Monday, February 27, 2006


Most of you have had to deal with 'MySpace' in one way or another this school year. While in many instances what students are using MySpace for is not appropriate for an educational setting. Simply trying to 'block' My Space isn't the solution either, because the students are always going to find some way to circumvent the controls placed on their access by filters and proxies. How many sites do you see popping up offering anonymous web surfing?

My Space allows students to express themselves in an innovative and creative ways, which is extremely important for students in their high school years, yet some of the language and content is not appropriate for an educational setting. Blogging, in it's many forms (written, video and pictures) is something that is going to continue to grow into the future. Students are doing all kinds of things with 'MySpace' accounts, including creating dummy accounts for teachers, like the one's we have shown in faculty meetings. These accounts artifically bloat the numbers of subscribers claimed by 'MySpace.' Law Enforcement is also starting to take notice of the blogging craze, by reading the blogs of students in the local area to obtain clues about unsolved crimes and current investigations.

So, what do educators do? First of all, we need to educate the teachers and the parents as to what 'My Space' is. Most teachers and parents have no idea what is going on and what is being posted on individual student pages. Wired Magazine has published two articles on MySpace, on the 'backlash' against MySpace from parents and teachers and the second, a 'cheat sheet' about the things that happen on MySpace. If these people knew what went on, they would be much more vigilant as to watching what their students/children are doing. Some newspapers have even stated that parents need to 'chill out' over MySpace. Most teachers and parents don't think anything of the pages they see on their student's/children's screens. So, educating parents and teachers is the first task that must be completed by lead technology teachers and administrators. Although this may be changing, a school in Costa Mesa, CA has recently suspended 20 students over items posted on MySpace about a class mate.

Secondly, we need to educate students about the information they provide about themselves online and how they are representing themselves in 'Internet Arena.' Safety and appropriate behavior online needs to become part of every student's education, there is legislation in the State Assembly to do so right now. Kids need to know that there is also a difference between how an when they communicate with their peer group and when they communicate in an educational/professional setting. We will be taking an active role in teaching students ethical technology behavior in the fall with a 'Global Communications' course. We hope all 9th graders in the school will enroll in this course.

Individual expression for all high school students is a good thing, allowing them to be heard in a greater arena than just their few close friends, but it is the job of teachers and parents to teach teenagers how to do this in a manner that will reflect upon them in a positive light. I don't want censor the message, but we need to help students deliver it in an appropriate manner.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What is Web 2.0?

Is there a new version of the Internet? Not really, but the term 'Web 2.0' has been defined by many people involved with technology and the services available on the Internet, and there are no two definitions that are the same. So, you are asking yourself, "How am I supposed to figure this out and how can I use all of this information to help me in my classroom." Well, lets look at some of the similarities of the definitions of Web 2.o to try and figure out what it is and why are so many people talking about it. Most of the definitions include terms like: 'Architecture of Participation,' 'Social Networking,' 'open source' and 'platform independent.' None of these terms really gets people excited about all of the cool things happening in Web 2.0, to most it is just a bunch of techno-babble that couldn'e effect me in the least. But the one term that is key to almost all Web 2.o definitions and is what makes Web 2.0 cool, is 'AJAX.' No, not the cleanser, but it is an acronym that stands for: Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. AJAX allows the 'porting' or delivering of traditional computer applications; like calendars, word processing tools, spreadsheets, address books, etc. through a web browser or other Internet connected device, like a cell phone or PDA. The content on the page refreshes (updates) itself automatically without refreshing the entire page. AJAX also allows individuals to create and subscribe to content on the Internet through blogs and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and podcast feeds. What this all does is allows your web page to perform many different functions in 'real time' automatically. The ability to work 100% online means that it doesn't matter what type of computer you have and what hardware and software are installed on the machine, you can use these tools. The best part of Web 2.0 is that most of the tools and applications are FREE to use.

Web 2.0 Applications can be broken down several areas. Best of Web 2.0 for 2005 is a list of services in several areas of Web 2.0 development. Another list of all of 2006 Best of Web 2.0 covers many of the same sites. Business 2.0 also published a new list of the top 25 new 'net technologies.' While this list is not exhaustive, it gives a list of a few applications in each area. Each of these articles lists several general areas of Web 2.0 web sites, yet it is probably better to create three general categories of Web 2.0 applications and list the different applications in each catrgory. The first group of applications are: Personal Productivity Tools. These sites provide services to individuals allowing them to do most of the things they do on a single computer online. You can store this data online and access it from any Internet accessible computer. The biggest benefit is if you use multiple computers or other Internet connected devices in your life, you can share information between all of the devices. There are online Start pages, like: Netvibes, Protopage, Goowy, Google Desktop and ItsaStart. Most of these start pages will allow you to customize the user interface and move the smaller content windows around the larger web browser window. Also in this section there are online word processors, (Writely, Writeboard ) Calendars (30 Boxes) and To do Lists (voo2do, Ta-da Lists, ).

The second group of Web 2.0 tools you'll find on the Internet are what are known as 'Social Media' or 'Peer Production News.' These sites allow indiviuduals (like you and me and our students.) to create and manipulate news stories from other content on the Internet. You will hear terms like 'remixing' and 'mashup' to describe what these tools do. Social Bookmarking (news) sites like Digg,, and SlashDot are becoming very popular. Other sites deal with different types of media, like Video, (YouTube) Music and Photos. (Flickr, TagWorld) Blog filters like Bloglines, Technorati and Memorandum allow users to select 'feeds' to subscribe to and get information they are interested in. The one example of Social Media / Peer Production that most people know about is Wikipedia, the online user developed encyclopedia.

The third group of sites allow users to select and store Media of all types. A few of the sites listed above in the Social Media section also fit in this section ( YouTube and Flickr). But this is the fastest growing part of web 2.0. There are sites that will allow you to store different types of media for free and share them with anyone you want. As mentioned above, YouTube allows you to store video. Flickr and BubbleShare store still images with some outstanding add on features like magnifiers and photo albums. There is a new site that will allow you to store and serve Podcasts to anyone you choose, called Pod-serve. A new site is offering free online storage is giving away 1GB of storage on line for any purpose, if you want 5GB with no file size restriction the cost is $5 a month. Google has offered many different tools to increase personal productivity, including GMail with over 2GB of storage space. There have been third party utilities designed to use the GMail storage space as an Internet drive. It seems that sometime in the next few months that Google will also offer free online storage space to anyone that asks for it.

So, now you are asking yourself... "What does this have to do with me in my classroom?" What all of these things will allow any student or teacher to have access to, create, innovate and share any media over the Internet. This will create a much richer learning and teaching experience for teachers and students. Imaging having the ability to find and create an animated video to illustrate a particular point and having that video available to all of your students. We are already doing some of this with School Loop, but the addition of all other types of media will make this experience much richer. We have all had the time when we saw something in a newspaper that precisely illustrates a concept you have been working on in class and you want to share it with your students. You simply make note of the URL and post it to your 'Blog.' Using these tools educational activities will be come deeper, richer and more focused then they have ever been in the past.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The "Social Internet"

Over the past few years, the Internet has changed. The Internet is becoming much more of a two way communication tool than it had been in the past. When Tim Berners-Lee developed hyper-text markup language and morphed it into the world wide web 1989, it was a one-way communication tool. Berners-Lee had envisioned the Internet being a two-way tool, allowing scholars to exchange and share information about the projects they were working on. The Internet remained basically a one-way tool for the next decade. During the Dot-Com boom, there were more people authoring their own web pages, but the communication was still basically one way. The only way to interact with the author of a web page was to send an e-mail to a link the author had on the bottom of the page.

Over the past five years this has started to change. Blogging tools, like the one I am writing this on started to show up in the early 2000's. Individuals could write their own content, post it on the Internet and with the inclusion of message boards, people could read and respond to the author. The comments of many people reading the page were there for everyone to read and respond to. The popularity of blogging and other two way communications tools has created a second Dot-com boom. Right now the 'blogosphere' is doubling every six months.

So, what is out there that the students we teach every day are using and what can we do to hook into what they are doing. One of the biggest tools students are using now is 'Texting' on their cell phones. It allows people to send text messages using their cell phones. Students use 'texting' in all sorts of ways, from cheating on exams to managing their love life. Students even have their own short hand that they use when texting on their phones.

As the level of two way communication has increased, there have been 'virtual communities' springing up, organized geographically or by interest. 'Craig's List' is one of the most popular virtual communities that was established outside of a traditional ISP, like America Online. Other social Internet communities are forming in places that you wouldn't expect them to and allowing their members get more deeply involved with others in their own physical community. One of these communities is called 'Freecycle,' that allows people to offer items that they are willing to give away to anyone that will simply come and pick the item up. I have personally used this community on both sides as a giver and a receipient. But, the virtual community we have all been exposed to is: 'MySpace.' There is good and bad in anything; 'MySpace' has problems because of the clientele and the behavioral norms that the community accepts. 'MySpace' has flourished because it allows teenagers and young adults to connect with eachother in new ways, but because it is the first virtual community most have become members of they don't understand some of the 'netiquette' that is part of the 'online experience.' This has created more than one instance of 'cyberbullying' or 'cyberstalking.' Students also don't understand how some of the things they post or say online can allow people to gain entry into their personal lives. Anytime you are online, you leave a trail of where you have been and what you have done! So, as we begin to use the tools available to us as teachers, we must be a bit more vigilant in setting appropriate standards for online behavior by our students.