Building a Web Presence
Weblogs are becoming essential in school districts across the country
HERE'S THE RECIPE: GIVE teachers and students Weblogs in which to write and publish work for global audiences, add pointers on publishing and communicating safely online, drop in a pinch of collaboration and support by experienced bloggers, and watch what happens.
For fifth-grade students in Georgia, working with education consultant Anne Davis, the result was a group blog called "Blogical Mind" for exchanging ideas on literacy inside and outside classrooms, and individual student blogs on related topics. Examples of the latter include "Eddie's Rainbow of Thought," "Victoria's Dreams of Wonder," and "Mia's Hall of Fame," linked to the collective site and also accessible directly. The blogs are drawing readers throughout the United States and as far away as Australia, and the bloggers are learning the importance of online communities and having a "clickable" presence on the Web.
Unfortunately, many administrators prevent school users from establishing an online presence, fearing that simply being online puts their districts in danger. Many are also influenced by the few but tragic incidents that have involved social networking sites such as MySpace, even though 40 million adolescents are participating in such sites. But while the Internet does indeed carry risks, as does life offline, tens of thousands of students and teachers publish content to the Web daily in safe and ethical ways. For example, students in an AP psychology class in Nashua, N.H., created video projects about sleep disorders and posted them on YouTube; elementary school students in Omaha, Neb., recorded and published podcasts on the school site Radio WillowWeb; and school bloggers in many places are connected to the world and participate in amazing conversations about topics that interest them. All of this comes from having an online presence, and Eddie, Victoria and Mia are learning how to find students and teachers "out there" and are helping others find them. In this new Read/Write Web world, not knowing how to do that limits our students to whatever happens to be within the four walls of the classroom, at the place and time that they are there.
But whether or not individuals have access to the emerging online communications technologies in their school districts, they are using them outside of school. One example is FanFiction, a Web site where thousands of students write about favorite books, TV shows and movies. A recent Pew Internet study found that 55 percent of our kids access social network sites, and those numbers continue to grow.
In our emerging online world, students need to know how to publish and collaborate using a variety of media, and to create and nurture their own networks of learners for lifelong learning. Weblogs have also become essential to the online culture for insights and opinions on almost every conceivable topic, as directories such as Bloogz.com and Technorati.com confirm. Every K12 district, therefore, needs to provide online educational communications opportunities, offer clickable access for classes and individuals, and teach responsible use.
As Anne Davis says in introducing beginners to blogging, "Starting today, you are going to take charge of your learning. You will tell the story of what you are learning and what it means to you. You will decide what is worth knowing. You will satisfy your own burning curiosity. You will ask good questions about what you are learning. You will get a kick out of learning." That's the unparalleled power of an online presence!
Will Richardson is a contributing editor for District Administration and The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate, www.districtadministration.com/pulse.