report on "Teachers' Use of Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools: 2009." While 97% of those teachers surveyed said they had access to computers in the classroom, the ratio of student to computer was more than 5 to 1. And while 94% of teachers responding indicated they used the Internet often, most of them - 66% - said they used it for "research."The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) recently released its
But Internet technology has done more than make research easier and more timely for teachers and students. Educators are using the real-time Web for a variety of innovative purposes, both in and out of the schoolroom.
The Real-Time Web in the Classroom
It may be cliche to emphasize the world wide aspect of the Web, but Internet technologies have lowered the proverbial walls of the classroom, giving students access to information that far surpasses the print-bound copies of encyclopedias and periodicals that were once the standard for K-12 research projects. As technology-educator Steven Anderson argues, these technologies "really make the world smaller for our students and show them that they can find the answers they need if we equip them with the tools and resources do to so." But in addition to simply making information more accessible, real-time technologies including Twitter, Skype, and Google Wave have shaped the types of lessons teachers can create and the types of projects they can assign to their students.
Skype Joins Classrooms From Around the World
Google Wave for Latin Translation
While these examples demonstrate how real-time technologies are incorporated into the curriculum, some teachers have also found ways to funnel side-conversations and back-of-the-room commentary from the classroom into a backchannel, of sorts, through both texting and Twitter. Rather than simply banning phones and PDAs outright, teachers are incorporating these "disruptive technologies" into the classroom and demonstrating that kids' own tech tools can be used in the service of education.
The Real Time Web and Teachers' Professional Development
ReadWriteWeb Real-Time Web Coverage:
- Google Tests Mind Reading, AKA Full Page Previews
- Semantic Startup Evri Goes Mobile
- Twitter Goes Live with Real-Time Streaming API
- Rapid Innovation: The Philosophy of Betaworks CEO John Borthwick
- Bing Now Recommends Interesting Twitter Users
- Live Matrix Launches a TV Guide for the Scheduled Web
- Seesmic Desktop Goes Beyond Twitter: Becomes a Platform for All Things Real Time
- Google Docs Gets a Taste of Wave with Collaborative Highlighting
The real-time Web gives teachers and administrators almost instantaneous feedback on lesson plans, leadership skills and instructional practices. To this end, teachers have developed a personal learning network (PLN) primarily via Twitter that helps them with real-time course content and pedagogical issues.
Silvia Tolisano's third-grade students found an unidentified animal skeleton on the playground, for example. Rather than taking a picture and enlisting the help of parents or the school librarian, Tolisano uploaded the photo to Twitter, soliciting help from those in her PLN. The skeleton - a raccoon - was identified within a few hours.
As Steven Anderson notes, this sort of thing has a twofold effect. "First, the teacher can use the 'Power of the PLN' to continue a great conversation in their class that otherwise might go stale if it waited a day. But they also showed the students how it is alright not to know everything and how to use the resources you have at hand to find answers. And I cannot think of a more powerful resource than the real-time web."
Educators have organized a weekly informal meeting on Twitter, utilizing the #edchat hashtag, in order to regularly discuss topics pertaining to teaching and learning. (Tuesdays at noon and at 7pm EST.) As Kyle Pace, a K-12 instructional technology specialist, contends, "You cannot buy this kind of professional development." Pace, Anderson and other educators believe that this informal and self-motivated learning network may be the direction in which professional development in education is heading. Indeed, 78% of teachers responding to the NCES study said that they found independent learning the best way to learn about new technologies (as opposed to 61% who said that in-district training was the best way to gain new tech skills).
As technological skills become synonymous with literacy, it is imperative that students learn to use emerging real-time technologies for research, experimentation, problem-solving, collaboration and creativity. Tech-savvy teachers are already taking advantage of these very technologies to build their own skills and lesson plans.
Top photo from Flickr user Michael Surran.