September 2015, I started a new role as the Professional Learning Team Coordinator with BC ERAC(Educational Resource Acquisition Consortium). In a nutshell, my core role is to support BC teachers, schools and districts with utilizing the resources within the BC Digital Classroom Collection.
There are 17 products within the collection, including those from World Book Online, EBSCO, Gale, Media Smarts, KnowBC, and myBlueprint. This whole package is very reasonable for schools; however, even a great price is a waste unless it is used effectively. Recently reading ‘Click’ by Bill Tracer, I read the following statement:
“The potential to win cash [100 000] in online contests and sweepstakes is one of the strongest incentives to move Internet users from remote control to computer keyboard, strong enough in this case to create one of the top search terms of more than 160 000 sending traffic to the world’s largest encyclopedia[Wikipedia].” p 154
It got me started thinking what it would take to ‘send traffic’ or usage to our BC Digital Classroom collection short of a contest with $100 000 in cash prizes.
The first challenge and what contests are good at doing is creating the motivation to the first action; however, if there is nothing of value from the action, it would just be an initial spike and then usage would return to normal. There are several articles written that highlight spikes in Internet search terms such as “Martin Luther King Jr.” and “Rosa Parks” when teachers are assigning research for Black History Month in February. It relies on teachers to effectively create a motivation.
The second challenge is to find easy value once at the resources. Students have so many stressors in their lives and live in a fast paced world of information flow, that motivation and attention span quickly wane if frustration is high to access the information needed.
The third challenge is that there is enough value to have students to choose to return, remember how to get to the resource, know how to find information, and keep in mind further reasons why they would ever return to the sites.
While giving an assignment that leads students to use specific search terms might get them to initially use a resource, it is only surface level value. In BC, the new curriculum is focusing on Big Ideas and Personalized Learning. Both of these require students to have more skill than just accessing a specific tool with a specific set of search term.
We can teach how to start with a search term and use additional information from initial searches, summaries, and reading encyclopedic articles to increase background knowledge as well as mining the references provided. This does require quick successful results if their patience and perseverance is not yet well developed.
What will it take to have students understand the wealth of resources they have at their digital fingertips and choose to use the BC Digital Classroom as the go to resource?
Using online information becomes second nature in our society; however, finding valuable sources is not second nature. Providing students with a window into a collection of vetted information on a wide range of topics enables the value to be found in using the resources within the collection. Having a collection of valuable information is not enough.
I believe the personalized nature and passion/inquiry-based learning are the answers for the challenge of choosing use available resources within the BC Digital Classroom. If students have seen the power of searching within a curated set of resources that can be restricted to meet their needs as a learner, they will be more willing to use them personally. Curiosity and need are two of the most powerful motivators that I know.
The equivalent for students is they grow their personal expertise such as hours a day of practice, chatting online such as through their gaming consoles, and sharing their online (and gaming) adventures with those around them. When they are learning something new, they will seek out help from a F2F friend (if one has the skill to help), an online friend, a YouTube video, a hacker post to either learn or learn the ‘cheat’ or work around. When one friend finds a wealth of information on their passion, they share where they find it with their friends and it becomes a common go to for valuable information.
The question is clearly – Why are academic digital online resources not the go to resource in the normal life of adults or students when not in an academic setting.
Answer 1 – They don’t know they exist
Answer 2 – They are not high value, relevant, or are only one of many resources we use to find out information of need, or curiosity
Answer 3 – Provide bread crumbs to other high value information that students might visit our of interest or curiosity while searching for required information.
Solution – Explicitly motivate students to use the information sources, where the teacher has prescreened the resource to ensure there is enough high value that students will choose to remember (or relearn) how to access the hidden treasure of information.