Grok: understand (something) intuitively or by empathy.

Probably the most influential book in my teen years, and probably in my life, is the popular 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein, in which he coined the word “grok”.

A new research tool for students builds on how we think about topics, in a network of concepts, images, links and notes. InstaGrok is now my go-to first step for writing (and more!) assignments in class. It is a collection of tools that help the students focus on a topic and consolidate text, images, videos, notes, links to websites, and concepts into one coherent unit.


Input a topic or concept into the search window, and you get a wealth of information in many different formats. Here we see one of the topics in my 3rd year class, media. InstaGrok has three main screens, with the mind-map the principle of these (shown above). Each node of information (here, I have selected the main concept, media, but click on another related concept, such as service, and another set of suggested content pops up in the smaller square with 5 tabs of varied content. Students can add or prune nodes and their content to reshape the default configuration into something more personalized. Students choose what to “pin” to their mind map. They can choose or add videos, annotate them, find or follow links to related websites, or collect and create quiz questions. The Journal page is where students collect these resources and put them into the service of their own writing, with a collection of pinned items and a bibliography on the side that grows as they add quotes and references.

I can follow all of my students and their progress through a class interface, and students can share with other students for collaborative sessions. There is a 90-day trial period, but for only $45 a year, a teacher can handle up to 200 students. I have only tried this with a small class of a dozen students but look forward to using it for both writing and project building as a way to start the process. InstaGrok primes the pump with information, yet allows students to create in many different directions, building a natural neural network into one coherent whole.


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