Collaboration in Today's Classrooms: New Web Tools Change the Game: The New-Generation Web 2.0 Solutions Are Easier and More Engaging to Use, and They Are Proving to Have a Larger Impact on Collaboration and Communication in the Classroom Than Complex Technologies of the Past

By Driscoll, Kelly | Multimedia & Internet@Schools, May-June 2007 | Go to article overview

Collaboration in Today's Classrooms: New Web Tools Change the Game: The New-Generation Web 2.0 Solutions Are Easier and More Engaging to Use, and They Are Proving to Have a Larger Impact on Collaboration and Communication in the Classroom Than Complex Technologies of the Past


Driscoll, Kelly, Multimedia & Internet@Schools


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Technology is playing a key role in various types of communication within the classroom today, changing the way communication takes place in a way that is having a real impact on learning. A different breed of technology, leveraging the power of simplistic Web 2.0 design principles, is proving to finally break through with a real impact on students and teachers. Technology such as online learning communities is proving to offer a more dynamic learning experience, with direct benefit to students and teachers. It's a refreshing change for educators who have struggled with the complexity, cost, and practicality of the last generation of technology tools.

We see technology being used for different types of communication--for presentation, for class interaction, and for collaboration. No matter what type of communication is being used in the classroom, it is an important motivator for teachers and for students. Presentation begins with a simple sharing of ideas or information with someone else. Interaction involves not only sharing ideas or information with someone else but also receiving feedback. Collaboration engages groups of people in not only sending and receiving feedback but working together for creating, building, and editing.

To accomplish these different types of communication, teachers and students today are becoming less dependent on big enterprise-labeled communication systems that became popular in the '90s, such as course management and learning management systems. Instead, they are seeking out simple, inexpensive, easy-to-use tools that accomplish specific communication tasks. Despite all the buzz surrounding technology, there is not one technology that can do it all. Many teachers are finding it is best to mix and match. The freedom to mix and match technology is possible today because of two factors:

* Easy accessibility of computers and high-speed Internet

* A new breed of Web-based technologies often referred to as Web 2.0 (including blogs, wikis, learning communities, podcasts, audio and video conferencing, and online office applications)

MAKE IT EASY, MAKE IT AFFORDABLE

There are common threads that connect this array of communication technologies. The first thread is price. The majority of these new tools and applications are either free or very low cost. This puts cash-strapped public K-12 schools on equal footing with large universities--everyone has easy access to these tools.

An important thing to point out related to this price thread is the fact that a number of these technologies are fully hosted. That means that no expensive infrastructure (servers, data centers) needs to be purchased, no IT staff needs to be bothered, and end users don't have to go blurry-eyed thinking about setup and configuration. Teachers and students can simply sign up and drive.

This concept leads to a second thread connecting this technology trend--ease of use. This movement is grounded in the principle that less is more. Fewer bells and whistles equals software that does its job and gets out of your way. There is only a small learning curve, if any, for a teacher to jump in and start using the technology in his or her classroom. This shift has made a dramatic impact on education. The teacher can now focus on the important question, "Why do I want to use this technology?" instead of "How do I use this technology?" Teachers are free to spend their time investigating technology-supported learning experiences and how to integrate technology into their curricula instead of sitting in tedious training sessions.

Likewise, for students using these technologies, they can simply focus on learning their course material and taking advantage of the new communication opportunities instead of having to learn a new technology. Today's tech-savvy student generation is actively participating in social networking and other online communities, so most students not only understand how to use Web 2. …

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