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

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Learning.now is a weblog that explores how new technology and Internet culture affect how educators teach and children learn. It will offer a continuing look at how new technology such as wikis, blogs, vlogs, RSS, podcasts, social networking sites, and the always-on culture of the Internet are impacting teacher and students' lives both inside and out of the classroom.
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Time Magazine’s Contrasting Cover Stories

In case you haven’t heard the news, you’ve been selected as Time Magazine’s person of the year. Yes, you, over there, by the computer monitor - you know who I’m talking to. But according to a cover story the previous week on the urgent need for educational reforms, we shouldn’t necessarily start preparing our acceptance speeches just yet.

After going through the major news stories of the year, the editors of Time concluded that the most influential person of the year isn’t a president or religious leader or philanthropist. Instead, it’s you - in other words, all of you who are using Web 2.0 tools to reinvent the world. The cover story goes on to profile 15 people who are representative of the types of activities you are doing on the Internet to influence politics, Hollywood, pop culture and life in general. Influence is no longer the job of the media or the powerful - it’s been democratized and distributed to every one of you with Internet access and a desire to create knowledge while affecting social change.

According to Time,

The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it’s really a revolution….

Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

In contrast to this particular issue of Time, the previous week’s cover story was on how to bring education out of the 20th century. You might think that one article might inform the other and examine how Web 2.0 might be revolutionizing education, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The education cover story explores a range of problems and potential solutions, but the Web 2.0 universe lauded in the Person of the Year issue is barely mentioned. For example, the education cover story profiles a classroom where the teacher shows his class a documentary about the September 11 attacks and then leads a discussion among the students. (At first I hoped it was a documentary produced by his students, but that’s not the case.) The documentary offers a somewhat questionable theory as to what transpired that day, and the teacher uses it as a way to get the students confronting their own assumptions about how they consume media. “Throughout the year, the class will examine news reports, websites, propaganda, history books, blogs, even pop songs,” the article continues. “The goal is to teach kids to be discerning consumers of information and to research, formulate and defend their own views.” Media literacy, of course, is absolutely vital in today’s world, but note how the students are tackling the issue by reviewing other people’s media products rather than trying to create their own.

The other major reference to the Internet in the education cover story concerns a new project launched by the CEO of Sun Microsystems called Curriki.org One day, the CEO was frustrated while trying to find some good online educational resources for one of his kids, so he decided to launch a website where teachers and learners could come together and create free educational materials on a wiki.

The article continues:

Curriki, however, isn’t meant to replace going to school but to supplement it and offer courses that may not be available locally. It aims to give teachers classroom-tested content materials and assessments that are livelier and more current and multimedia-based than printed textbooks. Ultimately, it could take the Web 2.0 revolution to school, closing that yawning gap between how kids learn at school and how they do everything else. Educators around the country and overseas are already discussing ways to certify Curriki’s online course work for credit.

I find it fascinating how the article suggests that eventually projects like Curriki might “take the Web 2.0 revolution to school,” as if there aren’t countless educators working their butts off to demonstrate to their peers how blogs, podcasts, wikis and other tools can be used to improve student learning. It’s as if the amazing, transformative universe documented in the Person of the Year issue hasn’t even come knocking at education’s door yet. Or perhaps the industrial-era schoolhouse walls of are simply too thick for us to hear it knocking. Maybe it’s because too many educators and students who embrace Web 2.0 are finding themselves in conflict with a system that worries what might happen if students are given too many opportunities to express themselves online, whether at school or at home. Maybe it’s because we keep seeing news reports in which the predatory aspects of Web 2.0 is emphasized rather than its educational aspects. Or maybe Time just didn’t ask the right questions to the right people. How I would have loved to have seen a group of student bloggers or wiki-using educators among those profiled for the Person of the year story. I’m sure we could have come up with some good names for them. I bet we could have even come up with a nice tag for documenting our favorite candidates. (Perhaps that’s how Time should get to work on next year’s Person of the Year - let us make the decision for them!)

Meanwhile, the article emphasizes what people in positions of power are doing, such as the teacher showing the documentary (he’s also the school’s founder and principal), or the CEO of Sun Microsystems, rather than the impact of Web 2.0 on hordes of teachers and students. While it’s great to see how people in high positions are tackling things like media literacy and free online materials, neither of these stories captures the revolutionary nature of Web 2.0 that’s lauded in the Person of the Year issue. In that article, you find stories of teens turned Internet moguls, a young French rappers building an audience for himself, a Chinese blogger telling it like it is in a country where openness isn’t exactly embraced intuitively. These are the stories that capture essence of why you were chosen as Time’s person of the year. It’s because Web 2.0 has enabled us - yes, you and me - to make a difference in the world and achieve a level of influence that was unheard of until recently. But as to Web 2.0’s role in enabling us to chart our own educational destinies, improve student achievement and make lifelong learning a reality, well, I guess that’ll have to be another cover story. We are waiting. -andy

Filed under : People


You said: “How I would have loved to have seen a group of student bloggers or wiki-using educators among those profiled for the Person of the year story. “

So, why not working on that paper alltogether on a wiki page taht you could open for it (and than submit it to Time Magazine)?

You hit upon a marvelous irony about LACK of collaboration on an editorial team. Surely those developing these two stories would have benefited from talking to each other- perhaps on a nice web-based tool?

I had spent some time last week wondering if perhaps we Bloggers of EdTech and Information Literacy were missing the boat by continually RSS feeding each other inside our own virtual world. We need to drag IN some of those “out there” and show them what is happening amid the People of the Education Year.

You’re right - we need to do a better job at engaging a broader public. It’s very easy for a community of bloggers to begin navel-gazing and spend their time talking about each other’s comments without any relation the real world. I’m not saying we do this a lot, but it does happen - and I’m certainly guilty of it. Part of the problem is that people outside of the education arena generally don’t read education blogs, and we’re eager to talk with those who share our interests. That’s human nature. Any thoughts on how to expand the conversation?

Since education overlaps with the rest of the world best through our students, it is time to get them involved. Karl Fisch’s blog has numerous comments of high school students on what has been different about learning using web 2.0 tools. Perhaps some of these same students would like to come up with creative ways to share with a broader audience and drag them in to see their blogs. Perhaps other teachers and students can do the same. Some press in local media could alert the wire services that this seems to be a growing trend…then the legislators’ staff (or Department of Ed bureaucrats?) might notice it on their RSS feeds, perhaps? We need to use our tools to draw in others. How about a New Year’s resolution to challenge our students and colleagues to USE the TOOLS in new ways? We could start by harassing TIME, I suppose. But I think other publications would enjoy being the ones to point out TIME’s ironic omissions as you have.

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