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There has been a dearth of research supporting the effectiveness of interactive white boards in public schools.  Recently published research might support the use of white board technology. However, there is a question about the relationship between the researcher and the brand of white board used in the study and there is a big question about how well variables were controlled.  An even bigger question is this:  How much does the use of high-end, razzle-dazzle technology play in motivating students to show up and pay attention and how much does the equipment actually mmsinfluence learning? Is it just enough to have students in their seats and paying attention to justify technology purchases? If it is just the glitz of seeing and using the equipment that works, maybe we can get away with purchasing something less expensive than at $7,000 interactive white board.

Or perhaps there is another variable researchers are overlooking: the classroom teacher. I was visiting a fourth grade classroom last week and observed a teacher implementing a 20 minute math lesson. She had her students eating out of the palm of her hand. Yes, she was using a document camera as part of the lesson; but it was background to what was really happening. She was getting student responses from all over the room. She brought her students to a crescendo of excitement one minute and then was whispering the next with her students listening in rapt attention. Students were receiving positive affirmations from the teacher and from classmates throughout the lesson. It was amazing to watch. And the technology hummed along in the background.

Selecting technologies we know help children learn and technologies that reinforce standards and district goals makes sense. But we can’t minimize the importance of the instructor and appropriate  instructional practices. No technology can completely replace a competent facilitator of learning whether it is in a traditional classroom or virtual world.

Maybe we can learn something from the behavior modification movement of the 70’s where advocates trumpeted the benefit of instant gratification as a way of improving student behavior. If we are going to adopt expensive educational technology without clearly doing our homework on its effectiveness, we might be better off spending $4.59 on a bag of M&Ms.

In the 1940s bowling alleys introduced the overhead projector.  It was a remarkable innovation. Next to the automated pin spotters, this projection system  helped popularize the sport of bowling.bowlingpin But this blog entry isn’t about bowling. It is about how quickly, or slowly, educators adopts  technology, because it wasn’t until the 1960s that these first overhead projectors showed up in the classrooms of America. That’s 20 years for the math challenged among you. What took so long? Didn’t anybody see the application beyond the Pine City Lanes bowlers?

The easy answer is a lack of money. Adding unproven technology to school district’s budgets wouldn’t have had many advocates.  But the real answer, I think, is two-fold:

1. It has to do with our willingness to change. And change can be a slipper concept to grasp. If I’m using an video projector and document camera in my classroom, but using this technology  with the same instructional model I used pre-technology, is that really change?

Here’s another example. In 1994, the Bethel School District passed a $3.5 million bond for technology. I walked every inch of each building to help determine where network drops (wall ports) would be in each room.  As it turned out, the ports ended up being place where it was either physically the easiest to install or where the teacher wanted the port based on how she taught pre-technology without any consideration for how technology might best  be used. Back then we talked about not letting technology be the dog wagging the tail. Boy, did we have that wrong!

2. Secondly, with the introduction of educational technology, a knee-jerk response is often “this looks like more work to me. I already have enough to do.”  What doesn’t always get addressed is how will technology change what I do or what am I going to stop doing. And this might be the bigger stumbling block if, as an educator, you identify with a specific set of behaviors that you are not comfortable changing. What happens all too often is trying to mold technology to fit what’s comfortable not what’s appropriate.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue: What exactly are the basic assumptions about education that we can all agree on that should be part of any educational experience? Once we’ve answered that question, we can build from there instead of building on all the existing structures that currently exist in public schools that may not be needed in a technological future. Do we need whole group instruction 95% of the time? Are desks and chairs lined up in rows appropriate in a Web-based world? Why have schools open five days a week for 6 hours a day? Why are we not educating most children during the summer? Do we need classrooms or buildings to house those being educated? If we value the importance of a face to face interaction as part of an educational experience, how might that be facilitated as part of a technological world?

If we can answer those questions and free ourselves from the shackles of erroneous assumptions about what education has to be, we’re well on our way to shaping a new educational model and we’ll all be bowled over by how quickly it might happen.

Blogs aren’t the only show in town when it comes to easily creating a Web presence.  A Wiki might be just what you are looking for. So what’s a “wiki”?  The wiki was created and named 14 years ago by Ward Cunningham. He was looking for a name to call his easy-to-use Web page software. Cunningham, who in the late 80’s helped develop HyperCard on the Mac, remembered the name of the Honolulu Airport shuttles called Wiki Wikis. Wiki is a Hawaiian word for “quick”. The Hawaiian word is actually pronounced wee-kee, but has been distorted in the context of technology to “wick-ee”. wiki

A wiki is an easy-to-use online piece of software that lets users create Web pages without having to know anything about, well, actually building Web pages. But wikis are intended not for just a single user, but for groups of people to collaborate in sharing information. Wikipedia is the most well know example of a wiki where anyone can add information about any topic.

What would you use a wiki for in an educational context? Currently wikis are being used for maintaining meeting minutes, classroom projects, grant writing and more. Any group that is collaborating online could use a wiki.

But you’ll get a better feel for how you might use a wiki by looking at these examples:

1000 Names: A Canadian first and second grade classroom wondered what 1000 names would look like.

21st Century Ed Tech: Resources and tools for the 21st century technology classroom.

Adams Middle School News: Everything that is happening at this Redondo Beach, California school.

The Teenager’s Guide to Everywhere: Students in an English class researched interesting information about places and created FAQs for them. The combined effort has produced a kind of travel guide for fellow teenagers.

Terry the Tennis ball: Students in Australia created this “choose your own adventure” story using a wiki to collaborate.

A quick way to get started is, no suprise, Google Sites. You can quickly create your own wiki with a Google account. Anyone can do it. It’s Web 2.o after all.

Okay. That might  be a bit of hyperbole, but for most educators, the need for a Web page is quickly disappearing.  Web pages are, in the context of an educational setting, so Web 1.0 which is all about posting information and hoping someone shows up. Unless you have a high-end need for displaying and sharing content, building a Web page is too time-consuming and  expensive.

If a teacher or administrator wants a Web presence, spending hours learning DreamWeaver, and even more hours building and modifying Web pages, makes no sense. Hire a Web designer, buy a domain name and  pay for a hosting service and still you’re just edging toward the milk and honey of Web 2.0. And, when you add in the inability to easily make a Web page interactive and attractive, educators are much better off focusing on content and building a Web of Relationships on the Internet.

Web 2.0 is for Educators

Take a drink of Web 2.0.

Over the past two years, I’ve stopped teaching workshops on creating Web pages and turned down work from clients wanting a Web page. Instead I have pointed them in the direction of free blogs or wikis.

It makes a lot of sense for an educator to set up a free blog in a matter of minutes and have content appear in not much more time. And, unlike the traditional Web page, a blog can be highly interactive and easily discovered by search engines. And blogs are the perfect environment to create a community of like-minded users. Instead of dancing teddy bears or purple text on a red background, a blog gives you hundreds of clean, professionally designed templates.

The differences between a traditional Web page and a blog are beginning to blur as blogs taking on more of a Web page look, while retaining their ease of use and interactive nature. You can allow comments, moderate comments, create pages, add picture, sound and videos files without taking a class or buying a 500 page user manual. And the cost for a very professional-looking blog is free. That’s F-R-E-E, teachers. Free always appeals to educators and blogs should too.

An RSS feed (Real Simple Syndication) is an easy way to view content from all over the Web in just one location.  Basically the world comes to you. Think of how a newspaper works collecting stories from news agencies around the world and then delivering them in print form to your doorstep. An RSS feed (used with a feed reader) is the digital version of a newspaper only you decide what gets published. But, unlike a newspaper, the RSS feed delivers 24/7.

rssfeedlargeImagine using browser bookmarks or links on a Web page to visit 100 Web sites and trying to discover the new content on the sites . . .  and doing this every day. No one has that kind of time. If you do, you might want to consider doing some community volunteer work. With RSS feeds and a feed reader, you can scan new content from your favorite sites in just minutes giving you time to . . . do some community volunteer work.

A reader, or feed reader, collects and organizes all your RSS feeds in one location. One of the more popular readers is Google Reader. You open your reader in the morning much like you open  your newspaper. Everything that’s new on the sites you subscribe to will be there.

Here’s a quick step-by-step:

1. Follow the link above to Google Reader. Log in with your Google account or create a Google account if you don’t have one. Click on “Try it out”.
2. You’ll see Google Reader appear. Google has some great help menus and tutorials. Use these to learn even more about RSS feeds and readers.
3.  There are two easy ways to add content to your reader. First, try clicking on “Add a Subscription” in the upper left. Type in a key word like “Math” or “Belly Dancing” or any subject you are interested in. Math may be too general so you can refine your search by typing “K12 Math”. In the results that show up, click on a name of a site to see if  it provides the types of content you want. If it is, click on the + sign and an RSS feed from the site will be added to the left-hand column in your reader.
4. The second way to get content is to go to the Web sites or blogs you normally visit and see if there is an RSS feed logo present rssfeed or clickable text to subscribe to an RSS feed to the site. Click on the logo or the link and follow the prompts to add this site to your Google Reader.
5. Once you begin to collect sites in your reader, you’ll want to organize them. Sometimes this means renaming them or putting like sites into a folder. You can also delete sites that you no longer want. There is a “manage subscriptions” link at the bottom left of your Google Reader. Click the link to get organized.
6. Finally, find a specific time each day or every few days when you can spend 5-10 minutes with the content in your reader.

What you’ll discover over time is the power of being in touch without getting the life force sucked out of you. You’ll also find you are part of a burgeoning Web of people with like interests that will help you grow professionally and personally.

An educational blog is a great way to provide information and resources to parents, students and colleagues. However, blogging in the Web 2.0 world is much more than that. Using a blog to simply provide information is more Web 1.0 than Web 2.0. Blogging in today’s Internet is all about creating community. So here are three  suggestions for how, as an educator, you might create that community:

Tell the world every chance you get. . .

Tell the world every chance you get. . .

1. Use your blog to illicit input. Ask questions, post a survey, wax philosophical, sollicit volunteers or talk about a educational challenge for which you need help.

2. Use every interaction with your audience to encourage them to participate with you in blogging. This might mean having a volunteer at parent-teacher conferences show parents how to get to your blog on the Web. It might mean highlighting your blog in newsletters that get taken or mailed home. You might make a brief presentation at your next staff meeting or PTO meeting.  Ask your district’s Web master to post a link to your blog. Every contact you make might be an important link to creating your blog community.

3. Join other educational bloggers through RSS feeds and online readers (discussed in the next posting). This might initially mean just educators in your building or district. But there are educational blogs state-wide, nation-wide and even world wide that you might find interesting. Most importantly, joining these bloggers creates a larger community where the sharing of ideas can have a very positive impact on both your job performance and on you personally. It is rewarding and exciting to know that someone in North Carolina has read your blog or given you a great idea for tomorrow’s lesson plan.

Leave a comment here if you would like your blog added to the links on this blog; or if you know of an educational blog that would be useful to educators, pass it along.

Welcome to the world of blogging as we now know it!

As an educator, what purpose can you see for a blog? Who would your audience be? Parents? Community? Students? Other educators? Post a response to this entry with some ideas.

Web 2.0 refers to the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aims to facilitate creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users. These concepts have led to the development and evolution of web-based communities and hosted services, such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and more.