The web as platform

Toshiba's NB100 netbook.

Toshiba's NB 100 Netbook.

The last post concentrated on the issue of the changing nature of students and the need for teachers to recognise new working practices driven by new technologies. In session two we looked at the potential of social software tools in schools. Our focus was on productivity tools like Del.icio.us, social networking applications like Facebook and  photo sharing applications like Flickr. The terms ‘Web 2’ or ‘Web 2.0’ are often used to describe these kinds of applications. It is important to understand that the actual ‘structure’ of the internet has not changed and that ‘Web 2’ is not some new kind of internet. What has changed is our understanding of the nature of the web, how it can be used and what it can be used for. In the early years of the www we used it as a source of information. This was what some call the ‘read web’ or Web 1. Today, we see the www as a platform for communicating, collaborating and sharing information and ideas –  a ‘read-write web’. This is the essence of Web 2.  Click here to see Andy Gutmans‘ explanation of Web 2.0.

There are a number of advantages to working on the web as a platform, the most obvious being that it is always on, available anywhere and at any time, as long as one has a device linked to the internet. This means that we no longer have to carry computers and data drives around when we travel*. We simply find a computer linked to the web at our destination, and log in to Facebook, Del.icio.us, our blogs, wikis, photo sharing and other applications. We have already looked at some of the features of Del.icio.us and Flicker. The essentials characteristics of these is the ability to save and collate information for later use, and for sharing with others. The ability to tag information helps us to find it at a later date. The tags we use are very personal, helping us to find information easily. The more descriptive tags we use, the better, both for ourselves and for others who we might wish to share with. For example, look at the tags used for this picture.  They make it easy to find for anyone searching for pictures of Lightning Type (the band), 93 Feet East (the venue), Brick Lane (the street), Tower Hamlets (the area) or Stefan Vos (the performer), as well as anyone looking for an example of entertainment or music in London. Furthermore, the photograph has been geotagged, allowing those looking for it to see exactly where it was taken. This provides a high level of accessibility for users of Flickr. However, even more important is the learning and skills which children using their own or a class Flickr site acquire when going through the process of taking, uploading, tagging and geotagging photographs. They are forced to think carefully about what the picture is about, its relevance, how to make it easy for others to find it (or prevent others from seeing it at all) and also, to use a map themselves to locate the exact spot where the picture was taken.

What I am trying to highlight here is the potential that social software provides for learning in the classroom. Skills here would include those involved in taking pictures, accessing the web and and uploading pictures to Flickr, thinking about information, its meaning and relevance and using maps. Flickr also provides the opportunity to learn and use a range of organisational skills, including decisons about creating sets and groups and allocating pictures to them. Other organisational and decision making skills are encountered when on needs to decide whether, why and if to limit visibility of pictures to a limited group of people, such as the account holder only, or his/her friends and/or family. If you look at Additional Information on Flickr, you will see also the opportunity to discuss the important issues surrounding intellectual property and copyright.  Flickr photographers can use the Creative Commons copyright convention to make their pictures available for use by others in a variety of guises. Which right, if any, do your young photographers want to reserve, and why? What are these rights and why do we use them? What are the consequences of not heeding these conventions? Schools and teachers who make excuses for not using social software are cutting themselves off from one of the most powerful, entertaining, enjoyable, relevant and meaningful learning resources yet invented.

The most meaningful and powerful educational resources are often those created by the children themselves. In photographic terms, these could be photographs and / or videos taken on school day trips residentials or family holidays. Also very useful are pictures shot in the school, be they pictures of mathematical shapes (geometry), autumn, winter or spring colours (poetry and creative writing), class performances, school plays and other get togethers. * Most of us still like to travel with our computers. However, recent developments include the design of what we call ‘netbooks‘ – small, light and cheaper computers using a less powerful processor designed especially for working on the web.

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