Monday, October 20, 2008

Moving Toward Web 2.0 in K-12 Education

(Originally posted as part of the Britannica Blog Forum "Brave New Classroom 2.0" opening the week of October 20, 2008.  Please post any comments there.)

The title of this post is a watered-down version of my typical opening line on this topic, both because of the importance of allowing for true dialog on this topic (which can sometimes be lost in the strident opining that blogging seems to engender), and because of the difficulty of quantifying educational success when talking about the particular outcomes that I hope to show are largely inherent in and facilitated by the use of Web 2.0.  Normally I would say, "Web 2.0 is the future of education," and while I harbor a hope that will be true, I think it might be more accurate to say that "Web 2.0 will be a significant part of the future of learning," and that in the best case scenario it will become an important part of our formal educational institutions.

My personal definition of Web 2.0 is not complicated.  With an appropriate nod to Tim O'Reilly, who used the phrase originally in a business context, I'd like to suggest that for the sake of our discussions around education that Web 2.0 is simply the use of the Internet as a two-way medium- - -that it is a platform upon which content is not only consumed but also created.  For my generation, our use of the Web largely mirrored our experiences with print and broadcast media:  we were the audience, and a select few were the creators (this would be Web 1.0, if you will).  For my children and our students today, their use of the Web often entirely revolves around content that they and their friends have created, and within Web frameworks or scaffolding that facilitate that creativity rather than providing the content for them.  They build profile pages, upload photos and videos, and interact with each other and that content through active commenting systems.

Web 2.0, defined this way, is facilitating a dramatic change in our relationship to information. The advent of printing press lowered the cost of producing written material, and Web 2.0 not only brings that cost now to essentially zero (anyone in this country can go to a public library and use a computer for free and with free software publish to the web), it is also bringing the nature of information publication as a conversation to the user who used to just be a part of "the audience."  While most of us watched those conversations taking place between trusted authorities or authors before in a world of broadcast media, we are often now immersed in them ourselves.

Seeing the Web as a conversation is very helpful in understanding how our paradigms about information will have to change.  We often speak of "information overload," and the perception that there is too much information can reinforce our belief that information needs to be more carefully controlled and vetted before being "allowed" to become public.  When, however, we see the ever increasing amount of content as "conversations" that are taking place, it becomes an educational imperative to teach ourselves and students to be productive participants in those conversations.  I like to tease educators by claiming that the answer to information overload is to create (and to teach the creation of) more information--a paradox in our existing paradigms, but self-evident in a new understanding.

What is abundantly clear is that no matter what our schools are currently doing, most of our students are already actively involved in this content creation and conversation outside of school.  In a series of reports recently released by BECTA (the government agency leading the UK drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning) on Web 2.0 technologies for learning, students ages 11 - 16 were surveyed.  74% reported that they had at least one social networking site account and 78% reported having uploaded pictures, video, or music to the web--with 50% having done so in the previous week of being asked.  If we make the somewhat logical assumption that most parents are still living in a Web 1.0 world (largely passive consumers of content created by others) , then whether we see the Web as a dangerous collection of minefields or as an unparalleled learning environment, most youth are participating on the Web without the benefit of much guidance or mentoring from the adults who are most interested in their progress and well-being.

So, if for no other reasons than we might muster to justify driver's education in schools (learning to do something very important that carries some inherent and significant personal and social dangers), we can argue for the need to be teaching Web 2.0 as a part of K-12 education.  But I believe there are more positive, less alarmist, reasons.  In fact, I think the inherent characteristics of Web 2.0 are so aligned with significant educational pedagogies that we are going to have to dramatically rethink our educational institutions and expectations because of them.  Even though the benefits of Web 2.0, like those of a liberal-arts education, resist easy assessment methods and therefore present a challenge to how we measure educational success, I'm optimistic that they will ultimately prove so valuable as to require that we rethink teaching and learning.

A caveat is perhaps in order.  For 25 years we've watched computer fad follow computer fad in education, each promising to transform learning.  It's absolutely appropriate to be skeptical of claims of technological El Dorados.  Hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, have been spent on outfitting schools with computers, and most of us would appropriately claim that the impact on student achievement has been little to none.  But I would submit that, as happened in our business culture 20 years ago, a set of technologies that actually transform our traditional methods will become the driving catalyst for ubiquitous access to computers at school.  What we currently have are computers purchased and maintained largely by school business offices, relatively divorced from teaching methodologies, and either not in a quantity or in a condition to allow overworked teachers to change their teaching methods.  Driven not by technology vendors or unproven theories, Web 2.0 instead seems likely to change education precisely because it is a disruptive external change.

What are, then, the aspects of Web 2.0 that translate into achieving educational goals?  Let me suggest the following list of educational benefits of Web 2.0, which I hesitate to claim as exhaustive, but which I hope will help the discussion.

Engagement.  This is often a promised result of technology, so I feel the need to address and defend it early on.  Because the engagement of Web 2.0 is in the act of content creation, and seems to exist independent of the particular program being used or even of being in a formal learning environment, this claim seems not only reasonable but compelling.  Students who continue to post to their blog or to stay involved in discussion forums during their vacations exemplify the power of Web 2.0 to engage students because of the authentic nature of the work rather than being required assignments.

Authenticity.  Both having an authentic audience, and having the contributed work be authentic, argue for Web 2.0 as an active part of K-12 education.  When I wrote essays in school (back in the day...), only my parents and my teachers saw what I wrote.  I was, in effect, writing for "practice" with relatively little feedback.  Students today are creating on the Web for very real audiences, and their writing or production has to pass a very real test:  are they communicating well?  Whether it is the peer audience in school which keeps their Web 2.0 programs within the "walled garden" of the school network, or it is publishing for the world, both the work and the audience are authentic.

Participation.  That is, actually being a contributor to world's body of knowledge.  Previously, to pursue an educational interest as part of a larger part of one's life work, that interest had to be within the relatively narrow confines of existing institutional structures in order to be worthy of publication or presentation--and was rarely available to students.  Now, in an amazing flowering of the Chris Anderson's "Long Tail" model (www.thelongtail.com), students (and teachers!) can find specific intellectual paths to tread where they are able to participate, say, as an historian and not as someone preparing to be an historian.  A student can write a report on an historical figure, or a scientific theory, and both publish that to the web and also participate in meaningful ways with other students and adults interested in the same topic.  (Think of all the historical figures and topics that might otherwise not receive much attention.)  There is no good reason to keep our youth "preparing" for life until their mid-twenties when their contributions to society could be so important to both us and them much earlier.

Openness and Access to Information.  The backbone of the Internet "Revolution" is openness.  Open computer standards, open software, and open content.  Web 2.0 is making obsolete many of the restrictions on access to information that were intended to protect the rights of creators, but instead mostly inhibited learning by others.  When the world's knowledge doubles in short periods of time, the incentives or rewards for keeping information proprietary significantly diminish, and the resulting willingness to share presents great opportunities to learn and to participate.  The ability to "look something up" or to learn something new has never been greater.

Collaboration.  I remember even when I was growing up that collaboration was said to be important.  But, truly, it wasn't.  Or, at least, it wasn't what was really rewarded, either in school or in the business world.  Web 2.0 has actually given real practical value to a character trait we wanted to instill.  In the world of Web 2.0, collaboration is not only king, but it can be seen and assessed--look at the history page of a wiki, for example, or the linked list of contributed comments on the personal profile page of a social network.  Web 2.0 has created an unparalleled ability to build or participate in personal learning networks and communities of interest or practice.

Creativity.  We are, to paraphrase Clay Shirky, in the midst of the greatest increase of creative capability in the history of the world.  A regular student can write, film, and edit a video which then can be uploaded to YouTube and potentially seen by more of an audience than some commercial films actually garner.

Passionate Interest and Personal Expression.  More than just the ability to build a profile page on MySpace, Web 2.0 actually gives both students and educators to build for themselves a online portfolio of the endeavors they are passionate about.  Where the resume and the degrees have been our short-cut indicators of abilities and accomplishments, the personal body of work now contained and hopefully organized on the Web gives everyone who wants it the the opportunity for an expression of personal interest and achievement.

Discussion.  A lost art in culture and politics, in my view, is the thoughtful discussion.   One of the great features of Web 2.0 is the discussion forum, which provides an environment for learning how to actually talk about things.  While I may feel that a lot of the discussion that takes place in the "blogosphere" is overly antagonistic in order to be seen, it is discussion, and often becomes much more thoughtful in the context of a discussion forum.

Asynchronous Contribution.  The abilty to contribute to discussions after class, or from home, provides a much broader opportunity for participation that the traditional class discussion.  Students with different contribution styles, or who process information over time, are now more participative.

Proactivity.  Web 2.0 inherently rewards the proactive learner and contributor.  My wife and I (both first children ourselves)  raised our oldest child to succeed in the world in which we grew up, which rewarded being a good, quiet follower, who would to work for someone who would tell her what to do and how to do it.  But the world has changed, and employers want and the world needs students who have learned to participate actively and independently.  The "spirited" child (our second daughter) is much more likely to be able to work on things she likes and is good at because of her willingness to be proactive.

Critical Thinking.  The vast amount of data on the Web requires more critical thinking than was needed when I was growing up.  In my era of "trusted authorities," Time Magazine told me most of what I needed to know about the news.  There was actually a lot more diversity of opinion on most topics than I was exposed to, which quickly becomes evident when you drill past the first page of a Wikipedia article and look at the discussion and history tabs.  Unlike the previous traits of Web 2.0, I think this one really requires good adult mentors, so let's finish this list for now and get to that.

One of the amazing impacts of Web 2.0 is watching long-time educators have their own personal learning transformed by these new tools of Web participation---especially as they discover professional development venues on the Web that help to release the inclinations to help others that often prompted them to become teachers.  Their own experiences with Web 2.0 in this regard dramatically shape new expectations for what opportunities they are going to provide their students.  But other educators are understandably afraid:  of the learning curve, of the changes taking place, and of their own ability to play a valuable role in an educational world shaped by the individualized learning and "unlimited" content and opportunities.  Used to being the provider or dispenser of knowledge and the authority, they are unsure of the role they would play in a world of Web 2.0 education.  They are also, and often rightly, concerned that academic rigor is being lost in a world of easy creation and limited constraints.

I think it helps to remember that most of the character traits of Web 2.0 mentioned above are significantly enhanced, if not dependent on, devoted adults helping to mentor and guide students.  Having ready access to information does not make one a scholar, but it is scholars that we must help to create.  A new favorite poem of mine follows:

ABOUT CROWS
by John Ciardi

The old crow is getting slow;
the young crow is not.
Of what the young crow does not know,
the old crow knows a lot.

At knowing things, the old crow is still
the young crow's master.
What does the old crow not know?
How to go faster.

The young crow flies above, below, and rings
around the slow old crow.
What does the fast young crow not know?
WHERE TO GO.

(Thanks to Sarah Hanawald and Google Answers for this poem!)

This vision I've presented of Web 2.0 in K-12 education is not with its hurdles.  Again, not exhaustively, but for discussion.

First:  we've developed a negative cultural impression of social networking that comes out of the very power that will make it such an effective tool for education.  Fundamentally answering a human need to connect, create, and express ourselves, the immense popularity of some early social networks have showcased garishness and vulgarity that aren't inherent in the technology, but became an early part of it because of the very absence of influential adults.  I can use the same raw building materials and tools, say, to build a casino or a school. If the casinos got build first because of the financial potential,  that doesn't mean that I don't use building materials now to build the schools. Personal profile (portfolio!) pages, discussion forums, video and photo repositories, messaging, and other social networking functions can all bring real pedagogical value if we can get past our knee-jerknegative reactions to social networking.

Second:  we won't be able to implement Web 2.0 expansively without ubiquitous computing, and so its use and adoption in schools will not be even or equal.  This is a real issue, without easy answers, especially with the added challenge of having more and more personal phones and devices require networks which can accomodate them all.

Third:  Teachers will need time and training to learn to use these tools in the classroom, and we're notoriously bad at spending time or money on this.  Even if most of us were all to agree that Web 2.0 is the dramatic revolution that I'm making it out to be, there are still incredibly challenging demands on teachers' time that will make it hard for them to learn about these things.  And because we're not likely to agree across the board on how important Web 2.0 is in education, adoption by teachers will also not be even or equal.  Nor would we want it to be--sweeping educational practices need to be challenged and to survive those challenges in order to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Fourth:  the legal liabilities that schools face because of concerns about a) student exposure to inappropriate material and b) exposure of students to potential predators will not be easy to overcome.

Fifth:  information revolutions don't come with a manual, and we surely can't foresee many or most of the implications of what's taking place and how to integrate it into education.  It will take time to build new "playbooks."

But even with that daunting list, I remain an optimist.  The historic changes in information are going to drive historic changes in teaching and learning, and therefore in the institutions dedicated to education.  We're long overdue for a really good discussion about the purpose of schools, and I believe that Web 2.0 will give us that opportunity.  I believe that the long-term outcome will be a system of learning that is much more productive for our youth, and for their teachers, than currently exists.

(Again, please consider posting any comments at the Britannica Blog Forum.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Surfing the Internet Boosts (Aging) Brains

I found this NYTimes article fascinating because it confirms a feeling that I've had that my own cognitive skills have been significantly boosted by my increased use of the Web. As the article points out, research seems to show increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain when experienced "Googlers" when searching the web.  The conclusion is that this is  because of the decision making and complex reasoning that takes place when figuring out what to do with the information they receive.

This definitely resonated with me, and I wonder if we might not extrapolate further:  that the sense many of us who are active Web 2.0 participants have that our learning has been "transformed" might actually have a physiological basis--a kind of brain rush. More than just doing Google searches, we are figuring out how to share our knowledge with others through a variety of tools that require more than a cursory understanding to use them effectively. Perhaps this is why we are so anxious for others to experience what we have--to be in this highly-engaged learning mode. Like many others, I would say that I've never felt more productive in my life as I have being engaged in the conversations of Web 2.0.

OpenOffice.org 3.0 Now Available

OpenOffice.orgOpenOffice.org 3.0 was released on Monday. A full review from PC Magazine makes a good case for considering it:  "...if your company or agency has been buying Office for thousands of desktops, or if you work for or with a government that requires open-source formats, download OpenOffice.org and don't look
back."

Benjamin Horst write that there was such "demand for downloads (over 350,000 in the first 24 hours) that the website couldn't handle the traffic and was down or partly down for two days."  He also details that "some cool new features include PDF import and editing, the ability to read (but not save) MS' new Office 2007 file formats, native Mac OSX support, much better margin notes, zooming, and side-by-side page views in Writer, tables in Impress (the PowerPoint equivalent), UI improvements in Calc, greater speed, and even better support for extensions and languages of the world."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Web Is a Becoming a Conversation

(Originally posted on the Intel Senior Trainers network.)

This summer our family vacationed on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Maui is the perfect vacation spot for us: my in-laws have a time-share condo there, we know the area well enough to relax, and there's a Costco with inexpensive food right by the airport when you arrive! 

Each day on vacation we would put on our bathing suits, take our snorkeling packs (which we'd purchase some years ago at that same Costco), and then pick a beach for the day's exploration. This year we were lucky and found several spots with groups of turtles to watch and we'd swim along with them, believing that the older and scarred ones were the wisest of earth's creatures, and the young ones had the surfer accents from "Finding Nemo." 

Then one evening, as we made our nightly trek to the beach to watch the sunset, we passed by someone who asked us if we'd seen "the dolphin" yet. We quickly walked up the ridge where a crowd of people had gathered, looked out into the water where everyone else was staring, and shortly saw the dark shadow of a dorsal fin just offshore. We looked over at the adjacent beach and there were probably another 100 people all watching the same thing. I was fascinated by the connection we all seemed to be having with this one dolphin, the fin appearing here and there, each time all us craning to catch a glimpse of it. We'd felt so lucky to have had such a great experience with the turtles, but there was no question that the mere glimpse of a dolphin gave us a feeling which was unique.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0d/Spinner_dolphins.jpg/180px-Spinner_dolphins.jpg On our previous trips to Maui, the dolphin story would have ended there, but this year the story had a significantly different ending. As my wife and I were sitting at breakfast the next morning in a local restaurant, remarking on what a great experience the dolphin sighting had been, I wondered out loud if there might not be a website where dolphin sightings were being tracked so that we could see some more. It didn't seem likely. But it then occurred to me that were I to do a search on Flickr for photos tagged "dolphin" and "maui," and that by sorting them by the most recent posting dates, this search might actually be the equivalent of a dolphin sightings list for the island. So, on my Internet enabled phone, I did the search, and sure enough someone had posted photos of Spinner Dolphins the day before from Lanai. We asked our waitress where Lanai was, and as we were explaining our dolphin quest, a fellow at the next table leaned over and gave us the low-down. He told us that we could take a ferry to Lanai (a smaller, adjacent island) from the city of Lahaina, and that near where the ferry docks on Lanai is a beach where dolphins frequently come to swim. On my Web phone we then looked up the ferry company, checked their departure times, then called and made reservations for our family.

The next morning we woke our children up at 5:30, drove to Lahaina, and took the ferry to Lanai. Carrying our snorkeling gear, we made the five minute walk over to Hulopoe Bay where there were maybe 15 other people on the beach. We picked a shade tree, put our gear down, looked out in the water--and a sudden chill ran through us all. We could see the fins of a dozen or more dolpins out in the water. Others on the beach immediately did the same thing we did, which was to run toward the water, trying to put on sunscreen and our snorkeling gear at the same time, and then to swim out the 50 yards or so to where the dolphins were.  

We hadn't needed to hurry. Over the course of the next three hours, sometimes maybe as many as 50 dolphins were in the bay, almost teasing and playing with us, sometimes coming so close we could have touched them. Often whole groups would swim right under and around us, then some would leap out of the water spinning and twisting, dazzling in their beauty. It was like being in a surreal dream, but for my wife, it was actually the dream of a lifetime: to swim with dolphins in the wild. Sheer exhaustion was the only thing that pulled us from the water, and while we ate lunch up the hill from the beach, we continued to watch those Spinner Dolphins come in and out of the bay, swimming and jumping for close to two more hours. 

During that lunch, on what seemed (and really is) the remote and barren island of Lanai, I incredibly had almost full bars on my cell phone. So I looked up Spinner Dolpins on the Web and as a family we then read through several different websites to learn why scientist believe they jump and spin, and much more about them.

I think that part of what I love about this experience is the way in which is so encapsulates the incredible changes in our day-to-day lives that the "interactive" Web is bringing. Our exploration of the physical world was shaped and changed by a combination of technologies that are historic in their impact. Our relationship to information is changing, and this is not just some theoretical change being documented in PhD dissertations, it's a dramatic reshaping of where and how we get our information, who produces that information, and how much of it is available. The dolphin story shows not only the impact of the Web as a faster, easier, and more pervasive way to find information--it also demonstrates how significant parts of that information are now contributed by those who used to be primarily information "consumers" but who are now part producers of the larger information universe.

Just ten years ago, the information on the web was largely just an fancy electronic reflection of our experience with the mainstream media of television, radio, and the printed word. We've lived in a "broadcast" world, where a relatively tiny segment of society produced and distributed that media, and most of us were passive consumers of it. Now we face a change in our relationship to information that is quite possibly larger than the the changes brought about by the printing press. Whereas the printing press dramatically reduced the cost of publishing and made material more widely available, the Internet's two-way capability has not only brought that cost essentially to zero (I can go to a public library, and using a web browser can post for free to a blog, a wiki, or a dialog forum) and made that information literally ubiquitous; but it has also changed publishing from a largely one-way act to a shockingly vibrant world of "conversations" where those we previously called the audience are now active participants.

It is hard for us to understand the implications of a world where more content is produced on YouTube in six months than was created in all of television's history, but I think we can say with some certainty that if we do not start to help our students become part of the conversation then our educational institutions will become increasingly irrelevant--just as the monasteries did that once housed the all-important scribes. On the other hand, if we can temper the natural fears that come with change (and are sometimes reinforced by the chaos that change can produce), we can actually see a world of incredible opportunity for students: a world where the breadth of subjects to study is only matched by the breadth of subjects students can actually become contributors to. 

I believe that this is where we are headed, into a world in which information is so abundant that learning how to participate in the world's knowledge conversation becomes the primary responsibility of our educational organizations, and where students learn to contributors to society by actually contributing under the tutelage of wise mentors. If this is an accurate vision, then we need to help educators experience for themselves the these same transformative changes and opportunities. If we don't, we're just asking them to learn about one more technology fad in a parade of technological fads that were each supposed to remake education, and their interest reflect their "technology fatigue." 

I started Classroom 2.0 (www.classroom20.com) to help educators become participants in the "conversation" of the Web without requiring that they start a blog or create a wiki. Classroom 2.0 is a social network. We'll save the distinction between social networking and our perceptions of MySpace and Facebook for my next post, but suffice it to say that professional social networks allow educators to contribute even just a single sentence to a discussion, and feel the amazing change that takes place in our personal learning and motivation through that contribution and the ensuing responses. I'm excited to learn about the work that you are doing here in your own network for Intel Senior Trainers, and to hear your experiences and thoughts related to these same topics. I'll be posting again next week, and then we're scheduled to have a live web meeting. 

Here's hoping I have something valuable to add to your "conversations!"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ISTE Sets a Great Example

NECC 2008I just received a mass email from Lelie Conery, the Deputy CEO of ISTE, and the NECC Conference Chair. She's inviting participation in a dialog about ISTE's fair-use guidelines, specifically as they relate to pod- and vod-casting at NECC.

As many might remember, ISTE ran smack dab into the historical confluence of formal conferences versus audience streaming last year, and initially responded as almost all other large organizations would have: prohibiting any audio or video recording without express written permission from both the presenter and from ISTE. To their great credit, they heard the (clamoring) voices of the community and changed their policy--setting a great example for both the new policy and having the community help you get there.

Leslie has started a promised additional discussion on this policy to get more community input and feedback. You can see this discussion, along with the original and revised policies, at the NECC Ning network. Right now is the start of the open comment period, with draft guidelines coming out in December, and then final guidelines in January.

The ISTE support we get for Open Source Pavilion, EduBloggerCon, and NECC "Unplugged" already predisposes me to appreciate them for being able to try to benefit the community while dealing with the practical realities of running a large conference and the institutional demands that brings. Working with the community to form an appropriate media policy is another example, for me, of the kind of transparency and collaboration that the educational world needs.

Way to go, ISTE.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

NECC Stress? Submissions Due Today...

OK, so even though submissions are due today for speaking at NECC 2009, I want to give you one reason to breathe a little easier if you're feeling stress.

I've been given approval to move forward again with both EduBloggerCon and NECC "Unplugged." EduBloggerCon planning will start in a few months, and we'll make a real effort to involve the larger community in the what and how of that event. I've asked for as many breakout areas as they can give us, with the guiding philosophy being that we (I!) won't try to control the breakouts like we (I!) did last year. That was a pretty clear lesson!

And as excited as I am to gather again for the all-day fun that EduBloggerCon can be, I'm really delighted to have NECC Unplugged being supported again. The idea behind NECC Unplugged is that anyone who wants to can sign up and give a short presentation during NECC--whether it is on a topic that hasn't hit the ed-tech radar before today but becomes significant, or it is a topic that gets turned down in the formal submission process but you still feel has real value. Long live the wiki as a conference organizing tool! :)

For those who care, the Open Source presence at NECC will remain strong--and maybe stronger because of this economy. We'll have our "Pavilion" once again, and will have an active playground area where we hope to get the legendary Jeff Elker involved with his students.

And don't forget the CUE.org show in March '09 in Palm Springs, California, where all of this same good stuff happens as well! And if you're going to be at NSBA's T+L Conference in a few weeks in Seattle, we will have an Open Source lab room there for the very first time! Wahoo! If you're going to be there, come find me.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Great Web 2.0 App: Collaborative Mind Mapping with Comapping

There's a special kind of thrill for me in finding a Web 2.0 application that really fills a need and has a business model that I'm glad to support. Comapping.com is such an application: a collaborative mind-mapping or outlining program that starts out simply enough for quick use, allows you to intuitively discover more sophisticated features, that feels rock-solid, and then costs about 1/10th of what you'd expect.

My learning curve for immediate productivity was all of about 10 minutes, and not only was I able to build a pretty sophisticated mind map for a keynote I was giving a couple of days later, and then to export it into a word-processing format; but I was also able to use it the next week to fully conduct an all-day brainstorming meeting with a more than a dozen participants, which I did by projecting my laptop screen during the whole day. The session was a pre-conference day at the K-12 Open Minds Conference on "large scale deployments" of Linux and Open Source Software, and we built a pretty great outline for what will become a white paper on the subject.

The speed and smoothness of the program are matched by intuitive keystroke or mouse actions.  Focusing on subtopics, or shifting back to the whole view, is very easy.  While I did a quick experiment with someone else adding to a mind map concurrently, which worked very well, I haven't yet tried the task management tools, which include email notification, and which would seem to be a great complement to organized problem-solving or brainstorming.

OpenOffice.org and Open Source Usage Increasing

OpenOffice.orgA short story in ComputerWorldUK discusses the increased usage of the Open Source office suite OpenOffice.org, including a report that 25% of the entire office suite market in Brazil is filled by OpenOffice.org, or 12 million users (in Portuguese at http://abretesw.blogspot.com/2008/10/openofficeorg-tem-25-de-quota-de.html).  That's not as big a surprise as it might sound, since Brazil is very Open-Source oriented.  But in my work with CoSN.org I'm frequently speaking to chief technology officers in K-12 schools and districts, and I'm hearing more and more about large-scale transitions to OpenOffice.org that are saving tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing fees. 

It's important to remember that a free (as in cost) license doesn't mean that implementation and support are free, but when an Open Source program is good enough to replace a program with a hefty licensing fee, I can see more and more education institutions making the change.  And when you look at an example like the State of Parana, Brazil, where they have 12 people running 44,000 school computers (over 2,000 schools) because of Linux and Open Source Software, the possibilities for more ubiquitous computing become pretty darn compelling.

Just as interesting to me is the Open-Source-AS-education angle, as opposed to the Open-Source-IN-education examples.  Teaching technical computer classes with Open Source software has a strong pedagogical basis, but even more than that, would have significant practical benefits to students--and yet, we rarely--if ever--do it.  Somewhere in the range of 70% of the world's webservers run on the Open Source program Apache, and yet it's just not taught anywhere.  Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Python/Pearl are serious business tools that can be obtained for free, have open code (great for learning), and will run on old computers.  So why is it that we aren't teaching them to students who could actually use those skills to get a job out of high school?  Maybe it has something to do with the lack of advertising dollars being spent to promote them to educators... :)

I Want a Netbook. Badly.

Return to product information
The use of Linux on many of the new, smaller "netbook" computers is providing a pretty unique opportunity for expanding interest in Linux, especially in education.  I have to admit the fast boot times of the machines I played with (EEEPC and 2GoPC) at the K12 Open Minds Conference were impressive.  But it's the combination of fast boot time and Linux reliability with a larger keyboard and the 6-cell battery (8+ hours) that really has me chomping at the bit. 

After really diving into Amazon.com and drilling down on the specs and the reviews, the Acer Inspire One looks like the real deal.  $399 with Windows XP, which probably means $349 or so with Linux.  Amazing. Unfortunately it's not currently in stock, although others are selling the XP version so that means it should be at Amazon pretty soon (and I'm very loyal to Amazon because of the great service I get with them and the free 2-day shipping for being an Amazon Prime member). 

The Continued Growth of Social Networking (in Education)



http://blog.ning.com/2008/10/500000-social-networks-on-ning.html

Ning reached 500,000 social networks, a fascinating milestone.  Classroom 2.0 passed 12,000 members this weekend, and the Ning in Education network hit 2600 members a few hours ago.  I think we're learning a lot about using the community and creativity aspects of social networking in highly educational settings, and (maybe) getting a little past our pre-conceived notions of social networking that came from early experiences with MySpace and Facebook.

Of course, even though I do consulting work for Ning and consider myself their "education evangelist," I want to say "Good on ya, Ning!"  I do believe that they've played a great role in helping to redefine our perceptions in this area.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Becta Report on Benefits of Web 2.0 in the Classroom

http://news.becta.org.uk/display.cfm?resID=38417

From the article:
  • 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.