ThingLink as an Educational Tool
- 1 History
- 2 Service Overview
- 3 Plans
- 4 Features
- 5 Possible Instructional Uses
- 6 Benefits
- 7 Limitations
- 8 Linkage to Universal Design for Learning
- 9 References
- 10 External Links
ThingLink is a tool which falls into a similar category as Glogster and Prezi which offer users an alternative to traditional assignment and presentation formats. These types of tools utilize the mashability of the wide number of online media services to create something new.
ThingLink is a privately held company founded in 2008 by its current CEO Ulla Engeström based in Finland and also operating in the United States. The company launched a beta version of their service in 2009, with the public version released in 2010 and the addition of Rich Media Tags feature in 2011. As of 2011, it had 14 employees including its CTO Janne Jalkanen and Creative Director Jana Forth.
Unlike some services, Thinglink offers plans targeting education with a free plan that is very adequate for educational purposes. Sign up and account creation is straight forward and can be done ahead of time by educators on behalf of students. The design interface requires little training and is very simplistic in design.
ThingLink allows creators to upload or import static images and add to create “interactive learning modules (ILMs)” which can be navigated by the audience. Once the focus image is upload or link to via URL or Flickr, the user clicks on the area to insert an Rich Media Tags (RMT). Rich Media Tags are points added to an image, linking them to text, audio, video, social media, photos and images. On insertion, a small window prompts the user to specify a link to content and a description if warranted. The service identifies the type of media contained within the tag and creates the necessary functions to display it. Users can then choose if the product is to be made public, kept private or be a collaborative work with others on ThingLink. The creations are stored on ThingLink and, although not downloadable, can be shared in a variety of ways.
Thinglink offers tiered services to business and education consumers. The Education plan has 3 levels:
- Free Plan – store and tag up to 50 images, add 1 ThingLink app, access online customer service, minimal branding and no stats. Educators can request increased storage and tagging amount to 500 images by email.
- Plus Plan - $5/month, store and tag up to 500 images, add 5 ThingLink app, access online customer service, stats and no branding.
- Pro Plan - $20/month, unlimited uploads, 20 apps, online customer service, stats, no branding.
To start a Thinglink project, the user needs to access a base image to add Rich Media Tags. These images can be imported from:
- the user's computer
- a web URL
- a Flickr account or URL
Rich Media Tags
Available Rich Media Tags include:
- Profile Tag
- Image Tag
- Open Graph Tag
Possible Instructional Uses
Almost all of these possible uses of Thinglink are easily modified to be either completed by the student, the teacher or a combination.
- Design Your Digital Self / Getting to Know You  - Students use photographs or other images (e.g. avatar) to create an autobiography to represent themselves using RMTs to elaborate on topics such as hobbies, likes/dislikes, family, etc. View Example
- Answer an Essential Question  - students use image and RMTs to provide evidence of their understanding of an essential question based on curricular materials as posed by educators.
- Define Vocabulary  - students are presented with a specific vocabulary selection, use the word as the main image and add RTMS to display understanding. View Example
- Discussion Piece 
- Use in Project Based Activity  - students create interactive to enhance a presentation of activity findings.
- Curate ThingLink creations on a Pinterest Board  View Example
- Independent discovery to introduce, review a topic  - teacher prepares the interactive with lesson content for students to review prior to or during class. Same interactive can be used later for review or summary purposes. View Example
- Interactive reports - interactive can be used as an alternative method to tradition report practices. View Example
- ESL / Language Learning - teacher can provide students with a text image of specific vocabulary to which they add RMTs to show understanding. Could include audio recording of pronunciations for evaluation. View Example
- Interactive book talk - student chooses an image from the cover of a favorite book and provides insights into plot, character, etc. using RMTs. View Example View Example II
- Photo or collage descriptions – students create a collage using image authoring tool or use a single image tagging it with descriptive adjectives, synonyms or antonyms View Example
- Interactive author presentations / Author study - similar to Interactive book talk with a focus on the author where students can create an interactive biography. View Example
- Talking art - students use RMTs to add reflection to a piece of work they or someone else has created. View Example
- Indentification - Activity can be done in many variations using other topics. Some examples include:(1) Teacher can create interactive of cell structure for students to explore as opening activity (2) teacher can create an interactive quiz for the same image as means of assessment (3) students research cell structure and add interactive to explain understanding. View Example
- Activate prior knowledge - have students can an interactive showing what they know about a given topic prior to instruction. Have students present creations and facilitate discussion before moving onto instruction.
- Steps to solve problem in math - Teacher can create visual aids using RTMs on solving math problems or any procedure. These aids could then be embedded on a class blog or website. Likewise, students can indicate steps as means of proving understanding. View Example
- Mind maps - students and teachers can create interactive mind maps for a variety of topics. A mind map that is already created can be saved as an image, uploaded and RMTs added to elaborate. View Example
- Multimedia curriculum launcher - teacher can use interactive as a means to begin a new unit or curriculum topic to create excitement and interest. View Example
- Introduce technology tool - interactives can be used by students and teachers to create tutorials for classroom community when new tools like web based applications are introduced. Tags could links to YouTube tutorial videos, help section on a web site, audio prompts, etc. View Example
- Publish student work - a great movitator for students is to have authentic oppourtunities to be published. Several features exist using ThingLink to publish creations that should address most needs. View Example
- Create an ePortfolio  View Example
- Mapping data - students and teachers can (1) add additional information via RMTs to maps such as population data, sound scapes, video tours, statistical information (2)teacher or students can take a real or fictional map (e.g. Lord of the Rings) from within a story, and add interactives to explain key events, setting features, places, path of journey, etc. View Example
- This week I learned - students reflect on learning, summarize and create an interactive image.
- Interactive Bulletin Boards - a novel take on a the traditional newsletter: take a photograph of a class or school bulletin board. Tag key areas and link to notices, video announcements, pictures, online calendars, etc. View Example
- Virtual tour- parents don't often access the classroom setting and may not understand how a typical day unfolds. Take photographs of the classroom, tagging and explaining center areas, word walls, posters using videos of students working, audio of readings, images of best work samples. View Example
- Art reflections - have students reflect on their own or the art work of othes using RMTs. An example would be a student interview a peer about various aspects of their art creation. View Example
- Listen to interviews - student record or collect video or audio clips to tag photographs. View Example
- Add multimedia to Wordle View Example
- Art  - students can create multimedia art pieces.
- Add more info to infographics - there is a limit to how much information can be contained within a well designed infographic. Interactive elements could be added to exisiting infographic to extend learning and understanding. View Example
- Encourage to dig deeper  - use interactive to challenge students to explore a concept or idea in further detail by adding questions and linking to where students can find more information to deepen understanding. View Example
The main benefits to ThingLink as an educational tool are its features for content creation and how the service is accessed. ThingLink is a tool which falls into a similar category as Glogster and Prezi which offer users an alternative to traditional assignment and presentation formats. These types of tools utilize the mashability of the wide number of online media services to create something new. This type of service provides students with a range of possiblities to express themselves beyond a single medidum (e.g. print) and in a have a voice in the public sphere of the internet.
The service is cloud based so there is no need to download and install software with files being on a specific computer. Being cloud based allows users to access the service through multiple devices using several operating systems. Products are stored on the ThingLink site so users do not necessarily need a web site to publish but there are several features to socially share a link to the creation, leave a comment, follow the user or embed it on another site. ThingLink also supports multiple languages, including English, French, Japanese, Finnish, Spanish, Chinese, Swedish, Italian, Hindi, Russian, Portugese, German and Polish.
ThingLink does have some minor limitations or issues to consider prior to using. Mainly, some RMTs are linked to on-line services which may require students to register in order to add their own original content and this could be a management issue for teachers. Users can link to content outside of those noted in Rich Media Tag section but they will not display within the ThingLink product and instead redirect the visitor to a new browser window.
Some of the user created products featured on ThingLink and some of the RMT services may have questionable or objectionable material which is a cause of concern given the possible age of student participants. Also, there is no filter system available within ThingLink’s site search to remove these concerns or to select when creating a product containing such images and/or content.
Given that ThingLink products can only be displayed on the its website or embedded elsewhere, privacy and Internet safety issues should be brought to students attention. Additionally, given the nature of ThingLink, educators should discuss with their students issues surrounding copyright.
Linkage to Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational theory based on the architectural theory of Universal Design which explained how best to design building, products and environments for use by the widest range of people.  UDL differs as it looks to address the issue of equal accessibility of learning for all students and shares similarities with those theories authored by Benjamin Bloom and Lev Vygotsky. Students are individuals with unique learning needs who learn in different ways which traditional instructional practices and curricular outcomes do not address with its one-fits-all approach. UDL looks to overcome past rigid practices through development and implementation of flexible goals, methods, materials and assessment to meet varied needs.
In general, UDL looks to address 3 main questions:
- How information is presented to learner?
- How they express that?
- How are they engaged?
Specifically, Universal Design for Learning consists of 3 main principles with 9 guidelines and various subsets. 
- Provide Multiple Means or Representation
- Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression
- Provide Multiple Means of Engagement
As with any tool, technological or otherwise, the manner in which it is used determines how it effects the final product. In the case of ThingLink, its educational value depends on how the educator chooses to implement it within the design of a lesson. If the educator takes into account the 3 main questions behind Universal Design for Learning, many of its guidelines  can be addressed. Due to ThingLinks’s flexibility and possibility for creative uses, it is difficult to list all the specific guidelines which ThingLink can be used to target. Some guidelines which are easier to imagine the tool addressing include, but are not limited to:
- Providing option for perception
- Offer ways to customizing the display of information
- Offer alternatives to visual information
- Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols
- Illustrate through multiple media
- Provide options for expression and communication
- Use multiple media for communication
- Use multiple tools for construction and composition
- Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
- Foster collaboration and community
- Provide options for self-regulation
- Promote expectations and beliefs that optimize motivation
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