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Web 2.0- A Synthetically Organic Nomenclature

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I’m of the conviction that the term “Web 2.0″ is inherently problematic.  There are many who maintain that the nomenclature provides a needed context for the changing nature of the web.  I would maintain it does much more to deter understanding than provide any functional enlightenment.

Proponents of the term state that the nature of the web has evolved in an organic fashion, and thus, we must qualify that new nature.  The web is now interactive, collaborative, and dynamic instead of static, nonreciprocal, and isolated.  While I certainly acknowledge the fact that the web has evolved over the past ten years, it remains, at its very core, still the web.  The addition of the 2.0 on the term only serves to confuse.

I heard, on quite a few occasions, teachers at a recent technology conference utter their confusion at the term.  One teacher asked where the url was for the web 2.0.  Another teacher stopped a panel discussion focused entirely on “Web 2.0″ tools to ask “what in the world” the term meant.  I think that is the rule, rather than the exception in the circles of general educators.  It’s a problem that the term immediately confuses and alienates the very people who would be best served to make use of the tools and concepts the new nature of the web presents.  If we used terminology that is exponentially more clear from the outset, such as “Interactive Web” or “Social Learning Web”, we would effectively make more headway and likely allow more students access to these experiences in their everyday learning opportunities.

I think the naming is likened to the naming conventions of cars.  Hear me out on this.  Cars have changed dramatically over the last 100+ years they’ve been around, yet they remain, at their very nature, still cars.  If at every iteration of change, we added the requisite 2.0, 3.0, and so on, what number would we be up to today?  When I’m going to go out and get something out of my car, I seldom yell out to my wife, “I’m going to run out to the mid-sized Japanese import car 10.0 and get the baby’s blanket.”  I just say car.  Because that’s what it is.  Yes, there are different kinds of cars.  There are Fords, Chevys, Hondas, Toyotas, Bugattis, and hosts of others.  There are even different types of cars beyond a manufacturer’s name.  We have SUVs, hybirds, pickup trucks, sports cars, minivans, and the like, but those naming conventions make sense.  They call the cars what they are.  We already have the equivalent in our web naming structure.  We have blogs, wikis, content management sites, social networking, learning networks, and so on.  All of these, at their nature, remain aspects of the web- a changing web, yes, but still simply the web.

A term like web 2.0 begets the notion that there will imminently be a 3.0, 4.0, and beyond.  The convention serves those within a specific group much more than it does those who need to understand the concept the most.  The term serves as a layer- an immediately unnecessary layer at that.  The convention allows those inside the realm of understanding to point to those outside and express how much the outsiders need the insiders in order to understand and be enlightened.  I’d rather we just all moved forward together in a way that makes sense and promotes progress rather than bifurcates.

And I really don’t take this issue as another instance of “let’s fight over the name of something” as much as that might appear what this post is all about.  Okay, so maybe it sort of is, but it isn’t just about the name.  It’s about what happens as a result of the name.  The web is, in my opinion, the greatest development in modern history.  And unfortunately, too many aren’t using it as such.

I know this one post won’t serve to change the way most people use the Web 2.0 term, but I hope it will give cause for some consideration.  The English language is a precise language.  I truly believe if we used it as such here, we would see one roadblock removed from the progress we should be making in engaging our students in dynamic learning.  And I’m entirely in favor of doing that which removes roadblocks and moves progress forward.

And now I’m stating such- on the web.

Thanks to xxxtoff for the use of the Flickr image.

ISTE Webinars

As part of my JHU-ISTE administration program, I am completing an internship with ISTE’s webinar department.  My task for the next couple weeks is to research potential topics for next year’s webinars.  Once we establish the topics, I will then explore potential speakers.  Sounds a bit familiar, I know.
While this certainly won’t prove as exciting a topic as that, I do think this is a good opportunity for you to voice your opinion on what ISTE should pursue next year.  If you look over this year’s offerings, you can get a sense for what topics have been a focus of late.

I certainly have some thoughts on potential topics.  I think a session on school law and teaching practices would be a fascinating topic.  I also believe a general session on social media’s role in learning would be of equal interest.  I’d be interested in hearing about how Linux could be used to save costs and increase student access.  And I’d love to hear how to develop online learning experiences that break from the traditional mold of old educational practices simply being replanted in the online soil.  I’d also love to hear about specific instructional/learning design for students living in a connected world.

I could go on, but I’d prefer this to be research I conduct collectively.  I’d like to know what topics you’d like to hear about.  I will take these suggestions and present them to the webinar project manager for ISTE.  She has agreed to consider the possibility of all requests.

I’d also like to gather any other feedback you might have about the ISTE webinar series.  What has value?  What needs changing?  This part is me going off script, but I’d still like to know.  Because I’m curious.

While I can’t promise you a grand voting experience that everyone will be talking about for the next six months, I can promise that your input will be valued and considered for future webinars.

So, what do you got?

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009

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I spent four days last week in Manchester, New Hampshire at the Constructing Modern Knowledge Institute.  As I sit here one week after returning, I’m still left to wonder how in the world I can possibly capture all that is rattling around in my mind as a direct cause of attending the institute.

I’m going to try and give a general overview of what I observed, and then follow up as necessary in subsequent posts about each topic that requires follow up.  I will say from the outset, the experience was the singularly most unique conference type experience I’ve ever had.  There were things that left me in a state of pure awe and wonder, and there were things that equally frustrated me.

You will likely find it an impossibility to experience a better list of speakers or minds available to offer their insights at any other conference.  Having the distinct honor of hearing directly from Deborah Meier, Lella Gandini, Brian Silverman, Lesa Snider, Peter Reynolds, Sylvia Martinez, Gary Stager, and Marvin Minsky was simply astounding.  I’m still rather reeling from the collective wealth of knowledge that list represents.  And though I certainly didn’t agree with everything that was spoken about, the conference was worth attending if just to hear what those individuals discussed and the way they can challenge a person to think.

The opportunity to engage and observe other educators organically learn was also a fascinating experience.  I watched as the triumphs and frustrations of learning collectively bubbled over from group to group.  I witnessed the authentic excitement that learning through inquiry can generate, and I watched as challenges served to nearly break and equally make learners out of leaders.  It reminded me of what I have forgotten about being a learner in any kind of structured environment.  Those lessons should be remembered much more often by all educators who find themselves forgetting what it is like to be in the seat as a student.

And along with those things that I agreed with, there were others I didn’t.

Throughout the conference there was a clear emphasis not only on the general theory of constructivism, but specifically, constructivism through computer science and programming.  At several points throughout the week, the statement was issued that all students should be mandated to learn computer programming.  This idea was explicitly stated, and I implicitly disagree with it.  I certainly see the potential for learning through the act, but given the ever changing nature of specific programming languages and the fact that the vast majority of students will never use the skill beyond the duration of time they would be required to take the unit of study, I believe such an experience should be left to student choice.

At one point, one of the presenters said that we should not offer students choice on this issue as students don’t know better and aren’t in a position to know that they really have no other logical choice but to choose such study.  The statement deeply troubled me at the time, and continues to do so now.  I agree that when we were young, all of us lacked the clarity and wisdom that comes with time and experience, but we also knew things that interested us.  If we’re willing to allow students to participate in organic learning experiences through constructivism by self-selecting that which we study, why then would we think learning a specific skill such as programming should be any different?  I truly appreciated Brian Silverman’s take on it as he expressed that programming is certainly not for all kids.  I absolutely believe that students should be given the choice to learn computer programming as the process is replete with problem solving and math function learning, but I don’t think it should be mandated.  This is very likely an issue that I will return to at some point in the near future.

The other issue that I find myself continuing to fail at digesting is the idea of community as Gary spoke of it the first day.  I heard him speak about PLNs in a similar fashion at NECC, and on both occasions, he spoke about how the level of connectedness we all are presently experiencing has given voice to too many people.  That is a paraphrase, but he did say specifically that the problem now is that any “newbie” has a voice and can be perceived as an expert without doing anything.  He stated that someone who hasn’t “done anything” can be asked to keynote a conference, when in fact, it should be he himself who gets asked based on his experience and the work he’s done.

This seems, to me, to be the very nature of the old, exclusive vanguard of knowledge concept we’ve been speeding away from as information frees us to capitalize on collective thinking.  We don’t need the keeper of the keys to tell us what is worth knowing and keep us from that which we lack the understanding to know is not good for us.

We all now realize we have the right to know.  Or at least we have the right to choose.

The idea that we have to have an “expert” in our network otherwise our network is, in effect, proven defunct, is rife with complication.  I think I’ll leave it at that for now and allow Gary, or any other believer in this philosophy to expand on the idea if they so choose.

In the end, I find myself walking away with a great bundle of mental firewood to turn over and burn for quite some time, and I realize I’m an advocate for the theory of constructivism.  I’m not convinced it requires the use of computer science/programming, but utilizing computer technology with constructivism can absolutely be a strong alliance.

And I have no doubt how much students benefit from pursuing organic learning based on personal choice.  And it’s okay if sometimes they do that without a computer.

21st Century Confusion

I don’t think I’m a fan of the whole 21st Century Literacies concept.  I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the entire approach.  I did say “think”, so I’m still working through all this.  Let me explain.

The traditional definition of the term “literacy” means to be literate.  This comes from the most current version of Webster’s Dictionary.  That begets the question, what does it mean to be literate?  Again, according to Webster, being literate is being able to read and write.  Typically, traditional literacy also includes speaking and listening as well.  So, if this is the case, what’s the 21st Century distinction of the term?

I believe this is where the whole notion is lost on me.  If we’re talking about literacy, let’s talk about literacy, as in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  If we’re talking about other skills that people need to be successful in the modern era, then we’re probably talking about skills rather than literacies.  If we’re being specific about these skills applying uniquely to the 21st century, we should probably call them such.  Although, are there really any skills that are being called 21st Century Skills that are new in the 21st century?  Think about it.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills believes demonstrating originality, communicating, being open and responsive, acting on creative ideas, utilizing time efficiently, accessing information, etc. are all 21st Century Skills.  I’d retort that in reality, these skills have always been in existence and of the utmost importance.  They don’t need to have the 21st Century moniker on them to make them significant.

And I think that’s the heart of the issue for me.  The whole idea of qualifying all of these skills, or even literacies if you want to adopt a broader sense of the term beyond the traditional, with 21st Century confuses what the real focus should be.

A perfect example of this is a discussion I heard recently on the “It’s Elementary” podcast.  Angela Maiers was the guest, and at the beginning of the conversation, she established her working definition of 21st Century Literacies. She gave a definition that included the traditional aspects of literacy as well as collaborating, investigating, and communicating.  A few minutes after stating her definition, she explained that all of this comes from research that is over 5 decades old.  Again, if what we’re talking about is what we’ve been talking about for so long, why do we feel the need to throw the catchy buzzword in?  Why can’t we just accept that we’re still talking about traditional literacy?  Why this great sense of urgency to rename it?

Coincidentally, while I disagree with Maiers’ naming conventions, I do believe her approach to teaching literacy as she explains later in the show is dead on.  She talks about teaching kids to inference and reach deeper levels of comprehension, and she advocates that we stop focusing so much on the oral fluency piece devoid of comprehension.  Being one who has witnessed many assessments that only test students based on their oral fluency rate, and then places them in intervention groups based on that rate, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with Maiers on this.  I just really wish she wouldn’t call that type of instruction 21st Century Literacy instruction.  Simply put, she should just call it excellent literacy instruction.

It’s rather self-evident that society has changed dramatically over the past 100 years, and the way we engage students has changed as well, but the fact remains that the primary vehicle we use to educate is still an iteration of communication.  Technology is playing a vital role in the way we will hopefully shift from an industrial model of educating to a new learning-centric model that has yet to develop, but the technology itself isn’t the point.  The 21st Century whatevers aren’t the point.  The point is learning.  I believe if people were more prone to discard the rhetoric and engage in true learning, the conversation about what we call it would be rendered rather moot.

Thanks to Ken-ichi for the Flickr image.

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