Web 2.0 in the Schools
Web 2.0, or interactive programs/software that permit people to personalize their internet experiences, have had a great impact on how people communicate in the public domain. This technology, which includes blogs, wikis, and social networking sites, is also present in the classroom. As educators integrate Web 2.0 into their classrooms, two primary questions have emerged. First, what is the most effective way to use the technology with students? Second, how is the technology impacting knowledge construction. Although no definitive answers are yet available, this article provides a brief overview of the tentative conclusions educators are making as they experiment with new online tools and texts.
Keywords: Asynchronous Discussion; Blogs; Chat; Collaborative Learning; Discussion Board; Intertextuality; Knowledge Construction; Online Writing; Podcasts; Social Networking; Synchronous Discussions; Trackbacks; Web 2.0; Wikis
Visit a kindergarten classroom today and one could very well hear five-year-olds bragging about how many hits they have on their latest blog post or maybe watch as they send instant messages to their fourth grade study buddies. In fact, hang out with kindergarteners — or kids at any grade level — long enough, and one is likely to witness many innovations in writing technology being put to an array of educational uses.
Web 2.0, the term used to describe interactive programs/software that allow people to personalize their internet experiences, has already had a great impact in the public sphere. By allowing and inviting millions of new voices into publicly connected conversations, Web 2.0, which include blogs, wikis, and social networking sites, have reshaped and democratized public discourse. No longer do a few talking heads and a cadre of gatekeeping journalists solely determine what the public sees, hears, and talks about. Now the public, including anyone around the world with access to a computer and an Internet connection, is free to thrust its voice into the fray of debate and expect to be heard.
The technology that inspired the revolution of public discourse has also entered the classroom, and the result, as one might expect, is producing a sea change in the way educators think about writing, collaboration, interaction, creativity, and knowledge construction. Two main categories of impact are emerging. The first is related to the application of the technology. How can educators best incorporate new online tools so that their students get the most benefit? The second is regarding the impact of the online writing environment on knowledge construction. In other words, how does the use of new technologies impact the way we understand writers, readers, and the texts and/or knowledge they create.
The answers to these questions are far from resolved. Technology is changing at dizzying speeds; new tools and ideas for using them can appear and disappear before teachers have a chance to implement them. Furthermore, the rapid pace at which new forms of text are being produced means few researchers have had adequate time to study the associated impacts on readers and writers or their writing processes. Thus, discussions of Web 2.0 technology use in education can leave one with an unsettled feeling. Obviously, the nexus of change is here. The technology is already available, and it will be put to use. But what writing will be in the future and the forms it will take is still somewhat murky. Therefore, educators are faced with the task — as they often are — of blending old concepts and skills with new technologies and ideas. In this process, they become part of the change that is reshaping the future.
Blogs, Wikis, Networks,
The core technologies having an impact in the classroom are those that allow students to produce texts — either oral or written — and share them online. The most popular of these include blogs, wikis, social networking sites, podcasts, and video sharing services such as YouTube. While teachers and instructors are experimenting with all of these tools, attempting to determine which are appropriate and effective for their students, blogs and wikis seem to be two of the most popular.
Blogs (a shortened name for "weblog") have been characterized as "online public diaries." (Fernheimer & Nelson, 2009). Technically, they are spaces where individuals can post multiple written comments that are then presented in reverse chronological order. Individuals can enable their blog readers to comment on their posts, and a number of additional tools, such as trackbacks and blog rolls, allow bloggers to connect their blogs to one another, creating a community of readers and respondents. While blogs began in the 1990s as a way for those with knowledge of the Internet to post information about useful sites by listing links, improvements in technology quickly gave them a new purpose. Blogs became more personal in nature as individuals began writing about their daily activities or commenting on public events. Today, blogs remain individually produced texts with readers allowed to make comments on the text but not to change it (Black, 2006).
Wikis, on the other hand, are collaboratively produced websites that permit anyone with access to the site to modify the content. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/) is probably the most well known wiki. This is an Internet encyclopedia that allows anyone to update content on the site. Most wikis require the use of a simple text editing system although sites like have created wiki technology that provides simple point and click editing. A popular feature of wikis is that changes in the wiki can be easily tracked and earlier versions of a wiki can be reverted to in the event of unintentional loss.
Wikis and blogs are being used in the classroom to help students develop writing skills and demonstrate knowledge. Students use wikis to create group reports and for online writing workshops where drafts can be posted for review and feedback (Morgan & Smith, 2008). One common arrangement with blogs is for each student to have a blog that links to a classroom blog. Teachers post topics of discussion and links to relevant information on the class blog and then invite (or require) students to respond through their own blog and comments on those of their classmates. The theoretical benefit of this activity is that students will develop their critical reading and thinking skills as a result of giving and receiving feedback in an authentic writing situation. Black (2006) provides an example of this kind of use. He suggests that law school professors use the main blog to post new legislation and court decisions as well as related news articles, blogs, and websites. As students comment on the unit material and reflect on the opinions of their classmates, they will revisit and revise their understanding of learned concepts and sharpen their critical thinking, analytical, reflective, and collaborative skills (Black, 2006).
Some teachers ask students to explore the blogosphere (a collection of blogs) as a way to gain insight into other cultures or to read a variety of opinions on a chosen controversial topic. In one project, university German and French students read blogs written by native speakers of the target language for a semester, recording new vocabulary and giving class reports on their chosen blogger. In the second semester, students became the bloggers, writing in the target language on topics related to classroom instruction and responding to each other's work through blog comments (Ducate & Lomicka, 2008). In a first-year composition class, students were required to read and critique the rhetorical style that several well known political figures used in their blogs. The goal was for the students, in their role of audience, to interpret and critique the writers. However, in the blogosphere, readers and writers quickly change roles. In this instance, both the instructor and the students were surprised when the subjects of the critique learned of the assignment through their trackbacks and chose to respond to the assignments themselves. The instructor used the incident to discuss the importance of audience awareness, a key concept in rhetoric and composition (Tryon, 2006).
For lessons using blogs, the presence of the audience presents benefits and challenges. The positive perspective is that having an interested audience is a strong motivator for many writers. This makes sense from a social constructivist position. From this perspective, writing is a social act, and words are meant to be read (Fernheimer & Nelson, 2005). In blogging, students know their work can be read by the world at large and this should motivate them to choose their words carefully and to write more. In many classrooms, especially those of the youngest writers, this appears to be true. In one elementary classroom, for example, emerging writers are excited to write in their blogs because they are paired with a preservice teacher who sends them regular feedback. Children also look forward to receiving comments from friends and family (Cassidy, 2008).
The challenge posed by audience, however, is that some audiences are more authentic than others. While students in the composition classroom became engaged in their discussions with the professional writers who responded to their critiques, students in the foreign language classroom indicated that the blog comments of their classmates were boring. While they enjoyed reading the works of the bloggers they followed in the blogosphere, they found they were less inspired by their classmates' work. Other instructors have noted a similar student reaction to classroom blogs that required students to write on specific topics. Dawson (2007) writes that she was disappointed by her students' responses to blogging assignments. "With few exceptions, the blogs would sit inactive until about 24 hours before our face-to-face class meetings (or 24 hours before the assignments were due in my online class), when a...
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