We flew in early this morning after 10 days with wild animals in Kenya. With four hours sleep and after a full day of work my mind is in a fog and I can’t seem to get back into the groove of Web 2.0. I suddenly thought that I am ending this course in the same state of mind that I started.
Highlights of My Learning.
One of the highlights of this course has been the experience of what it is like to be a 21st century learner. I have gained a deeper understanding of the world that today’s student faces. I have had to master the technical aspects of a number of programs and have learned new ways to find information that is useful to me. I have also felt what it is like to be overload with information and not really know how to deal with it. I have learned new ways of organizing myself and my information gathering systems. I have developed new literacy skills that have helped me process the information that I have gathered. I have experienced making connections online with no face-to-face interaction. These experiences have all been new and have given me a taste of what it means to be a 21st century learner. It has been surprisingly different from the way I previously learned and from what I expected but the experience will, I hope, benefit my students.
Another highlight has been getting to know other learners through reading their blogs and having great discussions on line. It has seemed a bit contradictory to be espousing the benefits of collaboration yet be hunched over our computers in our own separate worlds. Reading and commenting on each other’s blogs and having virtual discussions have helped draw us into collaborative learning.
I have had many “aha” moments over these three months but will highlight two insights. The first is my coming to a deeper understanding that education is, and needs to be, profoundly different than when I went to school. Learning in my day focused on the teacher imparting knowledge that I, the student, needed to absorb and learn. Today and in the future, learning will need to be based more on the social constructivist model. The overwhelming volume of information available means that learning a prescribed set of facts no longer works. Learning becomes a social activity where learning and doing are joined. Learners work together to exchange ideas and give feedback on each other’s work. Knowledge is constructed by the group and the teacher. Rather than simply the dispenser of knowledge, the teacher becomes the facilitator of the learning process and as such coaches and guides their students. (Yellowlees, 2008) “Most of what we have called formal education has been intended to imprint on the human mind all of the information that we might need for a lifetime. Education is geared toward information storage. Today that is neither possible nor necessary. Rather, humankind needs to be taught how to process information that is stored through technology. Education needs to be geared toward the handling of data rather than the accumulation of data.”(David Berlo, Communication and Behavior, 1975) It is when the significance of this shift is recognized by the education establishment that the value of Web 2.0 tools will be fully recognized. “Unfortunately, the rapid influx of technology into schools is, in many cases, running ahead of the educational vision and careful planning necessary to put technology to good use.” (Kleiman, 2000) Although I agree with this I would also say that it is folly to think that schools need to change just so that we can use these great tools. Schools must change because the world that students are graduating into has changed significantly and the traditional form of education will no longer adequately prepare our students. And when schools do change their perspective, Web 2.0 tools will be available to help.
My second insight was coming to a new understanding of what it means to be literate. “In our 21st century society – accelerated, media-saturated, and automated – a new literacy is required, one more broadly defined than the ability to read and write.” (Jones-Kavalier and Flannigan, p. 8, 2006) Not only do we have to know how to hold a book and turn pages but we also need to be able to evaluate and synthesize the information that we are consuming. In the same way, we in the 21st century need to not only know how to set up and post to a blog but we must also read, think, write, reflect, make connections, think again, and rewrite. (Richardson, p.31) Whereas Richardson’s discussion of new literacy implies mainly text, Lessig refers to “an expanded literacy – one that goes beyond text to include audio and visual elements” (pg 50). Like Richardson, this new literacy involves a fuller, less passive interaction with one’s audience through multiple forms of media. Fusing Richardson’s and Lessig’s complementary points together we come to a fuller understanding of what being literate may mean to students now and in the future. My synthesized definition of literacy in the 21st century is: Learning to read and write in a variety of media (text, audio, video, photo, etc.) and then analyzing, evaluating, making connections, receiving feedback, and then writing again. In the 21st century the definition of literacy will need to expand to accommodate the skills needed to navigate and capitalize on the volume of online information.
A third highlight for me was coming to understand just how important the social element is in Web 2.0. Richardson writes: “We are no longer limited to being independent readers or consumers of information: as we’ll see, we can be collaborators in the creation of large storehouses of information. In the process, we can learn much about ourselves and our world.” (page 2) “…peer interaction can play a very important part in learning. If communication lies at the heart of the educational process, then new technologies present exciting possibilities.” (Davies and Merchant, 2009, p.2) This has and will continue to help me understand the students I work with.
Lowlights of My Learning
A low-light for me was realizing that I will not be able to fully use some of what I have learned in this course. As I have described previously, our school is part of a large company. All the computer policies that pertain to the regular company employee also apply to us. Websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter are not blocked and are available for students to access. (Of course there are blocks put up by the company to ensure that the appropriate morality is maintained.) Where we run into difficulty is when students and teachers inside the company, on company computers, want to publish any material on the internet. What this all means is that teachers and students are able to access most of the Web 2.0 tools at school but we cannot publish anything online at school especially as an official school project. In our own time on our own personal computers, we and the students can publish to blogs and Wikis, use social networks such as Facebook and Nings, post videos and photos, and use multimedia sites. We just can’t do it on company computers. As disappointing as this is I will still be able to do much to enhance my lessons and create a community of collaboration. For example instead of a having a library blog or wiki I will use NESA blackboard as a place for students to access book information and reviews, research links, and any other library information. Although I will not be able to share student videos and photos on line I will be able to email them to parents. As I can’t use Voicethread I will use Photostory.
A second lowlight for me was realizing that our education system is straddling two fundamentally different worlds; Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Over the past three months my thinking has slowly been dragged from one world into the other; however, in the process I have become aware of the barriers and difficulties in our education system to becoming an education system for the 21st century. Equal access to computers and other devices, open access to web sites, supportive administration, security fears, and biggest of all the effort and inclination of teachers to make changes to their teaching practice all work against embracing Web 2.0 tools.
Where Do I go From Here?
It has been an overwhelming three months. There has been so much information and so many new ideas that it will take some time for me to settle into them so that they feel more comfortable. However even now I recognize that the most important thing this course has given me is the awareness that I need to be more actively and deliberately continuing to learn. This means that I will need to be connected to a far broader professional world than I previously knew existed. To do this there are three (maybe four) tools that, prior to taking this course, I knew nothing about and which I will definitely be using in my daily life and daily practice: RSS aggregators, social bookmarking, and blogs and Wikis (and now maybe Twitter).
With so much information to sift through RSS aggregators and social bookmarking tools will be key tools for my accessing information and keeping it all organized. Subscribing to professional journals or blogs, keeping track of authors and books or searching for specific information is all manageable on a regular basis with these tools.
Blogs and Wikis are also great professional development tools. There are hundreds and thousands of teacher-created blogs and Wikis with the purpose of supporting, sharing, and collaborating with other teachers. These tools will facilitate my learning beyond the set professional development days given by a district.
In addition to continually expanding my knowledge and expertise my second goal is to continue sharing some of what I have been and will be learning with other teachers in my school. I have already had some great opportunities to work with teachers setting up Google Reader accounts, demonstrating bookmarking, and creating podcasts. Our week working with Animoto and Voicthread created an opportunity to help a teacher get started working with the Photostory program. I hope I can continue to help teachers broaden their practice to include technology.
For various reasons (that I can’t go into here) our school does not have a strong sense of community. However the library has the potential to be a central unifying place. One reason for this is that it is in the center of the school and already tends to be where students gather. But it is also the one place that everyone has in common. I think that by incorporating some of the Web 2.0 tools such as podcasts, video-casts, (within our school) and a library blackboard site with community-building as the purpose we could develop a stronger sense of community.
Tools And Ideas to Share With Colleagues.
I remember well how intimidated and overwhelmed I felt at the start of this course. This feeling alone could prevent teachers from trying something new. However, I have found that the staff room has been a great place to share and gain ideas about technology in a non-threatening way. Already I have been able to share with teachers the benefits of Google Reader and Delicious as a way to help them find information and keep it organized and I have helped another with a podcast, and set a few others up with Photostory.
A great benefit I have received from this course has been the links and references that I have gotten through my readings, fellow students, and from course suggestions. Working in isolation limits how much we can accomplish but by working together and sharing what we find out we all end up benefiting. I hope that as I continue to read and search, I can guide others to new and helpful resources.
David Muir is quoted as saying “It’s not the tech it’s the teach.” (As quoted on http://www.slideshare.net/sachac/a-teachers-guide-to-web-20-at-school) I think his 33 character quote sums up an important idea that I will try hard to keep in mind as I work with teachers. In an email Dr. Branch sent out to those on the TL-DL Listserv on December 2, 2009 she wrote:
“It’s not about creating a blog, it´s about expressing your own ideas and beliefs clearly.
It´s not about using delicious or Diigo, it´s about developing a system to keep up with your stuff and to share your stuff.
It´s not about Skype, it´s about understanding how to communicate globally in a video setting or via chat/conversation.
And it´s not about making an Animoto slide show, it´s about having a good sense of design or telling a story.
It´s not about learning to use the software, it´s about the skills our students will carry with them that these tools and others like them allow.
It´s about our students expressing themselves clearly, beautifully, and skillfully. And that´s what we should be teaching them. And that´s what we should be fighting for.”
Sometimes it can be perceived that the technology is the focus of what we are helping teachers with. “…technology is often an add-on or enhancement to a lesson rather than something that is truly integrated into teaching and learning.” (Hofer & Harris, 2009) I hope that I am not just helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. I hope I am helping teachers become more effective in what they want to do with their students. To do this I want to collaborate with others in setting new goals and reaching them. My goal is to read and explore so that I can have a toolbox full of resources that can help us in this.
Key Things I’ve Learned from Others in the Class.
There have been a number of times where I have felt very isolated. Technology can be one of those things where if you’re stuck you just need to have someone show you the steps and help you over the bump. Well as it turns out, as little as I know, I seem to be the most knowledgeable person about Web 2.0 tools in my building. Needless to say it has been a stumbling bumpy ride. However, when it came to the important theoretical ideas about the direction of education in the 21st century my discussion group members were great resources.
The key thing I gained from my classmates was the great resources they provided. Everyone had links on their blogs to interesting and valuable sites and at times they would make reference to something worthwhile that they had read or heard. In addition to being great resources my classmates were also very encouraging. Yes they wrote kind and helpful things but it was their attitude and perseverance that was a great motivator when I felt discouraged. I had dismissed the thought of pursuing a blog but their attitude towards it has me reconsidering. I have had similar change of heart about Twitter after reading several of their blog posts. I will persevere with Twitter thanks to them.
Our discussion times were another important learning time for me. Reading back over my discussion summaries there were three ways that my thinking crystallized through our discussions.
1. The first idea I gained was an awareness of the need for expanded literacy skills. I wrote “No longer can the school be the giver of knowledge. We are now the equippers of tools so that students can be retrievers, evaluators, synthesizers and appliers of knowledge. To do this they need a new literacy.” Along with this came ideas and thoughts on what the role of the library will be as the focus moves from books to electronic sources of information.
2. The second important realization for me was that we are preparing students for a job market we can’t visualize at this point. The job market and the technologies in use are changing so rapidly that we cannot hope to predict what students will need in order to be competitive. This means that how we teach students must change at a fundamental level.
3. The final key idea I learned from others in my group is that there are many barriers for schools to become on-line schools. (Kleiman article) Budgets that have little or no room for technology, a student body within which there are large discrepancies in access to technology, different learning styles, and teachers who have little time or energy to take on these new challenges to name just a few. In our conversation we lamented the limited use of technology in our schools even ones that are well equipped. Often when teachers try to integrate technology into their lessons it often comes out as something that is tacked on to a lesson or as an extension to a lesson. The focus on the learning goal is lost and the focus shifts onto producing something with technology. In a perfect world, schools would be wired and students would each have some form of portable computer. Computer labs would be gone or radically different and teachers would all teach from a technology-integrated perspective – fully 2.0.
This collaboration piece to the course, where we give and take, has been an important and active model where I have experienced what it is to work and learn in a collaborative environment; an environment that is the heart of Web 2.0.
It is a new and changing job market and the educational landscape needs to be prepared to meet it. We as educators also need to change not just so that we can meet it but so that we can lead in it. The goal remains the same regardless of the tools: use what we have to provide opportunities for students to collaborate with others, share knowledge and ideas, work in creative ways, and become well rounded, independent learners.
Davies, J., & Merchant, G. (2009). Youtube as a verb …itube? Wetube? Theytube?… In Web 2.0 for schools (pp. 54-68). New York: Peter Lang.
Hofer, M., & Harris, J. (2009, September/October). Tech integration in social studies. Learning & Leading With Technology, 26-28. Jones-
Kavalier, B. R., & Flannigan, S. L. (2006). Connecting the digital dots: Literacy of the 21st century. Educause Quarterly, 29(2), 8-10. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/ EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/ConnectingtheDigitalDotsLitera/157395
Kleiman, G. M. (2000, Spring). Myths and realities about technology in K-12 schools. LNT Perspectives, (14), the digital classroom: how technology is changing the way we teach and learn report. Retrieved from http://www.edtechleaders.org/documents/myths.pdf
Lessig, L. (2004). Chapter two: Mere copyists. In Penguin Press (Ed.), Free culture (p. 36) [Introduction]. (Original work published 2004) Retrieved from http://www.free-culture.cc/freeculture.pdf
Peters, T. (2009, November 1). The future of reading. Library Journal Mobile. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6703852.html
Richardson, W. (2009). Wikis: Easy collaboration for all. In Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., pp. 55-68). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.
Yellowlees, J. (2008, February). Making late elementary classrooms natural places for learning: Social Constructivism via Social Software and Web 2.0. Retrieved from University of Saskatchewan website: http://www.usask.ca/ education/coursework/802papers/yellowlees/yellowlees.htm