I spent quite a bit of time this evening exploring some websites of different schools here in Oklahoma, and I was struck by just how FAR we have to go to realize a dream of engaged, participatory, hands-on, project-based, non-traditional education in our state and in our nation. Of course one shouldn’t judge an entire school district or the educators who teach in a school based solely on “the digital front door” of the district, but there are a lot of insights which can be gleaned from a school’s website and particularly the personal websites created by teachers.

I was exploring these websites not only thinking about my own role in education and where I “fit in” now and want to “fit in” in the future, but also thinking about my own children’s educations and the school environment which I want to provide for them. I want to find and live in a school district where digital literacy is actually valued and emphasized on a daily basis. I want a school district which has high expectations of student learning and performance, but doesn’t enforce a school climate of quiet seatwork and an endless stream of worksheets sent home once per week in a folder for parent inspection.

I’m not feeling depressed, but I am sensing (as I do from time to time) the yawning gap which exists in many schools between educational ideals and educational reality.
:-(


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On this day..

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  • http://mindoh.wordpress.com Amy Strecker

    I can’t speak for the edu landscape in Oklahoma, but I have been inspired by the work of the Gates Foundation and the New Tech Foundation (http://www.newtechfoundation.org/index.html) in my home community. If you aren’t familiar with the New Tech Foundation, they’ve created a high-tech, project-base school model to be replicated through out the country. We’re lucky in North Carolina that the state has made these small learning communities a priority. I’ve had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time at our local school and I’m incredibly impressed by the type and quality of work the 9th grade students there are generating. Here’s the pilot school’s website http://www.newtechhigh.org/Website2007/index.html — a step above most high school sites.

  • http://aboatman.blogspot.com Andy

    Wes,
    Yes. Very far to go. Being at the OTA conference it made me realize just how far behind we really are in technology.
    What would an ideal teacher website contain?
    How would it look?
    What tools would be used to create the site?
    Uniform across the district, state, nation?
    How in the world is there time to create it?
    How can it be “policed” by the instructor?
    Who will train the teachers and when?

  • http://bwatwood.edublogs.org Britt Watwood

    Wes:

    It seems like there are a lot of us discussing this depressing issue. Will Richardson made a recent post at http://weblogg-ed.com/2008/tale-of-two-schools-and-some-questions/
    that points out how the digital experience is diverse and can vary widely from school to school. I noted in my blog (http://bwatwood.edublogs.org/2008/02/06/the-competitive-spirit/) about the apparent digital gap emerging with children around the world. Children in this country attend schools that restrict access to the very tools that they will need to be competitive globally, while children in Asia gain expertise with these very tools. Now granted, the percentage of children in Asia that have access to this wired environment is small, but as that wonderful SlideShare presnetation “Shift Happens” noted last year, a small percentage of honors Asian children still outnumber our total school population. Tom Friedman suggests the digitally literate Asians are hungry for our future jobs, so I also worry about our kids’ future digital literacy.

    Keep beating this drum!

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Andy: The best way to talk about “ideal teacher websites” is to look at great examples, I think. A teacher’s professional blog, where s/he is able to reflect about their practice and learning journey is an important element, but should be separate and apart from the classroom website I think. Willowdale Elementary in Omaha certainly is one of my “ideals” for an elementary school’s website. Lots of student created work, lots of updated, dynamic content.

    A simple classroom blog can be an ideal website too, however. Mark Ahlness’s “Mighty Writers” blog on Class Blogmeister is one of my favorites. (Mark is a 3rd grade teacher in Seattle.) Pam Lowe, an elementary teacher in Missouri, also has an outstanding classroom website that’s one of my favorites. Lots of dynamic elements, students using wikis in groups, etc. At the middle school level, Eric Langhorst‘s classroom website has been one of my favorites, but it looks like he’s migrated everything now over to a Blackboard site – content there looks great and very dynamic. (Eric is currently the Missouri State Teacher of the Year.) Darren Kuropatwa’s classroom math blogs are super examples of wonderful classroom websites at the secondary level. Each of these sites is dynamic and integrates web 2.0 publishing tools to make them that way.

    This is a great question, and worthy of more than a short comment. This would make a great article or post by itself.

    There is some value in having a limited degree of uniformity in teacher websites, but I think often “standardization” is used as a rod to beat down the creative among us rather than push forward the laggards. The website needs to be browser-based, so it can be edited on the fly and continually updated throughout the day. This can only happen if the classroom website is used as a portal for both obtaining/consuming information as well as publishing it for a local as well as global audience. Those, then, are the keys for a world-class classroom website:

    1- dynamic website
    2- shared authorship with students and the teacher
    3- used for publishing content as well as obtaining/consuming it

    Tools like classroom blogmeister and blogger permit administrator/teacher moderation of posts.

    Your last question gets to the issue of professional development. Instead of using the word “train” I’d ask “who will inspire and empower” the teachers do be able to do this. Getting school websites which look like those above is (as you know) much more than a question of teacher training. This is a fundamental question about what teaching and learning looks like, and how it is facilitated by educators working with students as co-learners.

    Bob Sprankle has posted several podcasts by Dr. Tim Tyson which speak directly to these issues. His sessions from last November on “Leadership Applied: Building Powerful Learning Communities” and “The Blogging School” are excellent resources for the leadership vision our schools require which will make the type of learning taking place on the above sites, and in their respective classrooms, irresistible for both teachers and students.

  • http://thecleversheep.com Rodd Lucier

    This widespread reality is what prompts me to add my voice to the discussion. Unfortunately, those that most need to learn about how to enrich the lives of students, are rarely involved in the discussion, and don’t recognize the terminology attached to present e-learning tools.
    http://tinyurl.com/2ejnvz

  • http://www.rcas.org/swms/computer/ Gary Miller

    Wes,

    I agree we have a long way to go. We are trying to keep up at our school, but the powers that be make it difficult. Educational leadership is paramount to using technology in the classroom. I think we all agree that giving students hands on opportunities to produce is a great way to teach.

    Take a look at my Electronic Publishing web page. http://www.rcas.org/swms/computer/epub/electronicpub.html
    I’m trying to get students to work at their own pace and teach themselves. Any comments or ideas would be appreciated. This class is taught to 8th graders. Hoping to have my 7th graders blogging before the year is over, but administration is a tough sell. They don’t even know what a blog is, so it is hard to get them to see the educational benefits.

  • http://ricktanski.wordpress.com/ Rick Tanski

    Wes,

    You’re post fits with a drum I’ve been beating lately: Why, with access to all kinds of thorough and valid research that has such little dissention, don’t we decide to actually DO something about it? Very few disagree that collaboration (for example), between students and between teachers, is essential, important, vital, critical, on and on; however, our approach in education still generally favors independent work that rarely focuses on collaboration outside of contrived group work for kids and feigned collaborative structures in our schools for teachers.

    The world we live in under NCLB is partially our own fault because we, generally speaking, in the educational community did develop our own systems of excellence and accountability when publications like A Nation at Risk called for it (more on this under #10 on one of my posts http://ricktanski.wordpress.com/2008/01/10/lessons-from-the-music-industry-for-education/). We did nothing; it was legislated for us; now we complain and rail against it. How do we overcome the resistance before it gets mandated for us?

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