The Importance of Curation

Over the past several weeks, I have been working on a number of projects. A part of almost everyone of these has included the identification, review and recommendation of select resources for teachers to use in the classroom or for trainers to share with teachers. I have to admit, I love exploring for resources and I truly get lost in the process. I strive to locate the best quality resources and research that will help teachers.

A significant aspect of this that keeps me looking is the realization some time ago that what worked for me wouldn’t always work for other teachers. An incredible technology coach and teacher, Davina Mann, was one of the first to really call me on this. Most of my teaching assignments were in the middle and high school grades. We I began work with the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), my responsibilities expanded. I had to let go of my preconceptions about how a classroom worked and what would work in a classroom. I always felt like I was doing pretty well until one day I spouted off about how this app or that app could easily be adapted to the lower grades. I really hadn’t given it serious thought, just in my mind I could see several ways to use it in my classroom. I remember glancing over at Davina and she had this look that basically said, “You are full of it!” She never said it, but I remember stumbling through the rest of that sentence and slinking away. Could it really be used with younger kids? Could I have done it? I honestly didn’t know. It was then that I really started looking for ways to fairly and honestly look at every piece of software, every app and every web resource that I would recommend seeking to find all of the good and all of the bad, but doing so from multiple points of view.

That is when I began curating, rather than collecting, resources. I began scouring the web looking for evaluation tools. I was even part of a team, along with Davina Mann coincidentally, that developed an app evaluation tool for the ALEX iPad Professional Development course. I found blog posts from Tony Vincent. I found tools from Kathy Schrock. But it seemed that everyone of us were missing something. Most recently, I have fallen in pedagogical love with Liz Kolb’s Triple E Framework. I’ll be sharing even more about my thoughts and upcoming uses of Triple E in future posts, but having a way to evaluate these resources is half of the battle- putting high quality resources into organized collections around various curricular topics is the penultimate goal of any self respecting Ed Tech Specialist.

There are a variety of ways to collect these resources. Over the years, I have effectively used LiveBinders, Diigo, Google Bookmarks and a dozen other tools to collect resources. They all work and each have a place in your Tech Coach Toolbelt. When looking for a tool to place curated resources in front of students so that they can quickly and easily get to where you want them to be, nothing may be better than Symbaloo. The visual nature of the Symbaloo webmix, carefully curated by a teacher results in a huge time saving as 25-30 elementary kids will be able to get to just the resource you want them to visit by simply clicking or tapping in a particular icon.

However, my go to tool for curation resources for teachers is still Participate Collections. With thousands of resources already in the database, finding quality resources and quickly organizing them into collections could not be easier.  But it doesn’t stop there because any resource that has a unique URL can be added to a collection. That means that you can have a collection that features six weblinks, four YouTube videos, three Android or iPhone apps, a Padlet board, a Thinglink interactive picture, a Google doc, and a self paced Kahoot! all side by side in a single collection.

A recent update to the collection tool provides a beautiful card style layout to your collections, making it even easier to navigate and quickly find the particular resource you are looking for. Multiple users can still collaborate on the same collection, providing ample opportunities for team curation. Once your collection is complete, you can share it easily. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense, because your collection will never be complete. But that is no problem. Participate collections can always be edited, adding new resources or removing obsolete ones. If you haven’t done so lately, head over to www.participate.com and take a look at the new collections tool. The, do yourself, and me, a favor and curate a new collection of quality resources. Be sure to share it on Twitter!

Eye Observe Classroom Observation App Review

Earlier this week, I became aware of what could be an incredibly handy iPad app for Instructional Technology Coaches and administrators.  The app is called Eye Observe and, at least for now, it is available free in the App Store.  The purpose of the app is simple- provide a quick way to record educator observations, both notes and even video.

The app opens to a login screen at which you must create an account.  While not everything about the account is made clear, you are able to store observations to pull up later so hopefully that is the only purpose.  Once you are logged in, you are presented with a split screen. On the right is a live feed from you iPads camera above a blank area that you’ll later learn will display any video clips you have captured.  Below this area are a trio of buttons- New, Aggregate Reports, and Saved Forms.  Tapping New gives you a pop up men from which you can choose from four types of observation forms.  The included forms are Coaching, Record, Teaching Standards Assessment, and Technology Competency.  

The Coaching form is a well designed guide to record an initial coaching meeting with space to record outcomes and action plan for example.  It even includes space for both Coaches and Teacher comments.

The Record form provides a quick, easy to complete form to record classroom observations, walkthroughs, conferences, really any type of interaction between a coach and a teacher or admin and teacher.  You still have the option to capture video or still images that can even have notes attached to them.

Let me skip down to the Technology Competency form for a moment and I’ll come back to the Standards Assessment in just a moment.  The Technology Competency form provides a nice observation tool to record much if the technology usage and integration that is observed by the coach or admin. A self assessment is also available.  This forms allows the observer to record the number of students engaged with different technologies as well as the tools, software or web resources being used, but also gas prompts to record what type of interaction is taking place.  The prompts seem well thought out and there is just a hint of some local influence; that is some competencies and strategies that may be common or even required in Arizona but may not be as common in other areas.  I do wish there were national references here such as the ISTE Standards or even a quick SAMR scale to measure the level of integration but as the author is from Arizona State University and the app is copyrighted by the Arizona Board of Regents, there may have been some specific goals the team was trying to achieve.

Which brings us back to the Teaching Standards Assessment form.  Once again, this is a well designed tool to quickly record observations in a variety of settings.  The description provided indicates that this could be used either as a formative, ongoing assessment but also as a sum native assessment.  It appears to be very closely aligned to the Arizona evaluation system but it demonstrates some wonderful features.  While the bulk if this form is a series of Likert scale items a quick tap on the information button for each displays the continuum for that item.

While I have not tried to create a large number of dummy forms, the Aggregate Report and Saved Forms buttons clearly indicate at lease the ability to record multiple observations and to compile some of that data.

Now for a wish list.  This is clearly a fresh project.  All information that I could locate indicates that the app is free…for now.  Hopefully the Board of Regents will continue to provide this app for free.  Possibly they could add the analyzing of additional data for Arizona users for a fee to subsidize the app overall.

There is also the question of data security.  Is the data being stored on my device or, because I have logged in, is t being stored on a server somewhere?  Since this could include teacher performance evaluations, that answer needs to be made clear.


That login screen is a bit buggy too.  It works fine, almost too well.  Every time you leave the app, you are forced to login again.  This includes even if you simply jump out to check a text message or email.  During a full evaluation, this would get frustrating. (During the writing of this post as I jumped back and forth to detail the various forms, I have logged in 22 times.)

One promising thing is that it appears as if there is room for additional forms to be added.  This has great potential and could be the source of income.  I’d gladly download the app for free to have access to, say, just the coaching form, but take advantage of in app purchases for a few others, especially if they were less locally specific or even specific to my state.  

All in all, this is an incredible handy app as it is and with a few tweaks and a reasonable pricing model would certainly find a permanent place on my iPad.  Hopefully the team will continue to make it available to the education community. 

Eye Observe is available in the App Store at https://appsto.re/us/3e-zab.i

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