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Learning through exploration and experience using ThingLink
What is the idea?
ThingLink as an education platform has gained attention as a success in recent years (Appaasmy, 2018; Nakatsuka, 2018/19). ThingLink is an online digital tool that allows for embedding images, surveys, videos, website links, and more in one online space, which results in a visual and interactive learning experience. The creator uploads an image and then utilises ‘tags’, which when clicked provide additional content. 360-degree images can also be used to provide an immersive VR experience. The final result is a visual and interactive learning experience that links information together in a coherent manner. For educators, ThingLink offers flexibility and the opportunity to assess students’ understanding through embedded tools and conditional progression settings. It also allows for storytelling, promotes dialogue and fosters independent learning. ThingLink has been successfully used in practice in both synchronous and asynchronous situations and is helpful for both a flipped-classroom approach along with being a recap resource, and works well as part of a virtual learning environment. ThingLink has a free version; however, an upgraded subscription allows students to collaborate and create their own content, meaning there are sufficient opportunities to challenge students through all stages of Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy. Bloom (1956) believed that in order for students to successfully master complex cognitive processes (sometimes referred to as higher order thinking), they must first master the more simple cognitive processes. This means that students must first acquire knowledge before they can create, analyse or evaluate.
Why this idea?
The advancements in technology have resulted in new opportunities for educators to create an online environment that synthesises a wide range of information for students to explore in one place. Multiple researchers (Domagk et al., 2010; Evans & Gibbons, 2007; Hannafin & Peck, 1988; Mayer et al., 2003; Moreno et al., 2001) have highlighted the link between interactive learning opportunities and deep learning. Using ThingLink promotes student engagement as they interact with selected, and therefore relevant, information to develop their critical thinking skills. In addition, there is a sense of agency over their learning opportunities as they seek out information for themselves in a directed manner. This chapter will provide instructions and inspiration for educators to use ThingLink in their own practice.
How could others implement this idea?
ThingLink is a free to access resource with the potential to upgrade for existing features (which I will differentiate below).
To begin one needs to sign up at www.ThingLink.com. The most straightforward concept of ThingLink is an interactive image. This means that when you choose ‘create’ you will need to upload an image (which can be 360 degrees). You can either do this by creating your own or using licence-free pictures from websites such as Pixabay (https://pixabay.com/).
Once you have uploaded your image, you will add ‘tags’. The ‘tags’ are the interactive element and can be customised to suit your needs. There are four different types of tags, as explained below;
Text and media: This allows you to insert writing (with a title), add images, insert an audio recording and include a button that navigates to other websites of your choosing. You can have a combination of any of these options.
Text label: This is a label that displays your choice of text when the user hovers over it.
Add content from website: This allows you to embed media from other platforms such as SlideShare, Microsoft/Google forms and YouTube. The content you embed displays on the screen without the need to navigate away from the page. All that is needed is an embed code from the sharing options menu.
Create tour: Here you can link ThingLinks together. This is useful as it prevents an overload of information on one page and allows a new background image. The ThingLink you wish to tour needs to be completed to select it as a ‘scene’. This option is advantageous to educators as you can choose to have a ‘conditional transition’. Students must correctly answer a question before moving on, which can be a typed answer or multiple choice. This means that a final instruction at the end of the tour enables educators to assess learning.
Collaborative learning is a crucial component of my classroom. At https://www.thinglink.com/scene/1419343337927737345, you will see an example of a collaborative learning task. In this task students worked in groups to explore cases of poor care and complete an embedded Microsoft form for assessment and feedback purposes. I used Powerpoint to create the background and instructions and have embedded a Microsoft form for students to complete their answers. The resulting ThingLink was then utilised for a feedback activity.
As mentioned above, you can upgrade your account, allowing you to provide ‘seats’ to students who can then collaborate and add to a shared ThingLink. At https://www.thinglink.com/scene/1413538234914308099, you will see how my students worked together to create a global sexual health map. In this situation students were creating content for themselves and their peers. This was used throughout the module and added to as new concepts were explored. Students could become ‘experts’ in their countries and subsequently compare and contrast their knowledge with other countries. As accounts are free, students could theoretically create their own ThingLink independently to share with others if the cost needs to be avoided.
Upgrading an account also allows insight into which of tags have been accessed and the number of views.
The final stage is to ensure your privacy settings are correct and then choose a sharing method. You can use a link (as I have within this chapter), or you can make use of an embed code so your ThingLink sits neatly within your virtual learning environment.
Transferability to different contexts
ThingLink’s adaptability means that it can be utilised in several disciplines, whether exploration-based learning of a topic or experiential-based learning in the context of practical experiences (Kolb, 2015).
The platform’s ease of use means that it can be a valuable tool in introducing new concepts and formative and summative assessment possibilities.
The focus on images, as opposed to text, and the opportunity to include audio recordings means that the tool is inclusive of a variety of learning preferences.
For educators, the ThingLink blog provides examples for educators to explore. There are also training opportunities and webinars should educators wish to develop their skills further. The included prompts help create new ThingLinks, and a little practice can speed up the creation process.
Appasamy, P. (2018). Fostering student engagement with digital microscopic images using Thinglink, an image annotation program. Journal of College Science Teaching, 47, 16–21. https://doi.org/10.2505/4/jcst18_047_05_16.
Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook I: The cognitive domain. David McKay Co Inc.
Hannafin, M. J., & Peck, K. L. (1988). The design, development, and evaluation of instructional software. MacMillan.
Kolb, D. A. (2015). Experiential learning : Experience as the source of learning and development (2nd ed.). Pearson Education.
Mayer, R. E., Dow, G. T., & Mayer, S. (2003). Multimedia learning in an interactive self-explaining environment: What works in the design of agent-based microworlds?, Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 806–812, https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-06188.8.131.526,
Moreno, R., Mayer, R. E., Spires, H. A., & Lester, J. C. (2001). The case for social agency in computer-based teaching: Do students learn more deeply when they interact with animated pedagogical agents?. Cognition and Instruction, 19, 177–213. https://doi.org/10.1207/S1532690XCI1902_02.
Nakatsuka, K. (2018/2019). Making history come to life: ThingLink virtual museums, Social Studies Review, 57, 47–52.
About the Author
University of Central Lancashire
Amy Edwards-Smith teaches across a range of subjects within the School of Community Health and Midwifery at the University of Central Lancashire. She has experience of working with individuals with additional learning needs and disabilities in education and social care settings. Amy’s expertise is in Social Policy, in particular ideology, social justice and welfare. She is committed to developing students who are independent learners with a passion for life-long learning.