On Teachers Moving from Web 0.5 to Web 3.0

February 16, 2006

David Warlick posts insightfully about the uses of technology in education. Right now he seems like a pretty stressed out guy.

I'm not an educator (though I do work in education via nonprofit evaluation). And I don't get quite as excited as he does when discussing the latest crop of communication technologies.

But in one of his most recent posts on his blog 2 Cents, I am right there with him pulling out my hair. The story is kind of funny actually, in a sick way (kind of like the way it's funny when Cheney shoots a 78-year-old man).

The story is like this: Warlick presented to a large group of teachers here in North Carolina recently and polled them informally about the technologies they used.

"How many were blogging, I saw only three hands.

How many read blogs? Perhaps 20.

How many had listened to a podcast? Maybe ten.

How many had podcasted? Zero!

How many used flickr? Zero!

How many knew about social bookmarks? Zero!

Delicious (del.icio.us)? Zero!"

This is all really not that surprising to me. I know that two years of hype about blogging has done little to clarify its value as an fun, educational tool. And these are a particular type of hype-prone ("Web 2.0") technologies.

And yet, really, these things are exciting and useful. Teachers would love these things. They aren't just hype. I only wish teachers knew more about these great, fun technologies that kids would love. For sure, I have seen great integrations of podcasting (AKA: grassroots audio) and blogging (AKA: networked writing) into the classroom — and I have seen how serious critical thinking skills are engendered in the use of these technologies.

So I think these teachers' technological literacy is unfortunate, but I don't think it's a tragedy, as David might say at this point. I think we are just at an early stage, and we (progressive type/educational bloggers) are impatient to show off the great strides the internet has made in recent years. Or at least, that's the polite way of putting it.

But when I read the following I was a little more disturbed:

"I asked how many of them had used Gopher. About three-forths of the hands went up. This surprised me. I asked about Telnet. Again, a vast majority of the hands when up."
Telnet circa 1990

That's right. Gopher and Telnet are not only still on people's radar, but teachers are apparently much more familiar with these medieval implements than blogs. Why is this so difficult to catch on to? It's just writing on the internet. Where are the barriers to understanding and use coming from? I know that technological literacy and the digital divide are real complex issues, but dammit, I don't get it. Why did people stop paying attention when it got interesting? Blogging is so much more engaging and Telnet was ... just such a drag!

As David writes: "These are educators who, in the early 1990s, were on the edge. They were paying attention, recognizing an emerging revolution in information, and latching on. What happened between then and now? Why have they missed the new revolution?"

I hope that online communication will become much more mainstream this year. But for now I think that white-hot hype + cold, ivory-tower perspective of technologists has done a lot to keep powerful new communication tools out of the mainstream, locked in some elite computer lab. For now I resolve again to remember that I'm part of an extreme minority of addled programmers and gizmo fetishists. I want to do what I can to remind people that simple, free, worldwide publishing and distribution is now a reality. And for now I just hope that educators aren't teaching kids that dial-up BBS's define the world of technology.