Posted by Tomaz Lasic on 4 November, 2008
Over the last few days I have been following a great conversation on the Brittanica Blog about Web 2.0 (pron. “web two-oh”) and its potential to change project-based learning thanks to its collaborative nature. I have thoroughly enjoyed the critical examination of myths and hype by a number of fine minds, notably by Daniel Willingham responding to Steve Hargadon’s vision of (usefulness of) Web 2.0 tools in education. Further, some of the comments have been even more impressive than the post itself! For a useful summary of the post and a handy digest of comments I would point you to Robert Pondiscio’s post.
It was all kind of loose blog lurking until a comment by Sylvia Martinez caught my eye.
“Web 2.0 connection that project-based learning has with Web 2.0 is limited. It happens to make a few things that project-based classrooms do a little easier. So it’s highly unlikely that Web 2.0 will overcome the obstacles to project-based learning. We know what those obstacles are, we know what needs to be done (there are thousands of terrific books on these subjects) — and we still don’t do them. We keep looking for a magic wand, and Web 2.0 is the latest one.
The topic was “will Web 2.0 be an integral part of K-12 education” – but everyone seems to have changed it to “will Web 2.0 CHANGE K-12 education”. Totally different. Web 2.0 may become something teachers have in their toolkit, but still used in a way that supports the dominant paradigm. You can certainly have Web 2.0 drill and test, just as easily as open ended blogs.
Without a serious to change K-12 education, Web 2.0 will simply become integrated into the existing way that schools do business.
“Will Web 2.0 CHANGE K-12 education?” My antennas went up! I have often likened Web 2.0 to a Trojan horse for/of change to something that is better than the centuries old warehousing of kids, sorting them like sacks of potatoes, then calling one student or even a school ‘good’ and another ‘bad’. My school, euphemistically called ‘difficult to staff school’ is more often labelled as the latter. So rather than reheating the ‘learning potential’ debate, I look at Web 2.0 from a slightly different angle.
Much like any field of cultural endeavour, Web 2.0 creates its own divides. However, it breaks down so many others which I believe are worthy of breaking.
For example, in these days of Web 2.0 you don’t have to be a member of a socio-economic elite not just to hear but to participate in great conversations or connect with great ideas and mentors next door or around the world. All of this virtually for free, other than the cost of your time and a bit of bandwith. You can build a powerful and personalised, targeted social or professional network on the web which can extend far beyond the local “old ties club” for far less cash than you would spend at an exclusive private school (without underestimating such ties, that is my standard line when I hear people sending their kids to expensive private schools “to network”). And so on…
That’s the kind of potential of transformational power of Web 2.0 I am interested in, not whether it will “change project-based learning”.
I would not expect that everyone will be happy with the rise of the (perceived) amateur, the grassroots, the “great unwashed” from our school that Web 2.0 can afford. The obstacles will remain formidable, from the crusted TTWWADI attitudes, political expediency to the competitive edu-business of schooling. That is probably why not everyone will necessarily (want to) see, adopt and celebrate wildly the Web 2.0 and its potential.
And since this blog is about fellow teachers – where do they (we) fit in in all of this?
In comments to Pondiscio’s post, Dan Willingham rightly asserts that “you can’t evaluate information if you know nothing about the domain. I can’t size up what makes sense and what doesn’t among the flood of information on the internet on the subject of chemistry because I don’t know much chemistry.” The role for a teacher here is obvious. Good teacher is a mentor, a conduit between great ideas and conversations by making them understandable – Web X.0 or not. Gosh, the wooly mammoth chasers worked that one out.
Smart use of Web 2.0 can ‘supercharge’ these connections AND (importantly) help reap the benefits of confidence and equity mentioned earlier. This can be done much easier and more effectively than any tinkering with syllabus and similar ‘busy work’. Put simply, clever use of Web 2.0 has a greater chance of my school being called ‘good’ than any national curriculum, productivity drives, new forms of assessment etc. (call me pie-eyed idealist but I prefer that to the other end of continuum).
At the moment though, Web 2.0 is a hard sell at a school like mine. Teachers don’t engage with it because they lack time and resources, they know little about it and they would like to be reasonably confident users before using it in class. Fair enough I say, very few people like to sell something they don’t even know how it works, let alone believe in its value. Some toe-dipping, frustration but also little epiphanies coming our way or so I hope …
The kids at our school are less resistant to using Web 2.0 in education. However, because of their lack of confidence, knowledge and experience of rewards stemming from education in their families, they are very weary of being ‘exposed’ beyond the performance for the teacher on a test that nobody else sees or cares about. If unfavourable, the standing out of the crowd, made so easy by Web 2.0, is THE freakiest state of affairs for most teenagers I have come across in my life (including myself, long time ago ). Teenagers’ fancy, yet mostly quite superficial MySpacing, Facebooking, online ‘socialising’ etc have fooled many educators into thinking that these kids are somehow ‘born digital’ and they will simply plug-in to this idea of Web 2.0 as ‘complex problem-solvers’ (yeah, decisions about spending time with 457 ‘friends’ online or catching up with two down the road is sometimes called that…).
But what if, just if, the schools like ours start being noted for students becoming confident, knowledgeable contributors through Web 2.0 rather than passive receptors, worried only to get a pass grade and nothing more because of the “what’s the point Sir, we’re dumb” calcified attitudes…! Never in the human history has it been easier (and cheaper) to be such a contributor.
So, instead of pondering whether “Web 2.0 will change the way we do collaborative work in class” I want to ponder these questions:
Is Web 2.0 going to make a difference in our students’ life chances if we use it in education?
Is use of Web 2.0 going to change (the perception of) our school as a ‘bad’ one?
Is use of Web 2.0 at our school going to make our students value intellectual, physical or other forms of sustained (socially acceptable ) effort?
Is use of Web 2.0 going to make our school a safer, better place to be? …
When teachers and students fall in love with the idea that these question could be answered “yes”, the stunning change in the Web 2.0 direction does and will happen. Then watch out for those teacher/student ‘Spiders 2.0′ confidently weaving, spinning and using the growing web to fetch their feed as equals rather than sitting passive and convinced by themselves and others they are useless and always in need to be fed by someone else.
Because it is about the spider, not the web itself.