William Kists “From Web 2.0 to School 2.0: Tales from the Field” includes vignettes of teachers across the United States using digital technologies to connect students to one another and to the texts that they explore.
The remarkable thing about the activities Kist describes is not the technology the teachers use. The social networking tools he discusses are widely available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia are part of everyday conversations. Theyre mentioned on television and radio regularly, seen in newspaper ads and on billboards, and even plastered on the sides of products you pick up in department and grocery stores.
Its not availability that makes these social networks a significant tool in the classroom. Simply adding digital technologies doesn't guarantee an empowering, student-centered pedagogy. Read the recent Edutopia article “Skip the Sub and Teach with Twitter” to see what I mean. The teacher in the article functions as the traditional sage-on-stage. Shes just controlling the class from a distance, even down to the point of telling a student to stop talking. Twitter could easily be replaced with a telephone and the same teaching would have resulted.
To move closer to School 2.0, teachers and students need to rethink the classroom. I recently watched the GRITtv interview Clay Shirky: The Social Media Revolution, which colleague Chris Boese blogged about. GRITtv Interviewer Laura Flanders captures the challenge of building School 2.0 when she asks Shirky, “How do we help new tools really be voices for new ideas and new populations and new ways of looking at things and not the same old power struggles?”
Thats the question we need to ask in the classroom: How can we use social networking tools, or Web 2.0, to bring out new voices and ideas, rather than repeat the same old power struggles and pedagogy? What steps can we take to bring the social media revolution to the classroom (and not simply digitize the sage-on-stage tradition)?
There are three important things we can do in response that will help us rethink the classroom and move closer to School 2.0.
1. Ask Students for Suggestions
When we look at the classroom, we often see only whats obvious. We need to see the wider range of possibilities. The solution is simple. Just ask students to list the social networking tools and technology they have access to and then ask them what they could do with these tools in the classroom.
We need to ask students to help us see the classroom in new ways, ways we have never thought of. This kind of rethinking and re-envisioning is the crux of the social media revolution. To show you what I mean, let me borrow a quotation from Boeses blog, related to how Twitter works:
The simplicity of Twitter, of course, is its genius. It has the power to do so much by doing so little. But that’s not the only thing that’s simple about Twitter. The service itself was only intended to share 140-character messages with the world. Its significance is its evolution. Everything from @replying and retweeting to using hashes and symbols can be attributed to the users. It has brilliantly allowed users to define it – almost entirely. As Shirky points out, “Most of the uses of Twitter were not imagined by the designers of the service – they were managed by the users of the service.”
When we ask students how they would use social networking tools in the classroom, we encourage them to take the step that Twitter users took. We ask them to imagine ways of communicating that we haven't thought of—and we encourage them to take the steps necessarily to make that communication happen.
2. Look for Roadmaps
New directions require new roadmaps. Dont panic when you find you dont know how to do all the things students want to try in the classroom. Look to the work of other teachers already on the way to School 2.0.
Kist links to a number of tools you can use in his article. You may pursue your own dedicated Ning or contribute to an existing resource like Wikipedia. Either way, consider Kists descriptions of how these tools have been used can serve as potential models for the classes you teach.
Additionally, check out resources on the ReadWriteThink site:
- Try the Naming in a Digital World: Creating a Safe Persona on the Internet lesson plan to work through online safety concerns.
- Use the Modern-Day Interpretation Projects from the Star-Crossed Lovers Online lesson to encourage students to rethink the texts they read. The handout is general and can be used with any text (not just with Romeo and Juliet).
- Build class wikis with A Collaboration of Sites and Sounds: Using Wikis to Catalog Protest Songs.
- Invite students to tell stories in podcasts with the Audio Broadcasts and Podcasts: Oral Storytelling and Dramatization lesson plan.
- Create persuasive podcasts with Campaigning for Fair Use: Public Service Announcements on Copyright Awareness.
- Get started with blogs by asking students to keep Weekly Writer’s Blogs.
Finally, look for support among other teachers. Join the NCTE Ning and ask your questions (or share your fears). Chances are someone will be able to help you!
3. Encourage and Support Trial and Error
Theres no one right way to do things when youre working with social networks. What works for one person (or class), may not work at all for another. You will only find the best fit if you are willing to try, retry, rearrange, modify, and customize the ways that you use Web 2.0 tools in the classroom.
Look back to that quotation from Boeses blog. What has made Twitter an active social networking tool isnt its original design, but Twitters evolution in the hands of its users. Twitter users try out new tools and new ways of encoding their messages all the time. The techniques that work best stick. Ways that dont work are dropped. When something better comes along, people switch and begin using it instead.
Its the same for those of us moving toward School 2.0. Well only find the best ways to use social networking in the classroom if we are willing to evolve. We have to help students develop, test, and rethink their use of digital technologies, and we have to remind them constantly that there is no one right way to use social networks. School 2.0 is one place where it has to be okay to fail. Indeed, its a place where failure is actually a sign of progress.
Rethink. Evolve. School 2.0.
Kist tells us that ”In this new media age, it seems we are all not only constantly recipients of messages but creators of them as well.” That simple truth is also secret of School 2.0. Once we invite students to help us rethink and evolve the ways we communicate in the classroom, we can move closer to School 2.0. And when that happens, students are no longer simply “recipients” of educational messages and literacy instruction. They are, in fact, “creators” of education and literacy as well. That shift is ultimately what moves us all closer to School 2.0.