05 May 2009

Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education – Are We Doing Enough?

The Consortium for School Networking just released the results of a study on the use of Web 2.0 in American schools, and whether or not schools are, or plan to take advantage of the opportunities provided by Web 2.0.

According to the study, which was funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the nation’s school district administrators are overwhelmingly positive in their overall view of the possible impact that Web 2.0 might have on students’ lives and their education. Educators saw Web 2.0 as a potentially positive influence on student skills in the following areas:

· Communications Skills
· Quality of Schoolwork
· Outside interests
· Interest in School
· Self-direction and regulation
· Sense of community and culture
· Peer relationships
· Relationships with parents and family
· Homework habits
· Behavior in school

As a matter of fact, educators saw only one glaring negative in the potential influence of Web 2.0 on students – in the area of exercise and physical activity.

The top priority of educators, according to the study, is to keep students interested and engaged. Most educators agree that limiting participation to “approved educational websites” is key to applying Web 2.0 to possibilities in student learning.

The study highlighted nine major findings about the use of Web 2.0 in public schools:

1. The nation’s district administrators are positive about the impact of Web 2.0 on students’ lives and their education;
2. Keeping students interested and engaged in school is the top priority for Web 2.0 in American schools;
3. The majority of administrative educators think student use of Web 2.0 should be limited to approved educational websites;
4. Most school districts ban social networking sites and chat rooms but all prescribed educational use for most other Web 2.0 tools;
5. Curriculum directors see significant opportunities to improve education through the use of Web 2.0;
6. Curriculum directors report that Web 2.0 can be used most effectively in social studies, writing, science and reading at all grade levels;
7. The use of Web 2.0 at this point is only in pioneering classrooms;
8. Web 2.0 is outpacing the innovative capacity of K-12 educators.
9. Adminsitrative educators are passive, not active users of Web 2.0[1]

A few of the interesting highlights from the study:

· 70% of all technology directors in public schools block social networking sites on school computers.
· 55% of Internet filtering on school computers (nearly all use Internet filtering) is more restrictive than the Children’s Internet Protectio Act (CIPA) requires.
· 75% of superintendents and curriculum directors addres Web 2.0 holds potential value for teaching and learning.
· Most educators are more positive about the potential for Web 2.0 in high school and middle school classrooms than elementary classrooms.
· 56% of educators reported that Web 2.0 applications have not yet been integrated into the curriculum.
· Most school districts are more focused on dealing with the problems of Web 2.0 than on challenges to leverage Web 2.0 for learning.
· Many district administrators saiud that educators in their districts were not sufficiently familiar with Web 2.0 to understand it fully, much less use it to redesign educational initiatives.[2]

As a student in the LEEP program, I feel like I may take technology a little for granted. I guess I just assume that educators are taking advantage of all that is available for use on the Internet, because if I’m being educated about it at the graduate level, surely there is professional development for educators that is addressing the potential for Web 2.0 in schools.

What I learned from glancing at the report, and at the accompanying slideshow (from which most of the highpoints for this post were taken), is that educators are unfamiliar with Web 2.0, and while they may see the potential in it as an educational tool, a general lack of active engagement with Web 2.0 on the part of most educators is resulting in a serious lag between what educators can provide students through technological advances and what students are actually getting.

I see this a lot in my work at the reference desk, with kids in middle school and high school, who are advised by their teachers not to use the Internet as a source for research projects. The problem with this is a basic lack of understanding about a) what the Internet is, and b) what resources qualify as “useful” internet resources and just Internet resources (subscription databases and peer-reviewed online journals versus Wikipedia, etc.) There’s a basic lack of computer literacy across the board – because of a lack of general knowledge about the usefulness of available resources on the Internet – on the part of teachers. Children are remarkably receptive to using the Internet as a research tool, and, when taught, pick up on the mechanics of it very quickly. It seems to me that teachers are the ones who need to be taught. Again – this brings up the question of professional development.

Why aren’t the majority today’s educators – new and experienced – more versed in computer literacy? Why aren’t they at least imparting information to their students on acceptable Internet resources? Why aren’t schools and public libraries partnering to instruct teachers and students on the availability of resources through Web 2.0 and on the Internet in general?

This is also a problem in public libraries, with more experienced librarians who seem to be biding their time to retirement (for better or worse – I’m not judging). A lot of really good resources exist out there for librarians and teachers that aren’t been taken advantage of and integrated into school and library experiences because of a general malaise in the area of professional development for these individuals. Just because today’s students are born digital doesn’t mean they’re born knowing how to effectively use this material. Isn’t it up to the adults in their lives – the parents, the teachers, the librarians – to continue to learn and instruct so that today’s young people will grow up to do the same?

Ok, off my soapbox, but this is an interesting report – the full version and the slide show can be downloaded at http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?TabId=4198

[1] Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise in Reality Slide Show, retrieved from http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?TabId=4198 on 4 May 2009.
[2] Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise in Reality Slide Show, retrieved from http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?TabId=4198 on 4 May 2009.

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