Schools need Web 2.0

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At St. Paul E-Democracy’s workshop on E-Tools for All, held in November at Rondo Library, we had a full house. At the workshop, Mike Dean from Tippingpoint Strategies presented on “Digital Tools for Community Organizing at Rondo Library.” As I sat and watched Mike present numerous tools, I heard about the hundred or so RSS feeds he subscribes to be on top of the issues that are important to him—both in his professional and personal life—and I became fully aware of the need for all of us to become proactive in integrating digital tools in the St. Paul Public Schools.

Until recently (forgive my oversimplification), we have viewed education as a system in which teachers provide a checklist of things to learn, and in which education is aided only by books, journal articles, and personal experiences. Learning has been assessed through tests that show how well students can retrieve material they’ve learned, and how well they can articulate it, apply it, and transfer the knowledge they have acquired to everyday life.

During the early 1990s, we witnessed—with the advent of Netscape browser—a first wave in the information revolution. The World Wide Web began to change education from a model of transmitting knowledge from teacher to student to one of guided acquisition and production of knowledge. Tutorials, such as Patrick Crispen’s roadmap, taught many of us how to navigate the information superhighway (e-mail, html, etc.) in twenty-some lessons.

During the last decade, libraries, schools, and learning institutions have come to terms with the Web a valid tool for learning, developing strategies to teach students ways to find and use trusted online information. As institutions, they have made tremendous use of online tools. Publishing houses have adapted by providing educational institutions with flexible publications to customize education (for example).

In 2004, the term “Web 2.0 tools” began to be used to refer to a new generation of Web tools geared toward greater collaboration on the Web—or, for that matter, anything that is new on the Web. (See “What Is Web 2.0?”) Many experts believe that we are in the midst of another wave in the information revolution. We are moving from individual to collective and collaborative learning at great speed, says Carmen Holotescu, an expert on technology and education. Holotescu says that Web 2.0 tools are leading to a paradigm shift in education.

If we are experiencing a paradigm shift, we need to rethink and re-conceptualize education as new Web tools are developed. Information technology cannot be an add-on in our educational system. It needs to be an integral part of the curriculum.

This time around, though, there is no road map to help us navigate the information highways, where seemingly unlimited new tools appear every day. There is not a checklist of the tools we need to learn to become information-literate. We must shift the way we conceptualize education.

Last night, as I tried to make sense of Mike Dean’s 100 daily RSS subscriptions, I asked myself, are St. Paul schoolchildren taught Web 2.0 tools? Are they taught how to effectively and efficiently peruse, scan, evaluate, select, digest, retain, retrieve, articulate, and apply information on the Web? Are they taught how to look at divergent points of view and not only the ones that we agree with? Are they taught how to effectively collaborate with others on the Web? I do not know. That is a question for members of the school board.

Brian Benzinger at Solution Watch has described Web-based tools, applications, and other new possibilities for education. Are any schools using these tools effectively? I do not know.

What are some of the implications for our schools?

1) Make information technology an integral and essential part of the education of St. Paul schoolchildren using resources already available. Internet use is an essential part of education, commerce, information access, and community.

2) Evaluate and implement educational changes that help students effectively and efficiently peruse, scan, evaluate, select, digest, retain, retrieve, articulate, and apply information on the Web.

3) Provide in-school training for teachers and students. Be open to using students as mentors to teachers for some of the tools, while teachers mentor students on how make use of those tools as effective learning instruments. Find collaborative ways for faculty, administrators, and students to learn new tools.

4) Provide after-school Internet access to students and parents—making maximum use of already existing resources. According to the 2006 Minnesota Internet Study, released in April 2007 by the Center for Rural Policy and Development, more than 30% of our metropolitan population is being left out. 29% of the people in our metro area do not own a computer, and 33% lack Internet connectivity.

We all need to work towards e-tools for all students in St. Paul.

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