Teaching in the 21st Century

Traci GardnerTraci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.

Paper.li in the Classroom: The Basics

posted: 4.19.11 by Traci Gardner

Whether you want to talk about current events or pop culture, Paper.li is worth a look. I admit that when I first looked at this Web site about a year ago, I dismissed it as too inflexible and stilted. However, changes to the site since then have given the tool some real potential. In fact, with the right setup, Paper.li can even organize student writing and links (more on that next week).

So what is Paper.li? It’s a free, online service that finds and organizes information from Twitter or Facebook streams in a newspaper format. The image below shows part of a Paper.li newspaper:

This particular paper is the product of Paper.li’s search through the status updates from over 100 Writing Center Twitter accounts included in a Twitter list that I maintain for @BedfordBits.

The process of creating a paper is relatively simple. Log into the Paper.li site with your Twitter or Facebook account. Once you connect, you can create papers that search nearly anything on Twitter or Facebook.

Your newspaper can focus on any of the following:

  • a Twitter user’s updates
  • a Twitter user’s list (like our Writing Centers list)
  • a Twitter hashtag
  • a customized Twitter search
  • a Facebook search of public posts (still in testing)

Once you set things up, Paper.li sorts through all the updates that meet your criteria, looking for links to Web sites, videos, images, and other documents. It ranks what it finds and places the highest-ranking information into general categories (like technology and education). Finally, the tool arranges the related information into a newspaper layout. Excerpts of stories are included with the headlines. Images and videos are typically embedded right in the newspaper.

Paper.li has three options for publishing the papers: daily, morning and evening, or weekly editions. All editions are archived, so you can look back at previous issues. There’s also a widget to embed the paper.li on another site. Check out the FAQs for more details on these options.

The pros of Paper.li are that it aggregates a lot of information into a single document, and provides an option for archiving updates. The finished layout is slick and clean. There’s support for multiple languages, which could be handy for second-language students. Links are built in to follow, re-Tweet, or save favorite stories from each edition.

The cons relate primarily to the automation of the service. There is no control over the interface or layout of the stories on the page. You can change the title in some, but not all, papers and add an editorial note. If there are multiple videos in a paper set to play automatically when loaded, you hear a confusing compilation of all the videos at once.

The bigger challenge is that the paper can only be as smart as the Twitter or Facebook search you use, and there’s no way to edit or remove information that you (as the paper’s editor) find irrelevant or inappropriate. Look at that screenshot included above, for instance. I’d cut the text of the story for “So much depends upon a red wheel barrow” if I could. That’s the downfall of a computer-generated text: the computer doesn’t realize it has posted gibberish.

Even with these challenges, the tool can be used in some interesting ways. Here are some educational applications:

For more pop culture or current events focus, look at The #WWE Daily, The #NASA Daily, and Japanese Earthquake.

Next week, I’ll explore some classroom assignments that can use Paper.li and talk more about professional development applications, like the conference Paper.li sites linked above. If you’re using Paper.li or have questions, please let me know and I’ll include the details in the next post.

[Photo: The Writing Centers Daily by tengrrl, on Flickr]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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