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Test-driving instaGrok

I had a wonderful chat with the co-founders of instaGrok, a new search tool designed to help users learn about a topic by facilitating the finding of context and educational content. Still in Beta, InstaGrok is nurtured by Imagine K12, an incubator program devoted to supporting early stage ed-tech startups through a funding and mentorship program.

instaGrok is not a manually-created directory; it is not a filtered search. Instead, it uses sophisticated patent-pending semantic algorithms which analyze results in real time.

The site’s opening screen lists its features and purpose:

* Retrieve materials in multiple formats (pages, videos, forums, textbooks, users)
* Filter out non-educational content (e.g. news, shopping sites)
* Determine difficulty level of each material
* Rate the quality of each material
* Identify important concepts
* Visualize relationships between concepts
* Display definitions of terminology and examples of use in context
* Identify expert users on online forums
* Generate multiple-choice tests

Mark Williams, President and CEO of the company, approached me with this email:

I read your blog post regarding the death of Google Wonder Wheel.  We agree that young researchers need technology to visually and dynamically examine concepts (search terms) and their relationships with other concepts for discovery of new ideas.  That is why we created instaGrok.  We have also added features for curation of research (myGroks) and learning assessment (quizzes).

Mark and instaGrok co-founder Kirill Kireyev, Ph.D. (its Chief Technology Officer), shared their passions and their goals and toured the search with me, carefully listening to my feedback.  (They’ve already incorporated some of the improvements we discussed!)

While I am not a big fan of the auto-generated quizzes that appear with results–I am not sure they measure anything important–I am absolutely looking forward to introducing instaGrok with all my students.

Searchers can filter by difficulty level: school, high school, college, using the left navigation bar.  Users can further refine their searches by selecting from among a menu of themes and concepts. Clicking on a concept reveals a lengthy definition with examples of usage.  Clicking on the little Grok icon refocuses the search

In the overview tab:

The At a Glance feature presents interesting sentences and questions about your topic, with mouse-overs source notes and leads to explanatory articles.

Click on the mini version of the interactive concept map to open it and explore the relationships among concepts. Click on lines connecting concepts to understand their relationships.  Changing your filters changes the concept map.

The Websites, Video and Q & A tabs present a matrix with options for voting on the usefulness of a source, the link with annotations, previews or Q&A summaries, difficulty levels, and interactive concept clouds with definitions.

Registered users can track their search History or curate an online Journal of queries, visited sites, concepts, and quiz results, and add text notes, images (perhaps your concept maps), and links using the WYSIWYG editor.

Live chat is available.

instaGrok absolutely deserves a spot in the student search tool box.

It will not offer my high school students all the documents they need for major research projects, but that’s not the mission. instaGrok will get them started. It will help K12 learners discover vocabulary, context, and connections, and age-appropriate resources in multiple formats.  It will help them make sense of their discoveries.  It will allow them to engage in basic curation efforts.  And it gives us an opportunity to teach about using and responding to an interface to thoughtfully and powerfully refine  results.

And I have a hunch that instaGrok will get even better as it moves out of beta. You can help.

Mark and Kirill welcome  feedback from teachers, librarians, and students.  Let them know what you think as you do your own test-drives with your students.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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