Originally uploaded by Stephanie Booth.
For the past four or five years that I have been in the classroom, I have watched my high school students use online environments and tools. I could speak of many examples and models of great learning that have happened as a result. In my new role of the last few months, I have been asked to give sessions and workshops about the educational uses of such things as blogs, wikis, skype, moodle, and the list goes on. Most of you reading this would know what those terms mean and probably are also aware of many great examples of teachers and students using them.
On the whole, though, I think many of you would agree with me that there is still a great lack of understanding and possibly even resistance on the part of most educators about these tools and environments. So I have been spending a lot of time reflecting about why teachers (and administrators) are reluctant and choosing not to explore the use of these tools. It has also been pointed out to me that in order for teacher practice to change, teacher beliefs must change. How are we going to change those beliefs? I have come up with a few ideas (most of them borrowed from others, so think of this as a summary of those ideas).
First of all, the “techie” language can be off-putting. If teachers do not think of themselves as tech-competent (and what that means from person to person is an individual perception!), they will likely believe themselves not to be competent or skilled enough to try something “techie” like “blogging” or using a “wiki”. After all, these are funny-sounding words.
The word “blog” itself has a certain non-academic pejorative connotation to many educators (and a lot of plain ordinary folks too!). They associate it with self-obsessed personal journals about “blah, blah, blah”. My own thesis supervisor told me with great pride he has never read a blog and never would (and this is a prof in educational technology – go figger!).
In a blog post by Johannes Strobel, a prof who was on my thesis committee and has since moved on to Purdue University, he writes:
“We need to realize that we don’t own terms, we don’t own meaning of terms and by entering a discourse with anybody else, we enter a stage in which shared meaning is rare and needs often first to be established.”
While reading Alec Couros’ recently published dissertation, I was reminded of Rogers’ classic Diffusion of Innovation Process where he states the important characteristics that innovation adopters look for:
1. Relative advantage – is the degree in which an advantage is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes.
2. Compatibility – is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with the existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters.
3. Complexity – is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use.
4. Trialability – is the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis.
5. Observability – is the degree to which the results of an innovation are viable to others. The easier it is for individuals to see the results of an innovation, the more likely they are to adopt it.
Rogers, E. M. (1995).Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.
Relative Advantage and Complexity
So instead of just using those terms as I demonstrate how blogs and wikis (and others) can be used in the classroom, I think I may try a new approach with my presentations. I think it is important (and please feel free to disagree with me – I welcome dialogue on this) for us to be showing or at least noting the academic research that supports the uses of these tools and environments in the learning process. Surely there is more than just the “gee whiz” factor to using web-based tools with our students? Along with this, I want to start to referring to these tools and environments in a generic fashion, something like online shared learning spaces or collaborative learning spaces. After all, the terms blog and wiki just might die soon enough or more likely morph into something else given the dizzying speed of Internet change. I think it is probably better to use a term most educators could readily understand and even approaches appropriate and acceptable (by the majority) pedagogese.
Drawing attention to the research literature and published studies adds considerable validation to our practices of using these spaces and persuading others to give them a try. Just from my own practices and successes in the classroom, I have become convinced, as many of you have as well, that these online social and collaborative spaces permit greater affordances for learning, and thus, better learning opportunities for our students. Of course, nothing replaces a great teacher and great teachers are still needed to design activities and situations that will make best use of all the resources that are available. Great teachers, I would also hope, would want to know about ALL the great resources at their disposal as they design learning and evaluation situations and activities.
A great example of such research was brought to my attention yesterday and we are all awaiting more about Konrad Glogowski’s dissertation on blogging the classroom. Please do let me (and others) know of any new research studies that have shown the benefits of using online shared learning spaces in education. My own thesis (pre-”web 2.0″) contains a fair amount of references of research literature about computer-supported collaborative learning.
I have been working on a way to show our Québec educators how the use of these tools and environments fits in to our new (and quite progressive) Québec Education Program. Here is a reworked diagram of the elements needed to be taken into consideration for the creation of learning and evaluation situations used to develop competencies (we assess “competencies” according to our program) which I have augmented with where the tools and environments fit in:
(Augmented from diagram in Cycle Two Secondary, Quebec Education Program – Cross-Curricular Competencies )
It may be a good idea to be thoroughly familiar with where these online shared learning spaces and tools fit in with the curricular standards and goals and one’s particular school, district, board or state.
Trialability and Observability
We need to allow new adopters the freedom to fail and give them support and encouragement as they experiment with new technology “stuff”. Realistically, we have ALL been beginners at one time or another and it might be a good thing to refresh those memories (as painful as they are) to share with our adopting colleagues.
Success is addictive! We should be tooting the horns of all the brave new adopters as they move forward into new territory. After all, many of us can probably recall that often those successes were lonely experiences with few or none to share. Let’s applaud new adopters for any of their successes. We now have the network to do that!
One more thing I wanted to add to this post. In my own thesis study, I noted the importance of the presence of sociality in online communication on the part of my students. They had fun with each other! At the time, there had been a push to keep students “on task” in their online behaviour. Now I see there is great value in playfulness and sociality as we communicate, collaborate and create online together. Nowhere is this more apparent than FaceBook where our students’ lives (and even our own) carry over to these online social spaces. We need to add that important spice of play to even the school “work” environments as it very much enhances the learning process.