BlogWalker

Muddling through the blogosphere

October 25, 2008
by blogwalker
8 Comments

Web 2.0 in the Classroom – Some Benefits and Realities

Maggie Tsai just posted a link to The Becta Report on the Benefits Web 2.0 in the Classroom, “a major new research into the use of Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis, blogs and social networking by children between the ages of 11-16, both in and out of the school environment.” In a nutshell, the report found a disconnect between the increasing amount of Web 2.0 use students reported using outside of school and the limited use of Web 2.0 during the school day. But in observing schools and teachers who are innovating with Web 2.0 tools, they found the following benefits:

  • Web 2.0 helps to encourage student engagement and increase participation – particularly among quieter pupils, who can use it to work collaboratively online, without the anxiety of having to raise questions in front of peers in class – or by enabling expression through less traditional media such as video.
  • Teachers have reported that the use of social networking technology can encourage online discussion amongst students outside school.
  • Web 2.0 can be available anytime, anywhere, which encourages some individuals to extend their learning through further investigation into topics that interest them.
  • Pupils feel a sense of ownership and engagement when they publish their work online and this can encourage attention to detail and an overall improved quality of work. Some teachers reported using publication of work to encourage peer assessment.”

I think the research being compiled by the U.K.’s Becta Group complements the 2008 findings shared by the Pew Internet/American Life Project in collaboration with the National Commission on the Teaching of Writing. Two sections of this report jumped out at me because both can easily be addressed by integrating Web 2.0 into the classroom:

Teens are motivated to write by relevant topics, high expectations, an
interested audience and opportunities to write creatively.

Teens write for a variety of reasons—as part of a school assignment, to get a good grade, to stay in touch with friends, to share their artistic creations with others or simply to put their thoughts to paper (whether virtual or otherwise). In our focus groups, teens said they are motivated to write when they can select topics that are relevant to their lives and interests, and report greater enjoyment of school writing when they have the opportunity to write creatively. Having teachers or other adults who challenge them, present them with interesting curricula and give them detailed feedback also serves as a motivator for teens. Teens also report writing for an audience motivates them to write and write well.”

Teens believe that the writing instruction they receive in school could be
improved.

Most teens feel that additional instruction and focus on writing in school would help improve their writing even further. Our survey asked teens whether their writing skills would be improved by two potential changes to their school curricula: teachers having them spend more time writing in class, and teachers using more computer-based tools(such as games, writing help programs or websites, or multimedia) to teach writing. Overall, 82% of teens feel that additional in-class writing time would improve their writing abilities and 78% feel the same way about their teachers using computer-based writing tools.”

In conversations with teachers in and around California and across the nation (via the National Writing Project and the National Council for Teachers of English), my colleagues have shared that lack of access to computers can present a huge obstacle to integrating Web 2.0 into their curriculum. Particularly at elementary sites, many school computer labs are designated for automated assessment (e.g., Accelerated Reader, All the Right Type, Exam View Pro generated quizzes), a bit of MS Office, and “learning” games. At many middle and high schools, computer labs are reserved for particular technology courses, generally not connected to the core curriculum (e.g., MS Office, Web Design, AutoCad). Therefore an English or Social Studies teacher, for instance, seeking to connect students via the Internet with students in other locations for the purpose of collaborating, creating, and sharing authentic research projects often faces a constant scheduling battle.

In my own district, school sites are attempting to solve access issues in a variety of ways. One elementary site, for instance, furnished a second computer lab, leaving the original lab for drill/test/play and the second for classroom teachers to schedule time for curriculum-related projects. Thanks to funding through the federally-funded EETT grant, three elementary sites will be getting grade-level (4th and 5th grade) laptop carts. At one of our high school sites, an English teacher is asking permission for his students to be allowed to use their cell phones during his class, as the blogging project his students are joining that will connect them to students in Utah, New Mexico, New York, and Maine, can be accessed by cell phone.

What other successful models are out there for providing students with Web 2.0 access within the core curriculum of the school day? I welcome your ideas, questions, and examples – and non-examples too.

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