Introducing Cool Iris

When we want to move our student’s learning environment into the ether of the web, we can be hard pressed to go beyond simply assigning more reading.  In the days of multimedia, interactivity and all things web 2.0, assigning links to on-line articles will not cause many students to leap up for their netbooks with joy and glee.  There are a couple of web-based tools that I would like to posit as potentially very useful when we want to appeal to our students who learn best visually and experientially.  This week, I would like us to take a look at Cool Iris.

cooliris2

Click this link for a Cool Iris Demonstration
A brief summary of Cool Iris; it is a free(!) browser plug-in for MS Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Flock (that’s right, dear reader, Flock).  The browser add-on throws open a 3D wall that lets users rapidly browse hundreds of images instantly, using image results from search engine sites.  Default search engines include Google, Yahoo!, Flickr, Photobucket, YouTube, and even Hulu.   “Hulu?” I hear you ask. Weirdly enough, it was surprisingly enlightening to do a quick search on ‘autism’ in Hulu to see what Hollywood threw back at me. Plenty of learning opportunities there, my friends…

But wait, folks, there’s more.  Cool Iris is not limited to the default search engines.  It is enabled on a variety of other websites such as Getty Images, Facebook, the LA Times and many others.  Beyond being a very fast method for gathering and viewing a large collection of photos and videos, users are also able to collect images into a “Favorites” basket – useful for later recollection and/or presentations.  Moreover, Cool Iris allows users to send images they find to others.

How might one use Cool Iris in a blended environment?  When I first presented this tool in-class, I had students do a search in the Flickr search engine within Cool Iris using the three terms ‘Chinese, Buddhist, temple.’  chinesetemple When their 3-D wall popped up, I asked them to scan the photos for about 5 minutes asking them to take stock of what they saw – colors, features, architecture, statues, whatever they thought was striking. We then had a quick discussion and in about 10 minutes time, my crew had a pretty strong grasp of many of the common features of Chinese Buddhist religious architecture.

For homework, I then assigned my students to go home and using their web browsers do a similar exercise using the terms ‘Japanese, Buddhist, temple.’   In this assignment, they were required to take notes that took stock of features they saw in Japanese Buddhist tempes as well as make comparisons with the Chinese temples.

japanesetemple The next time we met, my students were very proficient at distinguishing Japanese and Chinese Buddhist temples from one another. They noted that the Japanese temples tended to be more integrated into their surroundings, that the colors were more neutral and that the exteriors tended to be less ornate than their Chinese counterparts.  This allowed me to then talk about the predominance of Zen Buddhism in Japan as well as the influence of Shinto religion on Japanese expressions of Buddhism.

The sheer ease of this tool has plenty of potential for an all on-line classroom environment.  Give it a try, I bet you will agree.

Shaun Longstreet
I first started teaching in a university classroom in 1994 and I have nine years of faculty and graduate student development experience. I first worked at the University of Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center as a graduate student program developer. I was then at Texas A&M University as an assistant professor in the Philosophy Department and an Instructional Consultant for the Center for Teaching Excellence. I was the Associate Director for the Teaching Learning and Technology Center at the University of California, Irvine before returning to the Lone Star State. My specific interests in faculty and graduate student development are: developing inclusive classrooms and effective leveraging of technology in the classroom.

While I have a strong passion for faculty and TA development, I still have my own research agenda in the field of ancient Mediterranean cultures; I currently research diaspora religious communities in pre-Roman North Africa and west Asia. This has me working on my hobby of collecting ancient languages. I am now learning my ninth and tenth languages, Phoenician and Carian.

One thought on “Introducing Cool Iris

  1. Matt Crosslin

    Welcome to EGJ Shaun! Pretty cool tool there – I like how it integrates with your regular browsing experience after it is installed. Well, at least in Firefox it does – can’t speak for IE or even weirder browsers like Chrome (that Katrina uses).

    In honor of our favorite AWOL edugeek, I did a search for U2 using Cool Iris. Interesting results.

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