Tuesday, July 22, 2008

tt4t_047 Bridging the gap

It’s Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 and welcome to episode 47 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. The summer is slipping away and as we plan for the remaining weeks there is still much to be completed. I have been thinking a lot lately about Web 2.0 technologies and their impact on education. For many in the education field Web 2.0 has not even made it on the vocabulary radar, I think this is also true in the business world. Many of those that do know about Web 2.0 have a difficult time explaining what it is. Get outside of the technology bubble and I think you will find that many are uninformed of this phenomena.

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I work in both the teaching and technology field so I often have to bridge the gap that sometimes exists between teachers and educational technologists. The two areas do have a lot in common yet there are still gaps that appear from time to time. Both the teaching side and technology side require an insatiable appetite for learning new things but our views are filtered by our own perspectives, needs, and interests. An educational technologist looks at a technology and admires its capabilities, possibilities, and newness while a teacher often looks for practicality, reliability, and scalability.

Most Web 2.0 companies are supported by advertising dollars and/or venture capital. I have heard little this summer in my readings or at conference presentations about the impact of the increasing advertisement presence in schools. This seems to have slipped under the doors with little notice. Public education is always in a difficult spot as it serves all and there is never a consensus that will please everyone.

While many of the Web 2.0 services are “free” the purpose of these Web 2.0 services are to eventually make money. I do understand the need for these companies to make money but I do worry about the increasing influence and reach that advertisers are having in our schools. Should there be a standard for the amount or limit for advertising in schools?

The inappropriateness and randomness of some advertising banners are a concern when the Internet is used in the classroom. This seemingly simple observation is why some teachers and administrators are hesitant about using the Internet more in the classroom. I might also add that this is why even some advertisers do not advertise on websites because they do not want their products to be associated with certain kinds of user created content beyond their control. It seems that there are some things in common between these advertisers and educators, control.

As a teacher I can tell you that one of the most frustrating things is to get all excited about a new technology and do all the prep work to make it work only to find that one piece of the complex technology puzzle lets you down. The problem for a teacher is that we do not always know all of the interactive pieces that make everything work and in the world of technology there is much out of the teachers control. You try everything out at home and it all works fine but when you get to school something goes wrong. As all good teachers know having a Plan B is requirement for those just-in-case times.

With all the hype of Web 2.0 and cloud computing it is always good to take a step back and evaluate the practicality and reliability needed for the average teacher to feel comfortable with new Web 2.0 tools. These new tools will not be adopted in mass if these issues are not addressed. Teachers do need to feel comfortable with a technology to regularly use it in the classroom. When you flip the switch the lights need to come on.

As a teacher educator I see things from both the K-12 and higher education perspectives and both of these worlds share some commonalities but are also very different. For many in the K-12 world getting started with Web 2.0 may be nearly impossible at school because filtering software often blocks many Web 2.0 technologies. This is very frustrating for early adopters and change agents that want to explore different methods for improving learning. Ask students if they know of a way around certain filtered sites at school and many will tell you yes.

As many of us return from conferences learning the latest and greatest technologies I urge everyone to spend some time on the front-end discussing policies and implementation issues of these new technologies for educational use. This requires ongoing group discussions and a wisdom of the crowds approach because no one individual or entity has all of the answers.

The classroom landscape is about to radically change as students are increasingly bringing their own personal technology to school that completely bypasses the school network. Cell phones, PDA’s, and MP3 players were the first to have this impact but now with what I call Personal Area Networks where a student can have unfettered access to all things Internet. The Blackberry and iPhone are beginning to make their way into schools and these new types of technologies completely bypass school networks and filtering. I have talked a lot recently about the small form factor eee PC mini-laptop computer, add to this a wireless network card from the phone company and the Internet world is yours completely unfiltered.

Students will increasingly need to know how to navigate in this open world and make appropriate decisions to avoid the dark side of the Internet. This is true for K-12 students as well as college-aged students. Age-appropriate filtering of some type will still be needed. Judgment is an important skill as Internet activity can be and is being tracked.

Some companies want to know more about your browsing habits so that targeted advertisements can be sent your way. Technologies like Google AdSense is already doing this. Postings on MySpace and Facebook can have consequences for future employment if one is careless about the types of information that is shared with these and other social networking sites whether on purpose or inadvertently. This “free” technology does have a price and can have future consequences.

Google AdSense

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week
My technology pick of the week this week is the searchme.com search engine. A link is available in the show notes.

SearchMe – Visual Search Engine

If you are a visual learner like myself then you might want to give searchme.com a try. Searchme allows the user to enter search terms just like Google except instead of returning lists of text information about your search results searchme actually displays a miniature picture of the related webpage. You can use the right and left arrow keys or the slider bar of the search results to quickly and visually thumb through webpages related to your search.

This also works with images and video content. If you look at the top left-hand corner of the searchme.com website you can simply click on your choice of search, either web, videos, or images. If you do want to see a short text description of your search results this is available under the active webpage that is displayed.

This reminds me a lot of PicLens browser plug-in that was my Tech Pick of the Week for Episode 38. In my opinion the searchme.com website is not as polished as the PicLens plug-in for browsers but one advantage is that you do not have to install anything on your computer to use it as is the case with PicLens. Simply go to the searchme.com website and type in your search and the results will be displayed visually.

That wraps it up for episode 47 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at www.eiu.edu/itc by clicking on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. To leave a comment or suggestion please send an email to techtalk@eiu.edu or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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