I’m a neophyte exploring the world of blogs and their educational implications for the very first time. My guide on this journey provided a list of education-related blog posts, many award-winning, from which I’ve read about ten. This is obviously not a large enough sample to draw meaningful conclusions, so what follows should only be considered initial impressions. The blogosphere is here to stay and clearly it will shape education in the 21st century, but I find the unqualified enthusiasm voiced in so many comments to be a bit unnerving. I fear that the magical appeal of what’s new, trendy, and potentially revolutionary has blinded some to both the dangers that lurk in Web 2.0 and the value of time-tested teaching techniques.
Take for example Bob Sprankle’s “The Time is Now”. Sprankle observes that students today still draw TVs with rabbit ears even though most have never seen them, and wonders how long it will take for us to abandon this fiction and draw TVs more realistically as a plain box. He then parallels this to “analog” teaching in schools, which views technology as supplementary rather than essential to the core curriculum. While I find Sprankle’s observation about how kids draw TVs to be fascinating, I dispute his conclusions. His observation shows that a box with antennae has become an icon for a TV, and I would assert that while broadcasting has left rabbit ears behind, this doesn’t mean that the icon is similarly obsolete. Let’s face it, a picture of a box just doesn’t provide enough information to be recognizable as a TV. Thus the antiquated rabbit ears convey information that a realistic sketch of a modern TV just can’t match. Sprankle is too willing to throw out the old when embracing the new, a problem that seems widespread in the educational blogosphere. Unrealistic icons, such as ☺ and ♥, are well loved because of their communicative value. The TV icon with rabbit ears isn’t going anywhere, especially now that the next-gen device Tivo has appropriated an animated version as their trademark. I hope that teachers will similarly come to realize that the tried and true educational methods of the past need to be updated and enhanced with new technology, not discarded, just as Tivo has breathed life into the old icon. The problem with “School 2.0” is that it too readily dismisses old patterns as obsolete without first mining them for the elements that work well and should be retained.
At its best, Web 2.0 provides both a toolbox and a ripe environment for students and teachers. Ben Wilkoff’s “The Ripe Environment” urges teachers to focus more on the learning environment that they can create rather than getting hung up on the tools themselves. I applaud the concept that he advocates and his list of prerequisites for achieving this goal, but honestly didn’t find specific substantive suggestions in his blog to aid me in journeying down this path. Perhaps I need to track down subject-specific blogs to locate more concrete recommendations. Overall then, for brevity’s sake, here are lists of some pros and cons that I’ve observed:
- Teaching that Students Can Take Home – New technologies like podcasts and online video demonstrations can add teaching time by taking it outside the confines of the classroom and daily schedule. Reading Chris Betcher’s “The Myth of the Digital Native” reminded me that I need to show students how to do basic skills like inserting footnotes in Word documents, advanced searching on Google, or using the notes section of a PowerPoint presentation. Taking class time for this would drain time away from my primary curriculum and wouldn’t allow the kids to immediately practice the skill. Posting “how to” videos would expand my teaching time, create a resources that students can return to as needed, and let them practice on their own schedule.
- Connecting to Experts and Specialized Resources – I remember my own time in high school, back before the internet, and the awe that I felt about encyclopedias. I was astounded to think that knowledge about EVERYTHING could be found in one place. Today’s internet so dwarfs those encyclopedias that the magnitude of the difference is unimaginable. Unfortunately, little of what’s on the web has been scrutinized and edited for veracity the way that those encyclopedia articles were. Still, if you pick your resources judiciously you’ll find far more than you could in the past. Even better, some offer the chance for dialogue.
- Attending a Conference on Your Time – Blogs allow teachers to share ideas and collaborate without traveling to a conference or missing school to be there. You can also hop quickly from one forum to another searching for the ones that offer you the most relevant insights.
- Dangers We Can’t Even Anticipate – Just as identity theft has posed new problems for law enforcement, Web 2.0 will challenge school discipline. I’m convinced that Vicki Davis’ “Spies Like Us” only touches the tip of the iceberg. Humiliating pranks never used to extend beyond the immediate community, and for those involved that was bad enough. Now though, pranks done with the same childish intent can go global with far-reaching consequences. Even adults are not immune to the belief that anonymity permits disrespectful or harmful speech. Take for example the cyberbullying of the Stop Cyberbullying Community described by Andy Carvin.
- It’s a Two-Dimensional World – No matter how sophisticated the web tools are, until holograms become mainstream, it’s all on a screen. Our nation is already fighting (and losing) the fitness battle, and schools need to remember to get kids away from their many screens and moving around a playing field, stage, etc. Even in the classroom, kinetic learning should not be ignored (or restricted to science labs). I appreciated Mathew Needleman’s “Energize Your Classroom,” with its reminder about the value of props when teaching. I’m also a fan of masking tape. I’ve used masking tape to draw giant maps on the classroom floor with kids moving on them like invading armies, played matching review games where kids raced to move into the square of the correct answer, etc. Students are used to sitting at desks all day, so anything that gets them up and moving is always popular.
- Blah, Blah, Blah – Lots of talking, not so much substance. I am not a fast reader. Reading is an invest of time, my most precious resource. I am already finding it far too easy to spend a lot of time reading blogs only to realize that my time would have been better invested reading a book on a subject that I teach instead of wading through page after page of ramblings. On that note, let me both conclude and express my heartfelt apologies to anyone reading this post who is drawing a similar conclusion!