I have posted the following entry to the TechLearning blog, but am cross-posting here in case there are still commenting problems there. In that event, please comment here!
For educators living in the northern hemisphere, summer is approaching fast. Today I had an opportunity to visit with about fifteen elementary teachers in a rural Oklahoma school, and the topics I was asked to address were:
- Internet Safety
Less than one-third of the teachers in my presentation had high speed Internet access at their home currently, and none were acquainted with web 2.0 tools and websites. This context provided a formidable and yet inviting challenge, which I can paraphrase as a rhetorical question:
If you could spend just sixty minutes talking with a group of elementary teachers who have not had much prior exposure to blogs, wikis, educator social networks, or other web 2.0 tools, what would you choose to discuss and explore?
A basic challenge for this context is LIMITING the information. There are SO MANY web 2.0 tools and learning possibilities presented by our digital information environment today! I have heard conference keynote speakers start their presentations by asking, “Is anyone overwhelmed by technology and the possibilities it offers? Well hang on, because we’re going to explore even more today!” The presenter then launched into a litany of tools and sites, which likely left attendees feeling even more overwhelmed than they had previously felt.
My goal today with these teachers was NOT to overwhelm them, but rather to invite them to explore some of the ways they could use websites and web 2.0 tools for PERSONAL uses over the summer. I am convinced (along with many others) that as teachers learn to use technology for personal purposes, we are able to better understand the instructional and learning applications of these tools for ourselves. This is a gradual process and takes place at different rates and in different ways for each educator, but I’m convinced this is a constructive path to follow in trying to help teachers learn effective ways to utilize technology for learning.
For today’s after-school presentation, I created a single page handout (available as a PDF) for ten different options teachers could pursue this summer for digitally powered professional development. These options are:
- Join a local (state) online learning community.
- Learn about wikis and create one.
- Create and share digital stories with VoiceThread.
- Start using social bookmarking.
- Join an online professional learning community like Classroom 2.0, and attend the 2007 K-12 Online Conference.
- Share photos with family and friends on Flickr.
- Watch and share outstanding videos online.
- Videoconference with family and friends using Skype or iChat.
- Create and read a customized digital newspaper. (With Google Reader.)
- Learn to text message from a patient teenager.
Remembering that this presentation was for an audience of elementary teachers who were not previously acquainted with web 2.0 tools and technologies, are there any topics or tools that you would have substituted for any of those I selected here? (So the list of options was still kept to ten.) This was a fun challenge, and one informed by a workshop I’ve shared previously entitled “Powerful Ingredients for Digitally Interactive Learning.” I did create a wiki page for the teachers which includes links to all the resources we discussed.
We did NOT, in fact, have time in sixty minutes to discuss all these options. We started with VoiceThread, proceeded to talk about wikis, explored the Classroom 2.0 Ning, and wrapped up by watching part of an online video. (Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity in Schools.) Even though we didn’t cover ALL the content I had prepared, I felt good about the time we’d spent together overall. I don’t think the teachers felt overwhelmed, and many of them were enthused by the possibilities they saw for some of these tools (especially VoiceThread) for helping their students safely publish their work online.
I was a bit surprised, however, how many of the teachers expressed fear when I showed them the Classroom 2.0 social network and the ways teachers are and can connect with each other to share ideas and collaborate. The “fear and death” message of social networking has sunk deep into the fabric of educator consciousness, and a proposal to JOIN and USE online social networks for learning strikes many as heresy.
When I have chances like today to visit with teachers who have very limited prior exposure to web 2.0 tools and the powerfully constructive ways they can be used to facilitate student learning, I am simultaneously struck with feelings of frustration as well as optimism. On the one hand, it is frustrating to see how entrenched many classrooms remain today in an isolationist, 19th century paradigm of teacher-directed and textbook-dominated learning. On the other hand, it is exciting to see what amazing opportunities we have to help teachers as well as students take “a great leap forward” into the flat world of 21st century learning and collaboration.
There are many things our schools desperately need, but professional development should figure high on anyone’s wish list for schools. Although our time together today was short, I am glad to have had a chance to cross paths with those Oklahoma educators today. If even one of them goes on to use VoiceThread or another tool we discussed and share it with their own family and/or with their students, then I think my time today was well spent.
Systemic education reform truly is advanced one conversation at a time.
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- Let's do more experiments in elementary science - 2006
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