Thursday, December 28, 2006

Best of 2006: The Read/Write Web in Education

It's the winter break for many educators (at least in North America). Email has slowed to a trickle and most educational blogs are not being updated. During this time of reflection and rejuvenation we'll be celebrating the new year (along with the rest of the world). We at the ITM have discussed posting several "best of 2006" (or "predictions for 2007") posts to mark the occasion. For my part, I've identified five trends in the educational use of the read/write web that I've felt had a significant impact on my work - and ultimately, the work of teachers and students. In each case I discuss a free (and teacher-friendly) service.

For the sake of brevity, I've posted my predictions separately.

1. Educational Blogging at (and Though blogs and educational blogging have been around for several years, and though James Farmer's was created in 2005, the impact of these tools grew a great deal in 2006. In February, I switched from using Blogger to using Edublogs when leading blogging workshops for teachers. In addition to being able to post text and pictures (and being able to receive comments), teachers could now post Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF files, too. There were no random links to embarrassing or inappropriate blogs, and teachers could set up various levels of permissions for comments and for participants in team blogs. To boot, the tools were free and open source. Also, in June 2006, ITM blogger (and open source advocate) Steve Hargadon created, which quickly became a valuable resource for teachers interested in these ideas. Read my predictions for 2007.

2. Educational Podcasting at Podcasting began in 2004, and in 2005 my colleagues and I began leading workshops in which we helped teachers jump through many technical hoops in order to "easily" post a podcast. Podomatic was founded in 2005, but it wasn't until 2006 that we started using the service to help teachers and students. Now, teachers can create a new podcast episode by simply uploading an audio file that they've created using a free program such as Audacity. Or, for even greater simplicity, they can record directly into Podomatic over the web. The hosting of the audio files is free and the system takes care of most of the back end technical issues, creating a blog-like website complete with comments. Read my predictions for 2007.

3. Educational Wikis at Though wikis have been around even longer than blogs, they are arguably behind blogs in educational adoption. But, in January 2006, started offering free (and add free) Wikis to teachers. Ten thousand wikis later, the company was so impressed by the work teachers and students were doing on their free wikis that they launched a campaign to give away 100,000 wikis to teachers. Today they are nearing the 20,000 mark. These wikis not only allow teachers to create collaboratively edited online resources, but also to post images and files as well. (I've written about educational use of wikis on the ITM before.) Read my predictions for 2007.

4. Google in Education: When we look back on 2006, this may very well be the biggest impact. This is the year Google began working in the k12 arena (an effort now headed up by Cristin Frodella). They launched the Google for Educators site, and played an critical role in the launch of this blog, the Infinite Thinking Machine. Google also released several new products that benefit educators who use the read/write web... particularly the easy to use RSS aggregator, Google Reader (for keeping up to date on news, blogs, and other "feeds") and the web-based word processor Google Docs (for creating, sharing, and collaboratively editing documents online). Though they existed prior to 2006, free desktop applications such as Picasa and Google Earth have been heavily used in education this year as well. (Of course, the newly updated Blogger is also still used by many educators.) Read my predictions for 2007.

5. The Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 (DOPA): This may be the biggest change that didn't happen in 2006. Call it the biggest disaster averted (at least in the United States). Introduced in May 2006, the bill proposed to protect students from online predators by limiting their access to "social networking websites," which could have potentially limited student access to a wide range of websites, including everything I've mentioned above. In July, the house of representatives passed the bill by an amazing 410 to 15, and it seemed as if the Senate would quickly follow suit, thus placing an additional burden on many schools receiving federal funding - and placing a significant obstacle in the path of enterprising teachers using these tools with their students. Happily, organizations such as rose to the occasion and opposed the bill, which has languished in the Senate since before their August recess. Read my predictions for 2007.

Please feel free to discuss these read/write web trends (and predictions), and to leave ones of your own, in the comments. I look forward to reading your reactions.

PS: The image above was taken by Alan Levine and generously shared under the Creative Commons Attribution license on his Flickr account. Read his prediction about Creative Commons licensing in the comments for this post.