Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Commercial Factors

#iCTLT2010 Last week I looked at the economic drivers for change. Turning now to commercial factors, I’ve called this set of factors ‘commercial’ rather than ‘economic’ because they concern financial matters.

Turning to the commercial drivers for change, one development in recent years has been the internal enterprise. What this means is that different parts of the organisation become cost centres in their own right, so instead of having to accept what someone else orders for them, let’s say in the way of IT equipment, they take charge of that themselves and also take responsibility for balancing their budget.

This is not Web 2.0 as such, but I think it’s another interesting example of the 'levelling process' I've alluded to before in this series, in which people are doing things themselves and for themselves rather than having someone else do it for them and to them.

I have to say that, having worked in such an environment, there is a danger that the individual units lose sight of the aims of the organisation as a whole. Therefore I think there does need to be quite strong guidelines and training in place.

I’ve already alluded to companies using Web 2.0 for marketing purposes, and again I think schools need to educate youngsters about this. For example, how do you know if a blogger is independent, as opposed to being paid to write something or promote a product? Guidelines about this have been proposed recently by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, but ultimately I think the only way you can really educate people in this sort of media literacy is by embracing it and discussing it. But in the context of drivers for change, the point is that people are becoming more and more used to Web 2.0 applications being used in the real world, and there’s a danger that schools will find themselves becoming seen as irrelevant from a young person’s point of view.

Lots of companies have realised the value of social networking and other Web 2.0 applications, but are wary of allowing their employees to spend time on Facebook and in other public-facing areas. So what they have done is construct their own internal versions of these applications, collectively known as Enterprise 2.0. 

The fact that some companies have invented an internal version of Web 2.0 applications, especially social networking and instant messaging, does not detract from the main message of this series: the Web 2.0 approach to problem-solving is here to stay. Schools ignore it at their peril.

Next week: Educational drivers for change.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Proving Professional Development

An interesting issue arising from people's use of Web 2.0 applications like Twitter, Facebook and social networks is that casual or informal learning has now become embedded in people's working lives. In the past, there was a fairly clear division between the kind of learning you experienced by chatting with colleagues in the staffroom or watching a TV programme on the one hand, and going on a course (usually for a day or a series of evenings) on the other. Recording the former never really came into it, and recording the latter is fairly straightforward: you just need to decide how you're going to do so, as discussed in a 5 Minute Tip on the subject.

But the landscape has changed now. Many people, myself included, tend to either have a stream of tweets constantly going on in the background, using 3rd party tools like Tweetdeck, or make a point of checking their Twitter stream, Facebook messages and so on at certain points during the day. Given that on most occasions you are bound to see a message containing information that is likely to prove useful, I think it's legitimate to regard these tools as an integral part of one's professional development. If so, the question is, how can you record that for the purpose of being able to complete the part of an application form which asks what training courses you've been on, or what professional development you've had, over the last X years.

Having given this a lot of thought over the years, I've come to the conclusion that recording professional development in the Web 2.0 sphere is not possible in the same way it is when recording ordinary training courses. If you were to note down every useful tweet or message, or even simply the dates on which you received useful tweets, you would give yourself a nervous breakdown and cause the person reading your application form to die of boredom.

It seems to me that the best way of recording, and proving, professional development in the Web 2.0 world is as follows:

  • If you go to a conference seminar, like the ones at the BETT Show,you can usually pick up a certificate of attendance. Do so.
  • If you 'attend' an online discussion, such as the Classroom 2.0 Live talk I spoke at ask the organisers for proof of your attendance (the Classroom Live folk do this automatically if you indicate that you'd like it).
  • Record your attendance at such events as the ones described so far.
  • Keep a weekly journal listing, in broad terms, the things you've learnt or come across that week. This can be in the form of a blog or eportfolio, as suggested by Andy Hutt and Ray Tolley respectively in response to the 5 Minute Tip already referred to, or as annotated social bookmarks (which may be able to be set up to appear on a blog automatically).
  • Ensure that somewhere in the application form you make it known that you're a member of such networks and therefore have a rich and varied informal learning experience.

Bottom line: I think it's important to bear in mind that what the application reader is looking for is not likely to be a list of every single professional development opportunity you've taken advantage of -- which could mitigate against you if you give the impression that you never have time to do any actual work. They're almost certainly looking for evidence that you're up-to-date with developments in your subject area, and that you know what's going on and what the issues are.

Web 2.0 For Rookies and Other Matters

I've had to put the 'Rookies' series on hold for a bit -- not because I've run out of things to write about, but because I've run out of time!

I've been working on my two presentations at BETT, and trying to earn a crust too!

For Web 2.0 enthusiasts, the second edition of the Web 2.0 Projects Book is now in its first proof-reading stage. Around 90 projects and resources, 40 applications, over 90 contributors and loads of URLs to explore. Attendees at my presentation on Saturday will be given a URL to download a preview edition which they can start to enjoy and use right away. You can find out more about this new free ebook  in the next issue of Computers in Classrooms -- which, as luck would have it, will be sent out to subscribers at 11:30 this morning, UK time. For more details about this free e-newsletter, look at the newsletter page on this website.

It also contains information about the Safer Internet Day as well as the full article about the BETT show: how to prepare for it, how to get the most out of it, how to follow up afterwards and other useful information. A lot of this will be useful for people going to any conference.

The Children, Schools and Families Bill

The Children, Schools and Families Bill was presented to Parliament on 19 November 2009, and made the headlines as a series of guarantees for pupils and parents.

On the face of it, that's not a bad thing, although it did receive some flack in the press for not promising anything new.

For leaders of ICT in schools there is, as far as I can see, one positive aspect of the Bill and one rather worrying one.

The positive one is that the Bill places Personal, Social and Health Education (PHSE) on a statutory footing and ensures that all young people receive at least one year of sex and relationship education.

"What's that got to do with me?", you may ask. Well, there is scope for encouraging your PHSE and Citizenship colleagues to explore the internet for resources and exciting activities. Indeed, in this newsletter there are two reviews, one primary and one secondary, of a recently-launched website called Your Justice, Your World.

As for the sex and relationships aspect, well I don't think we want to get involved in the sex part, but I think ICT leaders have much to offer the 'relationships' bit.

Firstly, discussion of issues such as cyberbullying and online etiquette is never wasted.

Secondly, acknowledging that most of us learn by doing, why not set up or join a Facebook-like community using the free facilities at http://ning.com? Students and teachers can contribute to forum discussions, upload videos and photos, and write blogs. It's definitely worth looking into, as some of the contributors to the forthcoming Web 2.0 Projects book will testify.

I started such a community a while ago: http://ictineducation.ning.com. However, I have to warn you that I haven't had the time to administer and nurture it, with the result that spammers keep getting in, and so I have closed it down for now. For this reason I suggest that if you do start your own, set it up such that applications for membership have to be approved, or make it by invitation only (which would make sense in a school setting).

If you would like to see a particularly vibrant community, involving students as well, head on over to Digiteens. Established by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis, the Digiteen project and Ning was created as part of their collection of flat classroom projects. The community is open to teachers but not students, unless they have taken part in a Flat Classrooms project. There's a forum for teachers only at http://flatclassrooms.ning.com/.

Back to the CSF Bill, and the worrying part for me is the fact that it creates new powers for local authorities and the Secretary of State to intervene to raise standards in schools, especially the latter part of that. I've heard Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, speak, and he seems genuinely passionate about education. But is it healthy for him to intervene in order to raise standards? How would 'standards' be judged? Would an experimental project involving, say, blogging, be deemed to be not raising standards fast enough, and so be knocked on the head? How far would issues like that depend on the political persuasion of the incumbent of the post?

There may not be much we can do about it on a macro level, but I think this is another reason that anyone engaging in a Web 2.0-type project with their students needs to ensure that they can demonstrate that they are achieving good outcomes according to traditional measures. You can read more about this in a series on the ICT in Education website about projects, including 15 Ways to Make An Educational Technology Project Successful. You can also listen to me talking about it on Classroom 2.0 Live.

This article was first published in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter. For details of how to subscribe and to look at past issues, please go to the newsletter page.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Social Bookmarking

Have you ever signed up for one of those dating agencies? No, I haven't either, as it happens, but we know how they work. You fill out a form saying what your interests are, and what drives you nuts, and the agency tries to match you up with someone with similar predilections.

Social bookmarking can work in a similar sort of way -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.

You're probably aware that when you come across a website you like, and wish to return to, you don't have to write down its address. All you have to do is bookmark it, usually by pressing Ctrl D on a PC and Cmd D on a Mac: job done.

However, this approach has some limitations. Firstly, the bookmarks reside on one computer only. If that's not the one you're using when you want to return to the site, that's pretty inconvenient to say the least.

Secondly, if your computer gets stolen or trashed, your bookmarks are lost (unless you've had the foresight to back them up; I doubt many people do).

Those reasons are good enough in themselves for wanting to do things differently, say by saving your bookmarks online somehow. But there is also a third reason…

When you come across a site you like well enough to bookmark for future reference, that's great. But there's only one of you, and only so many hours in a day. Moreover, because you think the way you do, you're going to search for, or come across, or take notice of, particular websites but not others - meaning that you will probably miss some which could be just what you need. You've heard the saying, two heads are better than one. Well, social bookmarking is a good illustration of that principle. Here's how it works.

Let's say I come across a website I think is wonderful. Instead of (or as well as) bookmarking it on my own computer, I could use a social bookmarking website like StumbleUpon, Diigo or Delicious to save it there.

In order to help me find it again, and to help other people find it, I can put tags in the description box for the bookmark. (If you're not sure what tags are, see the article on tagging in this series.)

Example of a social bookmarkOnce I've bookmarked the site I've discovered, I can let other people know about it, in various ways. For example, people can subscribe to my bookmarks (and I theirs), and I can set up Delicious and Diigo to alert people in my Twitter network automatically. I could also, if I wanted to, embed my latest bookmark updates to my website through the use of the update's RSS feed. You can see why it's called social bookmarking.

But I can go even further, and here's where the dating analogy comes in. One thing I can do is click on the tag I've used to see what other people have found on the web and tagged using the same descriptor. And let's say I realise that one person in particular seems to consistently bookmark websites I will find useful. What I can do is hook up with that person by subscribing to their update feed, a possibility which I've already alluded to. OK, it's not as potentially romantic as dating, but I think you'll agree that the analogy works!

Another nice illustration of, if you will, the corollary of  following someone's bookmarking activity is to be found in this advertisement for British Telecom, made during the 1980s. If it were made today, and if it concerned websites rather than household appliances, Mrs Jones would be a person to subscribe to!

If you found this article useful, you may also like to read 10 Reasons to Use Diigo.

Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.

Web 2.0 For Rookies: What is a Wiki?

A wiki can best be defined as a web page which can be easily edited. The emphasis here is on the word ‘easily’. It’s true that editing web pages these days is far easier than it once was. Programs like FrontPage and Dreamweaver have made it a simple task to create nice-looking pages without knowing much about HTML, the underlying coding that makes web pages work. Also, programs like these get rid of the need to have to design each new page from scratch. Nevertheless, there is still a certain degree of skill involved, and in any case, the problem with locally-installed programs like these is that anyone to whom you give editing rights has to be on your computer.

Enter the wiki, a special type of web page which can be edited by anyone no matter where they are. All they need is your permission, ie user rights, to be able to do certain things, and access to the internet. The question arises, however, why exactly might the facility  to edit a web page be of any use to anyone except yourself?

The answer lies in that magic word, ‘collaboration’. Placing stuff on a web page makes it easy for anyone to see it. Placing it on a wiki makes it easy for anyone to contribute. There are lots of ways in which you could use a wiki in an educational setting. For example, it really lends itself to collaborative writing, especially where the pupils doing the collaborating are in different schools or even different countries.

OK, you say: why not use a word processor? Well, for a start, sending a word processed file backwards and forwards between two people may be just about workable, even though it can be slow and clunky. But between three, four or more people? Forget it. The version control alone is a nightmare. In my experience, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into making sure people save it in a particular way, someone will always find a way around it and save the latest version as ‘Fred’ or something equally useful.

In any case, being a web page, a wiki lends itself to including far more than text. For example, you can embed videos too, as can be seen on wikis like the Flat Classroom project.

In fact, the Flat Classroom is an example of a huge wiki which involves lots of people in several countries collaborating, and potentially editing the pages more or less at the same time. Although there can be a danger of someone’s edits being lost because someone else saved a different version at the same time, in the last five years that has only happened to me once. It’s highly unlikely, but the solution as always is very straightforward: save your edits frequently, and if you see that someone else is editing the file at the same time as you, leave it and come back later just to be on the safe side.

The most famous example of a wiki is Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia which has been created and expanded by anyone who wished to contribute (although some restrictions have been imposed recently because of false information being published, and no doubt genuine information being unpublished).

Another example is Wikibooks, which enables anyone to help create a textbook. I have to say I don’t much like this idea, as I prefer textbooks to be written by people I regard as experts, which is difficult to surmise from anonymous entries, and who can explain things well (I looked at an explanation of the concept of marginal utility, a term used in Economics, and thought it clumsy and not very informative; I realise that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, but I think it’s illustrative). Also, I am not sure why any autodidactic student would use a book created in this way when there is no guarantee that the information in it is accurate; I for one would not entrust my examination success to a wikibook, but perhaps that’s just me.

Whatever your opinion, it’s important to distinguish between the tool, in this case a wiki, and what it might be used for.

If you’re involved in drafting policy documents then wikis can be a great time-saver. I’ve been in the situation of having a Word document doing the rounds, and when twenty or more people have to be consulted, that approach can be a nightmare: give me a wiki any day!

An excellent book on this aspect of using wikis (amongst others) is Wikified Schools, by Stephanie Sandifer, which I reviewed in Computers in Classrooms.

An important way in which wikis lend themselves to this sort of work is that they automatically record a history of changes, so you can always go back to a version which was, if I can put it like this, several changes ago. I especially like Wikispaces because it has a discussion facility, so you can discuss the changes which have been made, or which are being proposed.

So can anybody view or edit your wiki pages  ad infinitum? No, because in at least two wiki applications I know of you can choose whether or not to make your wiki visible to the public, and whether or not they can edit it, and to what extent. These applications are generally free to use, but having extra facilities such as keeping your pages completely private, or being able to assign different levels of rights, sometimes come at a premium. You can also lock the file to prevent further editing.

Examples of wikis include Wikispaces, which I’ve already mentioned, which has a great free version for school use, PB Works, ditto and Google Docs, with Google Wave for all on the horizon.

Finally, don't forget to check out the other articles in this series by looking in the alphabetical index for 'Web 2.0 for Rookies...'.