This is Why I love the Internet

I love the Internet. With all its rubbish and junk you can still find the most amazing things. These days you can even find the most amazing tools. What most pundits would agree is the feature of Web 2.0 that distinguishes it from what came before, is the prevalence of online applications. Dynamic sites that harness the power of back end databases and java, ajax and flash, silverlight etc.

The reason I love these online apps, over software like say Photoshop or MS Office, is that they are built to be user friendly and simple from the outset. When a developer puts up an online app or tool, it must be simple and intuitive or people will move on and find another web site to tickle their fancy.

The online app that has me excited today is a #backchannel tool called is a simple site that allows you to create an online, temporary, chatroom.  A simple idea and there are many other tools out there that do that.  I just happened on and liked the interface.  The power of this simple tool for education is in the use of #backchannel discussions in the classroom.  In a nutshell, you run a chatroom during your lecture or lesson where students can post ideas and questions, share files and links and you can guage and monitor understanding through their written feedback.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of watching a Microsoft video titled “Schools of the Future”.  In the video we are shown what MS must see as a typical higher education classroom, a lecture hall with the prof at the front standing at the old-school overhead projector writing notes and all the students in the room rather sleepily taking notes in notebooks.  The school of the future was transformed with technology however!!  (some sarcasm there; bear with me) With technology, students all had laptops and so were able to rather sleepily take notes in MS word.  The professor no longer had to stand at the overhead.  He was free to pace back and forth at the front of the room, making notes on his tablet PC which showed those same boring notes on the big screen at the front.  Wow.  Transformative. (more sarcasm)

I mention this video because, besides showing how technology can replace old tools (and still not change the teaching and learning), they also added a feature that I thought was truly transformative.  They were also running an MSN chat for the class to post questions, add ideas, guide the discussion and give feedback to the prof.  The classroom TA manned the chat room at the front, taking the feedback and questions and filtering those to present the prof with common misconceptions, frequestly asked questions and such.  Allowing the students to ask questions in this way, posting their queries and thoughts as they happen, instead of waiting for the end of the lecture, is a little thing, but a great use of technology.  I just this week found several articles about this kind of #backchanneling in the classroom that brought this idea back to the fore for me.  At the time of watching the video I was struck that, using MSN limited the ease of use of this tool.  You would have to ensure everyone had a PC, that they all had MSN accounts, etc.  Not simple.

But, just this week I read about successful backchannel uses in the classroom and online tools for quickly and easily creating a chatroom for your class or lesson, on the fly.  All that students would need is a browser and the Internet.

I love that the Internet is becoming more and more useful with these great learning tools and also that the tech needs in school are being reduced to a nice and simple need: Internet access.

If you want to see what I was reading and where these ideas sprung from this week, get over to and search on backchannel.

Let the students drive?

Good post over at Clay Burrel’s blog, reflecting on his school’s 1:1 program and how students see it.

An Old Prophecy Confirmed? On the Uses and Abuses of Laptop Learning

My comment:

I think that this is a trap many 1:1 schools encounter, forcing the tech and “making good use” of the expensive new toys. If students are not seen to be making iMovies constantly, the board will question the program and revoke the funding.

What if we did this instead? What if we gave the kids the laptops, because there is no doubt in my mind that kids need anytime anywhere access to these tools, and we relied on them to decide when and how they wanted to use them?

What if, instead of teachers continually telling students how to learn or how to communicate their learning, we instead formed a partnership with the students and allowed choice in student products? What if we stopped worrying about the cost of the laptops and allowed some students to leave them in their backpack for days on end if they simply did not need them?

So, in this scenario, the kids have the technology. The teachers have the curriculum and the learning outcomes, benchmarks, standards, whatever, and the students can use or not use the technology tools based on their learning styles, interests and aptitudes. Students and teachers need to learn about the technology tools and what their options are, but teachers only need to assign a task like this: Show me that you have learned X. Use whatever medium you like, imovie, pencil and paper, blog, podcast, etc. Communicate to me and your peers (or dare I say even an authentic audience somwehere) what you have learned. You have a laptop and all the tools you need. Bonus points for using the tech tools in a way that we have not seen before. Let the students teach us about how they use technology.

What if we stopped trying to force the technology and instead allowed different students to use different tools based on them, not us?

Imagine all the students, learning things this way….

Change is slow in education and change in technology in education has been particularly slow, compared to the rate of technology change and penetration in the “real” world.  I think that comes in many ways from schools and teachers trying to be experts at it and not giving students enough ownership over their learning.  Teachers have to assign the projects and set the tasks and if they are not comfortable with the technology or they only know the one thing they learned in the PD they got in August (used to be PowerPoint and now its iMovie), they use that over and over, even when it is not appropriate to the task.

The power and potential of technology, as we can see by the evolution of the web to a democratizing platform of user-driven content and services, is that individuals can use the things that work for them.  We must engage students in a partnership for learning.  Give them the tech tools and let them run with them.  Let them teach us and teach each other how they can best use the tools for learning.  Let them innovate.  Let them experiment.  Let them fail.  Let them learn.

What is Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is approaching being passe but it is still interesting to me that the term has varying meanings depending on who you ask.  I found this today on the new Microsoft World Wide Telescope website:

“Web 2.0 is the next generation of the World Wide Web wherein technologies and social practices use metadata or tags to enable communication and resource sharing in a variety of forms (text, audio, video, links, etc.) through the Web without a centralized authority’s intervention or approval. Rich visualization software provides a graphical visualization of large structured data sets. The software’s interactive graphical user interface provides users with a more data-rich presentation of the data and enables them to explore, filter, analyze, and interact with the data, resulting in a better understanding of that data.”

From this page:

Thank you Microsoft.

Others of course claim that Web 2.0 does not really exist and still others claim that it has to do with the social web rather than the commercial web that pre-dated the dot-com bust.

For me Web 2.0 is all about data driven websites.  Interactive sites that allow you, as the user, to log in and customize your interaction with the site in some way, or give and receive data with the site.  Social networks, blogs and wikis are all examples of this kind of interactive web.  I distinguish Web 2.0 sites from the old HTML sites that gave info and left it at that.  Looking back in time, using the Wayback Machine for example, it is interesting to see web sites from the 90’s that have static front pages providing info on a company or brand and that offer no way to join or get more info beyond what the webmaster chose to put there. Hard to imagine now.

Web 3.0, if there ever is such a thing, will likely be an extension of the web 2.0 data model where data from diverse sites will begin to come together using tags across sites or by linking user profiles across sites.  Somehow the various stores of data will be connected and manipulated by users in ways that the data can not right now because it is tied to one domain or one company.

We’ll see.

Google Spreadsheets now as a Wiki!

Google Spreadsheets, the online spreadsheet program that is part of Google Docs, has just added a new feature by which you can make a spreadsheet open for editing to anyone and everyone.  Before, you could invite collaborators but you had to provide them with a link that included a secret code so only invited people could participate.  Now you can have it open for anyone to click a link from a web page or blog and edit in real-time with many others.  See a full explanation at


Some Predictions

I have not posted anything in a while as I have been busy working with a group of students on an iMovie project.  Now that it is over we are looking at the end of term and some final tech projects.  One teacher has asked her students to create a memory using some kind of digital format, movie, podcast, or whatever.  Hmmm, just thinking, VoiceThread might be a good idea.

Anyway, while discussing this with students today we started a discussion of memories and keeping things to share with their children.  Someone suggested a blog would be a good memory.  I quipped that the blog server (we host the students’ blogs locally) will not be around in 20 years and they were shocked.  What did that mean?

So I had to break the news to them that the Internet is not permanent.  Indeed, I told them, the Internet will likely not exist as we know it in 20 years.  I stand by that prediction.

Even now the Net Neutrality issue threatens to change the nature of the democratic web.  If companies and countries can control access to sites and give more bandwidth or more access to certain sites and kill others if they disagree with them or if they can’t pay enough, the web as we know it will change irrevocably.

And I think, soon is my guess, that the need to upload things, to use WordPress or a hosting company, will go away.  A computer, on the network, has an IP address and a unique hardware address.  That can and will likely be accessible from the Internet or the wider network.  Why should I have to post my photos on a photo sharing site?  I have my photos in iPhoto and I can chose to share them on the network.  Anyone should be able to find me and see them.

And I will not really need my computer much anymore.  Perhaps if I am doing some work of a particularly complex nature, or that visually requires a big screen, I might need a computer, but otherwise, my iPhone is pretty good right now at most things I like to do.  I can browse the Net, send and receive messages, cal people, watch videos, etc.  Soon devices like that will also take video, allow simple editing and uploading or sharing and then, I won;t really need my computer to create content and share it.  I can type alright on the iPhone, update my blog, connect to FaceBook, etc. right now and these kind of small portable devices wil only get better and more powerful.  The Network they exist on will become more and more ubiquitous and soon I will be on-line all the time.  Connected all the time.  So then I can be sharing content and viewing content anytime anywhere.  So why would I need a hosting company?  Why would I need a computer?

I don’t know if something like the iPhone will be able to do all the things I do with a computer, but my prediction is that we will change what we want to do with the computer based on the devices we have and the services and software that wil be created to harness their abilities and size.

So, no Internet (as we know it) in 20 years (likely sooner) and no bulky computers (for personal use).  Mark my words, becasue this blog won’t be here in 20 years to come back and check.

Twitter expands the walls

David Parry, academicdave on twitter, writes about using Twitter in his classroom.  The most interesting bit is how he found it expanded the walls of the classroom.  Students, having a shared classroom experience and context, twittered while away from class about things that reminded them of classroom topics and events and tied their outside experiences together with each other and with the class.  He also promises a future post on the nuts and bolts of using twitter in the classroom.

Teaching Data Literacy

A posting I read today on Jeff Utecht’s blog, Utechtips, got me thinking about data and the enormous amounts of data being collected and created on the web today.  His posting was about a new piece of software demoed at the TED talks called Photosynth.  This web site and software uses tags and photo meta data to make connections between related pictures.
At the end of the day I was in a meeting and we were talking about 21st century skills and helping students become digital citizens.  It made me think about all this data and how students will need data literacy skills to make sense of it all and also to make the connections that will be needed to make new information.


Credit: TED Talks