Today Richard Olsen and I presented about Fargo at TeachMeet Melbourne. TeachMeets are regular, free events where teachers get together (often on a Saturday) to talk about all aspects of teaching and learning. Often this talk turns to new technology so we thought Fargo was a good one to show to the 50 or so teachers who came along.
Both Richard and I are pretty passionate about the possibilities of Fargo. Richard is using it to stay organised for his PhD and given the amount of rigorous research work he is doing it's a sign of how powerful outliners can be. I'm still more of dabbler but I'm really interested in how Fargo can be used for different forms of publishing like blogging, short posts and linkblogs. I also like the way that Fargo keeps all user data stored in one location (Dropbox) which is easily backed up. It's a model that makes more sense for a user than having to rely on services that lock data away. In education we tend to often rely on free services and that can leave us in the lurch when services close or are acquired by the bigger companies.
The video of our presentation is below and an outline of our presentation notes is here. I was really pleased that people seemed interested in Fargo and outliners in general. The TeachMeet crowd are really savvy and they tend to critically consider the value of a new tool and think about whether it's worth exploring. From the questions after the talk it seemed like there may have been a few people who were willing to explore Fargo to see if it's for them (and possibly their students).
Some of the questions from the crowd give a good indication of how Fargo might be used or some of the new features that could be added to make it even more useful. The questions included:
Does it allow for collaboration? A: In some ways it does, but more in the way you can 'watch' someone else's outlines. It's not going to give you the same level of collaboration as Google Drive or a service like Meeting Words.
Does it integrate with Evernote? A: Not at this stage (Dave did talk about it once), but if you want to blog with Evernote then I'd suggest looking at Postach.io. I would also like to back up my published posts from Fargo directly to Evernote, but using If This Then That to grab anything in the RSS feed from your blog and then save it as a new note in Evernote should work fine.
Does it do presentations like Prezi? A: Not quite like Prezi, but there is a presentation mode. Check out how Jay Rosen used Fargo to present at a journalism conference.
Can it be used to support visual thinking? A: This is one that I don't feel all that qualified to answer. I'd love to know what someone with expertise in visual thinking reckons. If the question is whether this replaces more fluid and visual mind mapping software then the answer is no; there's surely a place for both. It's a matter of using what suits. For me, I like to organise with text and then to be able to write straight into the outline. Fargo does include the option to tag different entries with different icons, so that may be of some use for those people who like visual cues.
As a former teacher of English and Literature I would certainly recommend students use Fargo for persuasive writing and text study. Creating quote banks organised into different themes from the text would help students plan their essays. An outline would also be a good way for students to analyse different aspects of a persuasive writing piece, and would also assist students in organising their arguments when it comes to writing their own persuasive pieces. Many students find it difficult to get started with a piece of writing, so using an outliner to dump all of their ideas out, organise them and then start fleshing them out is going to help them get started. Fargo could also be used to record notes and observations about a text that students are studying, and the linkblog feature would be an interesting way for students to record the types of sources they're accessing during the year. An example might be a senior student who keeps a linkblog of any persuasive texts they've read and analysed (creating a shared resource that the rest of the class can access too).
Fargo is a tool with a range of possibilities that can be adapted for different subjects. The way it can be used for different types of work (note taking, research, writing, publishing) means that it's certainly worth learning about. It's not the easiest tool to get started with, but I hope some educators persist with Fargo and outliners and start to consider how students could harness them.
I'd love to hear from other educators with ideas of how they would (or already do) encourage their students to use an outliner.