One of the aspects of covering educational technology that I really enjoy is something I call the “about-face.”
A new technology emerges and begins to gather steam—say, for instance, social-networking tools. Then students experiment with the tools well before most adults, and, invariably, many get reckless in how they use them.
Schools, in turn, react by imposing restrictions or even prohibitions on the use of the new tools, fearful they will cause serious problems. It’s an understandable reaction, but often a judgment made a little too quickly.
Then, the about-face occurs.
Educators grow curious about why students are so enamored with the new tools, teachers begin to see and use them for learning, and schools make moves to relax the restrictions they once imposed.
The cover story in this issue highlights the most recent about-face in the world of K-12 educational technology: the use of social-networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Ning for classroom lessons, school-parent communication, and professional development. It is a startling shift in direction for many schools.
In her cover story (“Social Networking Goes to School,” this issue), Senior Writer Michelle R. Davis points out that just two years ago, social networking meant little more to teachers and administrators than the headache of determining whether to punish students for innappropriate activities highlighted on Facebook or MySpace. Now, teachers and students have a vast array of social-networking sites and tools—from Ning to VoiceThread and Second Life—to draw on for such serious uses as student collaboration on classroom projects and professional development.
Still, Michelle points out that even though educators and students are pushing learning beyond the borders of the classroom through social networking, many schools still block access to such sites within their walls, and issues around privacy and Internet security remain.
It will be interesting to follow future developments in this area as schools try to balance the benefits and drawbacks of opening their doors to social networking. On a related note, the use of mobile computing devices in schools has been undergoing a similar about-face, which we chronicled in depth in Technology Counts 2010, Education Week’s annual report on the state of educational technology. Mobile devices such as smartphones and iPods, still seen as nuisances or contraband by many schools, are now viewed by an increasing number of teachers and administrators as cost-effective tools to build and sustain 1-to-1 computing programs.
For this issue, we take a look at how school administrators are becoming increasingly reliant on mobile devices to do their jobs, a trend that mirrors what is happening elsewhere in the professional world. (“K-12 Mobile Leaders,” this issue.)
It is fascinating to watch teachers and administrators embrace technologies they once resisted. It’s an about-face worth noting.