ICT - Caught in the web

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
It encourages collaborative work, allows pupils to take control of their learning and costs nothing. No wonder Web 2.0 is revolutionising ICT lessons, says Jack Kenny

For Jan Webb, Web 2.0 offers the chance for pupils to take charge of their own learning and can transform the use of ICT in school. Instead of using it simply to publish material, children can now use ICT to help shape the material in ways they never could before.

"It's enhanced the collaborative opportunities of ICT in my classroom," says Mrs Webb, Year 4 teacher at Weston Village Primary, near Crewe in Cheshire. "It has supported the move to take ICT from a publishing tool that helps us to produce an end product to something that helps us develop and formulate our ideas before we present them in a final, polished form."

Web 2.0 is shorthand for describing the change in use of the internet from being simply a source of information to an interactive forum where users can upload and manipulate content. Mrs Webb believes this opens up enticing new opportunities for schools.

"Web 2.0 tools can be motivating - they can support pupils taking responsibility for their own learning," she says. "They can provide alternative ways of reaching children. They can give software for problem solving, for publishing work, for self and peer review, for keeping our own teaching fresh and exciting. When I started using Web 2.0, I was lucky enough to have the freedom to be experimental and try things out. The benefits have been great."

As well as their use in the classroom, Web 2.0 tools are also altering the way school websites are used, says Simon Widdowson, Year 6 teacher at Porchester Junior School in Nottingham.

"Whereas in the past a school website may have been a static advert for the school, we encourage all staff to post articles on the website, and then pupils or parents or friends of the school can read and comment on what we have added," he says.

"The commenting option has really taken off with the children, and they use it as a way to support and encourage each other's work with positive comments and thoughts."

A case in point was a World Cup project in which Porchester had drawn Italy in a nationwide blogging project challenging schools to write about the countries taking part. Comments included: "The work is amazing, it's in so much detail," from Susannah, and "Wow, I never knew that much about Julius Caesar," from Josh.

Teachers and pupils also access the website when abroad, writing about their holidays, sporting tournaments and visiting Porchester's partner schools in Tanzania. Another advantage is that it means teachers do not have to be in school to create resources. "Staff can create certain types of work in their own time at home, not having to stay in school late into evening," says Mr Widdowson.

Secondary schools can also gain a great deal from Web 2.0, believes Dan Roberts, assistant headteacher and head of science at Saltash.net Community School in Cornwall. "We allowed pupils to use Web 2.0 tools from the beginning because we feel that the tools are effective and powerful," he says.

The approach at Saltash was to show Year 10 pupils more than 30 Web 2.0 tools and let them get on with it. "We encouraged them to work independently," Mr Roberts says. "We thought, 'What would happen if we gave them time to explore the tools and decide what would be appropriate?'"

The uses picked up by the pupils included working collaboratively online and creating resources such as podcasts to help with revision. Science proved to be a particularly profitable area for Web 2.0, with pupils using an animation program to illustrate cell division, for example, but the tools were also used in other fields. Once news of the scheme got out, the use of Web 2.0 quickly spread to the rest of the school.

"The thing about Web 2.0 is that there is so much potential out there," says Mr Roberts. "The tools themselves are fantastic, they are free, can be accessed anywhere and pupils love them because they are quick and easy to use and they don't have to spend hours learning how to use them."

He says the beauty of using Web 2.0 stems from the philosophy that pupils should be responsible for their own learning. "Some schools say that they would never dream of allowing pupils to use the internet or mobile phones, but we produced a framework to keep them safe and we created acceptable use policies," he says. "It is about giving pupils the opportunity to create their own curriculum."

The growing popularity of Web 2.0 has also prompted some of the ICT world's giants to get involved. Google Documents is an online version of a word-processing function which allows you to start work on a document in school, save it online and then carry on again from home without having to email it between computers. Microsoft is also making a version of its Office program available online.

But the secret to transforming learning through Web 2.0 is in making the most of the tools that are available, argues Mrs Webb.

"It's not what you use, it's the way that you use it," she says. "A Web 2.0 tool used unimaginatively can provide just as much of a pedestrian learning experience as anything else that isn't used with a bit of flair and creativity. It's up to the teacher to choose and use wisely, appropriately and effectively to enhance learning."

Tips on Safety

- Notes on Safety http:research.becta.org.ukupload-dirdownloadspage_documentsresearchweb2_esafety.pdf

Popular Web 2.0 tools

- A free suite of online creation tools covering image editing, audio and screen capture: http:aviary.com

- An animation tool: www.doink.com

- Creating and sharing slideshows: http:photopeach.com

- Create "word clouds" from text, giving prominence to words that appear more frequently: www.wordle.net

- Making videos from images: http:animoto.com

- Convert text into a spoken MP3 file: www.odiogo.com

- A mind-mapper for brainstorming sessions: www.mindmeister.com

- A collaborative writing program: primarypad.com

- An application allowing pupils to post work or images and then comment on it through video or audio: voicethread.com.

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