May 5

What is Web 2? Why use it?

kids on computersWhat is Web 2.0?

There are a whole heap of definitions of Web 2.0 online that focus on the technology behind Web 2.0 applications. Most people turn off when they hear words like server driven applications, AJAX, RSS, Convergence, social software, and many other buzz words that are travelling around about Web 2.0. To me, web 2.0 can be summed up into two major categories of important difference:

1. The Social Side

Web 2.0 applications allow us to publish, edit and share information. That’s it. In a traditional website, a person writing a website needed to write a page of code for every page of the web that was published. It would also then have to be uploaded to the website, and any changes that had to be made were through a not difficult, but lengthy process. Although this code was easy to learn (and still widely used) this limited the people that published on the web to those that knew the code. ♦

Web 2 applications are those that allow users to interact with and publish easily, without knowing anything about HTML code at all. This means, that like at bottom of this page, where you can post a comment on this site, and it be uploaded instantaneously, there are alot of sites on the web now where users can create pages themselves, edit them easily, and allow people to comment on them, or even to edit the page entirely, and add new content. Phrases such as “Users add value” were one of the founding principles of Web 2.0, but recently, they have increased sociality by most sites adding “friend” features where you can share work with friends.

2. Higher levels of interaction

People are used to doing things like clicking and dragging, moving things around, and having things instantaneously through the programs that they use on the computer. Most operating systems are designed to have these levels of interactivity, because decades of designers have researched that this is the way to make software easy to use. So, the fact that you can start typing the letters of the persons name into google mail, and it can come up with a list of people on your address book, means that it is simultaneously accessing a database, and searching for a response while you type…wheras you used to have to submit a page and wait. This happened so quickly, and everyone was so used to doing it in software, that there wasn’t a great wonder about how that happened. It was just accepted. But, people started using terminology such as web applications rather than web pages, very quickly.

What sorts of sites are classed as Web 2.0?

Examples are endless. Some of the more popular ones are facebook, flickr, google docs, wordl, ning, voki, wikipedia

Why would I use it?

To be honest, and minimise hype here, there are some things that there is no way that you would use. Some people have huge objections to the whole web 2 thing, and that’s fine. The reality is, though, that you can’t avoid it. It’s here. And students are using it, not as web 2.0, that they need to be taught how to use, but just as an integral part of the internet. Students can’t imagine the web like it used to be, with plain text and maybe a picture thrown in for good luck. Students don’t say “We’re going to go and use some web 2.0 tools now”, they are there, on their computers, laptops, mobile phones and PSPs.

And there are some great tools out there to be used. For example, I must be the most naturally disorganised person in the world. Last year, I discovered Google Calender, that synchronises with my Nokia n95, so my calender is planned. It text messages me every morning at 4:45am (15 minutes before I get up) with my daily agenda. I even put my son’s Show and Tell day in there to remind me. And I use flickr to share photos with my family and friends.

How (and why) would I use it in teaching?

There is a whole heap of research around this. But put quite simply is that it caters for different learning styles, and a range of learning levels.  If used properly. When the smartboards first came into Australia, they were touted by some as the next revolution in teaching (“$10,000 smartboards in every room”). However, in some cases (not all) they were used as glorified overhead projectors that students were not allowed to touch. I cringed to hear around the staff room “I really need a Smartboard room next year, because all my teaching resources are on powerpoint”, or “The kids are really interested in the Smartboard, because it’s the first new thing that I’ve done in 30 years”.  Bad teaching on a smartboard (or computer) is still bad teaching. Good teaching on a smartboard, or computer, or not, is still good teaching.

Teachers that use e-learning in innovative ways, get good results. Students do see technology (most of the time) as motivating, generally because it puts some novelty into the classroom. Students very quickly get sick of the technology in the classroom when they discover that it is the same teacher, and teaching style that they get for the rest of the lessons, just on a computer.

That’s the bad side. Now, for the advantages. Web 2.0 allows you to teach in a different way. Firstly, students are “digital natives”. They generally know alot about computers. Remember when you used to have to teach students how to use powerpoint in a secondary school? Kids would generally laugh at you now when you try to do this.

Students are emmersed in a rich fabric of technology at a young age. My son is three. He knows how to turn my laptop on. He knows how to log into his user name (it’s got a picture of a robot on it). He knows which icon to double click on for firefox. (“Its the fire one, Mummy”). He knows where to go on the browser in order to find the bookmark to the Spongebob Squarepants website (They have good games). And he knows how to navigate the website by clicking on links, scrolling down and finding the objects that he wants. I pity the computer teacher that has him in secondary school. Lets use the tools that they know how to use. They know how to interact with, and they think in different ways that are more simmilar to the way that they navigate technology.

Teachers no longer have to teach technology, they have to be able to put it to use within the classroom to learn the content. Teaching using web 2 is still about teaching the content of the syllabus. It’s not automatically more motivating, but it does provide two things that are very valuable:

1. Rich media

Students have more access now to information than they have had at any other time in the world. I am a computing teacher. Job opportunities for me have decreased over the last 10 years that I have been teaching, because the subjects are attracting less and less numbers. Why? Are students less interested in technology? No. Students are more interested in the content, but (some) schools (teachers) are not offering anything more that you can learn outside the classroom. I taught a highly gifted technology student last year in year 9 Graphics. He was doing stuff in year 9 that I learnt in my Masters program. I asked him why he didn’t do Information and Software Technology (the year 9 Computing course) and his response was “Why? What can you teach me that I can’t learn online?”.

Theres also more richer types of inforamtion that could be used within teaching? Remember having to draw diagrams on the board to try to explain difficult concepts? Thanks to Flash, we now have a variety of free interactive or animated diagrams that explain the concept in 20 seconds. I used to spend lessons of time showing students how to convert binary numbers. Or, you could download a you tube clip that tells you how to convert them in 60 seconds. You can use Google Maps/Earth, and trace pathways of characters in the Bible, or in stories for English or History.  Geography teaching can be revolutionised by Google Earth where you can even take photos and draw models of local areas, upload them to Google Earth and share them with the world wide community. Science can access videos of experiments that they don’t have the resources to do at school, or are too dangerous. Languages can talk for free over the internet with schools on the other side of the world. There is so much opportunity for rich interactive classrooms that the mind boggles.

2. Authentic Publishing

Finally, the area that students find quite motivating is the issue of authentic publishing. How many times have you heard the statement “but WHY are we doing this? Who is going to ever see it? How is this going to make a difference. Students can now upload content to the internet and publish video, sound, written works to a world wide audience. This, linked with issues that students care about, can make a big difference in their motivation to complete a task. The power of giving those shy quiet students an opportunity to contribute to a discussion, while giving them the time to phrase a response, is quite a gift.

♦Cudos to those developers of the web that made this code reasonably easy to learn, and totally free.

So, now that we’ve an understanding of web 2.0 is (hopefully), what are some ways that it can be utilised in the classroom. For those newbies to web 2.0, is this something that you can see yourself using? For those more experienced, what kind of tools do you use, and how do students respond?

I plan over the next couple of weeks to blog about a whole heap of different tools that can be used in web 2.0, and also some e-learning tools that you don’t need the internet for, for those lessons or schools where the internet may not be that effective.

May 3

IT for Teaching

A definitive List of 30 things?

What would be the 30 things that you would add to a course on Web 2.0 Tools for the classroom?

  1. What is Web 2?
  2. Blogs
  3. Tagging
  4. Wikis
  5. Google Docs
  6. Animations
  7. Comics
  8. Video
  9. Social Bookmarking
  10. RSS
  11. Randomness
  12. Google Earth
  13. Flickr
  14. Other Google Stuff
  15. Social Networking
  16. Presentations
  17. Podcasting: Using
  18. Virtual Worlds
  19. Podcasting: Creating
  20. Twitter
  21. How to use IT with a terrible internet connection: ie, non web based stuff
  22. Creative Commons: Search Responsibly
  23. Combining rich media in blogs, wikis etc.
  24. Drawing Online
  25. Mind mapping
  26. Graphing
  27. Video conferencing
  28. Questionaires
  29. Online Quizes
  30. Just for fun: Applications to the classroom?