After weeks of poring over reviews and testing the app in classroom, I can say with confidence that instaGrok offers the best research engine experience for education of any app for tablets running iOS or Android. The instaGrok app is more classroom-friendly than its competitors, and its visual presentation of results is unparalleled. With instaGrok, teachers can encourage self-directed learning, empowering students to hone research, critical thinking, and writing skills. The search results engage students and encourage them to dig deeper in research projects. Read on to learn why instaGrok is the ideal classroom research app.
I began by downloading three search engine apps recommended for educational settings — instaGrok, Google, and Wikipedia — on iOS and Android tablets. I used the apps, including both the free and paid classroom version of instaGrok, along with my 7th-grade English students for two weeks. My students used the app for a research project that I had them do on a famous author. Once I got their feedback, I evaluated each app for its pedagogical potential, usefulness in the classroom, and user-friendliness.
instaGrok is a next-generation research engine intended for academic settings to allow students to research any subject and see results in an interactive concept map, or “grok.” The grok features key facts, concepts and their relationships, images, videos, quizzes, and a glossary. Students can pin the information that they want to use to their grok and keep a bibliography or research notes in an integrated journal.
The app is recommended for grades 5-12. The instaGrok site and tablet apps are free to the public. However, educators can purchase the classroom version of instaGrok for $45 per year. The classroom version allows teachers to create assignments and monitor students’ progress.
How Do You Use It?
When you first sign into instaGrok, you create a free account to access certain features. Once you do that, type the topic that you’re researching into the text box, and press “Grok” to search. I first searched for “greyhound,” for example, and a concept wheel featuring the term at the center appeared.
Around the search term, you’ll see related concepts that you can research by clicking. In my search, related concepts included racing, hound, and service. Next to the center concept is the main information box, which contains key facts, websites, videos, images, and notes. An information box appears for each related concept as well.
You can customize your grok by pinning source material or adding notes and photos. You can then share it with others, which is especially useful for students working on related research. One of the features that I liked the most was the difficulty bar, which you can slide to increase the complexity of the results for different age groups.
Is It Useful for Teachers?
What makes instaGrok indispensable to teachers is its ability to facilitate self-directed learning of several critical skills, including researching and integrating discrete concepts. Other search engines don’t do this as effectively because they return a staggering amount of largely irrelevant information that scatters and distracts students.
With my students, when I ask them to Google something, they usually end up falling down a rabbit hole and getting sidetracked by extraneous information. For example, if I ask them to Google the play Hamlet, before I know it, they have Mel Gibson’s mug shot pulled up on TMZ. instraGrok confines its results only to pertinent concepts while also filtering out inappropriate content.
Further, instaGrok seemed to reach the visual and non-linear learners in my classroom. The concept map results display helped my students organize their thoughts, structure their research reports, and visualize the relationships among topics. Last but not least, my students had fun with instaGrok; the app immersed them in the project by allowing them to interact with the material and customize their groks.
The instaGrok app is not as intuitive to use as its competitors, which is why it lost two points in this category. Although it took me and my students a while to figure out the app, we found the concept map useful and engaging.
What this app can do pedagogically amazed me. From my perspective, instaGrok gave me the perfect tool to guide my students through the research process and concept synthesis. For my students, the concept map format of the results enabled them to organize information and see how topics relate.
The lack of accessible support is my biggest complaint about the app. For a higher score, instaGrok would need to make a help or tutorial section easy to find and more enlightening than its current offerings. Even on the instaGrok website, finding help is difficult.
Runner-Up: Wikipedia Mobile Review
Wikipedia Mobile, instaGrok’s most comparable competitor, brings the online encyclopedia and its 32 million articles to mobile devices. Like instaGrok, Wikipedia allows users to research almost any topic and provides a pastiche of information from myriad online sources. Wikipedia Mobile is useful in the classroom as a reference tool, but it does little in the way of teaching. Students cannot customize or interact with results, no content filters are in place, and Wikipedia does not connect concepts as strikingly and cohesively as instaGrok.
Other instaGrok Reviews
Mine is not the only positive online review of the instaGrok app in the education community. In the iTunes App Store, instaGrok has a rating of four out of five stars. Similarly, in Graphite’s review of instaGrok, the site calls it a “great introduction to the research process” and commends its “non-linear learning options.” Finally, EdSurge’s review praises instaGrok’s ability to promote self-directed learning, andEdTechReview points out that the app is the only search engine app specifically designed for the classroom.
I think of using instaGrok for classroom research like panning for gold: The app sifts through results to cull the most educational, relevant, and grade-appropriate information. The app is the only one of its kind designed specifically for educational settings, and its interactive visual presentation of results is ideal for concept synthesis. In addition to supplying credible information, instaGrok guides and motivates students to perfect their critical thinking and researching skills in a way that no other app does.