Education Chat

Teaching and the New Internet

Will Richardson, author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, took questions on the Internet's impact on teaching and learning and what it means for today's educators.

Teaching and the New Internet
Oct. 10, 2006

Guest: Will Richardson, author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms and founder of Connective Learning.

Anthony Rebora, (Moderator):
Welcome to Teacher Magazine’s live chat with influential edu-tech consultant and author Will Richardson. Thanks for joining us. This should be a great discussion. We’ve got a lot of excellent questions for Richardson on how the Web can be used in classrooms, so let’s get started.

Question from Casey Woods, Network Engineer, Dayton Ind:
How do you get teachers, and especially adminstrators, turned on to these tools?

Will Richardson:
Hi Casey,

I think the best way to get others involved in these tools is to model their use in professional practice and in the classroom. Administrators are tough, 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 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, we need to make sure they understand how kids are using the technologies already.

Question from Curtis Borg, Technology Int. Specialist, NYC Dept. of Ed.:
Will, I’d like to know what is your “latest, favourit-est” online tool/resource?

Will Richardson:
Hi Curtis,

I love blogs, first and foremost. But I also think RSS and social bookmarking tools can be pretty powerful. I LOVE as a place to store my bookmarks, and I can use RSS to tap into what others are saving there as well. Much of the really great links I find come from mining delicious. But ultimately, the really good stuff (hopefully) ends up on my blog. One other resource that I find myself following more and more is which tracks all the new stuff that’s going on out there. But be’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Question from Donna Jennings, Instructional Technologist, BOCES:
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?

Will Richardson:
Hi Donna,

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

Question from :
A few teachers in my department tell me that they don’t even have time to turn on the computer to answer emails. How can I propose to them to work the web?

Will Richardson:
There’s no real easy answer to this...time is a problem for everyone. But in this day and age, if we want to do the best for our students, we have to make technology a part of our practice somehow. Have to. And the other aspect of this is that blogs and wikis and podcasts have a real pedagogy involved with them. These are tools that are not only important to our students’s future, but they allow us to re-envision our own practice and really do some interesting things with our curriculum. Those teachers will become more and more irrelevant if they don’t find the time somehow to engage the tools.

Question from T. Sato, Graduate Student, UF COE:
How can blogs and other discussion type resources be made available if the school district filters restrict access to personal web pages and blogs? Is there a recommended level of security or security product to enable online class discussion without compromising security and protection against inappropriate material?

Will 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 from Gail Multop, Adjunct Instructor, Northern Virginia Community College:
I’m going to play devil’s advocate: I graduated high school in 1970. We learned by traditional verbal/lingistic methods. Now I am teaching high school graduates who (really and truely!) cannot write a decent paragraph (I’d say 60-70% of them). These young people did not have the same rigorous (and sometimes “boring”!) instruction in writing that I had in high school and did not learn how to think, either (analysis, compare/contrast, etc.). Do you believe that technology will make it possible for students to learn to write and think? Do you see it as the way out of the awful situation we have now, where students coming into college don’t have basic reading/writing skills? Thanks!

Will Richardson:
Hi Gail,

I think that writing for an audience for real purposes can go a long way to getting a student to take more ownership over his or her work and, in the process, teach many of those analysis, critical thinking skills 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 on to it.

Question from Cathy Chang,:
How do you envision the impact of web 2.0 on the teaching of immigrant students in the US, particularly their learning of English?

Will Richardson:
Hi Cathy, I know at my old school, we had ESL students working in blogs to create book reviews, restaurant reviews etc. for a much larger audience. And, as in the previous answer, I think that writing for an audience raises the level of writing in just about every way. And these tools allow students to make connections to people all over the globe, so the kids who come from Latin America, let’s say, could potentially teach what they learn about English to their friends and family back home. At some point in the not too distant future, that will be a very easy connection to make.

Question from Curtis Borg, Technology Int. Specialist, NYC Dept. of Ed.:
With online security as 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?

Will Richardson:
I think 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 keys at 17 without first having given him driver’s ed, tested his understanding, etc. 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 prepared to drive on the Information Highway (can’t believe I just used that metaphor...)

Question from Dr. Janet Rodgers - Assistant Professor of Education - Wilson College, PA:
Hi Will... what implications does your thinking and research have for teacher preparation programs? Janet

Will Richardson:
Hi Janet,

The implications for teacher prep programs are huge, I think. If new teachers aren’t at minimum aware of how these tools can be used in the classroom, then they’re missing out on all sorts of ways to connect to their students, number one, and all sorts of ways to enhance student learning number two. At best, they should be practitioners of the technologies, using RSS feeds, for instance, to collect and make decisions about information. Using blogs, for instance, to make transparent reflective and engaged learning. (Shameless self-promotion, but it’s precisely why I wrote my book...) We need to get these tools into the hands of new teachers, no doubt.

Anthony Rebora, (Moderator):
A number of you have asked for specific how-to advice and resources on using particular Web tools in the classroom. Will may not be able to get to all those questions. So I want to direct to the sidebar titled “Will’s Web Tools” in the Web version of the Teacher Magazine article on Will. It includes descriptions of various tools, as well as links to Web sites where you can see examples and learn more.

Question from Janice Friedman, Director of Library Media Services and Instructional Integration, Uniondale UFSD:
What suggestions do you have to help us address concerns regarding student privacy and postings to web 2.0 forums such as wikis?

Will Richardson:
Hi Janice,

Every student needs to be taught how to protect his/her privacy and that of others, and how to work collaboratively with others in ways that are productive and meaningful. I think wikis are a great tool to learn how to do that. I know many have issues with Wikipedia, but I have to say I think it’s a wonderful phenomenon in this Web 2.0 world and can serve as a teaching tool in many, many ways. But these skills need to be taught early on. My second and fourth graders should be learning these literacies already...but they’re not (at least not at school.) The I-safe curriculum is one place to start.

Question from Phil Brookhouse - Maine Learning Technology Initiative:
If you were to write a set of talking points to “sell” to administrators, what would they be?

Will Richardson:
Hi Phil, Another great question! I wish I had more time (and strength in my fingers!) I think first, you have to make the point that there is too much information out there now for any one person to know, and so we need to build networks of trusted sources in order to manage it. Students need to be building these networks that they can then carry with them and modify throughout their learning lives. Delicious is a great resource for that. Not everything there is 100% appropriate, but there is amazing networking of information there, and if our students learn how to mine it, they will be far ahead of their peers. At the very least, administrators should try it for themselves, combining delicious with RSS feeds, let’s say, to really start to take command of information. (This might end up being a longer post on my blog...thanks for the prod.)

Question from Stephen Hidalgo, Instructor/Mentor, Linn Benton Community College:
In my experience with the internet (sites, personal webpages, and chat especially) I can’t help but notice that the accepted standards for grammar and spelling for USA English language are miserably trashed. The results are sometimes indecipherable. Any ideas about how to establish and maintain literary accountability with students? Or does the written language devolve into “compu-talk”?

Will Richardson:
Hi Stephen,

I think that echoes Gail’s concern, and it’s legitemate, I think. But again, I also think that if we give our kids venues for writing that involve real audiences and real writing, we can demonstrate the importance of communicating clearly. That people use correctness as one way of measuring authority on the Web. I know when I did my Secret Life of Bees blog with my students ( that as soon as people started coming from around the world to read what they were writing, they started doing a lot more editing, of themselves and of each other. There are still mistakes, but it was obvious that they cared much more about communicating clearly when they were writing for a larger audience.

Question from Andrea Zellner, English, Southfield Lathtrup High School:
In the Teacher’s Magazine article, you state that “not much” can be done for kids without access. I just can’t believe that. In your travels, you must have come across tricks to bridge that digital divide. Help me think outside the box. Thanks for your input.

Will Richardson:
Well, Andrea, it’s a huge and difficult problem. One idea that I see starting to take root is getting old computers, stripping out all of the old drives, running a Linux thin client and just a Web browser. Right now, you can do 75% of what you do on a store bought computer out on the Web (see, for instance, or And those computers cost next to nothing. So if we could put together a program for that to happen, it might make a difference. But the reality of it is that we are living in a world where one out of every three people in Philadelphia have NEVER BEEN ON THE INTERNET much less have access. For that to change in all parts of this country, it’s going to take vision and leadership that just isn’t there right now.

Question from Brad Niessen - IT Consultant- The TechTeacher Podcast:
Will- How would you simply define the term Web 2.0/ Read/Write Web?

Will Richardson:
Simply, 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 from Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Education Instructor, College of William and Mary:
What is the best way to make connections as a teacher with the district IT folks- who have the power to keep blogs and wikis out of the reach of the students? What suggestions do you have for developing a district/school based team that works together on these issues?

Will Richardson:
Hi Sheryl, Thanks for the incredibly thought-provoking question. (Note: I know Sheryl. I’m buttering her up.) I think the best way to make these connections may be to articulate the pedagogical potential of using these tools and make the case that they are crucial to remaining relevant, to maintaining literacy, and to enhancing learning. Decisions about these tools should be made by the content area experts, so teachers and supervisors and students should begin conversations about how best to employ them and bring those ideas to the district IT folks. And I really think (though this may get me in trouble) that the IT folks should work at the behest of the curricular specialists. I know it’s not that black and white, but it does bother me that many of these decisions are being made by people who have little connection to the classroom. Just my opinion, of course.

Question from Marva Richards, After School Enrichment Program Coordinator:
Any suggestions of how to overcome “fear of expressing oneself online?” I think that’s what my parents are experiencing and one of the reasons they are not contributing to my blog.

Will Richardson:
Hi Marva,

This is the hardest question yet... Many people are hesitant to produce content for an audience. What if they were responding to specific questions? Or if they had stories to tell? Maybe they could express themselves in other ways. Audio? Pictures? Not a great answer I know, but I would explore the other types of media out there.

Question from Naser Heravi - Professor, CCSN:
What is the current state of technology use in K-12 classrooms? Are teachers using the technology? Is current teachers’ access to technology adequate?

Will Richardson:
Hi Naser, It depends on where you are and who you talk to. My travels of late have brought me to a variety of different districts and the levels of technology use 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, re-envisioning that I see happening with these tools. And I think 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 from Liz Nilsen, Institute for Advanced Learning & Research (Virginia):
Follow-up to Andrea’s post: are there any rural areas that are successfully tackling this issue of access? Particularly when you get into Web 2.0 issues, it’s not just the hardware--it’s the broadband issue as well. Dial-up doesn’t get the job done for the applications that we’re talking about.

Will Richardson:
Not sure, Liz. I know there are some states, Oregon among them, that are implementing broadband wireless clouds over vast regions. But you are right...that’s another obstacle.

Question from Fred Koch, Music Teacher, Lake Forest, IL School District 67:
I work in a K-4 public school. How do envision using the Read/Write Web with young children? Can you point me to elementary schools who are having success with teachers and students at this level. Thanks!

Will Richardson:
Since time is running out, Fred, here is the short answer. Poke around Anne Davis’ wiki at She has some great links to work with younger kids. Hope that helps.

Question from Jewell Folta, Educational Content Manager, THINKronize:
From your observation, are teachers embracing the concept of blogging and other trendy technologies? What do you think the obstacles are to doing so?

Will Richardson:
Hi Jewell,

Adoption is slow. Change in education is slow, and the obstacles are many. Mostly, I think, it’s that we don’t fully understand the changes that are taking place. I’m in the camp that says what’s happening now with technology is a BIG deal from that standpoint that it can fundamentally change what we have been doing for the last 100 years. Most people, I think, don’t see that yet because they haven’t experienced it. I have learned more from being a blogger than I have from all of my traditional educational settings combined. It has changed my life. And I look at my kids and know it will change theirs. But that realization hasn’t taken hold in education yet.

Anthony Rebora, (Moderator):
That’s all the time we have. I want to thank everyone who submitted questions, and I want say thanks to Will Richardson for his responses. (He’s been working very hard for the last hour, folks!) The transcript will be available shortly on Also, if you haven’t already, please check out Teacher’s article on Richardson, as well as the rest of the October technology issue.

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