Fair go and Spider 2.0

SpiderOver 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.

7 comments

  1. Pingback: Spider 2.0 | Schools online
  2. ceadams

    Now there’s some food for thought.
    I totally agree that it’s all about the students and their learning. At least, I think that’s what you meant by the spider. If we can use this web2.0 stuff to help them achieve their (and our goals) and learn along the way then yes it is good.
    I also sometimes struggle with resistance from colleagues and students, but if we keep plugging away at them maybe we really can unleash some spider potential.

  3. Tony Searl

    G’day Mr Lasic,

    fellow beer meister

    Profound ….. deep ….. brain achingly grouse stuff.

    I’m so over the “new learning” hype promised by web2.0. Much of it is so questionable.

    Cods I say until Australia has aligned change agents, dare I say governments with goolies (and brains) who actually just “get it” and then get on with being fair dinkum about providing the requisite resources. Not as we currently have, some tokenistic polli babble called the “Education Revolution” or similar crapola.

    Yes my stuggle streeters always love connecting with their wider community, feeling empowered and actually having their say heard by others, and thats before we even introduce ICT, let alone “two oh”. Much of what good teachers do remains in tact and maybe, just maybe, when we can have access to the wider world their voices will be amplified.

  4. Darcy Moore

    It seems to me that being multiliterate is a must, for all of us, especially teachers. Being literate in a traditional sense is essential but just not enough. I see the concept of Web 2.0 as just another one of the many literac(ies) that kids and their teachers need to understand and employ. It just happens to be fun and allow us to collaborate from afar.

    I need to ramble here and say that Obama’s victory had as much to do with citizens’ perception of him being a product of the zeitgeist (and a ‘with it’ candidate) as his actual use of the online tools for his campaign. He talked the talk and walked the walk of a ‘modern’ (seems like the wrong word but you get what I mean) person but still employed much of the rhetoric of all candidates in all American presidential campaigns.

    The school system has to do something similiar. We need to get ‘with it’ but not look for silver bullets. It is essential not to throw the cliche out with the bathwater in our quest to modernise – but update we must.

  5. Rob Abbey

    Hi Lasic,
    Herbert Marcuse wrote a great essay on Repressive Tolerance: 1996 French student riots. (http://www.marcuse.org/herbert/pubs/60spubs/65repressivetolerance.htm) whereby the ruling powers permit a degree of tolerance of something that totally undermines their power in order to capture any resistance to the their ruling orders and organisations. I believe we can see this in the DET schools. Give a bit, but do not allow genuine freedoms to learn. Sadly I think we are in the grip of this enormous grasping of the old ways and the resistance to genuine change. While not ultimately pessimistic I think we have a huge struggle on our hands fortunately supported by the subversive nature of technology, democratic access, long tails and vastly reduced costs of organisation (cf Shirky: Here comes everybody).

    Love your questions and focus they provoke. I do worry about these kids as they leave an environment that moves them towards growth and life when they move back into the ridgid social typecasting that so many of them experience outside school.

    Thnak you
    Rob – roadster5555:twitter

  6. Rob Abbey

    PS Since this is a political struggle, i note the people based/community empowering methods resulting in Obama’s election (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zack-exley/the-new-organizers-part-1_b_132782.html ) gives a model for action if we choose to work for change.
    R

    THANK YOU ROB! MY 2c IN REPLY…

    I have to admit it was only tonight I read your work http://web.me.com/rob_abbey/Crafting_ICT/Welcome.html for the first time and I am hooked.

    The depth of your thought is the major draw and reading it I feel I am in a good company. It speaks to my deeper and more pensive side than perhaps the one shown in the blog (Human). My own blog is there as a kind of shopfront to tease and invite but I sort of don’t want to burden my readers with some of the ‘heavier’ stuff of educational philosophy that often brews in my crazy head. But I do feel I can share some of this ‘crazy stuff’ with you…

    It is interesting to read that you are a reader of J. Ellul. While I certainly don’t share many of his ideas, particularly when grounding them in religion, I do think he is an interesting character for his call for circumspection in technological advances. Our position (yours and mine and in many ways Ellul’s…) of ‘putting people first’ is a sort of guiding principle I have learned to appreciate more and more as I work with people and ICT. As I state in my latest post, I do like ICT as a vehicle, a Trojan horse of change … BUT ! The change I am after is ontological and not epistemological (yes, the anarchist would love me for that one 🙂

    I am frankly tired of the bloody travelling gurus (most of them at least) spruking the bells and whistles of Web 2.0 and how it’s going to change education. “(New) learning’ is turning us into ‘learning junkies’ but only in a sense of being able to access, retrieve, mange and work with information that turns into knowledge by way of our beliefs and existing schemes of understanding. So, the key epistemological question on learning ‘what is knowledge?’ is conveniently answered: “We learn like bloody Olympians – higher, faster, stronger.” The accompanying ‘whoooaaa’ effect is growing louder because as learning goes, some kids are starting to do pretty amazing things and good on them and their teachers (‘Betchaboy’ Betcher springs to mind, he’s doing some good stuff).

    But schools are so much more than romanticised “places of learning”. Schools are positioned primarily as places of learning but they primarily order the kids while kids order themselves (Foucault would have a lot to say here, governmentality is alive and kicking) into (typecast, yes) social roles. I may be called cynical but I do have my eyes and mind open when at school. The ontological questions like “what is a ‘school’?”, “what is a teacher?”, “what is a ‘student’?” never get asked because we are too busy chasing the edu-psych notions of ‘learning’. But speaking of learning, at school we also learn the answer these (onotological) questions while never really stopping to consider (we are so busy with chasing a million tails). The system orders us not to ask these questions, often by the sheer volume of information we need to process, deal with etc merely to keep our jobs.

    ICT (well, clever use of it really) has the chance to begin the process of beginning to ask these question. But only a chance. And the (un)funny thing is that the potential of ICT for such political subversion if you like of the existing system will be undermined by its sheer pace and width of expansion we are witnessing. People will be again too busy learning “new and essential things to keep pace with educational reforms and (hey!) ‘revolutions’ (you know the speak…) so they will not be able to stop, reflect and ask (geez, Ellul would love me here again 🙂

    I haven’t read Marcuse’ article you refer to yet (I will, very soon) but I suspect the gist of it as flagged by you: “go and play but don’t rock the boat” – extension “if we find bits of your play handy to control you better we’ll have a bit of that too”.

    I might try to articulate this in a blogpost some time but it needs to brew some more in my head until I spit it out in a more coherent form. Probably with some catchy video, hehe 🙂

    Until then – thank you my friend for dropping by and sharing an insight or two. You are welcome any time !

    Regards

    Tomaz

    PS Yes, Obama is perhaps a signpost of the possibility! You and Darcy get my vote 🙂

  7. Greg

    Tomas, Thanks for your blog. I have been a long tme listener buta first time caller. I enjoyed your post and the debate – anytime you can bring ontology into a debate I think it is worthwhile. For what it is worth, I agree that like any ‘technology’ IT is potentially becoming so caught up in the rationality of IT, or the science of IT if you like, that those teachers out there committed to change through the use of IT may find themselves overwhelmed by the pace. After all, in the 70s they thought that the vehicle for change was English taught in such a way as to encourage theoretical understandings of texts etc. so that kids could challenge and overthrow those dominant ideologies that oppressed them. (Being the 70s, of course we are talking about Freudian or Marxist analysis.)

    I don’t know that this has really changed schools all that much, maybe because we still think in the same binarised ways that are so dominated by competitive impulses and hierarchised positionalities. I think it is kind of interesting that while there was meant to be this radical change, schools began to fill up teachers time with bureaucracy etc. so that they had less time to plot the revolution. Maybe too much conspiracy here… I wonder if continuing to look for external inputs that will ‘prime the pump’ of change in schools is only going to offer more false gods and it is to the internal that we have to look – those arts of existence that Foucault wrote about and explained so teasingly. Of course this is said completely aware that this is most likely offering another false god. Perhaps the best advice for change is to forget about the world and change one life at a time.

    Greg

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