History & Background - Web Publishing
“The World is Flat” exclaims Tom Friedman in his new book, describing the impact of technology on globalization. Technology has leveled the playing field, says Friedman. It was 10 years ago that I saw the beginning of this ‘leveling’, as the World Wide Web became accessible to rural communities like Vermont. The Internet changed from a place reserved for knowledge sharing amongst academia, to one where anyone with a computer and a modem could have access to a world of information and use email to send information all around the world in minutes.
As president of Vermont Business Teachers Association, I immediately organized training for my colleagues in this new language called HTML that would prepare us to teach the upcoming generation of tomorrow’s workers skills they would need to succeed in the business world.
I was confident that learning and teaching this skill would prepare our students with skills they needed to succeed in business, but I had not predicted just how powerful this new technology could be for student learning and building community (locally and globally). During the next 10 years, I witnesses powerful outcomes related to student motivation and learning as I integrated web publishing in my curriculum. In 1996, weeks after our first web publishing project the power of the medium became very REAL when we received an email from a man named “Claude Williams” based in Seattle with the subject “Treasure Found”.
“I think you may be able to help me with something that has been on my To Do List for 15 years. In the early 80’s I was scuba diving in the Phillipines when I uncovered something shiny. It was a ring with a bird of prey. One one side were the engraved the letters NCUHS, the other side had the words “Class of 1978”. Inside, the letters TJD were engraved. I’ve searched many directories futilely for these letters. Today I was learning to use this new “Internet” thing and typed in NCUHS in a search engine called Alta-Vista, your school project came up. Could this ring belong to an alumni from yourschool."
My student’s ran down to the guidance office, flipped through the 1978 yearbook, and found the only senior with these initials. They contacted the family of Mr. Todd Durkee who gave us his phone number in Virginia. I’m sure Mr. Durkee must have been puzzled when a teenager from his home town called to ask him “Did you ever loose your class ring?” The mystery grew as Mr. Durkee answered “Yes, I lost it cliff diving in Hawaii”. Within days, Mr. Durkee had his class ring back, and Mr. Williams and Mr. Durkee were sharing theories about how the ring got from Hawaii to the Phillipines.
This first entry into International Cyberfair (an Internet based World’s Fair created by student using web publishing sponsored by Global School Net) was only the beginning of a decade of evidence of the power of the web publishing in teaching and learning. I witnessed increased understanding of the rest of the world as they conducted peer reviews of other student web projects from countries they didn’t even know existed. My students know more about Taiwan than they would have learned from any geography lesson or from reading web resources published by “respected” authories such as “Britinaca On-line”.
My students know more about their own community, as a result of doing local research and publishing it for a world-wide audience. Our community knows more about this generation of young people who not only interviewed them, but used technology to put them on the map by bringing home a First Place Cyberfair Award for their web project about Franco American Culture. (http://Lifeontheborder.com)
I have 10 years of research, evaluation, and products built on the concept of using project based learning and writing for an authentic audience (a world wide audience!) Students learned to write, learned to work as teams, learned project management, learned about geography, and much more--- all through the power of web publishing.
I was so convinced in the power of web publishing a sound pedagogical tool, that I continuously looked for ways to collaborate with my academic colleagues so that a larger group of students and teachers might experience the power of web publishing as part of the curriculum.
In 2001, we used “human’ tools to bring the power of web publishing to 400 students and a whole community. Life on the Border. This “human’ solution brought a whole community togther to celebrate not both their heritage, but also the learning of their students. Voc-tech students (this was before we had given up on the word ‘vocational’) created an infrastructure that allowed for the management, collection, organization, and publishing of hundreds interviews, recipes. They combined human tools and tech tools to achieve this powerful published information.
-- web logs enters education arena
While I was excited about web publishing as a sound pedagogical tool, technological innovation were being developed that would make the organization and publishing of web content even quicker and easier. This technology was soon to become known as weblogs (or blogs) and would enable the current generation of web users to become instant content producers for a world wide audience.
Call it serendipity… or synergy… but this technology emerged just as my career was also emerging in a new direction. Blogs came into my life as an educator as a technological solution to an educational dilemma.
The Vermont Institutes had invited me to become a teacher leader, which meant leaving my classroom for at least a year. The dilemma was that it was difficult to leave a group of students who had been learning about emerging technology with me for years without a teacher who could help them continue this journey. The “Easy read”, “Easy write”, “Easy access” of blogs made them the perfect tool to create a community of independent learners with a traveling mentor. I accepted the invitation to serve as teacher leader, and continued to mentor a group of “learners” through the use of a blogging tool called Xanga.
For the next 5 years I started to use BLOG technology as a tool. An evolution occurred from the days where I was giving workshop on the power of web publishing with comments like “hey look at this cool way the average man can publish to the World Wide Web… there is this HTML code… and its so straightforward and easy.. anyone can learn this… even my students are learning it and becoming publishers.”
Then came web editors… and my workshop presentations went something like this “WOW… it just got even easier… there are these programs out there like ClarisHome Page or Dreamweaver that will write the HTML CODE FOR YOU … AND it’s so easy ANYONE can learn it… look what happens when you put this in the hands of students…… (A few lessons on FTP.. and they are web content producers and their web pages are out there for the world to see.”
Then came… Blog technology… and I started telling students and teachers “ web publishing just got easier.. You don’t even have to learn web design. (just pick a template. And start writing, and you’re a content producer on the web)…. How “cool is that? Whoa… wait a minute… there is even this thing called Audio Blog where I don’t even have to “write’… You can be hiking the Long Trail and use a cell phone to publish your journey on the web.”
My Vermont Fest Presentation Blogs includes some web links with examples of some blogging examples from 2000 - 2005.
Although my students first used blogs to ‘report in’ on their learning. I soon started to see blogging tools as a way to bring web publishing to ALL students and ALL content areas. It was no longer only the ‘geeks’ amongst us that has access to the ability to be heard (or read) on the web. I started working with teachers who wanted to integrate technology into their curriculum and turning them on to the power of using blogging tools. (See blogging projects of Helen, Bob, and Carmela). These examples used blog technology as tools to producing content on the web.
Starting a new job as technology integration specialist, I assumed blog tools would be part of my tool kit. They were ‘low threshold’ tech tools, and I started using them with out giving much thought to the community of bloggers that had emerged who were participating in the ‘act of blogging’. I wasn’t really ‘blogging’ (note verb use) with students the way much of America as “blogging”. I soon discovered that what most people knew about blogs was very different than what I knew about blogs. Most educators knew either “nothing” or that it “unsafe”, “unreliable information”, and mostly political rants. For those who didn’t really know much about blogs, the integration of blogs in school projects, went unnoticed. Others became alarmed and made noise about the perils of blogging. I realized that if the silent (ignorant) majority listened to the vocal (alarmist)… blog tools will be misunderstood, at the least, and banned, at worse. One school in Rutland, Vermont has already banned blogging.
Despite my enthusiasm about using blog tools as a low threshold tool to support what I believed were sound pedagogical use of these tools, I also started to tune into the fact that a lot had happened since I hard started using blog tools. With blog tools emerged BLOGGING as a “verb” and a growing community of bloggers (ranging from scholars, to journalist, to students). Parallel to the development of a blogging community came 9/11. The Patriot Act has convinced Americans that danger looms around every corner. The litigation society has become even more pervasive and schools were not exempt from being targeted. Blogs have emerged from “convenient’ web publishing tools to “social software” tools. Just as the masses were discovering the power of the Net, so were criminals ranging from vandals to pedophiles.
As Internet crime were becoming a reality and finding their way into our courts, and covered by the news media, Internet Safety practices and curriculum also emerged. With Internet Safety awareness, came questions about the wisdom of web publishing. How safe is publishing student work and picture of kids learning? And how do we apply the FERPA (Federal Education Rights to Privacy Act) to web publishing?
I discovered that I needed to step back and assess the landscape and tools that have emerged as the blogs have become part of our culture. This project was designed to help educators and communities (including myself) go through this process.