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Using the Web in Schools – Two Solitudes

March 11, 2008

Recently I posted a comment on a blog and checked off the little box that okays email notification every time a comment is added. The blog post is on Will Richardson’s Weblog-ed: learning with the read/write web and it is an urgent call for educators, aka teachers, to get more knowledgable about the web and it’s amazing pedagogical possibilities – http://weblogg-ed.com/2008/urgent-21st-century-skills-for-educators-and-others-first/ (Richardson is also the author of a very helpful book, one I’ve purchased myself, called Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.) As I write this, there are a total of 78 comments on Rihardson’s post, with none directly negative, and few even remotely questioning his premise of the importance of teachers of ALL subjects learning how to use the web to enhance their students learning, and their own.

I saw Richardson’s post a few days after my own post on the subject – https://joanvinallcox.wordpress.com/2008/03/01/educating-for-the-21st-century/ which links to other posts with the same urgent call. Steve Hargadon has posted a well argued essay on the same subject with the same sense of urgency – http://www.stevehargadon.com/2008/03/web-20-is-future-of-education.html – and gone even further and created Classroom 2.0 a “social networking site for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education”. One of the three hosts who will respond to any questions asked is Canadian edublogger, Konrad Glogowski, who is studying the use of blogging in education.

If you spend any time on the web, even minimal searches will lead you to a very active edublogsphere (strange word, I know, but based on blogsphere as defined in Wikipedia). And, you will see there many very very passionate advocates for using what Will Richardson calls “the read/write web”, what is also called “Web 2.0”, and, increasingly, “Social Media”. Many of these passionate advocates are trying to figure out how to get more of their colleagues to join them in learning about the web and how to use it in teaching and learning. That’s one of the solitudes.

There’s another, larger, solitude. One of my closest friends hates the computer and the web. She reluctantly uses computers for writing, for email, and in her teaching, where one of her courses is on a CMS (Course Management System), but she is very clear about really disliking the whole experience. She’s very bright, very knowledgeable about pedagogy, and very passionate about teaching well. We have lots of great conversation, and she’s very tolerant of my web evangelism. She acknowledges my passion for the web as a teaching/learning tool, but it’s clear her aversion is deeply rooted. We’ve been talking about why she feels this way, because I want to persuade her that the web can make her life and her teaching easier and richer, as it has mine.

I didn’t start out a lover of the computer. In fact I feared and resented it initially. My credibility and my lack of credibility in this debate come from the same reality: my background. I am a writer and a former English/Communications teacher, and know little about HTML coding and many of the more arcane technical aspects of computers. If it isn’t easy, I don’t want to know about it. That’s why I love Web 2.0, social media, the read/write web – because you can create content, text and images, almost as easily as you can read on it.

I initially felt blackmailed into using a computer; word-processing made putting my thoughts down on paper, writing, much easier than typing or hand-writing. So even though I had to get my husband to navigate through DOS every single time I wanted to write, I couldn’t give up writing using word-processing. Eventually Windows was developed and I learned to turn on the computer by myself. (And eventually I got a Mac and computer life got even better, but that’s another story!) Then the Communications Department at my college was cut and teachers with up to 15 years seniority were laid off, almost half the department. I was traumatized, and when a coordinator whose program I had been assigned to, wanted me to include writing using word-processing and how to file using Windows and other web stuff, I said I’d do it. I was terrified, but I knew some computer experts and made them my mentors. So I understand my friend’s reluctance to use web applications for herself and her students; I’ve been there.

One of my friend’s explanations of why she hates using the web is that she gets frustrated and hates asking for help. Hating to ask for help is, I believe, an occupational overuse syndrome commonly found in teachers. We’re used to being the one in the room who knows the answers. We’re the fount of knowledge, and if somebody else knows more than us, that can feel disorienting, or even threatening. I believe that if I hadn’t been traumatized by the fear of losing my job, I might not have found the flexibility to learn from my mentors and (even scarier) my students. So I understand where my friend’s, and many other teachers’ (and administrators’) reluctance is coming from.

But (and this is central to the issue of teachers in all subjects needing to learn more about the web and infuse their new knowledge into their teaching) there are three realities:

  1. The web is, and I can argue this both theoretically and practically, the most profound change in human communication ever, more profound, even, than the changes coming from the printing press;
  2. Our students are naive wanderers in this new communication wilderness and need to learn how to protect themselves on it, not by hiding from it, but by knowing how to think critically about it and act sensibly on it; and
  3. Our students are unaware of many web possibilities and need to learn how to use the web for their learning and for their future work.

So, what’s the answer? How do I persuade my friend to explore the web more? How do we, the passionate evangelists of the edublogsphere, persuade our colleagues to start exploring the web’s pedagogical possibilities? Of course there is no one answer, but there are some paths:

  • Keep on offering workshops to our colleagues and administrators;
  • Find out the interests of our colleagues (as we would of our students) and show them the web uses they are most likely to find attractive;
  • Explain that although the web was difficult to use initially, it has become much easier to learn about; (nobody needs to use DOS or HTML any more);
  • Show our colleagues and friends that much of their learning about useful web applications can be learned in private, using the web itself – by searching, by reading edublogs, by using the so-called “Tours” that many applications provide to help you learn how to use them;
  • Put up information on the web for those who are interested but wary; and
  • … Any suggestions?

Will Richardson writes a blog and has published a book for teachers – called Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.

Steve Hargadon has created Classroom 2.0 a “social networking site for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education”, especially those in elementary education.

I have a wiki on ways to use the web in teaching and in business – http://jnthweb.pbwiki.com/ – useful for those in secondary and post-secondary education.

And I’m going to continue to use my blog space here to suggest web applications, both long-term and new, that teachers and others might want to use. Please feel free to bookmark this site, until you learn how to RSS to save web site addresses.

(Coming soon;->)

Me & My MacBook
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