digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

Why don't educators use Web 2.0 more?

May 06, 2009 _ 15:33 / Digital Nation Team / comments (0)

The Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) recently released a survey of school district administrators and their policies, practices and perspectives of Web 2.0 in K-12 education. The study reached a representative, random sample of nearly 1,200 district administrators nationwide, and thus provides a broad perspective about the status of Web 2.0 in education.

Several of the findings jump out:

The nation's school district administrators are overwhelmingly positive about the impact of Web 2.0 on students' lives and on their education.

More than half of the administrators said Web 2.0 positively affected every aspect of student life and education listed in the survey, except behavior in school and exercise/conditioning. It should be noted that despite administrators' doubt about Web 2.0's benefit for behavior, only 19 percent believed it would have a negative effect.


However, despite the enthusiasm of the administrators responsible for curriculum changes, Web 2.0 remains largely absent from the nation's classrooms. The survey found:

While there was broad agreement that Web 2.0 applications hold educational value, the use of these tools in American classrooms remains the province of individual pioneering classrooms. The majority of administrators reported that Web 2.0 tools have not been integrated into their district's curriculum. Over half of superintendents and curriculum directors also reported that these applications were not being used to support teaching and learning in their districts.

In fact, 56 percent of administrators reported that Web 2.0 applications have not yet been integrated into their district's curriculum. Some teachers have adopted Web 2.0 applications independently of the school curriculum, but these appear to be fairly limited:


There are a number of reasons why schools have been sluggish to incorporate Web 2.0 technology. The most obvious reason is that change takes time, and Web 2.0 is new -- at least by the standards of educators. Fifty-four percent of administrators said Web 2.0 is so new that their districts had not yet had time to consider how it might be used. On the other hand, the survey reflects a general uneasiness about the technology itself. Fifty-three percent of the administrators surveyed said allowing students to access it made policymakers nervous, and 79 percent said it had sparked discussions about its possible use and misuse.

This discomfort becomes more apparent in some of the administrators' comments:

"Teachers and administrators don't know enough to support the students' world...Teachers teach like they were taught; administrators administrator like evaluators of the past...we are a different world. When will our educational system be supported by all federal and state agencies to become the learning environment we must become...It's all so complicated when all we need to do is learn how to learn." -- a Technology Director in Michigan
"I am always concerned about student safety on the Internet. With the advent of Web 2.0, there are so many more areas of the web that students want to use. I value the information found on the web, but I worry about the possibilities of students being exploited by adults, especially on social sites." -- a Technology Director in Tennessee
"I am not sure we all know what is out there to be used -- no less how to effectively use it!" -- a Superintendent

It turns out many administrators do not actively use Web 2.0 in their personal lives:

District administrators, the persons responsible for decision making on Web 2.0 in schools, are more passive than active users in the Web 2.0 space. Most of the current use of Web 2.0 applications by district administrators (superintendents, technology directors, and curriculum directors) is restricted to accessing and viewing of content using a few of the more common applications such as Wiki's and blogs.


The survey hints that this may be the heart of the problem, and I don't doubt it. Of course, a certain amount of resistance to change can always be attributed to bureaucracy, and there's always the issue of money, but it's not surprising that fear of an unfamiliar technology would give pause to curriculum makers. Web 2.0 holds tremendous potential, and they see that, but the Web is also a big and scary place.

I don't blame the administrators for their hesitance. I'm skeptical that even those policymakers who are familiar with Web 2.0 have confidence they know the most effective way to implement it. Many teachers have experimented on their own and found numerous successful applications. But system-wide implementation is more challenging, and will naturally be slower.

Then again, the longer we wait, the farther we fall behind. The question is, Can the U.S. school system afford to delay when it already trails other countries in technology utilization? We may not know exactly how it will affect learning, development and ultimately grown-ups in the workforce over the long term, and this is worrying. But it is clear that students need to learn how to use these technologies effectively before they enter the workforce, and there is evidence Web 2.0 can be beneficial in traditional learning, as well. So, how to implement it? Can there be innovation without experimentation?

These questions are difficult but also urgent. Our next chapter at Digital Nation will cover education, so we'll be exploring them in greater detail in days and weeks to come.




Behind the Scenes

Digital Natives


Living with Technology




Virtual Worlds

rss RSS



posted February 2, 2010

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation

Series funding by: Macarthur Foundation
Park Foundation
and Viewers Like You.

Digital Nation is brought to you by the Verizon Foundation

Verizon Foundation