From March 5th-9th, the eighth annual SXSW EDU was held in Austin, Texas. Through collaboration, creativity and engagement, the weeklong conference and festival empowered its global community of educators to connect, discover and impact teaching and learning. One educational initiative that caused a major splash at the conference was Thinkalong™, CT Public Learning’s online media literacy and debate program.
Tori Hernandez, an educator from Keller Integrated School District in Sugar Land, Texas, was very impressed. “Wow!!! This is a fantastic resource for our students!”
Thinkalong, created and developed by CT Public Learning Education Specialist Rose Pierre-Louis and CT Public Vice President of Media Strategy Beth Messina, utilizes PBS and NPR resources to teach students about pressing societal issues while simultaneously instructing them to properly evaluate information sources and engage with their or other classes in spirited, respectful debates.
CT Public Director of Education Paul Pfeffer received a wide range of peer assessments about Thinkalong from educators and PBS national and local member station education staff. To say that the reaction was favorable would be an understatement.
“Educators really appreciated not having to become instant experts on contentious current events issues in order to present them in class. By providing world class public media journalism, Thinkalong frees educators to focus on maximizing informed student voice.” Paul Pfeffer, CT Public Learning Director of Education.
“Thinkalong is a great tool for teachers to get high-quality, well written materials by experts into the hands of their students with little to no prep! Win-win! Katelyn Patterson, Teacher/Steam Coordinator & Randi Kearny, Early Childhood Manager of Muse School in Calabasas, California
Based on intensive educator feedback and internal research and development, with a team including web designer Rob Gabaree, Education Specialist Katie Eber, Education Fellow, Rob Hunt, and Senior Vice President of Education Donna Sodipo, the Thinkalong website moved from beta to live, integrating the Center for Media Literacy’s evaluative questions and an online debate platform to connect classrooms.
New modules for students and educators about pressing topics including gun control, eminent domain and fake news were also added. Setting up in the PBS Teachers Lounge, Mr. Pfeffer proudly showcased Thinkalong to curious educators who were thoroughly impressed with the site’s interface, content, and capabilities.
“I always leave room in my syllabus to try something new and innovative with my ELL students” remarked Jill Lynch, Qualitative Researcher, Program Evaluator and Learning Designer, of Houston Community College in Houston, Texas. “This [Thinkalong] looks fabulous and even better than the many curriculum units I’ve had to create to myself …didn’t know anything like this was there.”
Many educators were most captivated by the wide-range of relevant topics that Thinkalong’s modules cover. “[Thinkalong] can be used to improve writing skills in English, government, and/or history for our high schools.” commented AnaMarisa Rendon from Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.
Rendon noted the appeal of Thinkalong in its ability to make topics engaging, rather than appearing to students like typical classwork. “It can prepare our students for their testing without making it “homework” and/or stressful.”
Other educators were most taken with the interconnected nature of Thinkalong’s debate portion, emphasizing the opportunities for collaboration that this totally web-based tool would facilitate.
Mary Moran, 5th Grade Teacher at Woolwich Central School in Woolwich, Maine, noted “Interdisciplinary built right in….science and writing in class that will connect to our library media skills. This gives us no excuse to avoid collaboration as teachers, and repeated application of skills for students.”
“It [Thinkalong] is a novel approach to take what happens in a debate class and make it accessible for all students,” observed Paris Gamble, President and Visionary of Lifestyle Learning in Edmond, Oklahoma.
“This [Thinkalong] changes the game for our students because it allows students to collaborate and debate with other students across the nation…allowing our students to have live dialogue in a safe environment” commented Melanie Ringman, Secondary Instructional Support Teacher from Denton ISD in Denton, Texas.
Thinkalong’s capacity to impact student engagement was also recognized. Ashlee Greenwood, Chief of Staff, One Stone, in Boise, Idaho added, “Thinkalong connects high school students to relevant issues in an informative and engaging way. Great way to help students learn deeply about what they are really interested in!”
But perhaps the most enthusiastic endorsement of Thinkalong came from Leah Clapman, Managing Editor of Education at the PBS NewsHour. Clapman beamed “The site is AMAZING. It [Thinkalong™] is the most user friendly and well-thought-out site I’ve seen.”
To use Thinkalong in your classroom, please visit the following link:
To schedule a visit to your Connecticut classroom contact Rose Pierre-Louis at:
About CT Public Learning
As part of a partnership with Hartford Public Schools, CT Public Learning offers a satellite campus focused on video and audio production, editing, television and radio journalism, digital arts and game design– for high school students from Hartford’s Journalism & Media Academy Magnet School. For adults interested in pursuing a media career or simply interested in gaining technical skills to advance in their already established fields, CT Public Learning’s Institute for Advanced Media (IAM) provides classes in the basics of video production, from pre-production to post-production, digital arts and the project management skills for life seminar. A program of the IAM, the Veterans Vocational Training Program (VVTP) is designed to help veterans transition their military skills to civilian careers by providing free IAM courses and hands-on career training to 50 veterans a year as well as their spouses and caregivers. In addition to providing media education, project management and workforce development, the VVTP provides life coaching and personal support that addresses the whole person, and helps students navigate and connect with state agencies and partners that can help ease their transition. CT Public Learning also offers a range of opportunities to college students through the CT Public Learning Media Lab, with classes focusing on storyboarding, video production, web content creation and social media.