Monday, November 01, 2010

So Many Tools, So Little Time: Multimedia Tools

(This post has been cross-posted on Web Tools for Schools.)

From Flickr by RLHyde

I used to have a Next-Read stack of books.  These were the books I would get to when I had time. The pile grew from the space beside my nightstand to other spaces in the house.  I loved having a stack of books that I could look forward to reading in the near future.

Within the last few years, my Next-Read stack has not grown, but the list of things on my Kindle, my email Inbox, my Google Reader and my social bookmarking accounts continues to grow uncontrollably.

I began this study coming off of a weekend of learning at the School Library Journal Leadership Summit in Chicago. The theme of the conference was "The Future of Reading". I found myself doing a great deal of thinking about the bigger issues discussed at the summit.  Speaker after speaker shared insights and questions about what the future of reading holds.  As librarians, we all have questions about what this means for our libraries and for information literacy. Two ideas stuck with me this week. Deborah Ford, District Resource Librarian for San Diego Unified Schools reminded us that we must redefine reading.  And in Donald Leu's presentation on "Embracing New Literacies", a quote that stayed with many of us was, "The Internet is this generation's defining technology for reading."

Every time I discover a new tool, I realize how overwhelming this is. There are so many types of things to read and make sense of. And more and more today, none of these things stand alone. Sometimes a blog post contains a Voicethread.  A website includes videos and interactive maps.   An interactive map contains photos and summaries.  For any of us to be literate today, we have to be able to make sense of so many different types of information.

One of the things I am learning over time is the overlapping skills needed for many of these online tools. And I am beginning to realize that none of these tools stand alone. As I do more research into ebooks and online reading, I see that many of these tools are often combined into one publication. It seems that in order to be information-literate, readers will need to synthesize information in many formats.  And, as contributors, we will need to be savvy in a variety of tools if we want to be part of the global 

I often don't think of every tool as a kind of reading so this week I focused my learning on two tools that offer a new way to gather and share information in an attempt to expand my own definitions of reading.


I decided to learn about Voicethread because I had seen it used by local colleagues and had looked at it in the past but I had never created a Voicethread. Since so much of my thinking has been about how to use Web 2.0 tools with students, I wanted to see if Voicethread could lend itself to professional development and conversations with colleagues.  I have seen tools like Wallwisher be used to collect thoughts but Voicethread seemed to give more opportunity for sharing thoughts over time.

So, I created a Voicethread using photos from various classroom libraries around the idea of book organization. I think invited a few educator friends from around the country to comment.

Creating a Voicthread is an easy 3-step process. Upload-Comment-Share.

When uploading, you can upload from your computer or online sources.

For commenting, I had several options.  You can type a comment, record a message with the microphone on your computer, use the telephone or videotape yourself. Creators and commenters have these same options.

Sharing was the biggest challenge for me. I chose the email link and began to create a contact list with it.

Setting this up for the first project is a bit more difficult than it will be with future projects since I now have contacts in my list.

Getting the comments took a bit of time and energy.  I invited people to comment but had some trouble figuring out how to make the project public.   I also invited people to comment that didn't know about Voicethread.  But, they all figured it out very quickly!  I have to admit that the fun of the creation started when people began to comment.  I realized how powerful it is to have the comments become part of the piece. And I hadn't realized that comments could be either voice or text, depending on the choice the responder makes.   If many people comment, I can see the potential for a true conversation around a topic.  I have seen samples of Voicethreads with comments that fill beyond the border of the project and I can now see how unique that makes this tool.

I am glad that I tried this tool in a way that helped me think about professional learning.  I can see great possibilities for this tool in terms of professional learning.  I can see groups of people talking over time and extending the conversation to a more global community. We are currently in the midst of few teacher book clubs at school and I can see this as a way to extend the conversation. I also think it would be a great tool for looking hard at student work, especially in the area of writing. Putting our heads together when thinking about a child's work with a tool like this could really bring some clarity to a student's learning.

I would also love to use this with students. I found several samples of student writing on the site. I had really never understood the power of the comments as part of the piece until I created my own. Each comment actually impacts the piece which is something that other tools don't offer.  Student writing and projects can be shared with this tool. Our board policy allows teachers to use Web 2.0 tools with students if they have permission from our administration.  Voicethread seems like a tool that would be a great option for our students as it is one that offers an Educator version of the tool that allows students to work in a safe and closed environment. This is an important consideration when working with young children and I was glad to see this option.  The price is reasonable for a one-year subscription because the tool could has great features and can be used for so many things.

K-12 Educator Subscription Features and Pricing
I see tools like Voicethread giving students more opportunities to participate in a variety of conversations with peers. In Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Learning and Teaching in a Digital World, Berger and Trexler share the experiences of middle school teacher Bill Ferriter and his use of Voicethread.  Ferriter believes "that more students participate more actively in digital discussions than in the classroom and that they feel safe doing so.  It levels the playing field for the shy or unsure student, who is often afraid to speak in front of classmates."


My Own Learning
I first learned about mindmapping tools from Buffy Hamilton in a post she did on her blog, The Unquiet Librarian.  She used Mindomo to think through her library goals for the coming school year.  After reading her post, I decided to give Mindomo a try for the same purpose.    It was a quick and easy tool to use and one that I could see myself using in the future.  I loved the possibilities of this and the collaboration piece. When I discovered Mindmeister, I knew I wanted to give it a try. Mindmeister looked very similar to Mindomo with one difference that was important to me--the tool is available for the iPod and iPad. I am finding that if I have a choice between two tools, I want one that I can use on my mobile devices.  Knowing a bit about Mindomo, I decided Mindmeister was worth playing with.

I created a Mindmeister quickly as I brainstormed ideas for our new library website.  It is very similar to Mindomo with a few different bells and whistles. This is one of the easiest tools I have learned to use and it is also one that can be collaborative in real time. Just like Googledocs, more than one person can be contributing at a time for true collaboration.

A Mindmeister mind map that I created to brainstorm components of our library website

I am glad to know about mind mapping tools like these. I don't have a preference about which tool I liked better except for the fact that one is available on my mobile devices. For students, this would be a good tool to collect thinking.  And, just as Voicethread, I can see book clubs and teach committees using this to work with a topic of interest or need.  Rather than taking notes in a word document, a tool like the ones above could really help a group organize and synthesize their thinking.

What Does All of This Mean?

With the SLJ Summit fresh in my mind, I was thinking about these tools and how tools like this are redefining reading. I realized that it will be important for us, as readers, to know how to navigate as many types of reading as possible and to make sense of more types of information than we've ever had to before. I found myself quickly becoming overwhelmed with not only the tools I am learning about but also the multiple ways in which they can be used.

In this week's exploration, I stumbled upon the work of Professor Richard Beach and his work with Digital Commonplace Texts. His K-12 online conference presentation, "Constructing Digital Commonplace Texts Using Diigo, Voicethread, VideoAnt, and YouTube Annotations in the Classroom" intrigued me.   I had never heard of Digital Commonplace Texts  but as I explored, the thinking resonated for me. I found a blog post on the Digital Common Place Book at Point 7 that helped me realize why this idea resonated for me. In that post, Emlyn reflects on the Web 2.0 tools and the information overload we are facing. She writes,

"There is so much to know. I have adopted the practice in recent years of consuming as much information as possible. I subscribe to many blogs and newsfeeds. I have many social network connections. I follow links in texts and read background material, I trace out the network of informational connections. When I have a conversation and it becomes clear that myself and my fellow conversers are ignorant on something important, I look it up online.  What I decided to do was to take in more information than I could handle usefully, and damn the torpedoes. And it turns out there is a limit to what you can manage. I’m beyond it. "

This idea as well as Beach's conference presentation helped me to see these tools in new ways. Along with using tools such as Mindmeister, Voicethread and others to create more information, they can also be powerful tools for trying to make sense of the information overload we are facing. I am very excited about this idea and new ways to think about these tools for our professional lives and for our students' learning lives.

(This post has been cross-posted on A Year of Reading.)


  1. Franki, you've given me more to think about. I want to use VoiceThread to create digital portfolios for my students. Now, I've got more to check out.

  2. I love the new literacies because they offer kids an opportunity to publish their own content in a format that reaches out as far as the world and as close as home. But I hadn't thought of your point and it's a good one - some of these tools help us understand and cope with the information overload.


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