I started my journey of technology integration in the classroom in 2007-08. Back then, I was the only one in the classroom with access to a working computer, as the two computers that sat in the back of my room were far too slow to access anything much. That meant I was the only one who needed to access the websites for the classroom.
Then came del.icio.us to my rescue. I was able to organize all the links I wanted to use in my classroom and keep them all in one place, regardless of which computer I was using. Not that I had more than the one personal laptop I brought to and from work. Del.icio.us worked for me, but I came upon some issues when I created what are now being called “playlists” for my students.
In 2008-09, upon securing (through a grant, Craigslist, and friends’ discarded laptops) about ten computers, I began using del.icio.us to create lists of websites for my students to practice specific standards. But if having them pick the right list wasn’t difficult enough, getting them to cycle through was a frustrating experience.
I discovered Sqworl, I think at ISTE 2010. Sqworl was a lifesaver, as it allowed me to collect links and share them with my students using one URL. Students could then cycle through the sites in the specific order I set. But it was still so wordy. And I also had to generate a new Sqworl for them each time.
I was introduced to Symbaloo in 2011 and it felt like the collection system I’d been looking for the whole time. The site looks a lot like an iOS screen, which was very easy for my students to adapt to using. There is text, but also an icon and a color. I used different sections of the grid for different subjects, and then organized the required, optional, and review sites with specific colors. That way, a student could work on the orange sites in math for the day, open the black sites if they needed to review a subject (usually linked to a YouTube video I created or found) and then go more in depth with the gray sites. And it’s pretty easy for students to differentiate between the orange site with the turtle and the one with the 10/10. Students loved it, I could change it as I saw fit and still keep the single link, and keeping it as the home page on the computers -I had about twelve at the time, much faster than the original ten- allowed students to quickly access the sites. I continued using Symbaloo last year, marking it as the home page on all 24 computers in my classroom and it worked pretty well.
But even with the ease and visuals of Symbaloo, I couldn’t easily give my students directions as they did their work on the other site, which definitely impacted the amount of directions I’d have to have written up for them or explain each time before we began in our centers. Usually those directions included which games on certain sites to play, or what level to choose on other practice sites.
This fall I began my new adventure outside the classroom. Around the same time, I went to the Imagine K12 Educator Day, where teachers get a chance to meet the new edtech startups as they really get to work evolving their products. I met Amy Lin (@heyamylin) and saw her new product, Edcanvas, but couldn’t see a use for it. Just another collection site. Just another place to put all your links, which is good for competition, but not very useful in a real educational setting. I had tried Edcanvas, thought it was okay, but there was no reason to move to a different site for creating my playlists, as Symbaloo had (pretty much) everything I wanted. I wished Amy all the best, but couldn’t see a reason to promote the site or use it myself. And that’s how I felt until March.
After SVCUE‘s Teach Through Technology event, I realized that I needed a new playlist/collection structure. Something that allowed me to have a greater visual than Symbaloo’s icons, along with the ability to have comments along with the site/document/video. Gooru is definitely a good option, but it felt a little complicated for novices to use, especially if I wanted to allow them to access the playlist in any order they wished. (Yes, I’d definitely recommend Gooru for classroom use, especially with their ability to tag collections/playlists with Common Core State Standards and even play a very select part of a video. This is especially good in middle school, as some of our RCSD teachers have demonstrated this year.)
At that point, I either saw a retweet by Edcanvas or an original tweet by someone else sharing their canvas of Common Core resources. I’m trying to collect as many valuable CCSS resources for our teachers as possible that I visited and saw how Edcanvas has evolved since the beginning of the school year. It was exactly what I was looking for: a visual way of collecting websites, documents, videos, and more; easily draggable; capable of embedding comments; simple. I was sold.
Since then, I’ve used Edcanvas to completely redesign our district ed tech resources site and am recommending it left and right. Until the next evolution, be it Activate Instruction or something unexpected from the next cohort of Imagine K12, perhaps relying on voice activation and a partnership with EdElement’s Hybrid LMS.
It’s not about the person, the company, or what I’m comfortable with… it’s about what’s best for our students and teachers. So as much as I like Amy Lin and all the entrepreneurs working on awesome products like ClassDojo and Gooru, if something comes along that is better, that’s what I’ll be moving onto. Because it’s all about the kids.