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District Administrators See Advantages of Web 2.0 in School

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While K-12 district administrators are "overwhelmingly positive" about the value of Web 2.0 in schools, the use of Web 2.0 tools in actual learning environments is "quite limited," according to the results of a new study from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a professional association for district technology leaders.

The report, "Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise and Reality," compiled data from about 1,200 schools, polling superintendents, technology directors, and curriculum directors on policy issues related to the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies in districts around the country.

Positive Influences
The report revealed several key findings related to administrators' attitudes toward and experience with Web 2.0 and policies related to the use of certain forms of these technologies. One of the more significant and surprising of these revelations was, as mentioned, that administrators were overwhelmingly positive about the ways in which Web 2.0 can be of benefit to students in their academic endeavors. And, further, there was agreement on this across the administrator groups studied.

Although 56 percent of administrators said Web 2.0 tools have not been integrated into their schools' curricula, more than three-fourths agreed that Web 2.0 holds promise for teaching and learning.

Administrators were asked about the impact or influence of Web 2.0 technologies on students. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) indicated a positive or highly positive influence on communications skills, with only 14 percent saying Web 2.0's influence was negative or highly negative. And another 73 percent indicated a positive or highly positive influence on quality of schoolwork (11 percent negative). Seventy percent said Web 2.0 has a positive or highly positive impact on students' outside interests (12 percent negative), and 67 percent said it has a positive or highly positive impact on interest in school (16 percent negative).

"We've come to believe that kids are learning in significantly different ways because of digital media, because of the ways they can participate, they can produce, the ways that they can share information, and the ways that they can create new information," said Connie Yowell, director of education at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which funded the study. She, along with several other stakeholders in the study, spoke to reporters at a CoSN press conference last week. "We've also come to understand that learning for young people is distributed and that, just as kids have always learned outside of school, we're learning that [with the] digital tools, they're much more connected in their learning, that ... if they have a cell phone with them, they have a learning tool with them. And so we think of learning as a 24/7 experience for young people."

Other Web 2.0 influences on students that administrators cited as positive or highly positive included:

  • Self-direction and regulation (65 percent positive, 12 percent negative);
  • Sense of community or culture (65 percent positive, 15 percent negative);
  • Peer relationships (58 percent positive, 21 percent negative);
  • Relationships with parents or family (56 percent positive, 21 percent negative);
  • Homework habits (55 percent positive, 26 percent negative); and
  • Behavior in school (46 percent positive, 19 percent negative).

The one category in which negative responses outweighed positive was exercise/conditioning, where 49 percent of administrators said Web 2.0 had a negative impact and 11 percent said it had a positive impact.

Among the priorities cited by administrators for Web 2.0 in schools, the highest ranked were keeping students interested and engaged in school, meeting the needs of different kinds of learning, developing critical thinking skills, developing students' capabilities not otherwise possible, providing alternative learning environments, extending the school day, and preparing students to be lifelong learners.

Limitations
Despite all of this, however, there seems to be a gap between administrators' attitudes toward Web 2.0 and their willingness or ability to make Web 2.0 happen in schools, according to the report.

"Looking at these new collaborative tools and what they mean in education, we come at this from a slightly different perspective," said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. "There are many folks looking at the tool side of the equation, pointing out how individual teachers or individual classrooms can use these new tools--what we generically call Web 2.0--but we think that the work we're doing, coming at it from [the perspective of] ... the leadership and policies, [is] particularly critical. And that's because if we simply assume that technologies will bubble up and transform education, we're not sure if that's the case, if leaders don't understand what those technologies are and how they might be implemented effectively and if they don't have policies that enable it or actually inhibit adoption."

Twenty-four percent of administrators said access to Web 2.0 tools should be essentially unfettered, provided students are supervised. But 61 percent said participation should be allowed only on approved educational sites; another 8 percent said participation should be allowed only within the district; and 7 percent said students should be limited to information access only.

Furthermore, schools are discriminating between various forms of Web 2.0 tools. By far, most schools (70 percent) ban the use of social networking altogether, regardless of the use, while 29 percent allow "prescribed educational use" only.

Additionally:

  • 38 percent ban playing interactive games;
  • 30 percent ban participation in virtual worlds;
  • 27 percent ban blogging;
  • 18 percent ban students from creating polls or surveys online; and
  • 14 percent ban the use of wikis.

Of course, the majority of schools do allow the use of these forms of Web 2.0 technologies. (Specific breakdowns can be found in the full report, which is available online here.)

In addition, according to the report, almost every school in the United States does use Internet filtering, and 55 percent are more restrictive than is required by the Children's Internet Protection Act.

Administrators also see a number of challenges to Web 2.0, including distractions and time wasting, which 75 percent classified as a "moderate to severe" potential problem. Other challenges cited as moderate to severe included:

  • The use of non-authoritative or biased sources (56 percent);
  • Inappropriate online interactions (54 percent);
  • Accessing inappropriate materials (53 percent);
  • Giving out personal information (53 percent);
  • Posting inappropriate materials (48 percent);
  • Cheating or plagiarism (48 percent); and
  • Cyber bullying (45 percent).

Some of the other major findings of the report included:

  • Social studies, writing, science, and reading were cited by curriculum directors as the subjects in which the use of Web 2.0 tools could be most effective at all grade levels;
  • One of the barriers to adoption of Web 2.0 is that districts are focused more on the problems associated with the technologies than on figuring out how to leverage the technologies to use in education;
  • Another barrier is that district administrators said their teachers are too unfamiliar with the tools to be able to understand them, let alone to redesign their teaching methods around them;
  • Administrators, to a very large extent, are highly inexperienced with Web 2.0; and
  • Those administrators with some experience are, for the most part, passive users (merely accessing and viewing content rather than creating it or interacting with it).

Cheryl Lemke, president and CEO of the Metiri Group, which conducted the survey for CoSN, tackled the issue of Web 2.0 experience among administrators. "There are some decision makers out there who are looking at Web 2.0 who have not been inside the system and may not understand the full capabilities and the power of that participatory learning...."

James Bosco, principal investigator for the grant, said Web 2.0 survey is just one component of a larger Web 2.0 effort and will serve as the basis for follow-up work in this area, which will include policy recommendations. Aside from the new survey, the effort has also included compiling district policies and collecting information informally.

"All of that," Bosco said, "is intended to serve as a basis for an action plan that we intend to implement over the ... weeks and months ahead. Our goal, then, is not just to understand what is but to accomplish what might be."

CoSN representatives said they expect to hold a briefing on Capitol Hill in the fall to discuss action steps. A complete copy of the report, executive summary, and other information can be downloaded from CoSN's site here.

About the Author

Executive Producer David Nagel heads up the editorial department for 1105 Media's education publications — which include two daily sites, a variety of newsletters and two monthly digital magazines covering technology in both K-12 and higher education.

A 21-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192 or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education). A selection of David Nagel's articles can be found on this site.


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