Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Stager Strikes Back

Gary Stager's "Why Teachers Don't Use Web 2.0 - A Historical Perspective" is a little hit and miss, but the hits are right on, and the whole thing deserves close consideration. He makes a long list of points which I'll respond to below. I'm not going to blockquote all this, so the bulleted points are his & my words are in italics.

  • The Web 2.0 tools promoted by Warlick and Utecht were not created by educators or for children. Educators hope to find educational applications despite having almost no input into the development of future tools.
  • Yes. I'd just also note that in any proprietary application, any input users have into future direction is at the whim of the vendor. Open source licenses give educators the right to control future modifications and development, given the capacity to do so. Also, an open source licenses guarantee that an application cannot be withdrawn from the market (hello, HyperCard) and that educators can indefinitely use and redistribute a given version of an application.
  • The Web 2.0 tools come out of corporate, not academic, cultures with very different motives.
  • This depends on how you define "Web 2.0 tools." If we're talking about Skype, Google Earth, Second Life and Scratch, then three out of four are corporate, but I'd argue that none of these are Web 2.0 at all since I can't use any of them in a browser, and I'm not sure that any of them are even dependent on HTTP. If you're talking about blogs and wikis, these didn't come from corporate culture, they came from hacker culture. If you're talking about whatever the latest thing on TechCrunch is, then yeah, that's business culture to be sure, and I agree that that's a bad place to be chasing applications for use in schools
  • There is no educational philosophy inspiring the development of the Web 2.0 tools or their use. Basically true. What bums me out is that I thought that by now we'd see more tools combining the two by now, but we've seen relatively little of it. Stephen mentions Moodle as an example. If Moodle is Web 2.0, Web 2.0 doesn't mean anything. In my opinion, Moodle is totally Web 1.0. Forum discussions!
  • Although a principle of the Web is the democratiziation of knowledge, this is an abstract concept to educators raised on textbooks and being commanded to recite from scripted lesson plans. I'm not sure that I'd be that condescending toward teachers, but certainly scripted lessons and democratization of knowledge cut against each other.
  • The greater Web 2.0 community has little interest in reforming education. If "greater" means, outside education, this is true.
  • Web 2.0 attracts very little interest in the educational psychology or even teacher education communities. True, but I'm not sure which side deserves criticism for this state, if either.
  • There exists very little peer-reviewed scholarship regarding Web 2.0. In fact, many people in the blogosphere are openly contemptuous of theory and scholarship in favor of "the wisdom of crowds," a new and popular, albeit inherently anti-intellectual world-view. I'm not sure which blogosphere we're talking about here. Also, this requires a very shallow interpretation of the original idea behind "The Wisdom of Crowds."
  • By definition, the Web 2.0 community is leaderless. Too often, non-equivalent opinions are given equal weight without a demand for evidence or supporting arguments. It is not leaderless by my definition, but that might depend on one's definition of "leader" as much as "Web 2.0." It is, however, true that the US K-12 ed-tech blogosphere tends to be terrible at constructing arguments based on evidence. Also, hopefully Gary will learn as I have to carefully construct his generalizations to make sure they exclude Stephen Downes. It makes life a little easier for everyone.
  • There is very little material written for educators on using Web 2.0 tools in a creative fashion. Will Richardson's book is a fabulous resource for understanding the read/write web, but hardly offers provocative project ideas. I'd basically agree, but cut some slack on this one. I'm much more tolerant of breaking in new technologies with relatively simple uses than Gary is.
  • No matter how cool, powerful or revolutionary Web 2.0 tools happen to be, there are few if any mature objects-to-think-with embedded in them and certainly no explicit statement that their use is designed to transform the learning environment. Basically, yes.
  • The emphasis on information reinforces passive pedagogical practices, whether intentional or not. Yes, but that's more a product of Warlick and friends' rhetoric than the tools themselves.
  • While they may be really powerful or innovative software applications, a teacher simply does not need Skpe, Google Eartth or Second Life. Using them will do little to challenge conventional classroom practice. Some of the richest examples merely enhance the existing curriculum. I'd say the richest examples enhance the richest curriculum. These tools just don't have much to say about pedagogy. Skype is a better phone, Google Earth is a better map/globe, Second Life is a simulated world. Is a phone, map or world inherently "traditional" or "progressive" in pedagogy?
  • Web 2,0 requires robust ubiquitous access to the Internet. Most schools have demonstrated an inability to trust teachers and kids online and as a result create insane barriers to teachers using the Web in an educational fashion. To go full bore with the full slate of tools would require immense bandwidth, at least if all the kids in a traditionally scaled school are sucking through the same pipe.
  • By definition, Web 2.0 is temporal (just wait for 3.0) and new tools emerge every hour. As a result, teachers don't see a reason to invest much time in mastering technologies that will be obsolete or leapfrogged tomorrow. For many enthusiasts, collecting the tools is as important as using them. Again, this gets into "are we talking about blogs and wikis or the latest TechCrunch startup? I would argue that blogs and wikis haven't changed substantially this century. That is, I could happily use the blog and wiki software available in 2001 today, and so could you, notwithstanding the various mutations in RSS syntax and the like. And they aren't going to change. And you are going to keep using them for a LONG TIME. The web app of the week, I don't know.
  • Times have changed. Few Americans protest anything, not the war in Iraq, not the erosion of civil liberties. Educators don't even fight overly restrictive and counter-productive network policies that castrate the Internet. Has ISTE raised the issue before Congress? Has the NEA made this an issue of working conditions? No, there is little appetite for rocking the boat. We have become passive and compliant just like our schools wish for our students. This is, in the aggregate, undeniably true.
  • I know I'll get flamed for this, but the educational Web 2.0 community has little first-hand experience in social activism and scant knowledge of existing school reform literature. Like the discovery of new tools, one gets the sense that proponents of Web 2.0 in education are discovering educational theories here and there and then applying these ideas to the new tools. This is not universally true, but on the whole it is right on. It is a bit of a mystery why things have played out this way though. The popular edu-bloggers seem almost self-selected, like they're the only people who chose to try to become big. I made an explicit decision not to. But consider, for example, the dearth of K-12 bloggers from Maine. Why isn't Maine leading this community? Why is it lead from the South?
  • What is the unifying educational theory behind using Skype, Second Life, Scratch and Google Earth? These things are so different I don't know why there should be, or even why we should regard them as being part of a single category.

Whew. We're crippled by trying to have serious discussions when the basic terms are undefined. Also, as usual, we don't really specify what age groups we're talking about either.

Since Stephen beat me to the punch on the point by point response, thanks to my brand-new child care obligations, I'll add a few notes on that. Stephen seems to think Gary is more bound to traditional schooling than I do. I think it would be helpful if everyone concerned would just weigh in on whether or not The Met is acceptable to them philosophically. Gary is down with it, as is Alan November, as is Ewan, so is Steve Hargadon. These schools are in my neighborhood, so I've seen a few more of the warts and glitches, but certainly I consider The Met model to be one of a small set of Coalition of Essential Schools derived models I formally approve of. Do we have some common ground here?


Gary said...


Thanks for discussing my article.

You hardly disagree with me.

I lumped disparate technologies into one pile since those were the tools Jeff Utecht mentioned his teachers are reluctant to embrace.

The largest point I'm tying to make is that revolution is unlikely to grow from no seeds. The new technology may indeed be swell, but the claims, definitions and gee-whizdom of David Warlick are indeed problematic (as you mentioned).

I do remain slightly amazed by how so many people in the educational blogosphere define their identity by specific web tools. It seems odd to find one's self in Twitter or Second Life or even blogging.

All the best,


Gary said...


You ask a really good question about The Met. I'm delighted to discuss actual educational issues.

I am SURE that the Met is imperfect. However, what impresses me most is Littky's ability to focus on details AND the big picture. Elliot Washor undoubtedly makes critical contributions to the success of The Met.

When I read "The Big Picture" and then "Doc," I was startled by Littky's DEEP understanding of previous school reform efforts and cutting-edge learning theory - including Reggio Emilia, Rabindranath Tagore AND the American progressive tradition. Dr. Littky really stands on the shoulders of giants.

He also has a remarkable love for children and does whatever it takes to meet the needs of each kid. The Met seems to be incredibly focused on details, as well as the theoretical big picture. Littky shares my belief that both perspectives are critical.

Littky has also achieved something unprecedented in school reform. He has built substantive models of innovation in real schools three or four different times over several decades. The Met actually seems to have found a way to "scale" and create new schools influenced by the model, but that remain flexible. The Met schools do not seem to have succumbed to dogma or suffered from the death that usually follows "shrink-wrapping" a school innovation.

Like me, Littky doesn't give a rat's ass about curriculum, but he is unafraid of assessment. His schools seem to triumph on the stupid standardized tests (although the ideologically pure NCLB folks would never dare cite The Met as a model).

Best of all, Littky and the Met schools educate children because it is the moral thing to do, not because of economic fears or Dickensian job preparation. The don't pretend that they've seen the future.

I give the Met big props for being the closest to the "right thing" that I've found in America. They're willingness to share their wisdom, even if nobody is listening, is also laudable.


Tom Hoffman said...

My biggest concern about The Met is that it seems to be dependent on burning through a steady stream of highly educated and motivated advisors. That might be sustainable in Providence, but probably not elsewhere.

Gary said...


It's hard to be a good teacher. If turnover is a consequence of doing the right thing for kids, what's the alternative.

Tom Hoffman said...

The problem is that no matter how you slice it, we need a lot of good teachers, and it is expensive to find and train them, so it would be nice to have them stay in the classroom longer than 4 years.

From the point of view of a teacher, it would be nice for one's career in the classroom to be sustainable and compatible with family life and not a one way journey to burn out.

There is a reasonable middle ground.

Gary said...

Another possibility is that the Met teachers are so in demand (perhaps even good) that they are being poached.

That's good for them and the schools they go to, but bad for The Met.

This happened like crazy in the early days of 1:1.

Tom Hoffman said...

To be sure a lot of Met advisors become Met principals or take other jobs at Big Picture after graduating their flock of advisees after four years. Or just decide a less intense teaching experience is preferable.