An experiment with randomly-generated links

I’m currently experimenting with a random link generator called Outbrain. You can see this by looking at the footer of each article and (somewhat annoyingly, I have to say), the article summaries on the front page  or some of them at least. I’m interested in whether it enhances the visitor’s experience by providing suggestions for other articles on the ICT in Education website. That’s what I’m hoping, of course, but it could prove to be an irritant.
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Education Eye: Serendipity Rules

Around six weeks ago I mentioned that I have found a way of randomising my blog reading. This works quite well as far as deciding which of the many blogs I subscribe to I should read on any given day. And, like The Dice Man, I am absolved from any guilt about my actions or inactions. To the unfortunate authors of the many posts I have not read, I say “It’s not my fault, mate: blame Excel.” (You can buy The Dice Man by clicking the link in this sentence, thereby helping to provide a few more morsels of bread for my family’s table.)

A few weeks ago I came across Futurelab’s Education Eye,  which extends the randomising idea to blogs in general, not just the ones you subscribe to. You can tell it to look for particular terms, thereby reducing its randomness, or you can see what comes up. I really like this, and not just because I was informed today that my own articles are appearing on it. What I like is the pure serendipity, not knowing what’s going to come up, not even the subject matter. Having said that, you can search for particular terms, specify how recent the posts should be, and which of several categories they should come under.

Randomness does not fit in well with current expectations. I dare you to inform the inspector during your next Ofsted visit that you decide on some topics/project ideas/recommended reading/web searches on a random basis. Obviously, you can’t construct a whole curriculum on randomness, but I do believe there has to be some randomness or serendipity, otherwise how you will help your pupils to gain a broader perspective?

When I taught Economics, I occasionally gave a lesson I hadn’t planned for, if on the way in to work I heard on the news that, say, interest rates were being cut. Then I did it again when teaching ICT. If, for example, I heard on the news that someone had lost a laptop with loads of private data on it, I’d discuss it in my lesson. Not for the whole lesson – and yes, it did mess up my carefully constructed schedule, but it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Back to Education Eye, and here is a way of bringing some serendipitous discussion to your carefully constructed lessons. If a student gets to within ten minutes of the end of the lesson and can’t really usefully start on anything new, get them to go on to Education Eye and plug in a search term like “technology” and then read one of the articles that appear. The interface takes some getting used to -- I had trouble at first even grabbing hold of the article I wanted to read! -- but after a few minutes you're an expert. 

And if you teach a lesson, work on finishing the didactic part ten or fifteen minutes before the end of the period. Yes, it’s true: randomness can be planned for!

Visit the Education Eye website for an even better experience.