A simple choice - be part of the future or be part of the past.

I can't put the issue of technology and how we respond to it more simply than this. Teachers and schools are faced with a stark and simple choice - either we recognise and embrace how new technologies have utterly transformed how people access, share and create knowledge and help our students to use these technologies as effective learning tools, or we stick with the media and means of instruction that we are used to and comfortable with and consign ourselves to the dustbin of history.

I teach in Hong Kong, where for many teachers the chalk and talk paradigm still rules and it's not unusual in many schools for subject panel meetings to revolve around the all important question "What page in the text book have you got to with class 3C?" Classes of forty students are the norm here, with desks in rows facing the blackboard. Sure, schools have got computers, but for most teachers incorporating IT into lessons has been dominated by PowerPoint. PowerPoint presentations might incorporate the bells and whistles of animated text, slideshows that go ping when you change pages and even photos, but all too often they are used to create little more than a fancy version of what in the past would have been done with a blackboard and a slide projector - a teacher-focused lecture.

The irony of this of course is that Hong Kong has among the highest Internet and 3G mobile penetration rates in the world. The students are entirely at ease with blogging (Xanga seems to be a particularly popular site here), with making videos on their mobile phones and posting them on Youtube, and with online social networking.

With the development of wikifarms, blog hosting websites and social networking websites, it has got easier and easier over the last few years to upload and share information online. And it has also become increasingly easy to create online environments in which we can monitor how our students are collaborating and who with. Yet many teachers are stuck with three mistaken beliefs.

First, there's the outdated view that you need to be a technological whizzkid in order to use web 2.0 resources. Second there's the belief that having access to the largest repostories of information the world has ever known via Google and Wikipedia is going to somehow lead to students' work being dumbed down. Third there's the fear that if students blog or participate in wikis they will be exposed to predatory stalkers.

Let's take these misconceptions on one by one. The view that it's going to be difficult is easy to demolish. People who say it's too difficult to blog or use a wiki usually have never tried. The fact is that most wikis are designed to be intuitive and to give their users step-by-step instructions on how to do fancy stuff like embedding widgets and so forth. Editing a wiki is usually as easy as any other kind of word processing, and most wikis have 'what you see is what you get' toolbars for editing. Wikipedia, the world's biggest wiki, still holds back from wysiwyg editing with its arcane devices such as three inverted commas to shift text to italics, but even Wikipedia is childsplay compared with the agonies of trying to write in hypertext mark-up language back in the dark days of Web 1.0.

The second fear - dumbing down - has led to some foolish but well intentioned people calling for students not to be allowed to access Google or Wikipedia in school. The rationale behind this is often a fear of plagiarism, or of students accessing inappropriate or poor quality material. In essence, students are being denied access to the world's largest library ever becuase some teachers are afraid that they will copy from the books or won't be able to tell which books are useful and which aren't. Shouldn't we instead be teaching students core study skills? Learning is not just about finding information; it's about being able to evaluate and process information from a representative range of sources in order to develop new knowledge and to form informed, balanced personal perspectives.

The last objection to using web 2.0 in schools is perhaps the most absurd since it inviolves completely forgetting that students will have access to the net in their free time. By incorporating social networking and web resources into teaching, we create an opportunity to discuss with students safety issues like whether to share personal information online. Pretending that the internet doesn't exist is not going to make it go away. Rather it is going to be a central feature of our students' lives so we have a moral duty to them to teach them how to make use of it safely and responsibly.

Views: 30

Tags: blogging, fear, networking, social, wikis

Comment by Britt Gow on May 6, 2008 at 3:05am
Hi David,
Welcome to Classroom 2.0. You have developed a well considered argument for web 2.0. We need students to learn for their future and not about our past. The moral obligation to teach safe usage is especially important. Thanks for your thought-provoking post.
Regards, Britt.
Comment by Jason de Nys on May 8, 2008 at 12:37am
I like what you are saying, we need to help those who haven't seen the light yet!
Did you go to the 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong conference last weekend?


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