Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lessons I Learned about Web 2.0 Technology Working with College Students

by Jacob Gutnicki

This past summer I taught a graduate course that uses technology to support math instruction. Over the course of 5 weeks, my students created lesson plans using Google Docs, developed their own blogs, designed Web Quests powered by Google sites, published podcasts, and produced other educational projects. As always, I warned my students about the dangers of the Internet. However, this time was different. A number of informal conversations revealed that they understood the power of the Internet; both bad and good. Students were already aware of how to make their postings non-listed, how to use privacy settings, as well as other precautions. This might not sound significant. However, I assure you it is. I have taught this type of course various times over the past 7 years and previously, the students’ lack of net awareness was frightening.

However, these teachers were different. When they were in High School, the Internet was already a common household name. More importantly, their Internet experience was not dictated by restrictiveness. Rather, it was used to promote research at their fingertips. At the same time they were made aware of the dangers the Internet can pose if not used judiciously. This has tremendous implications for pedagogical practices in the 21st century.

It is no secret that in the past 5 years web based applications have dramatically matured. Think about how cell phones, Facebook, Wikis, Twitter, You Tube, Google applications, and other Web 2.0 applications have transformed how we communicate. Today we can receive instant weather reports, traffic reports, and other vital information with our handheld devices. Simply put, Web 2.0 applications is the push technology of the late 1990s reaching its true potential. In five years from now, the next generation will laugh at us, as these devices will continue to revolutionize how we communicate and conduct business.

Yet despite it all, some educators fear the cell phone, are frightened by social networking tools, and as such have banned its usage in educational settings. In fact, it seems that our fears have been growing by leaps and bounds. For this reason, observing the first net generation was very telling.

In watching them use technology, I understood their awareness of safe technology usage was due to their High School and college experiences during which they experimented with all kinds of technology applications under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable teacher. Similarly, the students of today desperately need this training and exposure to both computers and handheld devices. Why you may ask? Like it or not if your students are not using cell phones currently, they will use it soon enough.

Will they know how to use it safely? Will they know about on-line predators? Will they know about privacy settings? More importantly, will they know when it is not appropriate to use the cell phone? This will depend on whether we teach students about proper usage and provide them with ample opportunities to use computers and smart phone technology in a classroom environment where they can share their successes and learn from their mistakes.


  1. Jacob, thank you for sharing your insights. This is good news! What I see missing from your reflection is supporting students in harnessing the power of the internet and establishing a professional digital footprint of which they can be proud. I work with a principal who has students begin purposely publishing online using their real names in middle school. I feel there’s too much emphasis on the dangers of the internet and not enough on how to utilize the powers of the internet. Unlisting yourself is fine, but why? Do you really want to publish something you wouldn’t feel comfortable having attributed to you. I think we now need to move beyond protection online (Statistics show most predators are trusted friends and family, not stranger danger) and start focusing on developing a purposeful message and establishing a digital footprint that represents who you are and what you love and stand for.

    As far as cell phones, every teacher I’ve talked to that uses them in the class says we need to stop looking at technology as any different than traditional tools. In short, don’t be rude and stay on task work regardless of whether technology is present or not.

  2. Your point about the digital footprint is right on the spot. Having said that, there were at least 5 different approaches I could have taken in writing this article. In the end, I chose "the kids are all right" theme. In short 5 weeks, much ground was covered. This was to due to their net savviness which enabled them to seamlessly use a variety of tools.

    The "dangers of the internet" issue is a complex one. As a parent I understand the danger issue all to well. Like it or not, it is not an issue we can ignore. In fact, it is for that exact reason that we should not ban the use of social networking tools and smart phone technologies in the classroom.

    At the same time, I understand why my students were taking certain precautions. Lets just say that some school might not be as innovative as others.

  3. Schools that ban technologies out of fear are doing a disservice to students. You are right on track that students need an interested adult in learning to deal with the complexity of online interactions. If we aren't there to support and guide them, we are leaving it to them to figure it out for themselves. It's a major theme of my video YouTube in the Classroom

  4. @Jacob G, look forward to another article looking at the same experience through the digital footprint lens.

    @Bill, agree! I'm going to check out your video now. Thank you in advance for making it.

  5. Bill, that was a great video. I love your line, "Education is improved when educators are willing to share their ideas." Thanks for sharing.

    Lisa, I knew you would say something like that. I also think your brief anecdote in which you relate how you are working with a principal is the key to proliferating digital footprints. If the principal sees the value of video technology, Web 2.0, and so on, then a learning revolution will follow. For that reason, I require all my admin interns to work on a minimum of 2 technology projects with students in an academic area.