Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tapping into MySpace Minds with Chris O'Neal (School 2.0, Part 5)

"As much notoriety that MySpace has gotten, it's really made a lot of us think about: why is that so unbelievably popular? And I really don't think it's because it is a place for kids to go and do bad stuff. I think it's simply because it is an opportunity for kids to interact with music and sound and audio and video and communication--and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I think that's a brilliant thing. I think the only thing that is wrong with that is if we don't tap into that mentality in our classrooms... to tap into these great little MySpace minds, and that is the power of Web 2.0 and School 2.0, period."

Chris O'Neal has been an elementary and middle school teacher, a Title 1 technology professional development coordinator, and then was the State Director of Technology in Louisiana. Now at the University of Virginia, he works to provide outreach to school district staff.

Interview Notes:

  • Is there such a thing as School 2.0? Chris says yes. He feels that big changes are happening. People have a lot higher expectation now for what technology provides. It has brought things to us that we couldn't get access to before. When used appropriately, it can level the playing field.
  • The audience is now difference. Kids expect technology to be a part of the classroom. Kids in school now grew up with pay at the pump, scan your own groceries, and high speed internet. They are coming into classrooms wanting the real world to be reflected. They come out “clicking.” It's a natural part of their lives--so natural that it extends into the classroom.
  • Technology is also much easier. A lot of the barriers have gone, and the tools are much easier to integrate. There is an ability to customize the tools and pick and choose which ones to use.
  • Any dangers that the increased use of computers in classrooms? He says the only dangers are if we don't take advantage of the potential. The real scary danger is if we don't realize how capable these kids are.
  • Are Web 2.0 tools just glitzy and don't challenge enough? He says we can distinguish between flashy cool stuff and what really holds potential.
  • Is school reform needed? Is School 2.0 a complete restructuring of schooling as we know it? He believes that the structures of School 1.0 don't necessarily hold the capability of changing. The ultimate definition of School 2.0 would be a complete restructuring. He doesn't know how we do that, but in the meantime we take a step toward tearing down the walls by modifying the good.
  • Does he see any schools really going to School 2.0? Not really. Some “rogue” teachers and principals, but mostly the schools structures are “shackling” what they can do.
  • Are there ways in which the best versions of home schooling help to inform the discussion of School 2.0? Yes, he didn't used to think so. His own views of home-schooling had been “oh my gosh, why would anyone do that?” The idea of learning not ending at a certain period of time is compelling. Mentoring and in-depth studies. Web 2.0 allows an ability to customize the educational experience. Kids can be little mathematicians and little scientists. Most exciting is that people are not talking about these just as “technologies,” but as new ways of working together.
  • What Web 2.0 technologies really excite him the most? Google Docs. Has taken collaboration to a new level. Not just in the classroom, but for himself as a learner. Getting things out right away, and collaborating right away. It was a dream for years and years. To publish your things and to get feedback. The unbelievable power of tools like MySpace—kids are dying to collaborate. Shame on us if we are not tapping into that in the K12 classroom all day long.
  • It's incumbent upon us now to work to educate students how to use these tools. We can't just send them off to “learn” without guiding them. We've got to build in this new layer to their tech-savvy. They can be “tech-savvy,” but they are not naturally “interaction-savvy” to understand dangers.
  • The metaphor of teaching as being a tour guide now. How do you train teachers in this changing environment. Training on the technology is easy—this is workshop kind of stuff. The really hard thing is the School 2.0 thing, beyond the tools themselves—turning the classroom on its ear. Has to be school-, district-, and community-wide endeavor. What we have in the classroom is wonderful, but it hasn't changed much in the last 10, 20, or 50 years. But the world outside has changed dramatically in the same time.
  • Is this a difficult time for school administrators? Yes. I've never come across one that didn't want to change things for the better. Even with all the awareness and standards that NCLB has brought, it's also brought stress and made it hard to take the time for them to talk about the vision of School 2.0. They have to juggle so many things it's hard for them to bring School 2.0 to the forefront.
  • Is the skillset changing for administrators? In the past they were good building managers; while being a building manager is still critical, but even more important are instruction visionaries. Leaders who are willing to collaborate themselves and are willing to admit their own strengths and weaknesses. We have no hesitation to analyze a student to death as to what their capabilities are—but we haven't traditionally been as willing to do that, as teachers and administrators, by being honest about our own capabilities and then collaborating. Just because we are standing in front of the classroom (or running a school or district) doesn't mean that we know it all. Those who are willing to admit they need help are more likely to bring School 2.0 to pass.
  • Greater participation is needed. Maybe it's a good idea to have students and parents at the table as well. And Web 2.0 seems to be taking us in that direction. It's gotten a lot of people even more excited. A fun thing to watch, as a lot of technology-savvvy educators, who are already naturally excited, have gotten re-excited.
  • Chris's concern that some students may not get all the benefits of these technologies—not the digital divide, but a "classroom divide." Technology sometimes seen as an add-on: when the teacher gets done all the other things they need to do, they tack it onto the end. Then the use of the computer is used as a reward, so that those students who are struggling will get less access to technologies that will, in many ways, really determine their future. Can be a double-whammy for kids who don't have technology at home and aren't getting it in the classroom. His question: are students having equal access to technology within schools?
  • He posts on Edutopia blog. He uses wikis for professional development and agendas. He, too, thinks Skype is a huge benefit to educators by having unlimited access to other educators around the world.
  • A School 2.0 conference? It would be an unbelievable opportunity.

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