A Web 2.0 Toolkit for Educators

It is important for school teachers to learn new technology, even if, typically, a school district’s first line of defense regarding Internet use is to close the school network to much of it. It takes courage for a school to open up communication with the Internet and incorporate social media and Web 2.0 into their curriculum and professional development. When students and faculty are taught how to harness the technology they can mindfully connect with an expanded world.
Until I sat in on several digital tools sessions at a Curriculum 21 conference held mid-July in Saratoga Springs, New York, I had little idea of the recent crop of education friendly digital tools. The gems I picked up blew me away. My mind whirred with the possibilities each resource held and envisioning my students’ enhanced learning experience using new technology. But, like any educator my greatest hurdle is time. In the course of a few hours spread out over several days, I had to catch a quick volley of best practices for social networking and utilizing Web 2.0 tools in the curriculum.
After attending the conference, I found that a couple of places to begin learning how to use new technology resources are Twitter and eduTecher. Check out the #edchat topic on Twitter, and from there you can follow other education and technology related topics or specific Tweeters. eduTecher has video tutorials on using certain Web 2.0 tools and a listing of education and technology conferences. This article provides educators new and free technology tips and sources to improve programs and teaching.
Here’s a quick snapshot of what I found in my search:
Digital Tools
Cool Tools for Schools – (free) teacher-created repertoire of digital tools
Curriculum 21 Clearinghouse – (free) repertoire of digital tools
EasyBib – (free) online citation creator
eduTecher – (free) repertoire of digital tools and related conferences
Facebook group page – (free, registration req’d) social networking site; comments, photos, videos can be collaboratively shared and moderated
Google Docs – (free, registration req’d) share text, spreadsheet, and presentation documents to surveys to quizzes generated and stored online
iMovie – (Mac bundled software; purchase may be req’d) create digital movies on a Mac
Jottit – (free) wiki web page creator
KeepVid – (free) download YouTube videos for educational use
LiveBinders – (free, registration req’d) an online portfolio and resource management tool
MedMyst – (free) online interactive scientific video games
Moodle – (free, registration, req’d) course management site
Neat Chat – (free) real-time multiple-user comments
Ning – (yearly fees range from $20-$200 depending on usage) a social networking site mainly used by professionals
OpenOffice.org – (free, registration req’d) free software for creating text, spreadsheet, and presentation documents
Photo Story – (free) create digital movies on a PC
Poll Everywhere – (free to $50 and up, registration req’d) quick polling via cell phone text messaging
Prezi – (basic level is free though only web-based, registration req’d) a zooming presentation tool
Skype – (free peer-to-peer, registration req’d) video/audio conferencing anywhere in the world
The Way Back Machine – (free) archive of websites
TodaysMeet – (free) real-time multiple-user comments
Twitter – (free, registration req’d) a mass communication tool
Wikispaces for Educators – (free, registration req’d) a collaborative website
WolframAlpha – (free) a computation search engine
Wordle – (free) generate word cloud graphic from written work
WordPress – (free, registration req’d) blog publishing
Xtranormal – (free, registration req’d) web-based text-to-movie editor
Specifically, if you are looking to integrate Web 2.0 tools within after-school programs and youth media projects or in the classroom, you might check out the following technology.
If you don’t have a Mac:
Photo Story for PC is free where students without Macs (iMovie) can reflect their thoughts about the world around them through digital storytelling. The digital stories can be created with scanned and digital photos, video clips, and music and the spoken word.
If you don’t have equipment and need a text to movie generator:
Xtranormal, a web-based text-to-movie generator, offers a choice of avatars for students to animate by typing in directions for movement and speech. Xtranormal movies require no additional resources than an Internet connected PC/Mac, writing skills, and the imagination.
If you want to gauge the audience response:
Practitioners and youth producers can gauge audience response to films or digital stories with Poll Everywhere. And, anyone with a cell phone can send in a Likert-scale type response to any preset question(s).
If you need to illustrate statistics:
Infographics are a novel way to illustrate statistics that are relevant to the youth. Take the idea of the percentage of students that use a social media site such as Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, or Plurk and turn it into a graphic with images that looks like a poster. Here’s an infographic of what people are doing online and how many participate by age group from BusinessWeek. Certainly a different way to see quotidian percentages that most gloss over.
A few more general tips:
Avoiding plagarism and improving the information search:
Apathy for plagiarizing work is rising, most recently highlighted in the New York Times article “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age.” Search and citations tools are relevant now as library card catalogs once were to finding good sources and citing them. In “Teaching Zack to Think,” Alan November, an education and technology consultant, explains how to teach students to search smarter and filter out websites created by individuals. Google search modifiers let users search in specific sites such as .edu or .gov to filter out less reliable sources, and AltaVista lets users search within a country code. The Way Back Machine can trace the history of a website or bring up information on a current broken link. Once the student has determined the validity of the source EasyBib takes the url and formats it as an MLA citation.
Making presentations more interesting:
Prezi, an online zooming presentation editing program, helps both youth and educators to create a catchy presentation at conferences, to funders, staff, etc. The software requires users to lay out the main idea and major points and sub-points before adding in images, music, and videos, which as a finished product zooms and skims seamlessly.
Think of backchanneling as an alternate information route. The first route is typically between two people while others listen. With backchanneling, all participants can be heard. The teacher books a “room” via a url and the class opens the url and begins typing questions, comments, and responses to an open chat forum such as TodaysMeet or Neat Chat to a live lesson or presentation.
Creating a quick website:
If you need students/youth to create a quick web or wiki site, try Jottit, which is basically a text box that turns the inputted information into a simple website.
Using Facebook:
Teaching students appropriate use of social media sites like Facebook ties in to developing social and emotional learning skills. For example, students should experience what it is like to hear something said in a happy or sad tone with facial expressions versus how it sounds as text devoid of live emotional expression, and how much easier it is to say something off the cuff to a web page than to the person directly.
Working together:
If you use any of these tools and would like to showcase the product, please share your students’ or organizations’ work, and feedback from youths engaging with these tools and social media. Ongoing best practices and curricula for teaching in the Digital Age are best developed collaboratively.
Next Steps
Integrating technology into curriculum is not about the bells and whistles, but to aid developing academic skills and critical thinking. This generation and others following are growing up interfacing through text, audio, and video online. They learn how to use the technology from their peers, including what is considered appropriate and where the boundaries are, which are not well defined. It is on us, classroom teachers, after-school program educators, and education practitioners, to teach through social media and Web 2.0 resources. It is my hope that readers find the web tools captured in this article useful additions to their educator knapsack, whether in the school classroom, in after-school programs, or to improve the visibility of one’s program, organization or cause.
Sara Panag is a coordinator with the NYC Department of Education. Her work involves developing school capacity for social and emotional learning to support instruction and create a healthier learning environment for children and adults. She holds licenses in special education and school building leadership, and she has taught high school English and co-taught high school humanities, math, and science for five years.