Exploring Flickr and Podcasts in the Classroom (Week 6 – Educational Applications of Web 2.0 Tools)

flickr-in-educationLet me start off my saying Flickr is outdated, or at least so I thought. I have never used Flickr nor have I had any interest in using this medium. I grew up with the cliché stereotype that Flickr was for girls and photographers. Now that I am a videographer, I know that photographers rarely use this site and girls gravitate toward Tumblr more. After reading “Pedagogical Uses of Flickr” by Jennifer Chu and Erik Van Dusen in 2008, I still wasn’t sold. Everything they described in that article, Pinterest does better, at least in my opinion. Pinterest is more popular, more versatile, and provides more options to spark creativity. However, after looking into Flickr a little further, I discovered that Flickr now gives everyone a terabyte of free storage. That was enough to spark my interest. I signed up for Flickr using my already created Yahoo email, which was simple enough, and lone behold, 1 free terabyte of storage! I was impressed by the revamped structure and usability of Flickr. I still believe Pinterest is has far more versatile in the classroom, but I will admit that there could be potential for picture blogging and digital storytelling. Chu and Dusen acknowledge that Flickr “allows students to explore the world around them from the comfort of their own classroom and home through photographs.” Eh, I’m sure it does. But so does Pinterest. And now Instagram. And Twiiter, and Facebook, and so on. I understand this article was written in 2008 and back then, Flickr was a great medium for exploring the world through your computer. But due to the ridiculous growth of new social media platforms, that has since lost its touch. The last thing I would like to touch on from C&D Flickr’s article is in the closing statement. They quoted Will Richardson in saying, “using web applications such as Flickr in educational settings carries some risks and it is usually the teacher’s job to teach students what is safe to post in terms of safety and privacy.” I bring this up because I feel it relates to the conversation that was sparked from Joe’s blog 4, Networked Teacher, about privacy. There is a big risk that comes with using Web 2.0 tools in educational environments, especially for children. This is why it is important for the teacher to first explore these tools and become familiar with them first, before employing them in the classroom, as Richardson and Mancabelli point out in “Becoming a Networked Learner” chapter in their book Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education.

It’s not enough to employ these tools and technologies with our students; we have to employ them in our own learning practice. Otherwise, nothing changes. The vast majority of classroom uses of blogs, for example, are little more than taking what has already been done on paper for eons and publishing it in a different medium. In these cases, nothing has changed because the person at the front of the room (or in the front office) doesn’t understand that a blog is not simply about publishing; it’s about connecting. The great opportunity these tools provide is that they allow us to interact with others out there, but it’s an opportunity that’s meaningful only if we experience the full potential that exists in those interactions. (34)

This is crucial to understand. I fear that if we do not introduce Web 2.0 tools such as blogging to our students, we are limiting developing their personal learning networks and their education. But if we understand the tools, understand the risks, and give students the option to make these connections and interactions, it could be a game-changer.

Another game-changer that are not used even remotely enough as they should be, are podcasts. Most of my experiences with podcasts come from me subscribing to Happy Tree Friends and the Best of YouTube on my first iPod, not even close to being educational. But as you can see like any other Web 2.0 tool, podcasts are used for many more purposes than just education. I have had only one experience with podcasts in an educational environment, and that came last semester in Design Studio (LDT 550). We used Flipgrid to virtually introduce ourselves and to play around with a new edtech tool. You could argue that Flipgrid isn’t exactly a podcast, but I agree…and disagree. I would say it falls under the podcast umbrella, but just like other Web 2.0 tools, they are constantly evolving and transforming to fit the needs of this world. In an article posted in the British Journal of Educational Technology, “Educational usages of podcasting“,  Howard Harris and Sungmin Park say that podcasting “has become a means of communication and dialogue between teachers and students.” Flipgrid allowed us (the students of LDT 550) and the professor to asynchronously communicate via a short video clip. The professor created our “Flipgrid classroom” and posted a question. We then answered the question with a short video that anyone in the class could view at any time, and respond with another video. As Harris and Sungmin point out in their conclusion, “podcasting enables direct communication and interaction with students which go beyond the temporal and spatial limitations of conventional face-to-face education.” This is exactly what Flipgrid did for our classroom. LDT 550 was not an online course. We met once a week in a classroom; however, we used tools such as Flipgrid, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, and even Second Life to push the boundaries of our classroom experience.

Want to create your own podcast? Check out my podcasting resources under my links page!

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Week 2 – Navigating the Web 2.0 for Social Learning

Learning is about to be disrupted and I believe education is on the verge of a complete makeover. Brown and Adler make a great point in their article, “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0″ about social learning:

The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interaction, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning.

I like how they state that “the most profound impact of the Internet…has yet to be fully realized.” I think institutions and schools are finally beginning to catch on to how social learning can be stimulated by the use of Web 2.0 tools. In today’s age, it’s not what we are learning that counts. What counts is if we are learning to learn. I was fortunate enough to attend a keynote speech by Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad and former CTO of Best Buy, at a lifelong learning conference last November in San Francisco. He spoke about the implications of social media and what that means for our society. His business card is all white with his twitter handle on it. He questions why there is even a need for business cards anymore. He also told us that, “people are learning how to learn.” A great example he used was YouTube. He asked how many of us in the audience have watched a YouTube video in the past year to learn something. Almost the whole audience raised their hands.

If used properly, learning within and outside of the classroom with Web 2.0 tools would stir up passion and excitement amongst students. Take for example a group facilitation and team-building class that was offered last semester. The instructor utilized Google Communities and QR codes to organize a digital scavenge hunt as a final project for the students. The students then took their learning outside of the classroom and was able to use their smartphones and a QR reader app to progress through a digital scavenger hunt, and the instructor was able to keep up-to-date as the students posted their progress to the class-designated Google Community. This is just one way how instructors are embracing Web 2.0 tools to create a different kind of learning environment, an environment that is rich in Web 2.0 tools in which students are fully engaged and asking for more.

This also brings up a crucial shift in the relationship between the learner and the teacher/facilitator. In the traditional learning environment, the teacher would stand in the front of the classroom and lecture. This is slowly changing in that the teacher is now becoming more of a facilitator than a lecturer. The teacher is still knowledgeable in the subject matter, but the difference is that the teacher is now an expert navigator in how to find more knowledge. In John Seely Brown’s article “Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age“, he predicts that navigation will be a new form of literacy in the 21st century:

What I want to suggest, though, is that the new literacy, the one beyond just text and image, is one of information navigation. I believe that the real literacy of tomorrow will have more to do with being able to be your own private, personal reference librarian, one that knows how to navigate through the incredible, confusing, complex information spaces and feel comfortable and located in doing that. So navigation will be a new form of literacy if not the main form of literacy for the 21st century.

I think this was and still is a great prediction. In today’s classroom, the teacher must be able to facilitate people and navigate knowledge. WordPress-navigation-widgetThis opens doorways for students to lead discussions, challenge beliefs, and explore new ideas. And the teacher is there to help share information and guide the discussions.

The onset of these learning shifts must be met with open minds. We can’t expect to embrace these new technologies in the current school system. Schools must be redesigned. Classrooms must be rethought. And our education system must be reevaluated. I’m not saying change everything, but more of don’t be afraid of the inevitable change. Last semester I had the privilege of being able to work with the professor of Design Studio and the department of educational technology in “re-imagining Design Studio”. We experimented with several technologies, including: Google Communities, Adobe Connect, Second Life, twitter, and video conferencing. During the semester we came up with four main points and used those to “re-imagine” Design Studio for the future.

  1. Foster design thinking and a design mindset.
  2. Develop technology skills and expertise within a “customized experience”.
  3. Encourage participation through a community.
  4. Provide opportunities to work on collaborative in-class design projects.

These four points would be a great starting point for designing any learning environment, whether that is online or in a physical classroom.