Thursday, June 15, 2006

Web 2.0 and Computer Reuse

A great societal change is taking place. The new read/write web, now commonly referred to as "Web 2.0," is providing amazing opportunities for the use of computers in education. The ability to write to the web as well as to read from the web is fundamentally altering society, and ushering in a culture of participation the world has never before seen. Children in the poorest slums in Brazil keep online journals and correspond with affluent college students; political prisoners in repressive countries pass notes to family members who post them on blogs with a worldwide readership; families now store, catalog, and then share photo and video memories online. Many observers have likened the advent of these technologies to the invention of the printing press, and it seems likely the comparisons are accurate, and the that societal changes will be just as significant.

We now face both challenges and opportunities. Just as the invention of moveable type allowed the wide disemmination of all kinds of printed material, both good and bad, the read/write web presents parents and educators with the challenge of a medium where there are both perceived and real dangers. As we sort those challenges out, we have a unique opportunity to teach the technologies of the web to today's youth, and to coach them not only in the appropriate use of these technologies, but in becoming true contributors to the accumulated knowledge of the world.

There is some really good news. The educational applications inherent in Web 2.0 have taken basic computer use well beyond the traditional teaching of office-productivity applications and web research, but the computing power needed for these technologies is actually very low--in many cases, just a web browser is needed. This means that at the very time that we are likely to conclude that we really do need a computer for every student in school, we should now be able to afford them. Current estimates are that close to 100,000 computers are obsoleted in the US every day, less than 5% of which get reused here in this country, but the great majority of which are fully capable of running Web 2.0 applications.

What an incredible opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: to provide computers in classrooms at a time when they can really make a difference, by re-using existing technology.

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