Yes! Zeens in the Classroom!

Learning, Learning Innovations, PreK-12 / by

I know if I announced to my middle school students, “I want you to create your own digital magazine,” a lot of hands would be thrown over heads and many loudly whispered “yeses” would be heard immediately. With the new site Zeen.com, I actually can give my classes this dream assignment. Anyone can now curate and publish their own digital magazine by collecting interesting content from anywhere on the web, mixing in some of their own, feeding it into a beautiful, customizable template and finally sharing the incredible looking finished product with the world. Not to mention, Zeen is the brainchild of YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, so it seems safe to say this is just the beginning of the great things we will be experiencing on Zeen.com in the near future.

Zeen.com was not specifically created as an “education tool” yet it seems to be a perfect match for our 21st century classrooms- right along with technology integration, collaboration and project based learning. After playing around with it for only a week, I can see it working in a variety of ways inside the classroom. First, log in with a your Twitter/Facebook/ or email account and then jump right into creating your own magazine, alone, or invite others to help you create with an email invitation, perfect for group projects, classroom newsletters, school wide projects or, even better, flattening those classroom walls and creating magazines with students from across the country or around the globe! It’s an easy start. Once you click “Create New” students will see this page:

Extremely intuitive and, what I really love, is how easily it allows the author to mix web content with their own reflections or commentary. Basically, you can include anything you want in your Zeens… web clips, images, videos, links while you attaching your personally written text and quotes right along side the included web content. This type of format truly opens up the possibilities for some great student Zeens. Here’s my list of a few ways to use Zeen.com in the classroom:

  • REPLACE that old research project! (you know, the one with 10 sources, listed on note cards, including the obligatory 3-4 required print sources). Now students can still do the research on the topic that sparks their interest, but with Zeen, they can include the actual videos and images right next to their own research all while presenting it in an engaging format.  Zeen also allows for commenting and feedback, so students can hear from an authentic audience.
  • Use Zeen as the final landing spot for a class project: Even when you are all studying the same topic, students don’t necessarily have to show their learning the exact same format. I love it when the teachers at my school say, write a paper, make a movie, write a song, WHATEVER you want! Just show me what you learned… well, wouldn’t Zeen be the perfect place to collect all those projects and then, from there, share them with each other, parents, the community, etc. What a great way to personalize learning for your students.
  • Replace your classroom or school wide newsletter: They are so easy to create and, frankly, the magazines format can be so more engaging than the traditional “newsletters” we’ve been receiving for the endless amount of past years.
  • Promote special events at your school: Maybe there is a on-going volunteer project students participate in, or specialized curriculum project each grade focuses on that should be documented and shared with the community. Or  a school event or fundraiser… Zeen sure seems like a great way to share that type of information with the school community in a engaging and exciting way.

Still, Zeen.com was not created with classroom use in mind, so there are a few issues before truly integrating this site into schools. When searching for Zeens, inappropriate content for schools can easily pop up, so I hope there might be a “for schools” version of Zeen in the works, or, at least create a “safe” path for students to author, publish and, hopefully even embed these dynamic products of learning.

Want to give Zeen a try? They are ready for you with a fun contest- create a Zeen about your own interpretation of the “Holidays” (http://zeen.com/read/FTgM3r/MxmgG ). Try the site out for yourself and maybe even win a iPad for your classroom at the same time. I know I am going to try it… and I think I think I’ll ask my students to help me, just so I can see those hands go up and hear those “Yeses!” – it’s one of my favorite parts of being a teacher.

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson is the managing editor at Getting Smart. Follow her on twitter at @tedrosececi