Another read/write web testimonial

I have Dr. Jay Pfaffman at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to thank for helping me draw the distinction between conventional web publishing and the new “push-button” publishing of the read/write web.

And I have the teachers who responded to my embarrassingly self-conscious post, Confessions of a blog disciple, to thank for inspiring this post. Their comments reminded me of Dr. Pfaffman’s lesson.

At the beginning of the spring 2007 semester, Dr. Pfaffman required those enrolled in IT 521, Introduction to Computer Applications in Education, to publish a web page and describe in detail how we did it. We were allowed, though not required, to use the university’s Volspace server, if we could figure out how to upload web files to it. (Every UT-Knoxville student is guaranteed 50 MB of file storage there.)

Well, at that point in January 2007, I had exactly one semester of instructional technology graduate work under my belt and still hadn’t learned the mysterious protocols of Volspace, which completely stumped me. Had it not been for the helpful staff at my college’s digital media lab, I wouldn’t have been able to post any projects from the previous semester’s introductory course in multimedia.

So on one sleepless night in January, fueled by an endless stream of coffee and trail mix, I bumbled through Dr. Pfaffman’s web assignment, without crying, as he promised some of us would. And, thus, I published my first-ever web page.

Because I am an instructional technology student, I felt compelled, by hook or by crook, to master the university’s server. Other students in the class from different majors and disciplines were not so inclined, as I discovered the next day when we were required to report back on our fledgling attempts to produce a web page. And that is how I first became aware of the numerous easy and free publishing opportunities currently available on the web.

And then came blogs. A few weeks after our first assignment, Dr. Pfaffman asked us to choose any service and create a blog. I think the assignment would have had more impact had he required us to do it at the same time we attempted the more conventional method of web publishing.

All I can say is after less than 30 minutes on Blogger, I was up and running with a functional, interactive, highly customizable publishing space to call my own. No specialized training, no expensive software, and no frantic calls to tech support.

Clearly, this has been one of the most transformative moments in my journey as a teacher/learner. My experiences in the last 9 months leave me with questions, similar to what Ms. Whatsit asks:

What good does spending any money on technology do if students are treated as if it’s too dangerous for them, teachers are considered too naïve to use it wisely, and district officials are too far behind and out of touch to plan for its implementation in practical educational contexts today?

Should we use the tools simply because they are cheap, highly intuitive, and easily accessible? No. We should use them based on proof they enhance self-directed learning and facilitate student, parent, and community engagement. The proof will come through the combined aggregate of our stories, our “testimonials,” if you will. So I will keep sharing tidbits as I scale that learning curve, and I hope you will, too.

That’s what I think.

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"What if we just ignored the status of students in other countries? That wouldn’t be especially neighborly, but at least we wouldn’t be viewing the gains of children in other lands as a troubling development."

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