My colleagues (Shelly Stanton and Traci Piltz) and I have been obsessed with a new tool lately: Participate Learning! Formerly appoLearning (a service in which teachers and education experts could vet out iOS apps), Participate has expanded its horizons far beyond just apps. It does a couple of REALLY COOL things that, IMHO, all teachers need to know about!
First of all, think of this as the ultimate teacher resource collection tool. It's like Pinterest minus the recipes and ridiculously impossible craft ideas (although I suppose you could sneak recipes in there if you wanted to). You can not only browse resources and collections by grade, category, and Common Core, but you can create your own collections around any lesson, unit, or topic you wish. Like Pinterest, you can follow people or subscribe to their collections, but unlike Pinterest, this services is all about education, so it's the real experts out there finding STUFF for you!
We found this to be a terrific tool when we were in Seattle for the NCCE conference. A group of incredibly talented educators from around Montana were attending and/or presenting, and since we all teach different grade levels and subjects, we all attended different sessions. One of these amazing people, Nikki Vradenburg, started a Participate Collection so that we could gather all of the resources we were discovering and keep them all in one place (go ahead - click on one!):
Not only are there some phenomenal resources in there, but since they were PUT THERE by people I truly admire and trust, I know that these are the best of the best!
Twitter Chat Platform
MIND BLOWN. I stumbled upon this facet of the Participate site while taking part in the Wyoming Edchat recently. While scrolling through the questions and answers in TweetDeck, and falling hopelessly behind, I saw this tweet:
Ok, I'll bite - anything has to be better than what I WAS doing. So I clicked on over, using their handy link to participate.com/chats/wyoedchat, signed in using my Twitter account, and IMMEDIATELY, I was impressed.
First, all of the participants were listed on the left side. As I hovered over their pictures, I noticed that if I clicked, I was taken directly to their profile page on Twitter, where I could follow them, check out their bio, or browse their tweets. Beneath that was a list of resources, which I would later discover is automatically generated anytime someone shares a link during the chat. In the center section was the conversation itself. The newest tweets appeared at the bottom, right above the box where I could type in my message. My favorite part of all was how the hashtag was automagically included every time I hit submit - I can't even count the number of times I've either had to delete a tweet and start again or retweet it because I forgot to include the hashtag! Over to the right, my notifications started popping up. When someone favorited a tweet I was mentioned in, when someone retweeted something I had said, or when anyone mentioned me, I received a notification. So. Cool!
Right around the time I was discovering all of this, I was also in the throes of planning a district-wide Twitter challenge (more on that to come). I needed a really easy entry point for the Twitter newbies who are not only novices when it comes to an edchat, but were often unfamiliar with Twitter at all! The thought of throwing them right into Twitter - or even explaining via email tutorial how to access and create a new column in TweetDeck was enough to scare off a few people. And I can't say I blame them. It occurred to me, though, that Participate might just be the ticket because not only is the platform easier and less distracting, but each chat has its own direct link! And so I set about contacting someone to get our #BPSedchat added to the schedule.
Done, and done. In no time, our newest Twitter chat environment was set up and ready to go. And use it they did. Of the 1,593 direct tweets that were recorded in our very first BPSedchat, 317 (nearly 20%) of them were made through Participate. I expect that number will rise significantly as word spreads!
In the meantime, Traci and I have been corresponding with Brad and Stephen from Participate - very cool guys! Traci even did a Google Hangout with Brad! Turns out they are still developing this incredible tool and are actively seeking feedback! And so, like any responsible consumer, we're giving it to them. One suggestion we had was to make it more obvious when attaching an image to a tweet (right now it simply shows up with a camera icon and a red x - once you actually submit the tweet, the picture does appear). In turn, they gave us some great advice about moderating, which included the correct use of the Q & A format to take the best advantage of the Q/A tool within the chat. One other thing we told them we'd like to see is a hover-over-pop-up when trying to figure out what a button does. All of these great little icons live at the top of the chat window, but you have to actually click on them to see what they do. They informed us that this item is indeed on their to-do list. In the meantime, I decided to make myself (and whoever else wants it) a little "cheat-sheet" to remember what they all do:
The moral of this story is CHECK IT OUT. Browse the resources. Follow some people. Create some collections. And if you really want to up your game, meet us Tuesday night (on your couch, in your jammies) at participate.com/chats/BPSedchat!