Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reflections from ISTE

The Blogger's Cafe is nearly empty.

Most conference-goers have left the building for the River Walk and dinner plans. I had a late lunch so I've got a little time on my hands. Time for some reflection.

I presented at one session here in San Antonio. It was actually a BYOD workshop entitled "Five Mini Lessons in Information Fluency." From what I could tell it went well. Later tonight I'll email the participants and share with them more resources for taking the ideas home.

The hardest mini-lesson to get across, in my estimation, is browsing. The concept of browsing isn't difficult, although it can be a tricky way to search. Using a search engine is the other way and that is more oriented to efficiency and results. Browsing is an adventure and it's hard to define what strategy always works best, other than to say that this way of searching is like playing a game of "hot or cold" where the objective is to keep getting warmer until the information being sought is found. Unlike the childhood game, there is no one to tell you if your browsing is getting you to a warmer or colder place. It's an activity where interpretation and evaluation happens with every click. It seems a lot easier than that, but an incredible amount of time can be wasted by browsing.

Squeezing five lessons into 90 minutes should have been snap, but we were rushed. Consequently, a teaching method I would like have used with browsing was passed over while we talked through the steps. Talking isn't a great way to teach browsing. It's ultimately a hands-on activity.

But the big danger is that when a class full of students starts to browse, whether they are in fifth grade or teachers and librarians at an ISTE conference, the "aha" moments are hard to capture. That's why I recommend using a tag-team approach to browsing practice. Provide only one computer. Assign a challenge to the group. Ask for a volunteer to come up to the front to drive the computer for one decision. View the result of the student's choice as a group. Decide if things are getting warmer or not. It's unlikely the student will get the information needed with one click. Therefore, the other decision this student makes is to select the next driver (or just go down the aisle or around the circle, as you wish).

After each click--no student gets more than one mouse press--elicit a group response: warmer or colder? If colder, the next student might merely want to hit the BACK button to return to a warmer place. As an alternative, you could spice up the activity by providing a "phone a friend" option if someone is really stuck.

Here's the challenge I used at ISTE for which I could have used this approach. I showed a typical Language Arts assignment to write a paper on the American Dream. Other than financial prosperity, I required the participants to identify other themes using a Subject Directory. The top level of the Subject Directory lists categories like Home, Research, Sports, etc. The challenge is to mine down into a category (not all will be effective) to discover themes. It's a good use of browsing as a brainstorming strategy. In the workshop, this approach would have eaten up some time, but I think participants would have benefited from the interaction a lot more than the solo searching they did. It's an activity that works on a lot of levels: skimming, recognition of relevance, finding relevant and new keywords to follow in the results, failed attempts, persistence....

Here's a link to the Lesson prompt I used. Perhaps you can find ways to use an activity (not necessarily the American Dream content) like this with your students.

Tomorrow morning I head back to Chicago and home. It was good to take a moment to reflect in the Blogger's Cafe.

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