Blog, wiki, aggregator: you too can look like an online ace

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
It's not every day that student teachers get to brush up on their Hawaiian.

"Wiki is the Hawaiian word for quick," Ollie Bray, a new technology expert, explains to a packed main hall at Moray House, the teacher training college in Edinburgh.

"But it has come to mean a web page that can be changed very quickly," he tells the trainee teachers. "An example is Wikipedia, which anyone can edit.

"If your pupils do some interesting research on a topic that's not already up there, why not encourage them to create their own page? It is very easy."

This is a theme that runs through the entire session given by the geography teacher and acting depute head. The examples he works through online while the fledgling teachers follow on the big board strongly support his claim.

He sets up a blog. He edits a wiki. He demonstrates how to use a website aggregator - all very easy.

The main message is that the technology behind the "social web" is complex, but the computer sophistication demanded of users is not. All that is needed is a few tips from a teacher who has tried, and the ability to follow simple instructions online.

"The session gave us lots of insight into how to do things," says Winifred Coombes afterwards. "Often you have heard of something, but you're not sure how to get started. This showed us exactly what to do. I particularly like the idea of blogging for pupils."

"He gave us websites that will be useful for getting on the same wavelength as the kids," says Lynne Lauchlan. "There's one that is all about the shorthand used in texts and chatrooms ( For me teaching is about motivating kids - if they are interested, you can teach them."

Mr Bray believes that, as the social web grows and develops in sometimes unpredictable ways, with the emphasis shifting from teaching to learning, the future for teachers and classrooms is a little unclear.

"The internet is changing the way we live, from online shopping to where we get our knowledge. It is bound to change the way we teach. But I do believe it won't replace the classroom teacher. ICT is there to support our teaching. You sometimes see teachers who seem to be there to support their PowerPoint presentations. It has to be the other way round."

One issue that worries social web commentators, says Mr Bray, is that young people do not always realise they are interacting in a social space when they are online.

"When they go on to websites such as MySpace and Bebo, they need to be careful not to use them in irresponsible ways. Search engines are now being developed that penetrate what we call the Deep Web - files and locations that used to be hidden.

"Soon there will be no such thing as private space on the internet.

Teachers and pupils need to think of online as a public space where anyone can see what they are doing and hear what they are saying."

Like any social space, the social web comes with no guarantee that people will use it responsibly, says Mr Bray. Teachers have an important role to play if they understand the nature and potential of the medium, and become active players.

But while there are concerns about the possible pitfalls of the social web, its educational potential is immense.

"We teachers need to look at the responsible use of social software. It can enhance the things we already do and help us do them better. But it can also allow us to do things we could never have imagined before," he says.

* Blogs and wikis will feature in a number of sessions at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow to be held on September 19-20.

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