Advice to a Web 2.0 Learner

In If you have a problem, ask everyone (CORNELIA DEAN
NYTimes, July 22, 2008) says:

“John Davis, a chemist in Bloomington, Ill., knows about concrete. For example, he knows that if you keep concrete vibrating it won’t set up before you can use it. It will still pour like a liquid.

Now he has applied that knowledge to a seemingly unrelated problem thousands of miles away. He figured out that devices that keep concrete vibrating can be adapted to keep oil in Alaskan storage tanks from freezing.”

The idea in this article is that by gathering other perspectives, diverse ones, it is possible to solve problems that you could not solve yourself from your perspective. This is analogous to the story on 60 minutes about the inventor with a new approach to treating cancer.

Palouse Prairie School was awarded a charter to open in 2009 using the Expeditionary Learning (EL) model. Pupils will work on integrated problems (metaphorical expeditions into unknown territories to solve a real problem and perform a community service [the philosophy behind Expeditionary Learning, a trade name, has its origins in Outward Bound Expeditions]).

So where does “ask everyone” play in an EL elementary school? The pupils need to gather perspectives to work on their problems. Perspectives will enrich their learning. And enhance their problem solving.

The strategy for gathering perspective may be as simple as taking the problem home to the dinner table, “Mom, how can you help my class think about this problem?” or more sophisticated, by posting the problem on the Internet.

In the latter case, a Web 2.0 strategy is important. How can a school child hope to get help from some stranger somewhere in the world? 1. By linking to others (especially the way blogs do, called ‘trackback’), 2. by using key terms that Google will recognize, and 3. by having a ‘reputation’ to raise the rank of the student’s post in Google’s results.

Tracking back gains attention from a specific person. Its part of a process of saying ‘I read your stuff’ which is the kind of flattery that might get someone else to read you.

Reputation is earned, by being linked by others, which means, by doing or saying something worthwhile.

Tracking back takes thoughtful reading. Being linked takes saying something worthy of another’s mentioning. Both skills are, I think, desirable in a 21st century learner.

If a school had a blog, and it engaged the world thoughtfully with that blog, and friends of the school started linking to the blog posts because the ideas were worthwhile, the reputation of the blog would rise, and the potential of gaining help on a problem (ask everyone) would increase as well. (Not that you make a blog post and wait — you need to be active, finding a community that you think can help and engaging it.)

How does this work? I took the title of the NYTimes article and stuck it into Google and found that Cathy Davidson had responded to the NYTimes with a blog post on participatory learning. Having found Cathy and HASTAC blog, I had also found the term ‘participatory learning’ which has some interesting Google results but no Wikipedia entry.

Were children working on a problem, and found nothing in Wikipedia, that would be a prompt to create the page, even just a “stub page” in Wikipedia terms. A Wikipedia page serves as high ground (in a Google search sense) for the concept and from that page one hopes to find links to key resources and communities, perhaps even ones created by the students. Here are more ideas on how to think about wikis for learning.

The Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology at WSU has been thinking about how to use some of these ideas to transform University education. We are asking how to help students engage the world in authentic assessment of the student’s work. I can point to examples like 17 year-old George Hotz hacking the iPhone (for my purposes the hack is less important than the blog where he shared the blow-by-blow problem solving and got help) and Margo Tamez who, along with her Apache Nation in Texas, is taking on US homeland security over the idea of a border wall with Mexico. I think these ideas can be brought down to the level of the elementary school and challenge children to engage in authentic problems in a global context.

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2 Responses to “Advice to a Web 2.0 Learner”

  1. One small step for man » Blog Archive » Building the Planet's Center for Teaching and Learning Says:

    […] One small step for man Exploring learning & technologies from outside the university’s walls « Advice to a Web 2.0 Learner […]

  2. UI job portfolio | One small step for man Says:

    […] knowledge. It was an experiment to test with students some of the ideas I was exploring regarding Web 2.0 learning. The second CLL course was on making bread, the beginning of my post-WSU foray into […]

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