This week, my students in French 2 are continuing their study of food and nutrition. In order to further their study and take it beyond lists of foods to memorize, I wanted to use an article I tried with French 2 last year. The article, Ten Things You Need to Know About Hunger, 2013 comes from the World Food Program (funded by the United Nations)– and is available in French and English as well as in other languages. The article is redone every year with new statistics. Those statistics that haven’t changed are used again the following year. The article is broken into 10 small chunks, making it very easy to work with in a world language class, although the students do need some vocabulary support.
Last year, I had students work in groups with just one “chunk” from the article. They read and discussed their assigned part and then converted the statistics printed in that part into some kind of visual representation for the rest of the class: a bar graph, pie chart or other representations. They also wrote a summary sentence about their statistics in simpler French. Students then circulated, visited all the groups and ranked the different statistics in order of importance (based on their own opinions. The activity went quite well, but I wanted to expand on it for this year, so I decided to provide an introduction to the article by first having students examine online, multi-media information about hunger in the world (some of which is the same information in the article they will see). I needed tools that would allow me to organize and annotate the resources so that the students can progress meaningfully through the various photos, videos and infographics I had found.
I chose two tools that are both designed for education for this purpose and created essentially the same curated site of online documents and activities in both tools. The first tool I tried was EdCanvas and the second tool in which I organized the same resources was MentorMob. And the idea for a side-by-side comparison was born. So, here is my first side-by-side tool review: MentorMob and EdCanvas.
What they do
Both tools allow you to select web content, images, and files you want your students to examine and experience. Both tools also help you to put those resources in order so that students see them in the order you would want them to experience them, even if you are not the one clicking “next”. This allows them to view the content anytime, anywhere and still experience it in the order you intended.
Here are images of the two home screens (what you see when you sign in). You will see any items you have created using the tools in a list.
Ease of use from a desktop or laptop computer
MentorMob is very intuitive for both teachers and students, especially if users have experience with Web 2.0 tools that allow online editing. Content you add to MentorMob is organized in a playlist. Each item in the playlist is called a step. Students click “Next” in order to proceed to the next item in the playlist. Once they have moved to step 2 or beyond, students can also click on “previous” to revisit content they have already seen. EdCanvas is also very intuitive, especially if users have experience with Web 2.0 tools that allow online editing. The content you add to EdCanvas is organized into “tiles” and the students will view the tiles in the order you have prescribed when creating the canvas. Students click on the left or right arrows that appear on the sides of the content to navigate to additional items.
Ease of use on phones and tablets
Here, there is a distinct difference between the two products. I tested them on an iPhone and an iPad, knowing that Flash objects are usually problematic with that operating system. MentorMob definitely came out on top in that regard. MentorMob (below, left) does a better job optimizing the pages for viewing on the mobile devices. In EdCanvas, the user has to move the image around in order to see the whole thing, as displayed in the two images on the right, below.
One issue that did come up with MentorMob on iPhone and iPad deals with “challenge questions” and “pop quizzes”. These will be discussed in more detail below, but users need to know that neither option currently works on mobile devices. I contacted MentorMob and they are working on making this available for mobile. For now, students need to be on desktops or laptops to respond to these activities.
Ease of creating and editing content for one’s project
MentorMob has an easy interface for adding content, but you have to have already identified any online content you wish to add. You can’t search from within MentorMob (although you can always open a new window/tab and search from there). You will notice that you can create a “step” that is a “quiz”. This feature is discusse da bit later. You can add links, upload files, write new content directly into a MentorMob step (as an “article”) or create a “pop quiz”, as shown in the image on the left. In addition to adding your own documents (as in MentorMob), EdCanvas allows you to search for content for your project from within EdCanvas and the results appear in a window on the right of your current EdCanvas project (see below, right). You can also preview videos from within this search. The Google button has a toggle switch to choose to search Google Images or Web search. You can also upload documents from your Dropbox and Google Drive accounts.
Annotating your content
MentorMob gives you two ways to annotate your content: you can “write an article”, which becomes its own step (see the photo above), or you can edit the “details” for a step and those details are available as students look at the content for a step.
EdCanvas also has two ways to annotate content: you can create a description or add a comment. If you create a description in advance, it will appear as the first comment, to the right of the “canvas” when students are viewing it.If you choose to add a comment while watching an EdCanvas presentation, you may record 30 seconds of audio by clicking on the microphone, or you may type a comment, as indicated in the photo. The comment that is already there was added by creating the description of the tile in advance.
Creating student response activities
MentorMob has a clear advantage here if students will be viewing the playlist on a desktop or laptop computer rather than on a mobile device. You can create a “challenge question” for any step in the playlist. Challenge questions will pop up when the student clicks to go to the next step after viewing a step with the content on which the challenge question was based.
You can also create a “pop quiz” or “test”. These are actually the same thing, but the name changes depending on how you access it within MentorMob. When you want to create one, you choose “pop quiz” as the type of content you wish to add. When you’re actually editing/creating it, it is called a “test,” as you’ll see here:
One downside is that tests and challenge questions can only have multiple choice or true-false options in MentorMob. However, users can get around this by also using other online tools, such as Google Forms, PollEverywhere or Socrative to create an activity, and then they could make a new “step” with a link to that activity. Another downside, as mentioned earlier, is that neither quizzes nor challenge questions will appear if students are using mobile devices. If teachers know that students will be using mobile devices, they should plan to include these types of activities using other online tools such as Google forms, PollEverywhere or Socrative and inserting the links.
When it comes to creating activities for students to do as they view your curated content, EdCanvas is at a clear disadvantage. There are no built-in options for student interaction with the content. Teachers using EdCanvas have the following options:
- to type directions for some kind of activity either in the description or the comments (see above),
- to provide an activity on paper,
- or to use another online tool, such as Google Forms, PollEverywhere or Socrative to create an activity and then they could insert the link to that activity as a new tile. This can also be done in MentorMob and is discussed further below.
Adding other types of content from online tools
MentorMob and EdCanvas both do this very easily. In MentorMob, you find (or create) the online content you want and then choose “Paste link” to put the URL for that content into your play list. In EdCanvas, you find or create your online content and then choose the “Web search” icon to put the URL for that content into your playlist.
Adding content while browsing the Web
If you use Chrome as your browser, you can install an extension for MentorMob that will allow you to add an online resource to any playlist you have already created just by clicking the MentorMob extension. EdCanvas has a “bookmark this” snippet so that you can bookmark any Web document to EdCanvas while you are browsing. Simply drag it from the bookmarked resources onto the new tile. It does not require you to specify which canvas you wish to add the bookmark to. Instead, you will later select that bookmarked item while you edit the canvas in which you would like to place the item as a new tile.
The nitty gritty….MentorMob or EdCanvas?
So after all of this, which one did I choose for my students? Both were easy to use. Both are free. Both are promising in terms of curating content for students and guiding them in their interactions with the content. Both also have glitches and quirks. But in the end, although I was impressed with the in-program search, drag and drop features of EdCanvas, I ultimately chose MentorMob for the following reasons:
- With “challenge questions” and “test/pop quiz” features, MentorMob allows for more fluid and intuitive creation of student activities to help them process the content you’ve curated and interact with that conten. In fact, just having these features present reminds teachers to engage their students with the content rather than have them passively view it. Admittedly, this will be an even bigger selling point when it works on mobile devices, given how many schools (including mine) depend on student devices in order to increase students’ access to the Internet at school. Our one computer lab form 2,000 students is almost always reserved and we do many of our online activities using students’ phones and tablets.
- With both EdCanvas and MentorMob, when students explore links you’ve provided, they also have access to all other hyperlinks on those pages, which merits a cautionary note by itself: those links may lead to content you did not intend for your students to see. I highly recommend that teachers “play student” and click around on the pages they are linking to their MentorMob and/or EdCanvas activities. That said, MentorMob has a helpful feature that is missing in EdCanvas: when students click on a link within a page in MentorMob, a message pops up at the top of the page letting them know they have left the original page and giving them a hyperlink back to the original page. Better still, this message appears even if the students click on two, three or several links that appear on a page.
- With mobile devices, the page layouts were typically more correct on mobile devices with MentorMob than they were were with EdCanvas.
- The interface of MentorMob is generally more attractive (this is opinion, but then again, a lot of decisions we make are at least partially driven by opinion). For example, the “Double Click to Add Text” feature in EdCanvas doesn’t have any formatting options for that text. I only wanted to type a small description, but a full-screen white page appears in the student view with tiny type at the top. There is no way to designate a header or do any other formatting.
In MentorMob, this same option is achieved by inserting an “Article”. When you do, you are prompted for a title, description and then content. Although you may still have a lot of white space on the page if the content is not long, the ability to designate separate titles, headers and descriptions provides students a more authentic and natural way to receive content in a format that is generally more attractive.
Unfortunately, in the mobile version, the “article” view in MentorMob would benefit from a programming adjustment: it currently places the article too high on the page so the title of the article is difficult to read.That said, it does still possess more formatting than is present in EdCanvas mobile or desktop, making it easier for students to process the information presented. But, there is a lot of white space…scroll down to see the rest of the article.
Stay tuned for the next article in my “Side By Side” series: Using PollEveryWhere and Socrative to create engaging student activities and formative assessments they can access on their mobile devices.