Friday, October 24, 2008

Web 2.0 Britannica Discussion

There is a lively discussion going on over at the Britannica blog regarding project based learning and web 2.0 tools. This started with a post by Steve Hargadon and continued with a post by Daniel Willingham. I highly recommend you give it a whirl. The following are the comments I made on Daniel Willingham's thread a couple days ago. I am reposting them here because I think it follows well with some of my recent thinking and recent posts on this blog:

I completely agree that what is needed are teachers who know how to utilize project-based pedagogies effectively when appropriate and that the pedagogy trumps whatever technology might be used. Teachers need training not only on how to use web2.0 tools but knowledge of what tools are available. Since the spectrum changes almost exponentially every day this becomes extremely difficult. The field of education also does a poor job of providing this training. If a company in the private sector wants their employees to use a technology for their job they usually pay that employee to be trained on said technology and provide time for this to happen. In schools this time is almost nill and teachers are usually expected to keep up on their own. As for any system wide pedagogical shift that might happen there are other systemic factors that get in the way. To this point Alan Kellog comments, “Teach them how to think for themselves, and don’t accept whining.” The problem here is with most teachers there is no choice whether we accept their whining or not. Tenure and teacher unions make sure the status quo remains in effect. If web2.0 is a disruptive technology for schools and if that disruptive technology changes quickly (as it does), then schools need to be able to change quickly if they want to keep up. The system is stacked against quick change. In most schools there is a triad of forces that both prevent bad ideas from wrecking havoc on the system and prohibit quick necessary changes from taking place. These three forces are the school board or board of directors, the teacher union or association, and the administration.

Today, Scott McLeod asked, "Can a computer lecture be better than a human?" in a blog post about his 5th grade daughter needing to find an answer to a math problem. In their search they found an animated program online that more effectively taught the concept than any book or lecture could have done. He says that they found themselves self-motivated learners by the engagement of the tools. This is a serious problem for our schools. If our best teachers are not in our classrooms but designing programs, simulations, and teaching objects that enable self-directed inquiry and encourage independent learning and if students find that kind of education more engaging, thought provoking, and efficient than our classrooms then why should they not drop out and acquire their own education at home? Why would we need classroom teachers at all? Why would we need schools? With this scenario, home schooling looks like a great option. Maybe a superior option for many.

I don’t think we will see a major transformation of our public schools but if we do it will be in response to a crisis that hurts fiscally. When a mass exodus of students occurs and schools have to cut enough teachers and boards have to cut enough programs because of lack of funds due to declining enrollment we might then see schools enacting their own pedagogical bailout package.

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