Education Opinion

The Real Excitement

By LeaderTalk Contributor — August 04, 2009 6 min read
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The potential of emerging technologies and the philosophy behind web 2.0 to transform the learning environment continues to excite me, but there is a need to create new mindsets instead of presenting examples, ideas, and presentations based upon traditional and old mindsets of their use, a retro-fitting or “old way, new tool” approach.

As Knobel and Lankshear (2008) state, “it is very easy to find examples where teachers and administrators approach new technologies in ways that constitute these new technologies as simply more recent forms of established tools, rather than as constitutive elements of new ways of doing things and new ways of being” (p. 54).

It is exactly those types of examples that we must avoid using as models, and the reason we should value collectively discussing and building principles and guidelines that allow user to maximize the potential of these emerging technologies. However, there are numerous concerns often expressed when this collective approach is raised: There are no rules, Stifle creativity and innovations, and Just starting points.

There are No Rules!

One argument is that emerging technologies in particular web 2.0 in education have no rules or one right way. Sure! Use the technologies in any manner that makes sense. Use a blog as a discussion board? To post assignments? To have students respond to prompts? Use a wiki for document storage? as a class website? Fine!

As professionals, teachers makes choices based upon classroom and student needs, which is to be commended.
However, these shouldn’t be modeled or celebrated as revolutionary as many fail to capture the soul of participatory learning and the philosophy of web 2.0.

Think of this from outside the realm of technology such as cooperative learning. We honor and value that teachers utilize this instructional strategy in many different ways, but we also recognize effective, less than effective, and poor uses of the strategy. In fact, if we compared effective cooperative classrooms versus less than effective classroom, similar themes and approaches would emerge that set the two apart. Should we not leverage these themes and approaches? Should we scream there are no rules and thus not use our findings to formulate guidelines and ideas for teachers new to the approach? For me, Johnson and Johnson along with a master teacher who excelled at cooperative learning that made the difference between me just putting students in groups and calling it cooperative learning, and facilitating the creation of a collaborative environment.

Saying and accepting there are no rules removes the responsibility of quality and places the focus on quantity.

Don’t get me wrong. We don’t need rules or standardization!

However, we need to work collectively to create learner-centered models as well as core principles that maximize the potential of emerging technologies instead of settling for entry level, tool centered and sometimes teacher centered uses of emerging technologies. After all, aren’t we striving to create new, more powerful learning environments?

Isn’t it time to create fluid and flexible principles that serve as guides towards powerful uses of emerging technologies? Isn’t it time to stop being afraid to challenge thinking, ask difficult questions, facilitate discussions, debate successful strategies, define current trends, showcase complex uses of emerging technologies? Isn’t it time to leverage research, theory, and practitioner narrative?

Principles Prevent Innovation and Creativity

In college, Dr. McBride used discussion boards to extend the depth and breadth of our thinking. His excellent approach was a model and provided guidelines for my classroom. While the asynchronous approach of the discussion board was meeting many needs, I still wasn’t seeing the changes within the physical space that I hoped would occur from the confidence gained in the digital. Thus, wired discussions were born!

Did I follow guidelines, best practices (gasp!), rules, and models when I started using discussion boards. Sure! I explored transformative uses, modified for my students, and tweaked with practitioner (students/teachers) feedback, current research, and theory. This allowed me to start with a powerful experience.

However, these guidelines didn’t prevent me from thinking what could be done better. It didn’t stifle my creativity and innovation.

Finding new and better ways of doing things is part of being a thinker and an innovator. In the future, we surely will use emerging technologies in ways we have not considered. These advances should be embraced and encouraged. That is why tbe development of models, guidelines, and principles should be less fixed, more fluid and open to ensure these evolve with society, innovations, and the technologies.

Teachers Need Starting Points

Most emerging technologies are deceptively simplistic and offer easy entry points. There are those that claim many teachers fear technology so letting them do anything just to get them using technology is the best approach. If that entry point is retro-fitting past practices and teacher-centered, we need to think closely about this approach and its low hanging fruit.

Is this entry point needed to move forward? Probably.

However, what are we doing to push and pull teachers in order to shift their mindsets and get beyond this entry level? Are we helping the teachers to understand the full spectrum of possibilities? Or, are we leaving these teachers to proclaim their use of web 2.0 technologies and remain at that starting point?

We do a disservice to those we hope will infuse said technology into the classroom to transform learning when we provide entry points as models of excellence and allow those to serve as the guidelines to follow in the classroom. Should these options be provided? I guess. But, I’d present these as an early entry point but be sure to focus their and my energy on transformational and innovative uses of emerging technologies as strategies and classroom foundations not isolated tools.

We should embrace these entry points but speak honestly that it is just that, a starting point not models of effective use.


While the use of emerging technologies is increasing, the focus needs to be on the difference it is making in student achievement and engagement. Thus, how are emerging technologies being infused within the classroom in connection with social practices and notions of current/future generation of learners? How are you developing principles and guidelines for emerging technologies using research, theory, and practitioner narratives? Are we perpetuating the old rather than engaging these technologies as means of reinventing education in a powerful manner? When will powerful models begin to develop for others to use as inspiration and motivation?

Networks and communities should consider collectively building fluid principles, creating new mindsets, and providing guidelines for establishing powerful learning environments that maximize emerging technologies. It is easy to avoid these conversations using rationales like the ones here and because it requires honest, difficult discussions. Is it right to avoid these conversations? Are we being too nice or simply afraid to be honest professionals with a common goal of student achievement? After all, the real potential of the digital in schools will be realized when emerging technologies and the current social phenomenon are leveraged in a learner-centered, multi-dimensional learning space NOT when the emerging technologies are leveraged in a traditional, teacher or tool-centered manner.

Just Thinking Out Loud,
Ryan Bretag


Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2006). New Literacies. Buckingham: Open University Press.

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.