Media Products for the K-12 Learning Commons

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As libraries continue to merge with computer labs to actuate the whole brain in learning commons, we see an ongoing need to purposefully incorporate technologies to augment the process. Recent work from Mihailidis & Diggs (2010) suggests a framework centered around four dimensions: expression, inquiry, production, and community. This approach is pragmatic. Collectively, these characteristics make thinking on both sides of the corpus callosum possible.

This paper will discuss educational technologies that are currently available and appropriate for use in a K-12 learning commons designed using the Mihailidis & Diggs structure. While the specific products discussed target younger learners, the theory is identical for all learning environments. Unfortunately, cross-platform operability is a rarity. For this reason, within each classification, I explore comparable apps for the two most popular devices used for K-12 educational technology: The iPad and the Chromebook.

Reviews of these products, when available, come from multiple sources, including Graphite, EdShelf, and some “in house testing” by two first grade students. Graphite “…is a free service…designed to help preK-12 educators discover, use, and share the best apps, games, websites, and digital curricula for their students by providing unbiased, rigorous ratings and practical insights from our active community of teachers.” EdShelf “…is a directory of websites, mobile apps, and desktop programs that are rated & reviewed by parents & educators, for parents & educators.”

Expression

Recognizing a variety of learning styles, preferences, and disabilities is pivotal in selecting tools targeting this dimension. Whether written, spoken, set to music, translated into art, or in the form of poetry, apps designed to allow for student expression are a must for learning commons reaching out to 21st century learners.

Using iTunes, iPad apps for blogging, which is a very popular form of self-expression, can be downloaded. In addition to microblogs, such as Twitter, more personalized blogs can be created using WordPress. While these are more appropriate for older students, KidBlog is an app designed for preparing the elementary and middle school crowd to publicly express themselves. Admittedly, EdShelf reviews of KidBlog only average 2 of 5 stars for learning curve and student engagement, with 3 of 5 stars given to pedagogical effectiveness. Yet, this seems like a very effective educational technology adjunct for the younger students. Graphite has a teacher rating of “very good” and learning rating of “good” for KidBlog.

The major blogging apps can also be downloaded for Chromebooks from the Chrome Web Store. A slight variation unique to Chrome, TweetDeck is used for accessing Twitter on a Chromebook. WordPress can also be accessed via Chrome by installing an app. Unfortunately, there is currently no obvious blog tool for younger students available in the Chrome Web Store. The Chrome OS does, however, offer an outstanding app to address personalized learning styles, including disabilities that the student may have. Read and Write for Google provides translation and other study tools that work with the Google Drive to assist the learner in multiple forms of expression.

Regarding the popular microblog Twitter, which is available on both operating systems, EdShelf gives it 5 of 5 starts for learning curve and 4 of 5 stars for both pedagogical effectiveness and student engagement. Graphite gives Twitter a “good” learning rating and has a “very good” teacher rating.

Personalized blog site WordPress also receives predominantly positive reviews by EdShelf with 4 of 5 stars for learning curve and pedagogical effectiveness and 5 stars for student engagement. Learning and teacher ratings on Graphite are both “good”.

Inquiry

Holistic media centers must not neglect the continued need for access to reliable and valid information used for research and reference. Alphonse de Lamartine recognized, “History teaches everything, including the future.” (Washington College, 2014). Arguably an overstatement, there is still significant truth in this statement that supports a need for inquiry. Technology should be available to assist the learner in investigation of both traditional resources and their digital counterparts.

The iOS devices can access digital versions of traditional resources for inquiry, such as the Encyclopedia Brittanica and many others that are applicable to all learners. iTunes U is an iOS-specific app designed for education of teenagers and adults. EdShelf reviews reveal 5 of 5 stars for learning curve, pedagogical effectiveness, and student engagement.

A free resource for the Chromebook that uses technological inquiry to augment traditional literacy is AR BookFinder. Several reviews on the Chrome Webstore praise this simple link that promotes reading. Chromebook users can also take advantage of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, but do so by way of adding a Chrome extension.

AR Bookfinder Homepage

The AR Bookfinder app for Chrome OS uses simple technology for inquiry to promote traditional sources of literacy.

While apps and extensions are gaining prominence, we should not overlook the value of bookmarking websites that provide both traditional and contemporary methods of inquiry from any platform with internet access. These include the ever-expanding online collection of MIT Press and other journals, Google Scholar, virtual tours of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Discovery Education.

Production

The ability for the learner to practice speaking seems to be a particularly important factor in this dimension. The antiquated approach of one-way information delivery from the educator exercised one’s listening, but neglected to develop articulation skill. There is also strong efficacy associated with storytelling and story creation, whether traditional or digital, for education. Minding creation as a higher order thinking skill, there is much benefit in production.

Using an iOS device, younger students may appreciate animated storytelling apps, such as Toontastic. Graphite gives this a “best” 5 of 5 learning rating and teachers report that it is a “very good” 4 of 5. EdShelf also has very positive ratings, with 5 of 5 stars awarded for both learning curve and student engagement. Targeting the adolescent, Animoto receives “very good” ratings from Graphite in both learning and teacher categories for allowing students to create video slideshows, but only 2 of 5 stars in all categories from EdShelf. Nonetheless, Animoto seems like a beneficial tool for production targeting those beyond elementary school.

Chromebook app Comics Creator is found to be comparable to Toontastic, targeting the younger age groups. Since reviews of this product were not available yet, I put it in the hands of two first graders and then struggled to get the devices back from them. My 6-year old daughter’s independent review (with some spelling error) was translated to read, “We get to create a story. It is the best.” The older crowd using a Chrome OS can use PhotoSnack to make slideshows similar to Animoto.

Comics Creator review

My first grader’s review of Comics Creator app for Chrome OS.

Community

Extending beyond the popular means of social media is a need for community. This is a way to promote digital citizenship and teamwork by harnessing the talents of multiple learners. Apps designed for collaboration are ideal to address this need.

iOS users can turn to Collaborize Classroom to engage students and promote group discussion without temporal or spatial restriction. While there is no quantitative evaluation from teachers, Graphite gives this iOS and internet accessible app a “very good” learning rating and one EdShelf user provides positive feedback.

On the Google OS, a more visually pleasing variation of this exists on RealtimeBoard. While there is not any educator-specific feedback, an average of 323 users gives this app 4 of 5 stars.

Summed Up

Compared to the Chrome OS, more media products have been designed and educator-reviewed for the iOS. Yet, technologies exist for both the iPad and Chromebook to promote the Mihailidis & Diggs (2010) framework for learning commons that is centered on expression, inquiry, production, and community. Regardless of the operating system, media products used in the educational setting should be varied to promote these four key dimensions of 21st century learning while targeting the appropriate age cohort. Strategies to achieve success in doing so may include a combination of apps, extensions, and bookmarks to provide the learner quick access to the educational technological adjunct.

References:

Mihailidis, P. & Diggs, V. (2010).  From information reserve to media literacy learning commons: Revisiting the 21st century library as the home for media literacy education. Public Library Quarterly 29: 1-14.

Washington College. (2014). Making the past present. Retrieved from http://www.washcoll.edu/departments/history/

Nicholas S. Favazzo, 2013

Nicholas S. Favazzo is graduate student in the Educational Technology MA Program at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, FL.

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