[an error occurred while processing this directive]

learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
May092006

The Webby Awards: Educational Sites at Their Best?

The results are in…. The Webby Awards, regarded by many as the Internet equivalent of the Oscars, announced their list of this year’s winners today. Among the many categories is the education award. Wondering which sites took home the big prize? Let’s take a look.

This year, five sites were nominated for best education website. As an international competition, the Webby Awards don’t make distinctions like “Best K-12 Site” or “Best Informal Education Site.” Instead, there’s a single general category for education, so the websites nominated represented a broad interpretation of what might be considered educational. (There are also categories for best student website and best school website.)

Here are the five nominees, in alphabetical order:

BioEd Online, Baylor College of Medicine, USA. BioEd is an in-depth collection of curricular materials for biology teachers. The site contains a diverse collection of video presentations, lesson plans and biology news, among other content.

Can I have a word?, The Barbican, UK. The Barbican is one of Europe’s premiere cultural facilities. Their education department developed this website to encourage student creative writing. It takes four different subjects - South African apartheid, the human body, Homer’s Odyssey, and the elements - and presents them with audio and visuals intended to inspire students to write about the subject. Each category includes original poetry by leading British poets, as well as Flash animations. Personally, I found the Flash animations to be less inspirational than those created by students for the Citizens for Global Solutions Flash animation contest, but the poetry is very powerful. The site then offers educators a set of basic lesson plans to engage students in discussions about each subject.

Library of Congress Web Site, USA. The LOC website is well known to many US teachers, which should come as no surprise given its fabulous wealth of online materials. Along with its many exhibitions and congressional resources, the site is organized by user interest, so families, teachers and librarians can each get the most out of it.

Earth Observatory, USA. The Earth Observatory is an enormous earth science reference desk. Its Features section contains numerous articles about the earth’s surface and atmosphere, among other subjects. There are also reference materials, data sets, news and an earth science glossary.

TeenWire, Planned Parenthood, USA. TeenWire assists young people with gaining insight on reproductive health. The site features Q&A with doctors, personal accounts of teens, and educational materials. It is also very likely to be blocked by most school filters, so it’s generally not geared for in-class audience.

Each Webby category, including education, features two winners. One award is selected by a panel of experts, while the other, a People’s Choice Award, is based on votes received from the general public. This year’s expert award goes to the Barbican’s Can I have a word?, while the People’s Choice award goes to Nasa’s Earth Observatory.

While all of these sites have their strengths, overall I found myself underwhelmed by this year’s winners. I would have thought that the best educational websites of 2006 would demonstrate best practices of how to engage students in online learning, including having students using the Internet to create their own content. While sites like the Barbican and TeenWire encourage young people to write, they’re either doing it offline or in ways that might have appeared on a website from five or six years ago - not exactly cutting edge. Where is the educational equivalent of Flickr or NPR Online or Remember Segregation? In fact, I would argue that the sites nominated for the Webby’s student category are even more compelling than the education category. Take a look at 4178° - Chicago Architecture or The Organic City and you’ll find sites that engage audiences with effective uses of multimedia and interactivity. And these are sites that were created as student projects.

What do you think? Do this year’s Webby winners for education reflect the best of what’s going on in Web-based education? Are there other sites you’d wish had been nominated? Perhaps today’s educational websites just aren’t as compelling as websites in other subject areas - is that truly the case? And if so, why not? -andy

Filed under : Websites

Responses

The problem is the E-word. Education is not about enabling learning any more. It’s not about scholarship. It’s about credentials.

Education is becoming more and more segregated from learning. Those who want to learn are generally prevented from participating in Education because of cost, time, and rigidity. The cost of the education is too high, the time needed to take it when it is offered is usually quite long (measured in months) and seldom offered “now.” And the courses inevitably require you to take the whole course, often requiring prerequisites and even application and matriculation into whole programs of study when you really only want to learn — say — Python programming or the implications of the French Revolution on 21st century America.

MySpace is a great example of learning that’s going out outside of Education. The problem for many adults is that the students are learning things that adults would probably not like — an ongoing problem from ancient times and spanning every new generation.

With the world of information at your fingertips, what constitutes knowledge? The Educational establishment hasn’t yet come to grips with the obsolesence of “lessons” as information dumps and, until they do, the construct of “learner centered instruction” will continue to include requiring students to come to class on a given day at a given time to learn a particular content from an expert. It will continue to rate information storage areas as “Educational” and completely miss the point of learning in the post-Cluetrain era.

As a college student, I feel that the most educational site on the web is actually Wikipedia. I learn more random facts from it than anywhere else. Even though it may not have the kind of depth of curriculum actual schooling can offer, it certainly has bredth a’plenty. Where else am I going to learn the names of the Spice Girls’ children (Pheonix Chi, Brooklyn, Romeo, and Cruz), or the history of the “Crazy Frog” internet meme?

At the same time, I have to wonder how suited computer are to actual teaching, especially over the web. I think the most effective computer teaching aids are computer games like the ones I grew up with- Math Blaster, Reader Rabbit, Treasure Mountain, and Mario Teaches Typing. They succeeded because they kept me hooked. I may not like learning how to spell, but I certainly like the game that surrounds that learning.

With wikipedia, the fun comes in its interconnectedness- its a wonderful maze of knowledge to explore, where almost any word can link to an entire article on that subject. Again, its the enjoyability factor that keeps me there.

In actual classes, for me, the fun is always in the discussion. I think that the best websites for education, then, would be the ones that allow not only interaction, but interaction with other users. A sort of directed but collaborative space.

Just my two cents, though.

As a college student, I feel that the most educational site on the web is actually Wikipedia.

I can picture a lot of people fainting at that statement. :-) I’ll be talking about Wikipedia soon. I’ve been writing about it on my andycarvin.com blog for a couple of years - it was definitely the website to debate in the media before the dreaded MySpace came around. But Wikipedia truly represents what the new Internet is all about - which I why I promise to help educators understand it better. Stay tuned… -andy

I request you consider this site in the future:
. Thank you.

This site is for young children, we go all over to help children learn hoe to use the computer while educating themselves. I would have to say this site is very very useful.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]