Saturday, May 26, 2012

Research Bar Improvements

May 15th, 2012: Research bar appears in Docs:
"What's this box?"

I peered at it uncertainly on his small netbook screen, until with a flash, I understood what I was seeing. And then, like the present you didn't know you wanted, but love, I was smitten.

 "That is a research bar." I told him. I understood immediately that Google had combined Search with Docs to make it seamless to search from within your document.

The timing was perfect. My students had just begun a major research project a few days before and they were ready for this tool. We learned how to select words in a doc and search for them, how to link to a result and how to cite it within a few minutes.

I tweeted out about our find. My friend Will Kimbly (@willkimbley) retweeted that with a reply. His follower Wanda Terral (@wteral) picked it up and wrote a great blog post about the features of the research bar.

We've been using it for ten days and love it, but as an educator, and a Google Certified Teacher, I see ways to improve it already.

1. Integrate Google Scholar: The research bar seems to do a basic keyword search just like any other key word search in Google. That works a lot, but not always.  Use case: A student studying the Renaissance highlights the word, hits ctrl-r to research it, but mostly gets hits about hotels.  I predict Google will soon integrate Google Scholar into the results of the research bar, or make that an option users can turn on.
**Added: I should have watched my Google Educast #49 before this post.  Scholar is already an option!  To switch to scholar results click the little grey arrow next to the Google logo in the search bar. That's also how you can access images and quotes too.

2. Use other words in the document to help establish search context: The next most likely improvement Google would make would be to look at the other words on the document to make more accurate search assumptions about what you might be looking for. So that if I typed: "Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo were all artists in Renaissance Italy." and then searched Renaissance, I should get results about the art and architecture of Renaissance Italy.

3. Use writing to determine lexile level for results: Okay, this falls into the area of creepy scary, but Google could analyze the lexile level of the written document and then skew search results to provide links with lexile levels slightly higher than what has already been written. Using Advanced Search we can already filter Google results by reading level, so this seems like a viable next step. It should probably be something the user can choose to turn on. This would mean kids from any grade and any achievement level would get results in their zone of proximal development.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Advice for my laidoff colleagues

I'm working on letters of rec for my colleagues who were laid off by the school board this week. Seven people have been cut just from our English department, over twenty school wide.  I spoke to one of them this morning and gave him some tips for professional networking.  He asked me to send them as links and I thought they might be useful for people beyond my own site.

1. Make sure you are on Linked In.  Add everyone you know in education. You can ask for recommendations on Linked in too.  These are usually shorter than typical letters of rec and can range more broadly.  If you have former students on it they can write you recs too.  If you have parents of former students they can recommend you and of course colleagues.

2. Visual CV:    I've seen some resumes on here that look very impressive.  Use the URL for your visual CV as your link on your twitter bio.

3. Twitter: Look up the hashtag #edchat and follow people who use it that look good to you.  It's not easy to build a network on short notice, but it's time to start.  If I had to find a new job right now my twitter network would be my best resource. (See also hashtags related to your subject area, #engchat, #sschat, #scichat, #mathchat.) I'm @JenRoberts1

4. Of course you probably already know about edjoin

5. Network: Most educational conferences have a vendor area.  Many vendors are looking for teachers who want to work with them to create materials.  The largest ed tech conference in the world will be in San Diego at the end of June. Walk the vendor hall with your personal card and promote yourself.  You don't need to be a tech expert, just an experienced teacher willing to learn about their product. Often you can get free or discounted admission to conferences if you offer to volunteer.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Twitter is harder than you think

If you are reading this you probably clicked a link on Twitter, which means you are probably comfortable with Twitter and used to the way it works, but lately I keep finding that people new to Twitter seem to be having trouble with it.  These aren't tech newbies either, one used to work for the other social media giant, another is an educational technology expert, and, okay one is a ninth grader, but still supposedly a digital native right?
Somewhere I read that something like 60% of people who sign up for Twitter stop using it within a month. (Fine, I went and found the source for that.  It was a Neilsen study from 2009, but probably still something close to that percentage.)  Some of them must quit because of time or other commitments, but I think now that there must be a lot of people who feel like they just can't figure it out.

There is a lexicon to Twitter that you have to crack, RT (re-tweet) MT (modified tweet) and all those crazy hashtags. There are the intricate rules about who can see your tweets.  If I tweet to Mary and Bob follows Mary and me then he will see that tweet, but if he only follows me then he won't. Except that there are hundreds of Marys and Bobs and many relationships like that which determine who sees what.

There are direct messages (DM) which are private and @ messages which are not. A friend new to twitter wrote a DM to me announcing to the world that he joined twitter. I pointed out that this was just to me. Another friend decoded Twitter wrong and saw RT as response-to. This caused most of her @ messages to go to all of her followers and it made it look like the person she was responding to was saying something that she was really saying to them. See what I mean about complicated.

The hardest part about Twitter, though is building the relationships. Taking the leap to send an @ message to someone you don't really know. Figuring out who to follow, avoiding spamers (that's another post all together), and wondering if it is worth tweeting to the nine people who followed you.

I get a little frustrated with Twitter experts who send out a tweet during a workshop to show the attendees how "simple" it is to get answers from around the world about a question.  That works great for people like them who have been on twitter for years and amassed thousands of followers, but it almost never works that well for those new to Twitter.

My advice to those newbies is to stick with it if you are following people you like learning from. Don't be afraid to reply to a tweet that interests you. Share a link that you thought was great. Engage in Twitter chats about subjects that interest you. Re-tweet the things you think are valuable. Spend a little time on Twitter each day.  There are amazing people there and they are giving the world a lot to Tweet about.