Don’t try and hide!

'Hidden Intersection' photo (c) 2010, Hugh Lee - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I had a really interesting conversation with a student today. I had my students working in groups and as I was discussing with one group how useful Twitter was for staying up with current events one student looked at me and said : “You know Mr. MacCollum, I Googled you before the year began. I found your Twitter feed. I Googled all my teachers before the year began.”

One of the other students said: “That’s creepy.”

The first student responded with: “No it’s not, I wanted to know about who was teaching me this year.” Then they explained how they knew a lot about me before hand and how that made them really excited about starting class.

So who’s right here? Is it creepy? Or does it help relieve stress for some by knowing who’s going to be their teacher?

I think the second one. I built up my Google profile in part with this in mind, although admittedly I didn’t expect this to happen. It reminded me though that you can either control what is out there about you, or you can leave it up to the rest of the ‘net to decide. I’m glad I chose to define myself, for at least this one student (and maybe more) it made helped them more comfortable coming into my class. For those who haven’t considered writing a Google profile, consider that you control the content, not somebody else. This is the reality of the students that we are now teaching.

Using wikipedia

How is Wikipedia used in real life?

I recently read a great post from Christopher Dawson on ZDNet appealing to teachers to stop the prohibiting the use of Wikipedia.  He makes a lot of sound reasonable arguments for using Wikipedia, and he is right it is a great starting point that is a lot more interactive than Encyclopedia Britannica was in our day.  Personally I like Wikipedia, a lot, it is far from perfect, but it can be used effectively, and quite frankly I know of nothing better to use for answering questions surrounding pop culture!  However I always try and keep this post in mind when I am talking about it, because there are certainly things to be concerned with.  I quite liked this particular ‘how-to’ guide to Wikipedia, it visually represents the things that I have always tried to tell my students, but for which I could really use a visual reminder.

All of this was a preamble to the picture I’ve included in the post: it appeared in my Facebook feed, I’m not sure that this is an appropriate use.  Or perhaps they need to put the ‘how-to’ guide up in hospitals!

Interesting adventures with Google

About two months ago I wrote an entry about a visit that Dr. Ross Todd had made to the University of Alberta.  I had the chance to listen to his presentation and meet him after and he showed us some interesting Google Apps, and I think I mentioned about how I was planning on coming back and doing an entry on them.  As things developed though with Christmas and other adventures, I never really got back to it.  Since I had the opportunity to present these to my staff last week I thought now would be the perfect time to highlight, just in case some of my staff members come by the blog (as I hope they do).

So first off, in order to access the first two search tools, you have to do a Google Search first, but when you do you can click on the ‘Show options’ button on the top left just under the Google image.

Google Wheel – this is one of the neatest things that I have discovered.  As someone who is often dealing with students who are writing their IB papers, I struggle to help students ‘focus’ their research questions.  I cannot count the number of times that I have been told ‘World War Two’ when I asked them  what subject they would be tackling.  Since WWII is very broad topic I was impressed when Dr. Todd mentioned that Google had developed something called ‘Wonder Wheel’.  Essentially the wheel is a different way of viewing your search.  A way of recognizing the links between various topics.  A sort of mind map in a very general sense.  The other nice thing about it is that the search remains active in the right hand column and every time you click the column readjusts to fit your new search string.  To access Wonder Wheel just scroll down to the viewing option, you’ll see: ‘standard view, wonder wheel and timeline’.  I did a search of World War II events and you can see the results.  It is not perfect, but for those students who need more focus, it is a great tool.  It can also be used in class to show the relationship between concepts.

The second Google tool is the next search option just below ‘Wonder Wheel’, Google Timeline.  This lays out your search results in a nice graphical interface, and in this case I have taken my Wonder Wheel search on the decision to use the atomic bomb.

You can see how there is a spike in the 1940s (around the timing of the actual bombing), and later in the 1990s, obviously at a time when interest in the topic surged.  If you are looking for sources this can be a useful place to start.  It also  allows you to further refine your search through the year and then down to the month.  Some sources are actually primary sources that have been digitized, others are more modern documents which refer to more modern interpretations of past event.  Many of the primary sources are archived in such a way that you have to pay for them.  I might still prefer to search the historical databases, but this is a useful, quick source.

There are a couple of other Google tools that Dr. Todd showed us, and those will be the subject of a future entry, as I think they are worth exploring.