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New tools…a new series. Alltop

Over in academia-land (also known as Learn, Do, Teach…) I’m writing a series of blogposts for my current subject about my experiences trying out some new tools for connecting and sharing. I figured they are worth sharing here too, so here is number one – Alltop.


When I first read that I had to “identify six (6) digital tools that are: (a) new to you, i.e., they were not already part of your PLN before you began this subject; and (b) of particular interest to you in developing your PLN, or introducing knowledge networking into the curriculum” in order to “record the process of selecting, testing/trialling and evaluating of each tool as entries on your blog throughout the session” I was a little worried. I’m a serial signer-upper – pretty much everything that had been mentioned I’d already signed up for, tried out and either continued with or rejected and moved on. This was going to require a bit more digging. I’ve come up with three that I already knew a bit about (and had accounts for) but really had done nothing with – Quora, Pearltrees and Tumblr – posts on these will appear soon. Then, on my daily Medium email, I saw an article about Meerkat, a new live-streaming app for Twitter – yay! a new tool to try. I’m still looking for number 6 – all suggestions gratefully received – but luckily I chanced upon Alltop from Guy Kawasaki’s LinkedIn Behind the Scenes post on how he posts on social media. So here we go, new tool no. 1:

Alltop

Alltop is not new, apparently it’s been around since 2008 but one way and another I hadn’t come across it until recently.

Alltop describes itself as providing “aggregation without aggravation”. The creators of Alltop have set about providing an answer to “What’s happening” in a topic by providing links to the five most recent articles from selected websites, blogs and other RSS feeds (such as searches). You can search for topics, browse from categories on the header or browse alphabetically. On a topic if you see a headline that interests you, hovering over it displays the first paragraph. If you want to read more simply click the link to be taken to the site.

Alltop Digital Media News
Aggregated sites are selected by people, not algorithms, and they are open to suggestions.

You can create your own page of links from selected sites and interests. For this you need to create an account and log in. Now, next to each feeds header you will see a plus sign which is clicked to add that feed to your own page.

Once you’ve curated your own collection you can share it with others – it will have a URL similar to http://my.alltop.com/hbailie. Alltop has gathered together My Alltop pages of “famous/cool friends“. I didn’t recognise many but was interested to see Rohit Bhargava who I referenced in my digital essay on curation last year.

Alltop has a free iPad app as well as the website. The app includes images for the five Hot Topics from any topic page and an annoying banner advertisement at the bottom (Adblock Plus Chrome extension takes care of the ads for me on my computer). Entering your username allows you to see your My Alltop on the app but you can’t add new content to it there.

Signing up

There is no option to sign in with Google, Facebook or other open ID. Simply select a username (lucky for me my favourite, hbailie, was available), enter a password and your email for verification purposes.

Evaluation

Alltop is a very clean looking way to view recent content on a broad range of topics. The capacity to select what you want to see on you own page is useful. I particularly like the way that hovering on a link gives the first paragraph, it makes it very easy to decide whether to view the full story or not and allows me to look over a lot of content in a short time.

Alltop would be very useful for people who have never used an RSS reader before as it makes the process of finding and adding content very simple.

Not being able to edit your content on the iPad app makes it less useful to me as I’m most likely to use it on my iPad on my daily commute.

Not all topics I’m interested in have their own page and some of the search results seem a bit random. A search for “teachers” found “Christian Church” (!); Education; English Language Teaching”; Gambling” (!?!); “Homeschooling”; “India” (?), and “Inspiration”. Hmmm.

Will I keep using it?

Probably, a bit. I have My Alltop paged linked on my Chrome bookmark bar and the app on my iPad. When I have an idle moment I might well open them up. But it won’t be every day.

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Curate or be curated

(This is an edited version of the presentation I gave at the TeachMeet held at Overnewton College on 21 June.)

Today I want to take you through the journey of my latest assessment task completed for my masters, in particular I want us to think about the value of an authentic audience and the impact this can have on a student. Those of you who were at the last teachmeet know about the Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) I’ve started, our host Imogen McLennan is another of the cohort but somehow I managed not to know that at the time! Since that teachmeet I’ve completed the second and most significant assessment task for the subject.We were asked to write an essay on a topic of our own choosing, coming from an area of interest from the modules and readings of the subject, and present it digitally, that is published online and taking advantage of the affordances of online tools.

  1. Choose a topic that allows you to pursue investigation of a topic or field of interest
  2. Draw from the content of the subject and your extended reading in the subject, as well from the personal and participatory experiences in this subject
  3. Develop knowledge and insight in your topic of choice to support your personal professional interests or professional workplace inquiries.
  4. Demonstrate how a connection of a range of media forms can empower reader engagement through more than simple text, in order to engage with a remix of high quality content, knowledge, and media to create a energizing academic essay.

That said, the assessment was to be based on the content – there are no marks for the prettiest website or most exciting whiz bang effects. Choosing a topic was tricky. The word limit was 1800 +/- 10%. This was not going to be a thesis even though my early topic thoughts easily could have run to thousands of words.

And there was my problem – all these topics are so big…I had to drill down to something that was actually manageable within the constraints of the task.


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by verbeeldingskr8

Flicking through the various topics we’d covered I got to curation and had my lightbulb moment!

I realised that as a teacher-librarian I’d been curating information through the informed selection of resources for the collection since pre-digital times, although back then I would have called it “collection development” or simply “selection”. Fast forward to the development of the world wide web and the information explosion of Web 2.0, and in an attempt to continue to use my selection skills to resource the curriculum I have switched my focus to the selection and sharing of online resources through a variety of curation platforms (although I didn’t know it was called curation until I saw Joyce Valenza speak at SLAV in 2012).

I refined the top to “Curation as a tool for teaching and learning”. This was part of my successful proposal:

Moving beyond the library and the role of the teacher-librarian the essay will explore curation as a means of making sense of the information flow and how it is thus an important activity for all learners. It will explore curation in the context of information literacy, digital literacy, information fluency and open, social and participatory media, and examine activities such as peer critiquing, user-generated content, collective aggregation and community formation (Conole). (Read the full proposal here.)

So that was the hard part sorted – choosing a topic.

Then came lots of reading and researching – Evernote truly is my best friend! It quickly became clear that the whole experience was one great big curation exercise:

  • Finding the resources
  • Sifting and sorting to locate the best and most relevant parts, reading, absorbing, comparing, contrasting. Finding and making sense of various viewpoints.
  • Placing them in context and adding value through my interpretation and applying the lense of other concepts and ideas discussed and explored elsewhere in the subject.
  • Presenting it as a coherent whole, in the form of an academic, digital essay.

Right from the start I knew I wanted to use a curation platform to present the essay. I dabbled a bit with Scoop.it but quickly realised that Storify served the purpose much better, and even though it forced me to be more linear than I thought I wanted to be, in the end it actually made sense.

The essay came together on Storify really quite easily and I was able to publish it a whole 24 hours before the deadline!

I shared the link on the subject forum and on Twitter with the subject hashtag #inf530. Like other students (I assume) I was keen to see what my classmates had produced and I checked out their essays as they posted links. Later that night Mel Cashen tweeted that a friend of hers (who I have no connection to) had shared my essay on Facebook – interesting! I guessed that person must know another student from the course. By Monday night there were 50 or so views of the essay which seemed perfectly reasonable. What came next was totally unexpected.

Tuesday morning I found this tweet in my notifications:

 

 

Robin Good! – I quoted him in the essay, he’s like the guru of content curation!

And he’s curated me!


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by hbailie

It’s a great example of what a good curator does – critique the information. He goes on to make a couple of criticisms and gives me a score of 7/10 – I’ll take that!

As a mature age “over-achiever” I’d given my best and would never be happy to hand up second class work but knowing that a guru is reading it makes you even more aware of what you’ve done. I’ll confess, I went and changed something in response to one of the criticisms (even though the “good “girl” in me thought that might be wrong – classmate Simon reassured me that it was the nature of digital, to be continually evolving! (And actually a bit later I edited it again to add in creative commons licensing.)

But that’s when things went silly. Other people, none of whom I knew, re-tweeted Robin’s tweet or tweeted about my essay themselves. When I checked my essay that morning there had been 500 views, by the evening over 2000. A day or so later 3500. Wow! More views than this blog has had in it’s whole existence. I wrote about “Going viral” on my CSU Reflection blog and had some lovely feedback.

So what does it all mean…

This whole thing was a totally new experience for me and I’m still figuring out what I think, some of the time it just makes me laugh. Less connected friends and family cannot believe it’s possible. My husband is totally amazed – he’s had refereed scientific papers published in print journals that would not have been seen by more than a few dozen people.

Over the following weeks I’ve continued to have interactions with people who’ve read my work, including others who I quoted or referenced. It makes me feel like the hard slog was so worthwhile, that I wasn’t just ticking another box along the way. I go and re-read and think I could have done better, and I want to do better – publishing to a global audience means that I’m not happy with “good enough”. This authentic experience has been incredibly rewarding, validating and motivating and it makes me think that if that is what I make of my experiences, surely the same applies to our students too.

Many of the digital essays written for #INF530 Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age (mine included) have been gathered into a Flipboard by Simon Keily – they make for very interesting and thought-provoking reading.

Postscript

The essay has now had over 19,000 views and has been assessed at a credit standard. Here it is:

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Second Melbourne TeachMeet

I’m off to the second Melbourne TeachMeet this afternoon.  I’ve got a 2 minute presentation spot and I’ll be speaking about scoop.it.

Here’s my presentation, I’m very pleased to say I was able to create it entirely using the iPad although I had to email it to myself as a powerpoint in order to upload it to Slideshare…anyone know if there is a more direct way?