Review of My NECC Presentation

In my initial post about my presentation at NECC, I included a three links from people who attended the session and blogged about it. David Jakes over at The Strength of Weak Ties blogged about it yesterday and made some critical assessments that I wanted to address. I will probably sound a little defensive, but I am going to look at several of his major complaints. You may want to read his post before going on.

Point #1 – I implied technology should be used only when convenient.

Let me explain some of my technology integration background. I have been working at a school built in 1987 that has received new technology for student use outside of the computer classes once. Between 1999 and 2001, we received money from the California Digital High School program to purchase an open lab and several computer carts. In 2002, teachers in my district were all given a laptop. There was a special program before that for teachers to acquire a laptop if they attended a summer workshop without pay.

Other then a handful of teachers, integration of technology into the curriculum was, and still is limited. There are more teachers with projectors that use PowerPoints to deliver lectures, but most teachers at my school teach the same way they were taught. I came out of my student teaching experience with notion that computers were an essential part of education. I am now known as the history teacher who always uses technology. My casual comment about bringing “some technology into the classroom” did not reflect my feeling that IT IS “mission critical.” I have made it my mission and obsession to always bring technology into my classroom. I have also made it my mission to share those experiences at a couple dozen workshops and presentations in the last 10 years.

Point #2 – I said wikis were a tool that allowed anyone to make web pages.

I really think that as educators, especially those of us with limited resources, we should look at every tool as a tool. I know the spirit of wikis, I understand and believe in it, but I also know it is a tool that allows my students to publish their work on the Internet – something I could not have done in my history classes five years ago. The ability for students to collaborate is an important part and I do include it in most of the wiki projects.

Point #3 – I said kids know this technology and all technology.

I did not say that students knew about wikis, I said students knew how to use this type of technology – specifically blogs, MySpace, LiveJournal, and DeadJournal. These types of skills are easily transferable to wikis. I am also basing my comments on my personal experiences. Like I mentioned in my presentation, I spent 10 minutes teaching them how to use the wiki. If I tried that with a class of teachers, it would take longer – it has taken longer. I was more talking about the environment of the web, not the specific application.

Point #4 – I said I wouldn’t want them to build their own wikis.

For my projects (the Holocaust Wiki Project, WWI Battles, and a directed AP World History review) I would not want to give up the control that would come with students creating their own wikis. This also creates a community of users that would not exist in the same area if students all created their. Each year I have about 160-200 students. Doing these sorts of projects can be a logistical nightmare. Yes, I want some control, they are 15 years old. I also work in a conservative community that is very protective of its students and is not afraid to make complaints. I would rather be a bit more conservative so I can keep doing these sorts of projects – and what ever the next thing I want to do the coming years.

If students want to build their own wikis, all the power to them.

Point #5 – Design patterns are limiting.

The purpose of the EduWiki Design Patterns and the WebQuest Design Patterns (both were authored by SDSU Professor Bernie Dodge) are to give teachers ways to incorporate these types of projects into their classrooms without trying to reinvent the wheel. They provide options and direction. Students are not going to just magically create “collaborative content in response to an educational need or learning objective,” they need direction, a specific task, and a creative approach. The design patterns help provide models and to inspire teachers to be more creative then they might otherwise have been. They are not the only way to use wikis or WebQuests, nor do they claim to be. They are just some ways to use them. Maybe an anti-pattern needs to be added.

We need to remember that for many teachers (both old and young) doing these types of projects are tough to envision and create. Design patterns may just get a few more to cross that divide.

I also take a little offense at the comment “perhaps this is an attempt to force wikis into a familiar and comfortable teacher zone…” I have always pushed the limit. When I look out at the web for examples of K-12 teachers using wikis, I am one of the leaders and have some of the more creative uses. These projects are time consuming in their development and their actual implementation. It would certainly be easier for me to lecture and give a few worksheets. These projects look a little different. These patterns do not reflect standard teaching practices.

Final thoughts…

Again, I apologize for being defensive. I appreciate David’s comments and understand his points from a theoritical standpoint. I just feel the reality and practicality is not always in line with the ideal. I have spent many hours planning these projects out and actually using them in my classroom. I also know that after 10 years of teaching, these have been some of my most successful projects for a variety of reasons.

I am a big believer in the Internet as community. Through Moodle and the wiki projects, I have successfully foster a sense of community in individual classes and across all of my classes. But, I also know the reality that I teach in a lower-middle class suburban high school in California. I have standards I must address. I have students with varied amounts of motivation. I think that exposing them to a variety of technologies, even in a somewhat limiting form, is better then not and better then not giving them some sort of structure.

4 thoughts on “Review of My NECC Presentation”

  1. Right on, Dan! Very articulate and thoughtful as always. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to see your presentation. Had to help June get her Mom in and out for a medical procedure.

    You’re a big-room speaker for sure, now. You should plan on NECC next year, even though it’s in in Atlanta. More people need to hear what you’re up to.


  2. You will think me hopelessly backward– I am currently working on setting up a blog for my APUSH students. No wikis, yet, because, between that and working on my curriculum, I just haven’t had time to learn much about setting them up. But one baby step at a time.

    But you are right about the uneven quantity and quality of technology available to teachers– and remember, learning about all of this is on top of everything else we have to do!
    But I’m willing to try.


  3. I love the fact that you are trying to do something. Time is the biggest barrier. We have so many other things to do – especially in an AP class. A blog is great! Good luck!


  4. I enjoyed reading your post – particularly the way in which you inspire and at the same time address the pragmatic. I too teach in a conservative community and need to work within the constraints that creates.
    I also enjoyed your presentation at NECC – the presentation enthused me to go back to my school and attempt to sell the concept of Wiki and Blog to my colleagues. I expected this to be a difficult task but found it not to be so. Many teachers are willing to introduce a new technology if they can see it will benefit the learning of their students.
    So, thank you again for the inspiration.
    Rob Wood
    IT Manager
    Bayfield High
    New Zealand


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