Monday, March 14, 2011

Web 2.0: A Social Revolution

Do you post to friends' walls on Facebook?
Do you tweet using Twitter?
Do you post to a blog?
Have you commented on someone else's blog?
Have you collaborated using a GoogleDoc or a Wiki?
Have you interacted with others using TodaysMeet, or Wallwisher?

If so, you are using a Web 2.0 tool.

According to Wikipedia, a Web 2.0 tool is web application that facilitates participatory information sharinginteroperabilityuser-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web.

Nowadays, what is clear is that the Web is no longer 'read-only' technology.  People have a read and write relationship with others where they can share perspectives, contribute ideas and collaborate to build information. Facebook, MySpace and personal blogs make it very easy for people to publish text, images, audio and video, to be shared privately within small networks or with the general public.  People who publish content do so with the intention of having others view, comment and collaborate with them.  The connections that people are able to create is what truly makes Web 2.0 so powerful.

With the increase in networked learning come some uneasily answered questions.  How do people find one another with whom they can learn? How do people make themselves findable by others? How does one choose who to interact with? What roles do one another play in a virtual sharing and collaborative process of learning?

Most of our students use this technology to stay connected with friends and family who they already see in person or have spent significant time with in the past.  Through the use of online and mobile technology their connections remain mainly 'friendship-based'.  There are however, some students who are using the technology to connect and collaborate with others around a specific interest.  Some of the people they connect with online are people they know in person, others are people they do not yet know offline.  We must acknowledge that through these networked interactions, students are learning, sharing and contributing to a body of knowledge.
According to Will Richardson,
"learning - formal or informal - is no longer restricted to a particular place at a particular time. Individuals can learn anytime, anywhere, as long as they have access to the Web and, in turn, to other people with whom they can form groups. Learning is creative and collaborative, cross-cultural and conspicuous, and products are shared widely for others to learn with and from."
Becoming an online networked learner requires much more than searching for people and filtering information. The people in our learning networks must include more than just people who share similar views as we do.  We must embrace diversity in the connections that we establish to include people with different ideas who are willing to challenge our opinions and philosophies.  It is through these types of connections that we become able to engage in debate and dialogue.

Think of the times when you read someone's blog or tweet and it sparked a new thought and a desire to respond.  You can respond in many different ways.  You could contribute a comment to the blog, write your own blog post in response to what you've read, reply with a tweet, email the person directly, create a video response or even pick up the phone. How does one choose the method through which to respond? How does one disagree or challenge an idea in a respectful manner that honors the other person's contributions?

These are the kinds of situations that our students find themselves in almost daily and undoubtedly will find themselves in throughout their personal and professional lives.  In education, we frequently refer to the importance of preparing our students with the skills they will need to be successful in the future.  With the growth of social networking by working professionals, it is undeniable that students need to become online networked learners and learn how to interact appropriately in virtual environments.

Before we can bring this literacy to students so they can take advantage of the learning opportunities that social networking offers, we must become networked learners ourselves.  It is crucial that we model for students our online connections and demonstrate to them how powerful these interactions are in our own learning.  Most educators have not received training in how to use social networking.  Consequently, the idea of becoming an online networked learner comes with much hesitancy.  For those who are embracing the social revolution, most are still experimenting with how best to apply social networking to their own learning and current practice.

Pockets of innovative educators who are using social networking to support learning are finding the following:

  • it provides access to a wealth of primary sources of information
  • it provides access to multimedia and interactive learning resources
  • learners can share knowledge, skills and expertise with people all over the world
  • interest-based learning networks can form quickly and easily
  • learning can happen anywhere and anytime
  • it enables many people to engage in discussion
  • it gives a voice to individuals who are less likely to contribute in person

Recently, Global TV's Sophie Lui (@sophielui) visited Delta Secondary where she captured Ms. J. Heiden's  (@jenheiden) Communications students responding to comments made on their class blog, Communications at DSS by their counterparts in Merritt, BC.   She also witnessed Ms. S. Motohashi's (@samotohashi) Science students interacting with each other before and after demonstrations using Twiducate, an educational social networking site.

These are just two examples of innovative teaching and learning practices supported by the use of social networking.  Congratulations to both Ms. Heiden and Ms. Motohashi on embracing the use of Web 2.0 tools and leading us forward in the social revolution!

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Stage to Shine on

Last week, Delta Secondary School's Theatre Department put on a production of 'A Flea in Her Ear', a French farce set in Paris at the turn of the century.  The show, co-directed by Ms. Rebecca Salton and Mr. Mark Lebourdais entertained over 1000 people throughout the four days and provided edge of your seat humour the entire time.

Productions of this magnitude do not happen without a team of supportive staff who are working behind the scenes.  Thank you to Ms. Heiden, Ms. Collins, Ms. Rogers, Ms. Campbell, Ms. Cruz, Ms. Richter, Ms. Pierce, Ms. Pilling, Mr. McKinnon, Mr. Pelletier, Ms. Bowling, Ms. Shoemaker, Ms. Denz,  Mr. Harkley and Ms. Peters for all of your efforts.

This year, my experience was very different.  Along with my administrator colleagues Mr. Terry Ainge and Ms. Alka Goel-Stevens, I was offered the opportunity to have a short cameo appearance in the production.  Each of the three of us jumped at the opportunity to be involved with the cast of students who were performing.  Our role was considered a 'cameo' for good reason.  It was small, consisted of no more than a couple of lines and didn't require dressing in costume. 

So, you will say, 'what was the big deal about being on stage for 15 seconds?'

Being on stage and having a spotlight shone on me for a short moment was exciting. Hearing the laughs from the audience as I walked on to the stage twas a unique experience. I was happy that I remembered my lines and that I didn't trip and fall flat on my face.  It was also nice to hear a few claps as I exited. 

But, what really struck me was during the intermission, in the minutes that led up to my entrance.  As I waited back stage, adrenalin pumping and anxious to get on stage, I watched the students.  Some moved props, some changed into different costumes and others were preparing the lighting and sound.  Students were moving around in all different directions carrying out their responsibilities.  It was organized, well-coordinated and was obviously well-practiced. But, what struck me more than anything else, was the number of students who came up to me, offered me their support and said 'Break a leg!' These short words of support, although humorous in nature, made me feel like I belonged to the family of students involved in the production.  

And so, this is the main point that I will take away from my experience.  The nearly 70 students who worked together for the past five months had formed a bond with each other and become their own extended family. Each student, regardless of his or her role, felt a sense of belonging and took pride in completing his or her role to the best of his or her ability.  This sense of belonging and connectedness with the school has far-reaching benefits beyond the scope of the show.  These students carry themselves with a sense of confidence and are more invested in their education. 

As I watched the remainder of the show, I found my self being blown away by our talented student actors and actresses.  In many cases this was the first time I had seen them in this environment.  And thrive in this environment, they did! They displayed a level of passion and enthusiasm that is only seen when students are truly engaged in what they are doing.

So, as we approach our work with our students, we must remember that each and every one of our students possesses his or her own talents. The challenge for all of us is to provide them the stage on which they can shine!