Venturing into K-12 for the day at EdCampIS

Snacks at the NorthWest school EdCamp is a loosely coordinated series of unconferences in education. Last Saturday a group of folk organised an EdCamp for Independent Schools (held here in Seattle the Saturday after the NAIS conference). I turned up for the day, as a chance to find out a bit more about a sector I’ve not been particularly involved in (k-12) and see if anyone wanted to talk a bit about Open Educational Resources in K-12.

It was a good event and the hosts and organisers did a great job (the snacks NorthWest School provided for a free event were 1st rate). Perhaps because most folk attending were teachers, the unconference flowed fairly smoothly and was perhaps instinctively a little more structured than other unconferences I’ve attended (there were three main session timeslots and suggested contributions for about 6 talks per slot). There was a wide range of topics suggested and discussed on the day which created some difficult choices of what to join in.

There’s a great overview of the day using storify over on

From the day I wanted to mention a few of the tools that came up in discussion. The tools were:
Highlighter is an interesting looking cross platform publishing and annotation tool which seems to have got quite a lot of good press. It features private groups, group note sharing, and group analytics. It can work with pdf, epub, most mobile devices and web platforms (tumblr, wordpress, etc.). It’s free to use and afaik it uses html5. I’m not entirely sure what their business model is but it looks like at least one possible source of funding is as a distribution channel or publishing platform. My one sustainability question about this would be if the annotations are exportable in any form.

Glogster is an online drag and drop tool to create posters or pinboards of interesting links. Functionally it lets you share a selection of links in a visual interface. There’s a free version and an edu versions with added features (including teacher view, classroom management, tasks, ad free). You drag an image (or create text) and then add the link. On an individual account it seems a bit like a easy way to make a visual “portal” and I can see how with class management options it could lend itself to create collections of resources for a task or letting students make their own class projects online. For example, here’s a themed book review site.

I have very mixed feelings about this one, part of me says “is that it?” and part of me sees how convenient it is or could be. Standing back from this there are perhaps similar questions about getting data out and who owns what (in particular I suspect this is a rights management nightmare [as adding the image and link is a different prospect than linking], and hope it doesn’t prove to be too much of an educational experience for someone).

FlipSnack and Issuu and are two tools to publish magazines or flip books online. FlipSnack takes pdfs and creates digital flipbooks from them. It’s approach allows for hosted books and pay per transaction to get access to embed or downloadable books or to remove watermarks. They seem to be downloadable as applications, flash files (with or without an html wrapper), it also looks like they recently developed an html5 version. Flipsnack seems to be party of a range of tools. Issuu seems to be more of a digital publishing platform with ability to upload a wider range of file formats but with the content available through their site or as an embed.

Both tools appear to offer really simple tools to make digital versions of class projects and provide an easy way to make collections of assignments or poetry or artwork more available (or at least more visible). Again it’s not clear what the rights issues might be (in this case more do you have give them any rights; other rights management issues are parallel to any form of web publishing). These tools highlighted quite clearly a tension between something that you can use easily and is free (or mostly free) and possible hidden costs in the longer term.

Quizlet is an online flash card tool. It lets you create your own cards or use sets that others have shared on the site. the flash cards can then also be built into quizes and games. Flash cards can have images built into them from Flickr. You can also set up study groups to compare scores on sets of cards. As a premium service you can remove the ads, create unlimited groups, and upload your own images. Quizlet was by far the single tool which most of the teachers had used and which their was the widest enthusiasm about.

Ok I’ll admit I’d like to know if they’re using QTI or offer any kind of flashcard set export but as a company it seems pretty sustainable and scalable and offers to teachers some nice tools.

Bigger Picture
Lots of independent start-up web services is the alternative to a monolithic LMS but I’m a bit concerned by how adoption would (or won’t) scale. A user can pick up a few of these tools (and others) but how many separate tools will any teacher need to set up, manage information for, check statistics from, (re)create content for or give content to. It’s good to see some tools offer some form of API support (such as Quizlet) and these tools interacting with an LMS is the sort of thing that the IMS LTI spec is trying to address. I like idea of plug and play services and the pick and choose which goes with web service model but while the sustainability model of the emerging online tools is somewhat reliant on locking user content and contributions in to their service I have a few concerns.

I’m going to leave the discussion of Open in this context for another post (in part as this post is long enough and in part because it’s more of a reflection on the challenges for Open Educational Resource Initiatives which the day posed to me).

A couple of final items though. First of all thank you to everyone in the flipped classroom discussion as someone who isn’t a teacher it was really useful to sit in that and listen (even if that is a little unconference-y of me). Another thank you to David Wicks from SPU whose tweet alerted me to the unconference. Finally a “shout out” [see I am adapting to US culture] to Craig Seasholes (@CraigSeasholes ) who as well as being a teacher and librarian is president elect of the Washington Media Library Association. He’s responsible for kicking off the discussion about most of these tools. I’ll also note in passing the School Library Information and Technology Programs for 21st Century Learning/ outline which WLMA have created – it’s worth a read if you’re interested in information and digital literacy in schools and ever have to write a job spec.



  1. Great to meet you and to stretch beyond my k12 cohort. You might enjoy David lankes webinar via Title: Transforming Libraries
        Date & Time: 03/08/2012 at 02:00 PM Central Time
        Duration: 1 hour(s)
        Leader: Jaclyn Finneke. Sign up w ala or drop me a note


  2. I definitely agree with your comment on the complication of scale with web2.0 tools. The field of inviting tools can lead to such a large amount of resources that any expectation on the teacher to use them coherently and lead to tangible learning outcomes may be too great. Acquisition of tools and planning their usage is so key that it falls into the complaint a lot of teachers have of lack of time, and those that use so many often suffer from lack of focus.


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