PLN Unit 2 Reflection – Organising information

This unit was great – although it took a long time to slog through all those new interfaces. Some I had met before, but I had not been able to work out how they worked or what the point was. I enjoyed having the tutorials to show me through the not-very-intuitive (for me) buttons and functions. Diigo in particular looks like it has been made by someone who speaks Vulcan. By contrast, I found EverNote much more intuitive and it has the advantage of clipping content, so that if links disappear, I can still keep the information. The searchable tagging feature of both seems very useful as a way of filing and retrieving information.

The reflection questions actually stimulated a lot of thinking on my part. Here goes …

Like a lot of teachers of the ‘Gen-X’ age bracket, my information organising and information sharing methods are transitional between old and new technologies. I keep a commonplace book (of which I think EverNote is a digital version). I have a school-issued pen-and-paper diary (which my school tells me is in its final year). I have folders in my Outlook email account. I have ring binders on shelves with lesson plans, worksheets, newspaper clippings and so on, labelled by year level or by the text taught. I also use my computer to save things in ‘Documents’ files, and Word is the main program where I do store information. I periodically back up these files to an external hard drive and I use DropBox for my photos. I love big-memory USBs for moving information around, especially large student projects like Photo Stories and short films that our school server does not like.

My digital information is splintered and stored in lots of different places. In some ways I find this gives me a sense of security, as online tools can disappear. On the other hand, I have the digital equivalent of the messy desk. I am hoping to address this with the tools we are learning in the PLN 2013 course.

When I use digital information storage I do miss the spatial-tactile memory function of storing and finding information – I tend to think of where an item is, as well as under which topic it is. I will think, “It’s in the red folder on the top shelf.” Of course, this tactic only works for very limited amounts of information and nowadays it is an inadequate approach to sourcing and managing the vast piles of information we have available. I find this experience also with reading on my Kindle, which I love, but which suppresses my sense of where, in a physical sense, a passage occurs – at the beginning or at the back of a book. Searchable tags try to replace this, but I still find the experience engages fewer aspects of memory and there is a ‘flattening’ effect.  Perhaps one day we will have searchable virtual archives that engage the functions of both the Web 2.0 environment and our sensory memories.

As for sharing information with my workplace colleagues and students, I tend to only use tools made available on the intranet – namely email, wikis and, very occasionally, in-house blogs. In some cases this is dictated by student well-being policies and the imperatives of school marketing. I am very cautious about adopting some of the social bookmarking and networking tools examined in this unit in the classroom; but I am happy to use them ‘freelance’ in my life as part of the wider community of educators.

Many of us have our own private accounts with Twitter, Facebook, content aggregators and blogging sites, but these are not directly connected to our work life in the way that I have seen suggested by practitioners like Joyce Valenza and Buffy Hamilton.

When information sharing occurs between staff at my school, it all happens behind the firewall. We do not use external, Web-based social bookmarking, networking, blogging or the like in any official capacity to make ‘groups’, share curriculum materials, lesson plans, worksheets, resources or collegial discussion. Again, I use these aspects of professional learning and collegiality in my connections to the wider teaching profession, rather than in direct relation to the classes I teach.

What we do have is wikis. Wikis can be created for a class as an audience or as participants. For example, for a unit on documentary film with my Year 8 English class, I made a wiki for every student in the class where they shared their work and commented on each other’s’ ideas. I also had a ‘class wiki’ where I uploaded activities, assessments, resources, and links.

Teaching teams also use wikis to share lesson plans, resources and assessment rubrics. These can work quite well when all team members participate; but what I notice is that in the end everyone ends up emailing each other the work because no-one has the time to keep checking wikis when many of them remain static. There is no way to set up a ‘reader’ for all the wikis one subscribes to within the school.

EverNote, which has recently been endorsed by my school as a tool we can use, has great potential for creating shared resources and for keeping track of new information found on the Web. I am looking forward to learning about how I could use it with colleagues and students for content curation and organisation as part of the research process and for resourcing the curriculum. I wonder whether, like a blog reader, there is some way of setting up alerts if new material is added by another member of an EverNote group?

For information organisation on the Web, I have been struggling with working out how to shepherd information streams into something resembling a useable order. I have ended up opting for the Reader bundled with my account with WordPress, which is a good way to collate blogs that I am interested in, rather than having to visit each one separately. With EverNote I can definitely see the benefits of storing and organising information ‘in the cloud’ as this means that crashes and changes of devices do not result in data loss.

At first glance, the idea of ‘workflow’ itself was a little alien for me. My day at work feels more like a work blizzard, rather than the stately progress implied by the word ‘flow’! Ideally, the ‘flow’ of my work as an English teacher is determined by the recurrent cycle of preparation, resourcing, teaching, reflection, assessment and evaluation of units of work. That said, I can definitely see junctures in this process where having some model for how to go about sourcing and organising information would be useful.

At the planning and resourcing stages I could use Pocket, EverNote and Diigo to keep track of interesting resources.  These tools will help me create a focussed collection of resources for my students. Despite their apparent facility in using Web 2.0 tools, especially Tumblr and Facebook, I find that students do need to be explicitly taught how to search for, organise, share and make sense of web-based information in purposeful ways. To use their nomenclature, teenagers tend to be a bit ‘random’ in how they use information.

Unfortunately, scant time is allocated to research skills, information literacy and using new tools. Our library staff teach the students many skills in specially designed subjects, but I suspect most regular classroom teachers are unaware of this and the skills are not reinforced elsewhere. The students tend not to generalise information literacy to other areas of their learning – they think it’s just a ‘library thing’.

Digital technologies and internet access are changing the way we work, socialise and use our leisure time. We use information on the run, between many devices, and blend our domestic, professional and social lives through our tablets or smartphones. We seek news, opinion and analysis from traditional sources, but also from social networking and blogs. An author can now have a readership having never published a book. A social media phenomenon can influence public opinion outside the channels of talk-back radio and mainstream media. At the same time, the big media interests can have influence in digital, far-reaching ways.

This certainly sets me a challenge to keep learning about tools in which I do not feel fluent. Schools, also, are grappling with the dual demands of remaining current and maintaining control of their profile in the public domain.

To finish:

Here is my first note from EverNote.



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3 responses to “PLN Unit 2 Reflection – Organising information

  1. Marianne Macartney

    I really related to this blog, I can understand totally why you say that workloads at schools, especially as English teachers, are like a blizzard., After a lovely 18 months at the library I am about to launch into that blizzard again for 10 weeks! Admittedly though, for only part of the week. Still, I can see, like you that the will be a real need fr me to be organised and to save and share information in the most efficient way possible. And I also agree that students really only use Facebook and twitter and do not make use of any other tools available to them I know the battle i had with blogging in the classroom a few years ago. But when do we find the time to skill them?

    • Hi Marianne – yes, the blizzard of marking in particular gets me down. At least with the tools I am learning about in this course, I can find ways to quickly file information that looks interesting and find it again when I want it. I have already been using Pocket today to ‘timeshift’ my reading. I felt inordinately proud of myself.

  2. Cameron Hocking

    Thanks for such a comprehensive post. I’m particularly interested to hear about the approach in individual schools towards sharing and the use of social technologies. For example, while schools do seem to encourage sharing ‘behind the firewall'(great line) this does limit their staff to only getting information from a limited bubble. We tend to see educators in isolated rural schools who are the early adopters of technology for social learning, in bigger organisations we can tend to become a bit blinkered and only operate in our small circle.
    I think the attitude is changing, but the next challenge will be how we apply this to our students and how they learn. It sounds like your wiki works really well. Did you see an increase in engagement when students used it?
    I look forward to reading more from you and I’m glad you liked the unit.

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