Many virtual learning communities thrived with email, electronic bulletin boards, and online chat rooms, but that is all changing. A recent explosion of technological innovation is radically transforming personal learning environments, school-based learning communities, and eMentoring programs. This new generation of information and communication technologies, sometimes referred to as “21st century tools,” “the read/write web,” “web-based tools” or “Web 2.0,” is currently being explored as an area that affords much promise for collaboration and community building among educators and students alike. These tools include social networks, blogs, wikis, course management systems (or learning management systems), and podcasts.

Web-based technologies in education
Web 2.0 represents a monumental increase in our capacity to communicate, collaborate, and create. The inherent utility, accessibility, and affordability of these tools has led to their swift and pervasive adoption among young people. (Just consider MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and text messaging.) This has prompted leaders in education technology and school reform to call for widespread and systematic adoption of Web 2.0 within the nation's schools.

One possible inroad – perhaps the only logical inroad – is through teacher education and professional development programs. In an online discussion about educational technology sponsored by the National School Boards Association, Will Richardson, a leading innovator of web-based tools in classroom contexts, suggests that teachers must first understand how these emergent technologies affect their own learning practice. He says, “I really believe that until we understand the potentials and pitfalls of these shifts and these tools for ourselves, how they can connect us and transform our own learning, that it's difficult to understand the pedagogies that make their use successful in the classroom.”

Web-based technologies and teacher professional development
In Changing a System: Network Centric Learning Communities, a three-part podcast presented at the 2007 K12 Online Conference, James Folkestad of Colorado State University refers to the Web 2.0 phenomenon as an “avalanche of change.” Folkestad argues persuasively for the use of these tools in teacher preparation programs, claiming that “students and teachers who fail to learn how to survive this avalanche will jeopardize their advancement.” He cites a U.S. military study that compared “high-connectivity” organizations with traditional bureaucracies. The “edge” organizations outperformed bureaucratic, centralized organizations on efficiency, cost, and decision wait-time, but with a greater degree of coordination work and double the risk.

To Folkestad, this suggests that today's teachers and learners must learn the “survival skills” of collaboration and collective action. Specifically, we need “improved network architecture” and “increased professional competency” to organize, navigate, and manage risk in this new, global arena. In his teacher preparation course at CSU, Folkestad describes how his students create blogs, digital stories, and webquests, which they in turn upload to a secure, online forum he calls “Wisdom of Students.” Within this virtual classroom, students produce, share, and comment on each other's work without fear. They even upload personal photos and artwork and participate in a degree of social networking.

Moving beyond tools and jargon
It's easy to dwell in the instant “wow factor” while neglecting to answer questions about how Web 2.0 will transform teaching and learning or even why the transformation is needed. Some, like education technologist and theorist George Siemens, are calling for more practical discussions that emphasize wise and effective implementation.

In his Connectivism Blog, named after the digitally based learning theory he developed, Siemens writes, " . . .We are seeking a window dressing solution when it is the house that needs to be renovated. If we present blogs and wikis as ways to improve education, our aspirations are noble. If we present them as ways to fundamentally alter the system to align it with the knowledge needs of the next generation, then we are fighting for real change. . . . Forget any of the tools. . . and think instead of the fundamental restructuring of how knowledge is created, disseminated, shared, and validated. But to create real change, we need to move our conversation beyond simply the tools and our jargon" (from It's not about tools. It's about change.).

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