Whoa! Zotero

Goodbye 3×5 cards.

No, really, this time I mean that you must get rid of these cards and jump feet first into the web-based research revolution. Easybib was cool, but this is awesome.

I just downloaded and installed Zotero, a Firefox extension. Here is part of the press release from the Center for History and New Media at GMU who created it:

Zotero is a free, easy-to-use, open source research tool that runs in the Firefox web browser and helps scholars gather and organize, annotate, organize, and share the results of their research. It includes the best parts of older reference manager software (like EndNote)—the ability to store full reference information in author, title, and publication fields and to export that as formatted references—and the best parts of modern software such as del.icio.us or iTunes, like the ability to sort, tag, and search in advanced ways. Using its unique ability to sense when the user is viewing a book, article, or other resource on the web, Zotero will—on many major research sites—find and automatically save the full reference information in the correct fields.

Zotero: The Next-Generation Research Tool now available

Wow! I am an avid Endnote user, so playing with this is going to be cool. So far, I was able to capture the entire citation info from a book listed on Amazon with one-click and capture a website’s info, too. It requires FF2.0, so I lost Session Saver. But it is worth it to have Zotero.

Combined with an RSS aggregator and Google Notebook, this could radically change the ways that students do research.

Rethinking Peer Review

Given the discussion that the Critical Studies had earlier this week about Morville and folksonomies — and what counts when doing background reading for research — this article from Wired makes me rethink how the research gets done in the first place.

Scientists frustrated by the iron grip that academic journals hold over their research can now pursue another path to fame by taking their research straight to the public online.

Instead of having a group of hand-picked scholars review research in secret before publication, a growing number of internet-based journals are publishing studies with little or no scrutiny by the authors’ peers. It’s then up to rank-and-file researchers to debate the value of the work in cyberspace.

The web journals are threatening to turn the traditional peer-review system on its head. Peer review for decades has been the established way to pick apart research before it’s made public.

Wired News: Web Journals Take On Peer Review

The entire notion of what and how academics write is being turned inside out. In the past, the process of peer review supposedly meant that everyone got a fair reading and constructive criticism for revision, all in an anonymous fashion.

Of course, that is not exactly how reading and writing in the academy actually happens, but that is beside the point. Now, with blogs and wikis, it is easy to publish and collaborate on our writing and research in ways that makes peer review more transparent and immediate.

In many ways, I think that this makes us more accountable, in a good way, to get ideas out there faster. I was talking with a fellow grad student earlier this week and we were sharing how it is tough to get articles related to technology “out” in a timely manner given peer review processes. Maybe these online journals are the way for writers like her and I to share our work.

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Notes from “Using Multi-Media Records of K-12 Practice as Teacher Education “Texts””

Here are some notes from another presentation on campus:

Using Multi-Media Records of K-12 Practice as Teacher Education “Texts”

by Pam Grossman and Anna Ershler Richert

In this presentation we will explore the use of web-based, multi-media representations of practice in teacher education. Both of us are affiliated with the Quest project, of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Quest has been actively developing web-based cases of teaching for use in teacher education. Over the past several years, we have been looking at how teacher educators use these representations of K-12 practice in their teaching, and how both their assignments and the nature of materials focus novice’s attention on particular aspects of the work. We will introduce the overall project and explore more deeply the uses of these materials in our different teacher education settings. In addition, we will discuss how we have
documented our own practice and created web pages that describe this
particular teacher education strategy in our classes. Our documentation work has has provided us new ways to think about our students’ learning, which we will explore in this presentation as well.


Anna and Pam will talk about their work as teacher educators — how to put practice at the middle of teacher education in the university and not to wait until they are in the schools. There will be an overview of the Quest project, then talk about how we use these multimedia texts in our classrooms. Finally, they will talk about future directions for the project, both in terms of practice and research that could be done.

  • Project Overview
    • Making practice visible: the development of the CASTL website
    • Learning to use multimedia materials in teacher education, developing curriculum and pedagogy
    • Creating a community of teacher educators
    • Making the practice of teacher educators visible
    • Documenting student learning
    • Now we want to know, “so what?” What is the new advantage to using these tools?
  • Part of this began as a way to help teach English teachers how to talk about literature with their students
    • How do we get them to lead kids in student-centered text discussions?
    • There was a two hour video of a class discussion on the website, and it was a lot to see (it happened in April)
    • My students would not see all the work from the entire year that led up to that April discussion; how did the teacher get there?
    • We went back and videotaped earlier parts of the year, and the website became collaborative between teacher educators
    • Yvonne Divans Hutchinson’s website.
    • Where does this fit in an already crowded teacher ed curriculum. I wanted it to be more than show and tell, and have the pre-service teachers investigate the website.
      • I developed an assignment where I created a set of questions around the teaching of discussion, and I had my students investigate the site in pairs. People took different questions.
      • Second, they had to come back to our class and enact a discussion on their questions. The pairs were split so they could lead a discussion with half of the class.
    • Decomposing practice into constituent parts
      • Leading a discussion in the teacher ed classroom to approximate
      • Then, they had to identify something that they learned from Yvonne and do it in their classroom. They taped it and brought it back to their student teaching classroom.
      • Finally, they brought it back to our teacher ed classroom. They viewed the video, reflected on their experience and sought input from their peers.
      • We are teaching them to learn from the practice of others and to learn from their own practice, making the connection between the two.
  • How to help students grapple with the centrality of “knowing the learner” in secondary school settings?
    • One thing that I didn’t expect would be how obvious it would be to establish the purpose for talking to students about how they should love their subject, and their students.
      • They didn’t understand why they were taking adolescent development
      • There are many websites of secondary teachers that are teaching well, and I wanted them to look at websites of teachers who were having success teaching students of color
    • They needed to know them as learners in general, but also in the different subject matters, too.
  • There were three texts in the adolescent development class
    • One, a hefty text of course readings
    • Two, the voices of kids — talking to adolescents
    • Third, working with the websites of experienced and accomplished teachers of adolescents
  • The websites were assigned by content area and students were asked to investigate the sites alone and with partners.
    • I gave them a frame to look at the sites:
      • How did the teachers learn about their learners?
      • What did they find out?
      • How are they using this information?
    • You have to build things into your practice to get to know kids.
  • How can we use this information to create a professional learning community for teacher educators, helping prepare doctoral students to do this work, too.
  • Representation
    • What do we choose to represent?
      • Do we need lots of video?
    • What is the nature of the representation?
      • Do we need full videos, or just clips?
    • How do we design multi-media representation of practice to best support novice learning?
    • What central principles and practices lend themselves to multimedia representation?
    • What practices, assignments, and contexts facilitate learning from multimedia representations?
    • What are the consequences for student learning in approaches like this?
  • We can now look at all these representations in many ways and we need to think about how best to use them.
  • Q&A
    • Q: One thing that you noted was how this helped teacher educators have discussions with one another. How?
      • A: Teachers talk in stories, and the video helps us look at the fuller picture of what is going on within a larger context. It is a type of case in teacher education and builds on that work. Many of the teachers come back and want to create websites so they can share their work with other teachers.
    • Q: How do we avoid the trap of having teachers look at these examples and dismissing it (these kids are not like my kids, etc.)?
      • A: I have them look at practices, not the practitioner. I also have the enactment piece, so they will try it out, even if they are resistant. One student said, “I didn’t think this was going to work, but I couldn’t believe how well it did when I tried it.” So, they can all analyze it in some way.
      • Need to select sites and focus carefully on practice. The stance that you take on it, of the “images of the possible,” is what matters. Approach it from an inquiry stance. We know that the students are going to react this way, so we need to anticipate it and design assignments in such a way that they will be able to get something out of it.
    • Q: How do novices and expert teachers look at it? What do they see in it at different stages?
    • Q: How do we have students explore this in a social collaborative way?
      • A: Looking at these sites together helped students see different things that they may not have seen on their own.

eSchool news article on New Literacies Research Team

Here is an article that features a summary of the great work being done by the New Literacies Research Team. I saw them at AERA earlier this year and I think that they are on to some interesting points about online reading, especially in light of all the Wikipedia-ish concerns this summer.

Study aims to improve internet literacy
Researchers test new way to teach internet comprehension skills to students

By Laura Ascione, Assistant Editor,
Researchers at the University of Connecticut and Clemson University are in the middle of a three-year project to find a proven method of boosting the internet literacy skills of disadvantaged students. As part of the study, they’re testing a new way to teach students how to read, understand, and critically evaluate the information they find online, through a “reciprocal” model that has been proven to work well in teaching traditional literacy skills.

eSchool News online – Study aims to improve internet literacy

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Missing the (Power)Point

What is it with our affliction with Power Point? Check out today’s Foxtrot:

FoxTrot by Bill Amend – September 8, 2006

Over the years, I have seen many cartoons, articles, and voices in education and the media taking pot shots at Power Point without ever really talking about the root of the problem: lacking a point for the presentation itself. Everyone from the Onion to Wikipedia takes shots at it. There is even the infamous Gettysburg Address made from a PPT template.
Rather than blaming the tool, why aren’t we talking more about how and why we compose with PowerPoint or other slide show programs? And, while Microsoft and other software makers would invite us to think that PowerPoint is just a tool…

“We are trying to make PowerPoint a much more intuitive product,” said John Duncan, product manager for Microsoft Office. “We are in the business of giving people easy-to-use tools. It is up to the users in terms of how they want to use them.”

Wired News: “The PowerPoint Amateur Hour”

… we also know that writers are bound by the affordances and constraints of what the software itself presents. But, it isn’t always about the tool.
Case in point: I was sitting through a session where a tech-savvy presenter wanted to share some information about a project, but said at the beginning how much he hated Power Point presentations. He then went on to his website, turned on a CSS template for a his presentation page, and created a bulleted list of points that he could scroll through screen by screen, just like a slide show. And then he talked. And talked. And talked. No bells and whistles. No audience interaction. Just a Power Point talk with the unofficial Power Point to go with it.

There are many harsh critiques of PPT, to be sure. For instance, check out the work of Edward Tufte. Some of this criticism is well-deserved, as Tufte points out here and here. And, the classic essay in for educators considering the use of PPT, McKenzie’s Scoring Power Points, is still worth a read. Given the new Michigan high school standards and expectations for students to create and publish digital media, I think that these three pieces should be required reading for teachers.
All that said, I am not quite so ready to dismiss PPT outright, although I want to be sure that we are using it in schools for more engaging purposes than what I imagine Paige has created for her book report. I recall the one time when a seventh grade student of mine made a really slick PPT – with different fonts, slide backgrounds, and animations (as her computer lab teacher taught her to do, sigh…) – about Roosevelt and his role in WWII. Unfortunately, she spent so much time on the PPT (and I, as a new teacher, forgot to scaffold her in the research process), that it was about one Teddy Roosevelt, not Franklin. Did PPT cause that problem? Partially, as the cut and paste ease of making the presentation was appealing. But part of it was just poor teaching and no self-monitoring by the student.

The other reason that this PPT issue caught my attention today is that earlier I talked to language arts consultants from around the state about doing digital storytelling workshops and, of course, the question of software came up. One person asked about PPT, in particular, because that was the only multimedia program that she knew how to use. Could that work for digital storytelling? While I think there are better programs for this, I said yes, PPT could work.
Honestly, if David Byrne can make PPT into art, then we can surely use it to make digital stories. But, remember, it is about the art, the story. Not the program. If they are pointless stories, then we will have the same reaction to PPT digital stories as Roger does to his co-workers and, perhaps, his daughter. Let’s keep the family happy and teach students like her how to make a point with multimedia, not just get lost in it.

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Some thoughts on assessment of new media

David makes an interesting point about blogs and assessment. After noting the old aphorism, “Not everything that is measurable is valuable and not everything that is valuable is measurable,” he adds this:

I think the things that are most educationally valuable about blogs and read/write web tools are the hardest to measure. Certainly, the creativity they encourage, the excitement they generate are almost impossible to reduce to a simple checklist.


Indeed, I think that another little saying that involves assessment might be in order here, too. “What gets measured gets treasured.” So, not only are the intangible aspects of new media composing probably the ones that are most valuable to teachers’ pedagogy and students’ learning, they are also the most difficult to justify in light of standardized tests and other measures of accountability.
Interestingly enough, in Michigan, our new high school content expectations are filled with references to multimedia and other digital projects. In a way, it is good that these digital creations are now “in the standards,” for that makes it easier to justify professional development and the like. Yet, the conceptual jump from teaching the personal narrative to the digital story — and back again — is still a somewhat difficult one to make both in terms of talking about the writing task itself and the teaching of it.

All the same, I agree with David’s main point. Some of the aspects about teaching writing with technology are the ones that are most difficult to explain and to evaluate. Yet, we need to begin to think about ways to do that. One place to begin looking for answers is Bernajean Porter’s “Evaluating Digital Projects” site.

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