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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.

Bethel administrators almost universally agreed that they were not tied to the six hour school day, five day school week or nine month school year. So what would schools look like if we were able to make changes to these often taken-for-granted structures?

As I was thinking through this, it occurred to me that there might a very different way to view how school time is organized. Specifically, we might consider a totally different mind set about when learning takes place. Instead of changing the hours, days or months, it might make more sense to blur the the lines of when school ends and when it starts. Why not make schools 24/7? Could after school programs like KidSports or daycare be a component of a child’s learning? How about weekend activities involving parents? Why do we just give up July and August to summer school remediation? Doesn’t every child need to learn as much as they can?

eLearning.com says blended learning “combines coursework in a traditional classroom (synchronous) setting with an online (asynchronous) component. Students get the sense of community with other students, but are allowed to complete a portion of the coursework independently in a virtual environment.”

Purnima Valiathan defines blended learning as a “solution that combines several different delivery methods, such as collaboration software, Web-based courses, EPSS, and knowledge management practices. Blended learning also is used to describe learning that mixes various event-based activities, including face-to-face classrooms, live e-learning, and self-paced instruction.”

But this still makes the distinction between the traditional classroom and the virtual classroom. Why not just call it learning or education no matter where it happens? Although learning beyond the four walls of the classroom is a great match for Web 2.0 technologies, it doesn’t  have to be exclusively a technology environment. Reading to a child, helping with an art project or taking a field trip on the bus could just as easily enhance learning.

If as community members, professional educators and parents we come together  in a community of learning, we can make everyday learners into life-long learners. It seems to be as much a state of mind as a structural change in how children learn.

Blended education might be Bethel Learning Environment Night and Day.

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.

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.

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!