Getting Ready to Prospect for Content
Gather your picks and shovels
- Open your favorite browser window (or several).
- Open your favorite text editor as a scratch pad, you'll want to copy/paste links from the browser and make notes.
- Simply relying on browser history or bookmarking is probably not the best strategy, you'll want to capture your findings and get them recorded on the wiki at the end of your search. Editing directly into a wiki page is also less-than-ideal as you don't want to get distracted by formating and the like while the hunt is on.
- If you are doing this collaboratively (in real-time) you'll probably want to open an IRC chat session on a suitable channel.
Focused content hunt
You've got an idea of what sort of content you want to find.
Searching with your favorite search engine on carefully chosen terms is likely to return a lot of links, and you can't necessarily visit them all. One good strategy is to use this search to find super-nodes from which to do more focused browsing. For health and science content: government agencies/ministries, NGO's, patient and research advocacy groups and universities are all likely to have produced suitable content or gathered together links to high-quality content. Furthermore, as these are all generally non-profit organizations, the chances of finding content that is (or can be) made available under suitable licensing terms are substantially improved.
Surprise content discovery
Sometimes when you are looking for one thing, you stumble across something else entirely. Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Open a fresh text window and paste the link with some notes on topic, copyright, that will allow you (or someone else) pick up that thread. If you working collabaratively with a group on a focused content hunt, it's best not to get distracted by another topic, no matter how rich a vein of content you've found; but don't lose track of it either. It could become the starting point of a new focused content hunt you may launch later on, or you can drop it onto an appropriate wiki page for someone else to follow up.
Hub-and-spoke versus linear search
Content Types to Hunt
There are different purposes for any content that might be bundled. Let's start with two major groupings.
- "Fill the book-bag"
- Classroom-oriented modules of content that are readily adapted for use by teachers.
- Fits into a curriculum by covering one topic or concept well, blends lessons into other appropriate subject matter (health messages in biology materials, social studies topic on agriculture includes environmental/economic themes, etc.)
- Ideally comes with lesson plans and classroom activities that can reinforce content themes.
- "Fill the School Library shelves"
- Curiosity-driven exploration of themes covered in classes/lessons. Resource for research into essay topics (wikislices, etc.)
- Resource for real-world concerns faced by student and family.
Both types of content are needed and should be gathered in a balanced manner. The distinction is somewhat flexible. For example, what is in "the school library" for one grade level may be re-purposed and used in-class in a higher grade level.
Assessing your Finds
There are a number of characteristics that make some content better suited for use than other content. I'm going to extend the minerology / geology theme I started above because we are really talking about data-mining after all.
We all like picking up pretty rocks. We need pretty rocks. With some buffing and polishing, they might become a gem. With a lot of work, a bunch of pretty rocks can be shaped and carefully placed into a beautiful mosaic. But on their own, a pretty rock is just a pretty rock.
What kind of content would you describe as a "pretty rock"? As an example, a single animation by itself doesn't make a whole classroom lesson, not matter how cool it may be at first glance. It will have much more impact if it is used to spice up a dry section of text content, particularly if it does a nice job of visually illustrating some difficult-to-describe point, but an animation by itself is probably not very valuable alone. To have a real impact, it needs to be presented in context, used to emphasize or reinforce ideas or concepts presented by other materials. Collected together with the right textual materials, carefully placed in context and it's a whole different story, but by itself, that animation is just a "pretty rock".
Another possible example of this is something like the StarChart activity. All by itself, it is really cool and engaging. Bundle it together with the Moon activity and add text and other content / lesson plans from NASA's web-site about galaxies and star formation, planets, etc. and you've got a junior "Astronomy 101" class in a box. Calling some content finds "pretty rocks" is not to criticize them, but to recognize that there needs to be additional content gathered around them to realize their true value.
Sometimes you get really lucky and pick up a piece of pure lump of gold that is just sitting there. A "gold nugget" needs very little polishing, it's value is readily apparent by just looking at it.
For content, a website that covers a substantive topic with lesson plans included, maybe sufficient for several days of teaching is a "gold nugget". UNESCO and some other sites have materials like this, just confirm the copyright status, download for off-line presentation, modify for internationalization (i18) and localization (i10n) and ship it off for teachers to consider using in the classroom. This is perfect "fill the bookbag" material.
Vein of high-grade ore
Sometimes you come a cross a site and you realize there is a lot of good stuff in there, but it will take some serious processing and maybe even heavy equipment to get it ready for use. Many sites (e.g. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthtopics.html) have a substantial amount of material, but they are not neceassarily easy to re-purpose for classroom use. Tools like wget can be useful for harvesting chunks of content from a web-page for off-line processing. Materials like this are often just the thing to "fill the school library shelves".