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I could be almost anywhere, I suppose, and you could find me. You don’t need to know where I am, just how to get a hold of me. Need some help with your blog? Can’t register for a workshop? I’m right here, just a click away. Two weeks ago I was three time zones away but right here when you needed me. That’s why living on the Internet is so important. And I don’t mean you need to be in constant contact glued to a screen. I’m not a Tweeter and I make just limited use of social networking. Yet I always pack my virtual Internet bag with presentations, word processing documents, blogs, calendars and forms no matter where I go. I don’t leave home without them.

I live in the land of Google. Some might think trusting everything to Google is risky; and you might have a valid argument; but not living in Google means you either aren’t in contact or you have to trust someone else like Microsoft or Sun Micro Systems. I’ll take my chances with Google. I do my writing in Google Documents, prepare and share presentations there and keep track of the world with Google Calendars,  iGoogle and Google Reader.

Living in cyberspace is the way the digital world is headed. And the Oregon Department of Education has figured that out. Oregon is the first state to sign an agreement with Google to bring Google Apps for Education to every school district in Oregon. Google Apps will put us all together all the time. Students will be able to access documents anytime they have access to the Internet not just when the class troops down to the computer lab. Students can share documents, collaborate simultaneously on the same document, give access to teachers, publish to the Web and join virtual classes and meetings. Teachers can even grade papers on Google. Think of the money schools can save on paper, printers and Microsoft Office licenses.

Google Apps for Education is a big step in the direction of the blended school day. Way to go Oregon!

In the early 1990s Web browsers were in their infancy and anything but interactive. Web pages held information, mostly text, and there really wasn’t much to click on. But even with a lot of green screen text and almost no graphics, communities of online users were built and flourished. Here are a couple of personal examples from almost twenty years ago:

I had been working on a database software problem and I was stymied. I went online and found the software vendor’s Web page. I noticed a link to an online forum where you could actually type in your question and others visiting the site could respond. A novel idea I thought; but because it was Sunday afternoon I doubted if anyone would be reading my plea for help. I logged off to continue my struggles. A half hour later I logged on  again to see if I had gotten lucky. And there it was: An answer to my question and a solution to my problem. It was a very detailed but clearly delineated answer. And it came from a person in Sweden.  Today that wouldn’t even make us blink; but back then it amazed me that sitting in Eugene on a Sunday afternoon I could get help from someone half a world away.

Here’s one more example: Three friends and I were awarded a grant to attend a summer institute at Stanford University. We flew to Palo Alto where we saw each other for the very first time. All of our interactions prior to that meeting had been online without the benefit of a Web browser. We had no idea what the others looked like yet we knew each other as friends, helping one through a loss of a job, another with the death of a parent and a third through a divorce.  To say we had built an online community was an understatement.

The Internet can create community and, for better or worse, social networking sites like facebook and My Space are demonstrating that everyday. But there are other communities that don’t necessarily involve the sometimes mindless postings about what we had for lunch. These networks of people often revolve around a common interest, vocation or passion.  And even though most of us would prefer and greatly benefit from face to face interaction, it doesn’t mean that online interactions can be any less powerful or meaningful.

Web 2.0 applications can position any individual or group to create or participate in virtual communities whether or not the participants are in Sweden or Pleasant Hill.

When I was an eighth grader in Spokane, the desks in our classroom were bolted to the floor. The aisles between rows of bolted-down desks were so narrow they didn’t accommodate the 16 mm projector cart. With the projector at the back of the room, the image was about one third larger than the screen causing the top 25% of the picture to show on the ceiling. This lead to some peculiar optical illusions. Our teacher, Mr. Bohanan, managed to adapt this state of the art technology to the less than state of the art classroom furniture.desk

Yes, this was 50 years ago and things have changed. When it comes to technology, as educators we often pride ourselves in how successfully we’ve adapted or adopted a new technology. We manage to twist and push the latest gadget into our classroom structure whether it is the physical structure or instructional framework. And that, at times, seems to be the problem. What if, instead of showing the movie from the back of the room, Mr. Bohanan had the desks unbolted and rearranged or had us watch the movie in the hallway or in the gym? The school structure could have changed to meet the demands of technology.

Fifty years later we’re still showing movies, albeit through a video projector, from the back of the room or from a makeshift teacher station in the front of the room. And our unwillingness to change structure is like bolting the chairs to the classroom floor. Maybe, just maybe, the technology should, at least occasionally, dictate a change in the school structure, not the other way around. It certainly is dictating change in society as we are seeing with smart phones, social networking and online business and news.

So here’s my question: What part of public education are you NOT willing to change? What things can you unequivocally say must stay in place to fully complete our mission. Below you’ll find a short anonymous survey. Take a moment and check those things that are NOT negotiable, that you absolutely aren’t willing to give up. I’d also encourage you to post a comment to this blog to start a dialog around the issue of technology and education.

If Mr. Bohanan is still alive, he’s in his mid 70’s and probably posting on facebook. I’ll have to look him up.

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 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!