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Chat Wrap-Up: Teaching and the New Internet

October 24, 2006 4 min read
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On Oct. 10, readers put questions about the expanding educational uses of the Internet to Will Richardson, the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Power Web Tools for Classrooms and the founder of Connective Learning. Below are excerpts from the discussion, which was hosted by Teacher Magazine.

Read the full transcript of this chat.

Question: What is the current state of technology use in K-12 classrooms? Are teachers using the technology? Is their access to it adequate?

Richardson: It depends on where you are and whom you talk to. My travels of late have taken me to a variety of different districts, and the levels of technology use I’ve seen are literally all over the place. I will tell you, however, that the one consistent piece to all of it is that, for the most part, educators are using technology to do the same things they were doing without technology. There is very little real experimentation happening with these tools. And there are all sorts of opportunities to do that. Blogging is not the same as writing on paper, yet that’s how it’s being used, and that’s got to change.

Question: How would you define, simply, the term Web 2.0/Read/ Write Web?

Richardson: Here’s a simple definition: It’s a Web where it is just as easy to publish (write) as it is to read. Almost. Gone are the days of knowing code and high-end software. If you can send an e-mail, you know enough to start adding your voice to the conversation online in any number of different ways.

Question: How do you get teachers, and especially administrators, turned on to these Web tools?

Richardson: The best way to get others involved is to model the tools’ use in professional practice and in the classroom. Administrators are a tough problem, however. The ways in which they could receive, produce, share, or broadcast information when they were high school age are much different from today, so they really don’t have much of a context for appreciating what can be done or how the world is changing (unless, of course, they have kids of their own). So for them, we need to not only try to point to good pedagogies, but also to make sure they understand how kids are using the technologies already.

Question: With the intense focus on assessment, has there been any research done on the correlation of Web 2.0 tools and test performance? If not, what are ways to connect interactive technologies and test scores?

Richardson: Unfortunately (and somewhat frustratingly), the hard research has yet to be done in this area. There’s a ton of anecdotal research to support the use of these tools in the classroom, and the realities of the world certainly should move us in that direction. There are many obvious connections between use of the tools and standards, the writing that’s done in blogs probably being the most obvious example. But until we do get some of that research, this is a much harder sell, no doubt.

Question: With online security a primary concern of parents, what message have you offered that seems to satisfy teachers and parents as their schools begin the use of Web 2.0 tools?

Richardson: The message is that the only way to keep our kids safe is to give them the education they need to make good decisions about what they do online. To me, this is much like driving a car. We wouldn’t just hand a kid the car keys at age 17, without first having given him driver’s ed., tested his understanding, and so on. The same should go for the Internet. To block all of these tools because we have privacy concerns only means that when our students leave school, they’re not going to be prepared for the Information Highway.

Question: How can blogs and other discussion-type resources be made available if the district’s filters restrict access to personal Web pages and blogs? Is there a recommended level of security or a security product to enable online class discussion without compromising protections against inappropriate use or material?

Richardson: Great question, and one we need to find an answer to. But this is more than a filtering question, I think. It’s a control issue, and it’s also attempting to put into place an easy answer to a complex problem. Our kids are going to engage with the content we are filtering when they leave school, so to pretend that it doesn’t exist is folly and leaves our kids less literate in terms of navigating it all. The only way to keep them from “inappropriate” material on the Web is to shut off the whole Web. And that, I hope, is not an option.

Question: I’m going to play devil’s advocate. I graduated from high school in 1970. We learned by traditional verbal/linguistic methods. Now I am teaching high school graduates who cannot write a decent paragraph. These young people did not have the same rigorous (and, yes, sometimes boring) instruction in writing that I had, and because they were never forced to analyze, compare and contrast, and so on, did not learn how to think, either. Will technology make it possible for them to learn to write and think? Is it the way out of the awful situation we have now, where students coming into college don’t have basic reading and writing skills?

Richardson: I think that writing for an audience for real purposes can go a long way toward getting a student to take more ownership over his or her work and, in the process, teach many of those skills of analysis and critical thinking that you cite. Kids need to write more, and blogs, for instance, provide a great vehicle for that to happen. But we have to position writing (and much of the rest of the curriculum) in a way that makes it more than just something the teacher corrects. We have that opportunity now, if we’d just grasp it.

A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2006 edition of Education Week as Chat Wrap-Up: Teaching and the New Internet

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