mixing and remixing to find a balance….
At my school we have a Professional Growth and Development program known as TALL Tuesday. While I can never remember what the acronym stands for, the program represents the earnest efforts of the school to carve out time for sustained professional development. For a set number of Tuesdays each school year (this year we have six meetings) the academic day ends an hour early and faculty members meet for two and a half hours in workshops organized and run by their colleagues. Each faculty member chooses one of the offered workshops and stays with that group for the entire year. This year’s offerings range from Mentoring to Social Justice in the Classroom, Global Warming to Write Your Own Textbook. This year my colleague Michael Bernstein and I decided to run a Web 2.0 workshop.
The group met for the first time this week, and from my perspective the session went well. Michael and I have also gotten positive feedback from some of our colleagues, but I’d welcome folks to use the comment feature of this blog to respond with thoughts, suggestions, or critique as well.
We began the meeting by getting a sense of why people had chosen this group. The answers ranged from general interest to specific ideas or needs. We then showed Epic 2015, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson’s rather dark vision of the future of information and the Internet. It’s a powerful reminder both of the potential of the new tools being developed and of the possible negative consequences they carry. We then offered an overview of our take on Web 2.0 and something of a roadmap for our journey.
After Epic 2015, we figured it apropos to begin our exploration of Web 2.0 tools with those offered by Google. A few people already had Gmail access, but most had to create new accounts. We briefly looked at the e-mail and calendar, partly as a familiar starting point for discussions, but also as way to demonstrate briefly how AJAX and other similar technologies are changing the landscape of the web. Our main reason for using the Google offerings, however, was to introduce Docs & Spreadsheets (formerly Writely), looking especially at the remote access and collaboration features.
We ended the session with a quick look at the use of weblogs in education, using as an example the Secret Life of Bees blog that Will Richardson had used with one of his English classes. It’s a great example of how blogs can be used to motivate student writing and validate their thoughts and ideas. We’ll pick up with blogs and blogging at the next meeting.
Michael and I are excited that teachers from the workshop are already taking some of the tools they explored and putting them into use in their classes. To wit:
1. As preparation for upcoming parent-teacher conferences, one teacher is setting up shared online documents so that students can write reflections about their work and parents can read and add to them, all before the meeting happens.
2. Another teacher has set up shared assignment calendars that students can link to using iCal and have them update automatically.
Seems that folks are hitting the ground running. I really think that these tools can be quite exciting, useful, and, frankly, fun. Exploring their potential can be, in the words of one teacher, “truly energizing — even inspiring.”
I look foward to session two in January!
One of the topics that I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately is the nature of knowledge in an age of ubiquitous access to vast amounts of information. What does it mean to be an educated person these days? How much data do we need to carry around in our heads when facts are only a few key search terms away?
Not long ago I was going through some papers that my mother had saved from my elementary school days. I came across a report I had done entitled “The Solar System: Our Nine Planets.” As if on cue, my nephew–a sixth grader–walked into the room and informed me with the utmost authority and confidence, “There are only eight planets.”
How many children over decades and decades have memorized the nine planets? It was so important to know them, to get them RIGHT! What mnemonic did you use? My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pies? And then, poor Pluto got demoted.
This strikes me as an apt illustration of some of the problems we face as educators. We feel compelled (by tradition, society, colleges, the SAT?) to teach a body of knowledge, but what in the world does that mean? How do we manage the expanding information and the shrinking globe (universe, even)? The obvious answer is that we need to develop skills in our students, not tranfer facts to them, but what does that look like within the context of a “traditional” education?
Technology certainly offers us new opportunities to get our students to connect with others and explore ideas outside of the walls of our schools, but the promise of technology is yet to be realized. We’re still mostly in the mode that technology should support what good teachers already do. Perhaps. But maybe we’re getting closer to the point where it’s truly going to be transformational.
Reflecting on last week’s NYSAIS EdTech conference, I’m reminded of the commonly held belief that early mapmakers marked the edge of the known world with the words “Here Be Dragons.” While this belief seems to be something of a folk myth, it provides an apt metaphor to describe the current landscape in the educational technology field.
With rapid technological advances, teachers and students face a brave new world out there beyond the known boundaries. Web 2.0 tools have the capacity to open up new territories in teaching and learning, but their promise also carries with it a fear of the dangers that lurk at the frontiers. Ed Tech visionaries extol the virtues of open, collaborative, organic learning environments, while at the same time parents, teachers, and administrators wrestle with the potential negative consequences in our students’ and children’s lives of venturing alone into these uncharted lands. To make matters worse, the children tend to be the explorers, even the natives, of this new world, while most adults struggle to keep up.
Furthermore, these new technologies are also forcing us to examine and reevaluate long-held beliefs and practices concerning teaching, learning, and knowledge itself. How’s that for a challenge? While this is a very exciting time to be in education, it can also be quite daunting.
What’s the answer? One step at a time, I’d say, even when those steps are sometimes quantum leaps.
Well, I’ve been playing with a number of 2.0 tools over the past couple of years, ever since hearing Will Richardson speak at Mohonk 2004 on a very snowy Friday morning. He convinced me that I needed to explore weblogs, wikis, RSS, and such, and I began to integrate these tools into my work at school and to advocate for their use in the classroom, but until now I never took the plunge and starting blogging my own thoughts and ideas. So I set up this blog and in I go.
It’s fitting that I should start this journey after again attending one of Will’s workshops, this one focusing exclusively on the use of RSS in the classroom. It really got the wheels turning. I’m already regularly using feeds through Netvibes and on my Palm via AvantGo (for the long subway rides each day), but Will’s presentation helped me to see some great educational uses, such as the ability to aggregate information (text, photos, video, etc.) based on keyword and tag-based search feeds and to consolidate a number of sources into a single feed.
Which got me thinking…. I tend to be a person who likes to look for the Swiss Army Knife of online tools–something that does it all well. I want my blog to integrate with my wiki to integrate with course management software and on and on. It’s a search for the grail–the killer information managment app. But then that leaves me open to the paralysis of “but what if I start using something now and then find something I like more?” Today I realized that perhaps a mix of different tools is really a more flexible modular solution. And RSS is the tie that binds it all together.
Which got me thinking…. If every teacher had a blog, and every student had an RSS aggregator, what other course management software would you need? If teachers posted comments, prompts, notes, assignments, handouts, etc. to their blogs, students could simply subscribe to the feeds to create a personalized course content delivery system. And if the students had blogs, and the teachers had aggregators, then the whole thing could become pretty interactive. I’m sure there are some stumbling blocks that aren’t occurring to me right now, but at first glance, this seems encouraging.
NYSAIS Conference – Mohonk 2006