Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lessons I Learned about Web 2.0 Technology Working with College Students

by Jacob Gutnicki

This past summer I taught a graduate course that uses technology to support math instruction. Over the course of 5 weeks, my students created lesson plans using Google Docs, developed their own blogs, designed Web Quests powered by Google sites, published podcasts, and produced other educational projects. As always, I warned my students about the dangers of the Internet. However, this time was different. A number of informal conversations revealed that they understood the power of the Internet; both bad and good. Students were already aware of how to make their postings non-listed, how to use privacy settings, as well as other precautions. This might not sound significant. However, I assure you it is. I have taught this type of course various times over the past 7 years and previously, the students’ lack of net awareness was frightening.

However, these teachers were different. When they were in High School, the Internet was already a common household name. More importantly, their Internet experience was not dictated by restrictiveness. Rather, it was used to promote research at their fingertips. At the same time they were made aware of the dangers the Internet can pose if not used judiciously. This has tremendous implications for pedagogical practices in the 21st century.

It is no secret that in the past 5 years web based applications have dramatically matured. Think about how cell phones, Facebook, Wikis, Twitter, You Tube, Google applications, and other Web 2.0 applications have transformed how we communicate. Today we can receive instant weather reports, traffic reports, and other vital information with our handheld devices. Simply put, Web 2.0 applications is the push technology of the late 1990s reaching its true potential. In five years from now, the next generation will laugh at us, as these devices will continue to revolutionize how we communicate and conduct business.

Yet despite it all, some educators fear the cell phone, are frightened by social networking tools, and as such have banned its usage in educational settings. In fact, it seems that our fears have been growing by leaps and bounds. For this reason, observing the first net generation was very telling.

In watching them use technology, I understood their awareness of safe technology usage was due to their High School and college experiences during which they experimented with all kinds of technology applications under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable teacher. Similarly, the students of today desperately need this training and exposure to both computers and handheld devices. Why you may ask? Like it or not if your students are not using cell phones currently, they will use it soon enough.

Will they know how to use it safely? Will they know about on-line predators? Will they know about privacy settings? More importantly, will they know when it is not appropriate to use the cell phone? This will depend on whether we teach students about proper usage and provide them with ample opportunities to use computers and smart phone technology in a classroom environment where they can share their successes and learn from their mistakes.

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