Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How to Move Closer to School 2.0

William Kist’s “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. They’re 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.

It’s 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. She’s 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?”

That’s 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 what’s 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 Boese’s 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. Don’t panic when you find you don’t 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 Kist’s 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:

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

There’s no one right way to do things when you’re 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 Boese’s blog. What has made Twitter an active social networking tool isn’t its original design, but Twitter’s 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 don’t work are dropped. When something better comes along, people switch and begin using it instead.

It’s the same for those of us moving toward School 2.0. We’ll 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, it’s 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.


sarah@grittv.org said...

Thanks for linking our GRITtv Clay Shirky interview! We had Jay Rosen on the show yesterday, talking about some similar topics--the future of journalism (and journalism schools) and education more broadly. That's here, if you're interested.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

CRC said: So students are now recipients and creators, perhaps contributing more frequently than before 2.0. Fine. Creating what? From what sources of knowledge required to advance literacy and agency? Growth and change come not from technology but from concrete experience newly acquired or recalled and specific knowledge amassed day by day. As literacy coaches, the knowledge we offer is of words and text--the best and most precise words, the strategies for cohesion and coherence, and the relevant genre knowledge. We foster searches for students' most vivid remembered concrete experiences or guide them to published (print, online) sources relevant to their specific writing projects. If we focus on less or other from third grade to graduate school, we undermine students' literacy and agency. The technology is irrelevant and always has been since the earliest beginnings of alphabetic literacy.

Anonymous said...

While it's true we must teach good writing and communication skills as the poster above suggested, to say that the tools used don't matter is to miss the point. Too often we are teaching kids with 20th century tools to write in 20th century forms. We need to teach them with the tools and forms of writing that they will need in the future. I'm sorry but twitter, facebook, blogging and texting are where they do most of their writing and are proving themselves as important communication tools for this generation. To say they don't matter is to stick our heads in the sand and not prepare kids adequately

Anonymous said...

CRC again: Technologies for writing are phenomena, givens. There's nothing to learn about them. They all require the same alphabetic literacy. I could write these sentences with any technology (not really the right word) for any appropriate readership. I've listed my tools. What are yours?

Organic Chemistry said...

interesting article! I do think involving students in this matter is an important (and often forgotten) step, so it's good to point out the importance of this. Nice job!