Schools get help in using Web 2.0 tools


Web 2.0 tools also can enhance schoolwide communication and decision making.
Web 2.0 tools also can enhance schoolwide communication and decision making.

Web 2.0 tools hold great promise for education, but they also pose a number of challenges for educators. To help teachers and administrators navigate these challenges, while also becoming “disruptive leaders” in their schools, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has released two new whitepapers as part of its recent focus on Web 2.0 and education.

One report, titled “Social Networking: Personalized Content, Conversations & Communities,” is the latest publication in CoSN’s EdTechNext series on emerging technologies for education. The other, “How 2 B a Disruptive Technology Leader,” recaps CoSN’s Leadership Forum on this topic at the 2009 National Educational Computing Conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. Both reports are available only to CoSN members.

During CoSN’s Leadership Forum, Bailey Mitchell, chief technology and information officer for Georgia’s Forsyth County Schools, said being a disruptive leader means creating problems that need solutions–not just solving problems that already exist.

“Why would a leader create problems?” asked Mitchell. “Intentional problems can be the catalyst for change. Problems can evoke the necessary motivation to make a quantum leap in innovation. The goal of meetings like this is to break apart the common responses to Web 2.0 tools and interrupt the normal course of action.”

Such an interruption can help unleash the power of Web 2.0 tools to enhance instruction, forum participants said. For instance, Web 2.0 tools can help keep kids engaged in school; extend the learning day beyond school; meet the needs of different kinds of learners; prepare students to be thoughtful, ethical, and informed participants online; and connect students with their peers in other locations, thereby increasing their global awareness.

Web 2.0 tools also can enhance schoolwide communication and decision making, said Gordon Dahlby, director of curriculum and technology for the West Des Moines Community School District in Iowa.

One-way communication, in which eMail blasts, newsletters, web posts, or meeting minutes are used to spread the word, “is so last century,” Dahlby said. Instead, he recommended using Web 2.0 tools to facilitate problem solving and increase collaboration and transparency. “The committee,” according to Dahlby, “is dead.” Why choose a group of people to meet and make decisions, he explained, when you can post the question online and let people respond using Web 2.0 tools?

To help educators better understand the different tools available, the EdTechNext report breaks down the different types of Web 2.0 tools into more specific categories, such as:

– Tools dedicated to social networking, which are explicitly designed to “enable people to put their identity forward, express themselves, and connect with others,” and include networks like Ning, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

– Social bookmarking, research, and collaborative tools, which “combine research and community, transforming traditionally solitary activities into opportunities for social engagement, learning, and productivity,” and include sites like Delicious and Diigo–popular social bookmarking sites that allow people to share comments, notes, links, and highlighted or annotated web content.

Many of these different types of tools are starting to converge, the report notes. For example, Twitter posts now can show up on Facebook.

The EdTechNext report also details the many educational benefits of using Web 2.0 tools in schools.

For example, content can be customized. The report explains that social networking tools can “empower people to access, search, organize, manage, create, share, and contribute to content. In effect, educators and students can create their own classrooms and curriculum from unlimited sources and formats to explore content they are interested in–everywhere, all the time.”

These tools also can be used to support project-based learning. The report describes how seventh graders at Frank Lloyd Wright Middle School in West Allis, Wis., used social networking tools to plan a day trip to Chicago. Deb Tryggestad, the library media specialist, created a group for the students on Diigo–a site that offers online research tools. “The students researched the costs, travel time, and activities for the trip, using social bookmarks and tagging information by categories, such as transportation, museums, lunch, architecture, and history,” says the report.

But Web 2.0 tools aren’t just useful for students.

Mike Porter, chief technology officer for the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District in Michigan, spoke during CoSN’s Leadership Forum about the many ways in which he uses Web 2.0 technologies in his daily work. According to Porter, there’s no reason students shouldn’t have access to Web 2.0 tools for their work, if adults can use these tools for their own work.

Porter’s advice to district leaders is to model the many ways Web 2.0 tools can be used for parents, educate community members to quell any fears, and plan for how the technology will be used at each grade level and communicate that plan.

He cautions administrators to remember that “just because you have a technology solution for blocking doesn’t mean you need to use it. How many of you have driven backwards on the freeway? Society does not put up technical barriers to stop you from using the highway inappropriately; we have rules with appropriate enforcement to stop us–you don’t need spikes to stop you from doing it!”

Entire states also are making use of Web 2.0 tools in education.

For example, James Beeghley, IT policy specialist in the Office of Information and Educational Technology for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education, described how the Keystones Technology Integrators program–a statewide program that has trained more than 3,000 educators to model classroom technology integration for their peers–uses a wiki to support its annual week-long summit.

Beeghley’s state also uses Moodle to allow instructional coaches across the state to share resources, discuss questions, and post lessons for others to comment about.

Using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom raises policy and technology-related questions, many of which are addressed in these reports.

“From a technical standpoint, using social networking sites requires reliable high-speed, or, for multimedia-rich sites, broadband access. Many social networking tools, however, are not bandwidth-intensive,” states the EdTechNext report.

The report also says that most social networking web sites, services, and tools are free–and many other applications have been developed especially for schools. These school-centered applications usually have built-in safety and security features, such as ePals, which offers safe eMail and secure blogging for collaborative projects, language practice, and tools and learning resources.

Other practical considerations to remember include developing cyber-bullying policies, allowing for teacher professional development in the use of Web 2.0 tools, and creating up-to-date technology usage policies.

Participants in the CoSN Leadership Forum noted that school leaders should agree on their purpose and goals in using Web 2.0 tools for instruction, phase the use of these tools in gradually, and look for flexibility in the tools they select.

“An effective social networking site should be open but protected. …There should be the ability to establish separate domains and uses for staff, students, and community members,” says the forum report. “Many districts find it best to create their own social networking environment using a tool such as Moodle or Blackboard and limiting many activities to the school community. Whatever the tool, it’s important that it allow for growth and expansion over time.”

Concludes the EdTechNext report: “There is no way that educators can master every Web 2.0 tool, but what they can do is focus on helping students discriminate between important and mundane content, trusted and suspect sources, appropriate and inappropriate sharing, acceptable and unacceptable online behavior. They can help students understand and interpret the meaning of what they experience.”

Link:

Consortium for School Networking