways to engage students in the use and creation of information including primary sources, remixes, mashups, and interactives.

Using and Creating Primary Sources

The Internet is at its best when making primary source materials available to a broad audience. A primary source is a piece of information created from direct experience such as actual records and artifacts that survived from the past like diaries, letters, photographs, or coins.

A digital reproduction is an electronic version of an artifact such as a newspaper clipping, objects, or photograph. Digital reproductions allow the original to be stored, protected, and preserved, while making the resource widely available for study (Lamb).

Be sure to explore the Library of Congress's Teacher New Section for many new ideas.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers is a website that provides access to newspapers. Let's say students are reading Dragonwings by Laurence Yep and want to learn more about the San Francisco earthquake. Do a search for April 1906 and see the headlines of hundreds of newspapers. Read the articles and examine the photos. Check out their popular topics. Also check out today's newspapers at Newseum. Compare the same news stories in different regions or countries around the world.

As students better understand primary source materials, they can begin creating their own. Check out the Wayland Student Press Network, a student-produced publication.

With easy access to still and video cameras as well as online tools for creating slide shows, students can create their own, original content. Topics that work great for these types of projects include interviews, oral histories, science labs, and skits. Explore the Canada: Your Story is My Story project as an example.

Learn more about primary sources at

moon mattersUsing and Creating Remixes

Remix means to take cultural artifacts and combine and manipulate them into new kinds of creative blends.” (Knobel and Lankshear, 2008)

Students might access photos and videos from NASA to create a multimedia project on "Why the Moon Matters" in today's society. As they create their project the learn to select and evaluate resources as well as cite sources.

Educators often design educational materials that are re-mixes of existing resources. They may be materials rewritten to meet the needs of different reading or developmental levels, reformatted to attract young people, or redesigned for the teaching and learning environment.

At Remix America (currently down/check later), participants can examine and remix historical videos. The Ease History project provides a way to see four videos at once. At the Digital Vault you can create your own remix.

Neil Stephenson, a Canadian history teacher did a great project called "The CIgar Box" project. Young people remixed images to create their own history box. Check out examples at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The project is based on the Calgary Science School Virtual Museum project. Check out the process, student projects and a self-assessment. Also, check out his student's Propaganda panels.

Using and Creating Mashups

A mash-up is a web application hybrid. It combines data or functionality from two or more sources to create something new. These have become increasingly popular with Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, maps, and photo networks.

With so many different sources of information, it's sometimes difficult to get the "big picture." Mash-ups provide a way to begin synthesizing information. For instance, Google Maps can provide a geographic view of content. At his blog Learn Digital History, John Leeconnects the Library of Congress Folklife Center audio interviews made after the bombing of Pearl Harbor with Google Maps. You see Buffalo New York on the map, then you can hear what the people said.

Think of the ways young people could create their own mashups. Show them the Sherlock Holmes maps. Use the Mark Twain Stormfield Project for ideas. They've identified Mark Twain's Connections on Google Maps. Could your class create a project identifying this connections to other places around the world?

Using and Creating Interactives

What kind of content do we want? Materials developed specifically for young people or materials that teach young people to use adult resources? Interactives can do both. Explore ways that young people can participate in and create their own web comics, tutorials, problem solving environments and games for learning.

Websites such as a Games for Change focus on real world games with real-world impact. Many of the these games are youth-produced and may provide inspiration for your students. For instance, the game Ayiti: The Cost of Life was produced by Global Kids and asks young people to help a fictional family living in Haiti. The game also provides a social network support system.

The tool SCRATCH can be used to create simple games and interactives.

Quality Content and Meaningful Contexts

Facilitating Learning: Pathfinders, LibGuides, and Social Bookmarking

Create student-friendly research guides. Check out Buffy Hamilton's Research Project.

Combine quality resources with an effective pathfinder. Check out H1N1 from EBSCOhost and H1NI LibGuide. Find other examples of LibGuides. To see other examples or create your own, go to LibGuides Community. Learn more at LibGuides (about $549 per year for schools).



Is technology changing the way we think about content access and creation? It depends how it is used. Let's take three of Google's new tools: Chrome, Squared, Knol, and Wave.

Google Chrome is a web browser. Although it's an interesting browser, what's appealing about this site is the tools provided for learning about the system including animations, videos and a web comic.

Google Squared is a tool that allows you to search, organize, add, and cite content. When you search for a category, the system creates a square of information from facts found on the Web. The results can then be downloaded as a Google Doc. The approach encourages learners to think about structure and patterns in content. Sometimes it helps to add the word "types" such as cloud types.

Google Knol is a tool for sharing knowledge much like Wikipedia. It's a place for young people to experience how information can be shared, reviewed, and made better. Who decides what content is best? How do we go about evaluating information? These are important questions in the information age. In the past, people looked at the author and publisher. Researchers depended on peer reviewed journals. Today the opportunities to publish are evolving. Many materials are being published by multiple authors or developed over time in the form of collaborative projects such as wikis. Google's Knol is a timely example of this evolution. People post articles. Others are free to make comments, review the article, and rate the quality. Some author open the article up for collaboration. Many post their materials as open source documents. Organization such as PLoS are using this system to organize publically accessible documents.


Users can share, meet, collaborate, discuss, comment, vote, and more. However like any social situation the quality of the experience is only as good as the content.

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Developed by Annette Lamb, 11/2009. Updated 10/2010.