Thursday, February 15, 2007

Terry & Elaine Freedman on Web 2.0 in the Classroom (School 2.0, Part 7)

Terry and Elaine Freedman spoke with me the other day in advance of the release of the second edition of Terry's "Coming of Age: An introduction to the NEW worldwide web," the free .pdf book on the use of Web 2.0 tools for teachers. When the first edition came out, I read every page and made lots of notes--and I'm quite sure I was not the only one, as Terry at one point calculated that it had been downloaded over 60,000 times. It's been tremendously popular, and if you want a sneak peak at the contents of the greatly expanded second edition, see the book blog here.

Interview Notes:

  • Terry is an independent ICT (Information and Communications Tech) consultant for schools in the UK. His list of credentials is impressive.
  • He started teaching in 1975, using computers--even then--to run a simulation of the stock exchange. They ran a computer game called "Running the British Economy." He discusses how he and his students would use of that program for a purpose that it wasn't intended for (to find out the underlying economic assumptions of the game)--and how that often defines what kids do with technology.
  • Elaine, a teacher herself, helps with everything but the accounting (smile!).
  • The miracles of Skype: I talked to Terry and Elaine at 11:20 am my (Pacific) time, which was 7:30 pm their time in England. Amazing how comfortable it is becoming to talk with people all over the world now on a regular basis.
  • The first edition of Coming of Age came about because Terry felt that the tools of Web 2.0 (blogs, wikis, etc.) were really becoming of interest to teachers, but that those same teachers were not likely to have the time to go out and research how to use them--since they are very busy with all of the other things they are required to do.
  • The "so what?" criteria that Terry uses: how can these technologies actual help a teacher or a student? Just because you have an interactive white board doesn't mean that you use it any more productively than a blackboard. And you have to make sure that you have built a support structure for these new technologies.
  • Terry discusses the duty that schools have to help students to know how to conduct themselves online.
  • Terry talks about what the technology is allowing kids to do--with the example of how they are finding out about new music using social technologies. This is a fantastic time, he says, to be a teacher. He remembers when interactive white boards first came out--and realized at the time that there was no way he'd have gotten the $10,000 they cost back then. But now is a different story.
  • Are these technologies going to "tranform" education? Terry's answer is that it is not the technology, but how the teacher uses the technology, and that great teachers are able to use any technology to be engaging. But then he goes on to say that the technology can also enable good teachers to put into practice what they have always wanted to do. Elaine used the example of a microcope that works with an interactive white board--allowing the students to see what she was seeing, and allowing her to annotate the image. I point out to Terry that he starts by saying it isn't the techology, but then gives great examples of teaching techniques that the technology makes possible... :)
  • Again, some more examples of what the technology enables: podcasting helping a child overcome fears of speaking publicly, or blogging and online forums helping the shy child to contribute.
  • We talk about the changed audience for students: when I was a student, I produced a limited amount of work that saw a limited audience (usually, just a teacher). Students now produce a lot more content, for a much broader audience. Terry talks about how the new environment allows for "thinking out loud" instead of only "finished thoughts." This seems very, very positive for learning. It doesn't negate the power of a teacher--Elaine says it actually makes the role of the teacher more important.
  • In the context of subject areas that are rapidly changing and complex, a teacher saying "I don't know, so let's find out together" can be a very powerful moment and a great way of modeling learning.
  • The new edition of "Coming of Age" will have 58 contributors, 14 sections, and over 100 chapters. Because it is so large, Terry is thinking of releasing sections one at a time. Some of it was out of date a week after it was submitted, so there is constant updating going on... :) At some point he says, he is going to have to just cut it off and get the book out! He is really hoping that the book provides practical advice for teachers in real situations. He hedges on the date of actual release...
  • The "Post Show" was so interesting to me that I left it in. Hopefully you will find it interesting, too. We talk a little about the value of these interviews, and the value of the Web 2.0 technologies for me as a businessman. "Let's see if we can find things to do that make a difference, that then hopefully build loyal customers." Terry talks about the fascination of people commenting back on things that he has posted on the web. Recongition and being noticed--how they are a part of our personal needs. Web 2.0 as professional development. The change when we let go--not to be the expert, but to be part of the dialog. The feeling of participating is just as energizing and thrilling as feeling that we are the expert. Terry and creating or putting things out as an "Aunt Sally"--to put something out to be knocked down or constructively criticized, or something just to start with. Elaine: the germ of altruism: sharing ideas without the expectation that someone will credit you. Me: connection with Richard Stallman and the Free and Open Source Software movements and "free" content. (Claudius the cat continues to make her presence known by bumping the Freedman's mic.) Elaine: new support systems through the web which are either replacing old support systems, or augmenting them. Me: how the contributions to the web are helping to see the motivation of "free" contributions, which has for a long time been a source of misunderstanding about the motivations of FLOSS.

Great fun. I hope you enjoy this interview.

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