Monthly Archives: March 2012

Optimization for Education?

Googlebot from page 5

SEO or search engine optimization is increasingly on my radar these days. Almost daily, I see posts about it on sites like Mashable and tweets about it in my various Twitter streams. It wasn’t that long ago that I was still trying to learn and remember what the acronym stood for but over the past few months I have come to see how valuable SEO can be.

For those of you who are new to this term, search engine optimization refers to “the active practice of optimizing a web site by improving internal and external aspects in order to increase the traffic the site receives from search engines” as defined by SEOmoz. This means that you examine your website to ensure that there is consistency in your naming practices, that your links are updated and active, that your content is original and new, and that you have social media sharing tools embedded on every page.

Of course, there are a number of other factors that affect SEO, many of which I am still learning. Luckily, there are a lot of helpful resources on the web to find out how SEO works. For example, I attended a great webinar by Kuno Creative titled “Inbound Marketing: The New SEO Facts, Figures, and Data” which helped clarify the connection between inbound marketing (if you’re new to this term, check out this great infographic) and SEO. Through that webinar, I was able to find out about updates to Google’s search algorithm and how it rewards sites for providing good content that people want to share across the web. I also learned more about the importance of having numerous keywords appear in search engine results that will drive traffic to your site. Other resources, like SEOmoz’s extensive “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” and Google’s “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide” have also been invaluable in my journey to understand SEO and its effect on my websites.

Yet, the more I learn about SEO, the more I begin to wonder about the implications of SEO for educators and educational organizations or nonprofits. Many of these groups have few employees and little funding and most of the educators I know dedicate much, if not all, of their time to designing lesson plans and preparing innovative and engaging projects for their students. All of which leaves little time to learn about SEO and apply the related practices to their company websites or personal blogs. Meanwhile, large companies hire full-time “search engine optimizers” or companies like Hubspot to help them with this work.

Does this difference in SEO resources and management capacity matter? Do educators, schools, and educational organizations need to be concerned with SEO? A few months ago, I would have said no – SEO is something that only businesses and companies trying to sell products deal with and need to worry over. Now, I’m not so sure. As I prepare to launch my own new website for early childhood educators to learn about using technology to create global learning experiences, I’m conscious of the fact that I would like my site to be easily found in search engines. I want educators to be able to find the free resources and tools I have collected without having to search ten pages of Google results before stumbling upon the site.

Watching the analytics for this blog, I can see how much traffic search engines can bring to a site and I want other educational websites and blogs to be accessible and easily found by families, teachers, and administrators who want to learn about educational issues. So, I’m left wondering about the importance of SEO for education and about whether there is a way to make information about SEO more accessible and understandable for educators and their related organizations. I want to optimize education so that it is a topic that has a fighting chance at being ranked in search results. I think educators easily have the “fresh” content that Google is looking for, I’m just not sure if they are always aware of how that content has to be coded and marketed to be optimized for search results.

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Reflecting on Technology as a Global Learning Tool

It’s been about two weeks since I taught my first graduate course at American University, entitled Technology as a Global Learning Tool (or as you might have seen on Twitter, #T4GL12). I wanted to wait a little while before writing a post about teaching the course to give myself some time to reflect and review all of the learning that occurred.

The stated learning objectives for the course were as follows:

Skill — To practice new technology skills and use new technology tools (e.g., Tweeting, Voicethread)
Skill — To build a collaborative online workspace to serve as an ongoing resource (i.e., wikipage)
Skill — To engage in dialogue with other educators and trainers around the globe
Skill — To begin building or further enhancing a virtual, personal learning network (PLN)
Knowledge — To examine how to use a PLN and related technology tools to connect your students/clients to other students/clients around the globe
Knowledge — To identify ways you currently do and could globalize your classroom/organization/trainings
Knowledge — To build a wider repertoire of technology tools and strategies to globalize your classroom/organization/trainings
Attitude — To expand your willingness and interest in using technology for global collaboration
Attitude — To develop a sense of community with other members of the skills institute
Attitude — To be empowered to use new technology tools and skills in innovative ways

I am happy to say that I think each of these goals was achieved during the course and further developed in our online spaces (Wikispace, Twitter) after the course ended. I was a bit concerned about how easy it would be to establish a course community in such a short time span (the class was taught in an intensive two-day workshop-style design). Luckily, participants were willing to open up and engage with one another and I think some of the course activities helped to facilitate the connections that were made. For example, we used a shared MindMeister to map each of our existing PLNs and then took time to use the connector tool to make connections within and between our PLNs to visualize how we are all connected and can help one another network.

Throughout the course, I asked students to be active in editing and adding to various pages in our wikispace with the hope that it could become a collaborative,  community resource. It was exciting to see students learn this new tool and apply their new knowledge so quickly. I felt like they really took ownership of the space, especially as they returned after the course to post their final reflection projects.

We covered numerous different web 2.0 tools, such as Lino, Pinterest, and Prezi but we also took time to talk about sustainability and ways to overcome existing and future barriers to their ongoing tech learning. I think this was a valuable part of the course because it allowed everyone time and space to step back from the tools themselves and reflect on the specific steps they could take to integrate these tools into their organizations and classrooms. The concreteness of this activity seemed to really facilitate students’ understanding and was named as something the students appreciated in light of the almost overwhelming amount of new tools they had been exposed to in the course.

One surprising result to me was the popularity of Voicethread. I had imagined that various students would be taken with or attracted to different tools depending on their professional context (e.g., nonprofit, classroom) and learning styles but a majority of students all ended up focusing on Voicethread for their final reflections (in addition to citing Twitter as a new favorite). I wonder if the multiplicity of applications and various modalities it allows for (e.g., video, picture, audio and text comments) are what make it such an appealing tool. I think students appreciated that whether they were planning to work in study abroad/exchange, create global learning in their K12 classrooms, or work globally through their nonprofits, they could use this tool to communicate and collaborate.

As a teacher, it was truly exciting to see students begin to engage with Twitter through our course hashtag and to see them start to explore many of the new tools we discussed, creating step-by-step plans for how they would implement them in their professional lives. It was also great to have students share their own resources using these tools (e.g., sending out a symbaloo of websites they currently use for homework the first night) so that I could also learn from them and be exposed to resources they were aware of that I might not know.

We also documented our learning throughout the course on a page of our wiki. Some of the things that were recorded included:

  • How to create a new wiki page
  • How to create a personalized Google Map
  • I sent a tweet!
  • How to grow your PLN using Twitter
  • Voicethread connects people on a more personal level – more genuine
  • How to create a professional presence and how to cross-pollinate all of your interests
  • Process for setting up a sustainable global project
  • Creation of mini-teams/groups for support and guidance
As one student said,I learned so much in this class, mostly about trying new things and thinking about how to use technology in ways I had never really thought of before.”

I too learned a great deal through the course. In addition to gaining more experience with course design and implementation, I learned more about what works best in introducing new technologies to different audiences. I was reminded of how important “play time” is when exploring new tech tools and when I showed some technologies being used for global collaboration projects, the value of relevant, meaningful examples was reinforced. It was amazing to have an opportunity to work with this great group of students in thinking through ways technology can be used as a global learning tool. Through students’ final reflection projects, I was able to observe their learning in-action and students were able to demonstrate their growth in tech knowledge, skills, and comfort. I hope they all now feel better prepared to explore how technology can be used in meaningful and relevant ways for global learning and collaboration in diverse professional contexts.