National Writing Project

Book Review: Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms

By: Red Clay Writing Project’s Technology Team
Date: February 20, 2009

Summary: A site's technology team delves into Will Richardson's Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, and find themselves warming up to and exploring the possibilities of Web 2.0 tools to support writing and learning in the classroom and beyond.

 

As our writing project tech team, “The Army of Dorkness,” began experimenting with technology via Web 2.0 tools, we (somewhat ironically) chose a powerful little book to help ground and guide us—Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms .

This choice emerged from our familiarity with Richardson’s blog at weblogg-ed.com , which contributes to his renown and his somewhat guru status among techies.

For those of us new to the world of wikis and other online tools, Richardson’s book provides a pragmatic and accessible description of the read/write Web. Richardson explores both the tools and the potential impact these tools have for our classrooms, our teaching, and society at large.

In the early days of our tech team, many expressed varying levels of skepticism toward Web 2.0. Some of this grew from a fear that these tools might be inherently unsafe for young learners, some from a difficulty in reimagining the way learning and classroom teaching might look with new tools, and some even from theoretical and ideological stances that see technology having the potential to further homogenize class structure and reproduce consumer culture.

This skepticism worked in our favor, however, generating inquiry among a group that included elementary school teachers, a Montessori kindergarten teacher, a middle school special education teacher, doctoral students in the field of language and literacy education, a high school history and psychology teacher, and a writing project university professor.

We participated in a new kind of authorship.

A Shift in Information and Communication

As we ventured further into the book and our own explorations, we began to key in on what we considered one of Richardson’s main points: technology brings with it the possibility of collaboration, construction of knowledge, and empowerment through self-publishing. In other words, enthusiasm grew as our apprehension lessened, or, as Richardson wrote, “the tools discussed in this book have just as much chance of closing the gap as widening it” (p. 7).

For our team, Richardson’s argument that we can no longer deny the far-reaching impacts of technology on our literacy practices was indeed compelling. First, Richardson argues that although Web 2.0 “may not seem well suited to a climate of standardized test scores and government accountability,” pedagogies that foster literacy competencies related to the understanding of digital communications and social networking will better prepare students for their post-education lives (p. 5).

According to Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, we are experiencing a shift in information and communication, from the way we receive our news and who writes it to how we communicate on a personal level with friends and family. This shift is transforming the kinds of literacies we use outside of schools and, in turn, is highly relevant for teaching and learning in our classrooms.

Throughout the text, Richardson explores ways that teachers, schools, news agencies, and others are using Web 2.0 to increase the sharing of information and ideas. One common example is Wikipedia, which according to Richardson “is the poster child for the collaborative construction of knowledge” (p. 61). After seeing examples of online collaboration and ways people are navigating the digital landscape, we were inspired to join the fray.

Starting to Use the Tools

As Richardson challenged us as teachers to “try on” Web 2.0 tools and develop our own familiarity and competence, we began by using these tools in our own personal lives and with our own personal teaching inquiries. We blogged together with a group blog; we shared photos on Flickr; and ultimately, we designed a Writing Project Advanced Institute that explored a multitude of social networking and multimedia sharing tools we believed had potential to enrich our teaching and our classroom learning environments.

We participated in a new kind of authorship, “where every teacher and every student, every person with access will have the ability to contribute ideas and experiences to the larger body of knowledge that is the internet” (p. 5).

There were certainly challenges in our experimentation (e.g., school district filters, accessibility issues, learning curves); however, with some persistence and a tech team providing community support, we pushed our own boundaries and implemented blogs, wikis, and social networking sites in a variety of ways in our classrooms, including digital filmmaking projects in secondary content area classrooms and international pen pal projects in elementary classrooms.

Although many of us abhor reading directions and following manuals, it was useful that Richardson provided the “how-to” for several Web 2.0 tools. Just about anyone with a basic knowledge of computers can pick up Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms and within a relatively short time be posting to her very own blog.

Richardson is precise and thoughtful about how to use these tools effectively and safely. As one team member stated, “Technology is a tool, and, like other tools, you can take it into your classrooms and use it badly, or you can use it well.” With Richardson’s advice, you can be sure you will use these tools well.

If you are ready to demystify the world of blogs, wikis, and podcasts, this book can help you along. You can explore the basics (e.g., What in the world is a wiki?) and appreciate, as we did, how Richardson grounds the use of these tools with theory and arguments that both advocate and interrogate the use of these tools in our lives and, more specifically, in our classroom teaching and learning.

About the Authors The Red Clay Technology Team is comprised of John Bishop, Paige Cole, Scott Ritchie, John-Paul Vigil, May Dartez, Eric Hasty, and Freida Hammett.

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