Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Technology Toolbox: Web 2.0

It's been some time now since I last wrote on my blog. I've been busily working on an Assessment course that has actually consumed my waking hours and taken all of my attention to successfully complete. In the end, I think I'm left with more questions than answers about assessment, which is blog session for another day.

This week, I want to focus my attention on how teaching and learning can be enhanced through Web 2.0 tools. I must preface everything I say first by declaring myself a huge fan of Web 2.0 tools. So whatever I say here on in, it is completely biased. Learning about Web 2.0 has turned my pedagogical thinking completely around, so much so that my teaching philosophy is almost completely constructivist. To quote Wikipedia, "Constructivism is a psychological theory of knowledge which argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from their experiences." I think meaning is the key word here. It is critical that students engage in learning that is meaningful and can be transferred to real life situations. In a sense it has a cyclical effect. The student learns from experiences that are created for them or by themselves that are meaningful, and in turn apply that learning to further situations where they have more experiences. And Web 2.0 tools help a great deal to facilitate this kind of learning.

First, I want to have you watch two videos that I thought were tremendously thought provoking. Michael Wesch, of Kansas State University, directed these both with the help from students with interesting results.

The first video, The Machine is Us/ing Us, really illustrates the ever fast pace the world around us that is moving and changing. It's almost dizzying. But unless we wise up to how much the technology is contributing to this deluge of information that our students live and participate in, we are going to miss a golden opportunity to capitalize on transferring this information into some meaningful educational experience for students to use in life and a career.

The second video, A Vision of Students Today, highlights where our students are coming from as they enter our classrooms. How are we engaging these students in learning? How are we using the technologies they use everyday into something that will enhance learning? If these numbers accurately reflect what our students are doing in a typical classroom of higher learning, we're in trouble unless we do something different.

This is where the Web 2.0 tools can assist the teacher today. Let me use my daughter for an example. My daughter is in university, and one of professors had them blogging weekly. I watched her blog each week from 800km away, but I saw how much work she put into it, because she loved using the technology. She uses her cellphone to send out messages on Twitter about topics of social interest with colleagues and friends (she's an activist at heart). She listens to tons of music, but doesn't buy CD's anymore, she downloads from iTunes exclusively. She watches digital movies on her iPod, and watches the TV shows she missed during the week online at MegaVideo, commercial free.

If a teacher wants to reach her, they need to engage in using the technology. So using Wikispaces or Wikis in the Classroom to collaborate projects in classes will work. Using Jing to snag screen images off the web or accessing Flickr images is critical to develop wonderful class presentations on Slideshare or SlideRocket. Or get students to use or Mindomo or Mindmeister for mind mapping their ideas and posting them online. I might also use Diigo or Delicious for class projects and regularly update relevant websites that might assist students in research. I could create a Ning site and host my class materials right online with discussion threads and open forums for student interactions.

There are thousands of resources out there on the web for teachers to use to enhance the teaching and learning in the classroom.