Web Tools

Much of the work currently being written on Web 2.0 is actually posted on the internet, often in those very tools. Many educators have chosen to contribute publicly to the body of knowledge about the available tools, their pros and cons and ideas for their use in the classroom.

From extensive reading on the internet by many of the teachers who are using and evaluating these tools, I have learned that the most common tools being used are blogs, wikis, RSS feeds and multimedia sites.

Blogs are web logs, which are on-line journals where students can post reflections or written assignments. An area for comments under each posting can be used for teacher, class or public feedback. Each student can also have their own blog, which can be linked to a central classroom blog moderated by the teacher. Blogs can also be private, available only to registered and approved students, or public. Most blogs allow images and video and many offer other tools and customization. There are a number of blogs specifically geared towards classroom use (see Appendix D). These blogs offer greater security for students and usually are associated with a user group of teachers who offer advice on setting up a classroom blog and ideas for lesson plans.

Wikis are multi-page sites that allow collaborative input. Students can add and edit content, which can include images, sounds, video and other multimedia. Wikis usually have a history or edit changes page so that a teacher can assess individual student input if a student is required to log in before adding material. As in blogs, wikis can be public or private and those set up for educational use usually have active user groups.

Teachers are now encouraging students to collect RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds related to a topic of interest, or to collect blog entries for students in their class. RSS allows students to sign up for new information that is posted to their favourite web-sites so that they don’t have to check each one individually for updates. In other words, the information comes to them, instead of them having to go find it. Students need to evaluate what information is out on the internet and make choices about reliable and relevant choices for their research. Another source of information is the social content or news site, which does the collecting for the user, based on a specific area of interest (or general interest). Some of these sites allow users to rate stories based on quality and relevancy.

Students are also being encouraged to post multi-media files on the internet. PowerPoint presentations can be converted into slideshows and posted to sites like SlideShare. Videos can be posted to YouTube or GoogleVideos or TeacherTube, or students can be asked to view presentations posted by others on a relevant topic. Photo Sharing sites are being used by classes to post art work or digital photos. These photos can be tagged according to content, and comments can be added about the images.

Another tool of the Web 2.0 which is favoured by students is the social network, for example MySpace and Facebook. Although there has not been much use of these tools for educational purposes as yet, there have been some attempts to tap into student interest in these sites. Some teachers have been using Facebook to communicate with students, for example as a replacement to e-mail. The ability to create groups can also allow students to ask questions and provide feedback in one handy place. Artists have created art galleries of their work and politicians have created information sites on Facebook and MySpace. It is worth considering the intense interest generated by social networks and considering how to harness that interest in the classroom.

The Web 2.0 is constantly changing, with existing applications being improved and new applications being introduced. The active teacher community associated with many of the tools ensures that these tools are designed with safety, ease and use and customization in mind.

Using Web 2.0 Tools in the Classroom

Any program that uses the tools of the internet should take into account any hardware and software requirements, ease of use for both the teacher and student and student safety. I would be testing any tool that I was considering using and making myself familiar with its pros and cons through my own evaluation and by reading the teacher feedback from the user communities. I have created an evaluation form that takes into account the different features and requirements that I would need to consider before introducing any tool to my students (Appendix B). I would use the form in order to assess each program and ensure that it met my requirements.

In planning my art program, I would take into account the time it would take to explain the tool’s features and give students a chance to experiment with it. A key component of my introducing Web 2.0 tools into the class would also be an explanation of safety considerations, for example, no posting of private and identifying information on the internet. I would also need to be vigilant throughout the year to ensure that students are following the rules.

A sample list of rules can be found in Appendix G, however I would prefer to ask students to develop the rules so that they would take ownership of them. I would also ask them to sign the rules as part of an Acceptable Use Policy, post them on the walls of the computer room, give each student and copy and make them available to parents on Parent Teacher Night.

In a mixed ability classroom, different tools would be appropriate for different learning styles and needs. For auditory learners, creating podcasts about the works of an artist could be considered, while for visual learners, a mindmap or wiki might be useful. For students with organization problems, wikis or blogs can be structured by the teacher into clearly defined areas of assignment. There is an excellent variety of tools available and they can be used individually or combined for maximum benefit.

Another consideration is the work that is being done to make web-sites and tools accessible to learners with vision problems and physical limitations There are design and development guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, which provides standardization rules for the web. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) provides an analysis tool called Bobby to indicate if a web-site is accessible to people with disabilities.

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