Ten Stages of Working the Web for Education
March, Tom, MultiMedia Schools
This article marks my entry into the MULTIMEDIA SCHOOLS community. I appreciate the chance to share ideas on working the Web for education and look forward to developing a series of future columns that can help make the most of this powerful and diverse medium. Since this is the first column, I thought I'd take a moment to introduce myself.
For 10 years I enjoyed life as a high school English teacher in suburban San Diego, California. Being the new kid on the block back in 1986, the department chairperson gave me the "opportunity" to teach in the department's aging computer lab. I'm sure many readers have had similar knocks from opportunity and its inherent headaches;-). Personal experience with word processors had convinced me that computers facilitated the creative problem solving that is the heart of good writing, so I accepted the challenge willingly. During the next 10 years, we wrote grants, swapped for new computers, integrated multimedia authoring and laserdiscs, networked, and moved up to professional-level software. Just as we reached my ideal of robust tools ready to support advanced learning, I left the classroom to become one of three Pacific Bell Fellows with the Educational Technology Department at San Diego State University.
Beginning in 1995, Pacific Bell Education First gave us free reign to develop online tools, resources, and strategies that would help teachers, librarians, and their learners make the best use of the Internet and videoconferencing (http:// www.kn.pacbell.com). As a recently matriculated instructional designer, this was another rare opportunity. Working with people like Professor Bernie Dodge and colleague Jodi Reed was like getting another advanced degree. Over the course of 3 years we created such Web sites as Blue Web'n, Filamentality, Eyes on Art, and a host of WebQuests. What we learned during the process will find its way into this column.
As the official Fellowship drew to a close in 1997 (and our eldest approached school age), my wife and I decided to emigrate to her homeland of Australia. Here we live in a beautiful, rural village in New South Wales, recently purchased some bushland acreage, and send our eldest son to a two-room school that boasts sheep in the paddock and Internet connectivity to the 130 year old library. We also began our own company, Ozline.com, where we develop educational Web sites and design strategies to help teachers work the Web for education.
In closing, a lot of our "American Dream transplanted to Aussie soil" is only possible due to the Web. The ability to easily connect with people around the world has allowed us to live in a distant area and still operate an international company, and now, write a column for newfound friends. The folks who said an English degree wouldn't lead to a job and that teaching was a dead-end career had never envisioned the Web!
People aren't born knowing how to read, play a musical instrument, or drive a car. We recognize these as hurdles and even identify them as rites of passage. We use Easy Readers, Suzuki Methods, and Driver's Ed to help learners. If we skip such formal approaches to learning, at least we recognize people need time if they are to acquire the learning on their own.
Yet teachers are expected to know some pretty complex things without any formal instruction. For example, educators should know how to teach students to use the latest hi-tech resources and to prepare learners with an array of advanced-thinking strategies. Makes playing violin seem like a snap in comparison. Still, just because things are hard, doesn't mean they aren't good to learn (haven't you heard yourself saying this to students?).
So what's needed to help teachers achieve their tech-use rite of passage? I'd suggest two things. First, how about plenty of time to learn? Seems reasonable. Given the time, many educators will creatively problem-solve this challenge as they do most others. …