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It’s the digital age. Revamp the way students research!

Guest // April 26th 2012 // ,

Instagrok 21st century research skillsKirill Kireyev is a computer scientist and the technical founder of instaGrok, an education technology startup on a mission to revamp the search engine. With a passion for Computer Science and Cognitive Science, today Kirill is sharing his latest project to help teachers integrate 21st century research skills into their instruction. Read on, and leave any questions or feedback in the comments below.

An Era Rich with Content

We live in a time of abundance of rich knowledge resources instantaneously available to us. What’s more, the ability to find and synthesize information, and learn independently are some of the key 21st century skills.

As professor Michael Eisenberg, the head of Project Information Literacy, points out in his column in Seattle Times:

“[in order to] go after the high-skill, high-wage jobs of the future […,] we need to add a new “R” — research — to the traditional three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic. We must also dedicate resources to make this kind of education occur. Students across the country need 21st-century research skills that include abilities to navigate large quantities of information and multiple technologies that deliver it.”

So what are we doing to help are students cultivate these skills and inspire them to be lifelong learners?

Characteristics of Research-Based Learning

Sure, there’s the familiar Google and Wikipedia, so familiar in fact, that their interface has not changed much in over 10 years. Both can be effective for looking up information by an expert user; but are they really great tools for learning? Especially for exploring a new, unfamiliar topic, when a learner does not know the context, terminology or the important questions to ask? Can we imagine a better interface to knowledge than a list of web links or a glob of text?

To answer that question, we need to think deeper about what characteristics of research-based learning are important to support:

1. Personalization. Learners are interested in different things, within a given topic. Are you learning about gravity because you are building a model airplane or because you are interested in atronomy? Moreover, as the amount of knowledge in each discipline grows, the idea of a standardized curriculum becomes less important than helping learners navigate to the parts of the topic that are most relevant to them.

2. Leveling. Learners come with different levels of knowledge about a topic, and so it is important to present the right difficulty level of materials. Too easy, and they won’t be stimulated to learn; too difficult, and they will be overwhelmed.

3. Context. Learners need to orient themselves in how the topic relates to their existing knowledge and other related topics. This what Eisenberg and colleagues at Project Information Literacy refer to the “Big Picture” context: understanding what questions to ask and what is important to know.

4. Terminology. Becoming comfortable with the language, terms, and discourse of a topic area is essential to being able to dive deeper into the research.

Bringing Research Into The 21st Century

instaGrok is a new learning technology that attempts to answer this question. Its historical label of “search engine for learners,” underestimates its true potential of being an intelligent, personalized, interactive learning interface.

instaGrok works just like a search engine, allowing the user to enter the topic they are interested in, such as “gravity” or “civil rights movement.” instaGrok presents the topic in a visual, dynamic web of important concepts and their relationships, which helps orient the learner about the context of the topic. Learners can navigate this web based on their specific interests; as well adjust the difficulty level of the materials presented based on their knowledge level – thus enabling personalized learning. Key facts displayed on the screen help learners grasp the important points then dive deeper into quality educational websites, videos and images.

instaGrok also presents multiple choice tests on the topic, offering a way to review what you’ve learned, or even discover new things you didn’t know – all with links to the original content pages. Built-in journals allow students to take notes and summarize what they’ve learned (building curation and citation skills).

And this is just the beginning of what is possible. And in order to realize the potential, it is important for educators to provide feedback on their experience using tools like instaGrok and suggestions on how technology can evolve. We look forward to hearing from you!

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