I have been following some of the dialogue that began with dy/dan’s Dan Meyer’s comment on Wes Fryer’s blog entry at Speed of Creativity. Most of the discussion has revolved around appropriateness of Web 2.0 tools, specifically the photo-animating web application Animoto. Dan showed his concern (disdain?) for the use of commercial web-based digital tools for educational purposes, as he wrote:
“I am only now fully struck by the fact that the goals of profit-driven Web 2.0 applications and the goals of educators only align accidentally.”
The issue has made me think seriously about my own use of these tools in my classroom. I considered whether my aims might be at odds with the creators of applications such as wikis and VoiceThread. It concerned me that many educators, like myself, may be pushing the use of applications that take away the challenge that spurs learning. My reasoning was crystallized by the recent entry on the Official Google Docs blog in which an educator shared his mixed success using Google Docs as a collaboration and communication tool. The distinction becomes clear: if the learning objective is the demonstration of content area mastery through creation of a product (and the communication and collaboration enhances that goal), then these tools properly facilitate that process. If the collaboration process itself is the goal, then one must be careful not to implement an application that completes a signification portion of the process for the student.
In my own classroom, more often than not, I am seeking to measure mastery of the Science concepts and these tools can provide simple options for student assessment (and self-assessment by the students). Just as the use of calculators in a mathematics class is appropriate if the teacher is assessing something other than the student’s ability to perform arithmetic operations, so must these tools be deemed appropriate only when they do not remove the impetus to learn.
In the end, the presence of this controversy suggests that critical review is an important part of the incorporation of digital tools into education. Are Web 2.0 tools on the horizon that will be catered to the needs of educators by encouraging collaboration and communication without doing too much for students?