Web 2.0 and Technology Education

I’ve been asked to take on our high school Web Design class next school year and I’m trying devise a class that addresses the changing nature of the web.  In the past it has focused on learning Dreamweaver, CSS, and html.   The class was also tasked with maintaining the school web site.

In short, I am trying to envision the Web 2.0 version of this class.  I want to move away from teaching traditional applications and code.   I have visions of digital media literacy, blogging about technology tools, and finding web applications that fit practical personal and education needs.

Can you help?  If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them – either in a comment or an e-mail (danmcdowell at gmail dot com).

I intend to use an open source CMS (Drupal or Joomla) for the backbone of the school web site, so that portion of the class won’t be as dominating.  I will have around 30 students with varying degrees of technology background.  We will be using Macs.



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They Don’t Get It, We Can Help

Each year I spend the first couple weeks of my college prep world history classes looking at why history is important and the process of creating histories. During my Evaluating Evidence lesson I set up a criteria that historians and students need to consider when using a source. I really focused on point of view and bias. Then I started talking about the Internet. Our students now turn to the Internet for information first; few make special trips to the library to find something out. As I started talking about having to be very critical of the sources we find online, I got a lot of blank stares.

I started getting concerned, so I conduct a quick, informal survey (which I would repeat with my two other college prep classes). The results struck a cord. Most claim they don’t consider the source. If it shows up in Google, they are good to go. I mentioned the Martin Luther King, Junior page that use to show up in the top ten of Google searches on MLK which was really a skewed attack clandestinely sponsored by a white supremacist group (I believe Alan November used this example for a while). They were a bit shocked.

As this conversation developed in my first class, I decided that I would take them over to Wikipedia. About half of the students had been to Wikipedia, but only a handful actually understood it. Several mentioned that it was a cool place to easily get information. One person across three classes claimed he had contributed. When I clicked on the edit this page tab, I saw mouths drop open.

“You mean anyone can edit it?”
“Can you change it now?”
“Wait, it only changes it on your computer, right?”

The history tab (where you can see the past changes) surprised almost everyone. They have a good concept of creating content on the web (no doubt many of them have a MySpace account), but they were having trouble wrapping their head around the central concept of Wikipedia and wikis in general. When we got back to our discussion on evaluating evidence and examining information for validity, they seemed to get it a little more. We will certainly work on it all year.

It seems like no really owns teaching these skills. Who should do it? English teachers? Social studies? Technology classes? Everyone? I’m sure there are schools and districts that have made the effort and passed the policies to incorporated them, but I am betting a vast majority do not. We already have too much to cover and do. Throw in the issues I discussed in an earlier post and the problem becomes even more complex. It seems like technology is evolving so fast that education simply can’t keep up.

Perhaps, like wikis and blogs, it has to be bottom up. Squeeze it in between lessons or build a skill builder into an existing unit. They don’t get it. I can help my students. Can you help yours?

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Wiki Podcast

Vicki Davis (a computer science teacher in Georgia) and Adam Fray (from Wikispaces) were interviewed by Steve Hargadon of EdTechLive.com (the podcast can be found here). They discussed using wikis in the classroom – a topic that has become near and dear to my heart.

Vicki has done some amazing things with wikis in her classroom, really bringing the spirit of Web 2.0 and wikis directly to the students. Her educational wikis are great examples as to how to make a wiki central to a class. I have been inspired by this podcast to take the integration of wikis into my AP World History classes a step further then I had initially planned. Instead of using one single wiki project closer to the AP exam as a review guide (as I did last year), I am going to start it now – building a bigger collective of world history knowledge that will help them prepare for the exam. Hopefully the students will buy in and participate.

I did like another point Vicki made about the difference between blogs and wikis. Blogs are for opinions and wikis are for facts. I really think that nails the standard using of blogs and wikis right on the head. In a recent post on her blog, she also outlines ways she uses wikis (each of these are fully explained on her blog):

  1. Lesson Summaries
  2. Collaboration of Notes
  3. Concept Introduction and Exploratory Projects
  4. Dissemination of Important Classroom Information beyond the Classroom
  5. Individual assessment projects

I have long used traditional web pages and even a blog to accomplish #3 and #4. Now I am using Moodle, which allows a different sort of collaboration and communication. I really like the idea of the collaboration of notes and lesson summaries, perhaps created by an assigned scribe. What I would like to see more flushed out is the individual assessment projects. The Design Patterns for EduWikis is certainly a good place to start. Wikis are an incredible publishing tool which provides teachers and students ability to easily create web pages AND collaborate online.

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Crossing the Divide

On Monday I taught a workshop called Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts to a room full of teachers from my district. I knew I was taking on a lot by trying to include all three topics (and RSS), but little did I know that I could have called it just Blogs and that would have been just fine. I spent the last fifteen minutes explaining the concepts behind wikis and podcasts, providing them with a set of resources for personal exploration.

Since NECC I have been focusing a lot more on reading the ed tech blogs out there (see sidebar). I immersed my self in Web 2.0 technologies – I’ve played with Writely, YouTube, and explored WordPress for the first time. I was in a pure ed tech state of mind.

I ended up experiencing a strange sort of culture shock. Most of the participants had never read a blog. There were some who struggled with basic Internet use.

I started the workshop off with an overview of Web 2.0, discussing the greater implications, the philosophy behind it, and its potential impact on education. Inspired by Dean Shareski’s workshop wiki, I decided to start with RSS. As the participants began to set up a Bloglines account, with varied difficulty, I realized how far educational world still has to go. NECC attendees get it, that’s why they are there. Many don’t understand and do not have the time to do it on their own. Schools and districts don’t have the time or money. Budgetary constraints keep teachers doing what they have always done.

The diverse set of teachers who spent six hours in front of their computers with me on Monday started to get it. Instead of delving into wikis and podcasts, most set up an account on WordPress.com and really look at how they might incorporate it into their classrooms – in two weeks when school starts. Everyone seemed to really be focused on trying to understand this technology in their specific context. English, art, PE, social studies, science, and special education were all represented.

In the end it really made me realize we have a long way to go. I don’t believe my district is any further ahead or behind technologically then the average district. These teachers represent the masses.

The digital divide is wide and deep.

As an aside, I developed a Blogging WebQuest for the workshop. First, the participants explored the nature of blogs in contrast to the mainstream media. We used the conflict in the Middle East as the content. Second, they looked at current uses of blogs in education and categorized their use. It worked well, providing a conceptual understanding while utilizing the technology being examined (they had to post to a blog as well).

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Moodle – I Spoke Too Soon

It looks like I spoke too soon.

The ever-brilliant US Patent and Trademark Office has apparently granted Blackboard a patent for…well…pretty much anything remotely related to learning management systems. (e-Literate: Blackboard Patents the LMS)

With dozens of learning management systems, both commercial and open source, out there, I wonder how far Blackboard will go. Can they stop an open source movement like Moodle which has legs that stretch far beyond Moodle.org.

My pessimistic, people-suck side (as a history teacher, I’ve seen a number of instances throughout the ages where people haven’t always done the “right” thing) thinks that Net Neutrality, DOPA, and now this will really change this place called the Internet. I hope I don’t look back at 2006 as a time with great potential that was crushed by corporate interests and government regulations supporting corporate interests.

Who is listening to the people these days?

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Identity Crisis

When I first started this blog almost two years ago, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I figured I would post a couple entries and never go back to it. While I haven’t been the most active blogger, I am up to 160 posts. I’ve hit topics about my students, classroom management, technology projects, union issues, and random stories about my kids. While I haven’t publized this blog (it is not linked from my homepage), I have posted my name and a simple search turns it up. I never wanted to be too specific about students or co-workers. No doubt some of my students have found it, but only one ever made a passing reference to it – so far. I understand the desire for some not to reveal their name (and have at times wished I could be more blunt), but that just wasn’t for me.

With the evolution of this blog I have decided that I need some sort of name change. I am still a history teacher, but I am also an educational technologist. Now that my district’s labor issues have been resolved, I see myself writing more and more about technology integration into the classroom. All the other topics are still far game, but this is the direction I have been going.

So far I have come up with:

  • a technology-using history teacher
  • a history teacher and an educational technologist

OK, so the my choices aren’t great. Any suggestions?

I’m also hoping to do switch over to wordpress once I figure this name thing out.

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