Online communications have come a long way. There are tools that have existed for a very short time while others are useful to education and proven to last. So many educators wonder if it is worth diving into another tool only to find out a better one has rounded the corner. Too many login locations may also make the experience overwhelming. I’d like to examine how we are progressing with teaching Web 2.0 communications skills in schools. Look at the question: are we teaching them necessary skills? If so, which tools should we focus on? I’ve narrowed the field down to an essential selection of Web 2.0 tools after exploring how savvy students may already be.
Today’s students appear savvy with online communication. Those who are using YouTube and Facebook are prepared to continue to utilize those skills in the job market along side the 800 million users that are using these tools today. I fear for the kids whose families may have sheltered them from these tools their whole lives bound by conspiracy theories and over sensitive safety concerns.
Educators often wonder about kids who are constantly texting. Texting is at their fingertips 24/7. We can fight it, but here is an example where we need to choose our battles. Sometimes it is easiest to send out a quick message rather than engage in the laborious phone call sequence, especially if you get the voicemail (which, I must say takes minutes because of the lengthy automated messages these days.)
I’m not really worried about kids being effective communicators. There are always better and better tools to accomplish the tasks that meet the needs of the mainstream. We tend to worry that kids might not be prepared for the digital workplace. This is because our perceptions are based on a foundation that involves a very different media. Their foundation is very much rooted in this read-write multimedia exposure. The quick read-write web is theirs.
Web 2.0 tools are abundant. Many have value, but I take a conservative stance with using many of them in the classroom. Many tools that are up-and-coming in education involve proprietary logins and the user interfaces all so different. The social network spin-offs Edmodo or Ning, for example, try to simulate the social network experience. These are good for role playing but they are not ideal for their stand-alone purpose of social networking. Facebook is ideal for that. Often we look to these social-edu tools for an inexpensive learning management system (LMS) solution. Moodle has been around for a while. If that isn’t easy enough, Edu20.com has made a simple tool that, for now, is free. “ClipShare” is a server product our school currently uses for hosting and sharing of video. But YouTube is where they are at. Reaching the audience using our server solution has been a bit difficult. Why do we try so hard to make things difficult? We need focus on more realia in technology tools. Simplification is necessary in this arena.
Writing tools typically have been centered on Microsoft’s Word program. So often I have students struggle with flash drives, or trying to open a Mac version on a PC. Google Docs has proven a very reliable tool, not only to create, store and share, but a convertion tool for whenever a Word doc gives us trouble. E-book publication is a new but now popular arena for most. I’ve looked at Mixbook and other online tools. Seeing that these are often Flash based, these are something that is no longer useful in the iPad world. In addition, when a book is created using tools that the “real world” uses, the student has then gained a skill which applies to the real world. In the “real world” epub formatting tools such iBooks author are important focus for students.
I’m not fond of tools that try hard at making publication easy but the programming is too heavy. Glogster, for example, is a slow load and a very heavy online program. The proprietary nature is not of interest to me. Voicethread is neat but not mainstream enough. There are a number of good podcasting tools but the audience just isn’t there. iTunes has blown away the market and podcasting for blogs is easy. WordPress has plugins has been my best choice so far. Wallwisher is too splashed and presents itself as a challenge to students who have difficulty with focus. Wikis can be good, but similar can be accomplished in a Google site, which reinforces my argument for one login.
Using Min42.com I’ve mapped out a core set of Web 2.0 tools which support communication skills. It focuses on essential tools that are mainstream which mean if they are reinforced in school during content delivery, they will also gain the necessary skills for digital communication in the real world. The fewer “logins” students need to remember the better. Web 2.0 tools come and go. Many fade off after tons of excitement around them. Delicious, for example, took me so long enough to get my mind around and then Diigo took the lead in popularity.