The Difference is the User, Not the Tool at BLC10 Day 3

My third and final day at BLC10 (Building Learning Communities 2010 from November Learning) brought yet another valuable message that will sure have an impact on my teaching:

Web 2.0 tools don't make the difference, it's the user strategy that makes the difference.

Class Blogs
Darren Kuropatwa (see @dkuropatwa on Twitter) hosted a workshop called A Day in the Life. He talked about several ways that he allows his students to create their own academic content online that is related to his class. While he used many tools, he brought it all together to a central blog to share it with the world. The quality of the student entries on the blogs improved over the course of the year and the class got more and more visits.

As a teacher, I have seen class blogs that teachers use to post their own lessons and handouts and other information, but they never let the students themselves control the content. Mr. Kuropatwa allows the students to run the class blog. This is why his workshop was a lesson in the strategy and not in the tool. The attendees really got the message. Here are some excerpts from the backchannel discussion to prove it.

  • Their pride in having an audience will encourage their best

  • I think it's important to try to show the principal and parents how "sharing" improves work.

  • A sense of awareness that they have an audience asks them to do their best

A class blog with content controlled by the teacher is just another reading assignment for students. A class blog with student controlled content is a new way for students to engage and interact with the world beyond their classroom walls.

Yes We Can... with Social Media
Rahaf Harfoush (see @rahafharfoush on Twitter) was the keynote speaker today. She volunteered in Chicago for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. The focus of her keynote was all about how social media has an enormous impact on the every day lives of our students and how we, as educators, can be a part of their world by leveraging that power to our advantage. It was truly fascinating to see how she and the rest of the Obama campaign were able to reach millions through social media... at very little cost with a whole lot of payoff. It really reaffirmed my desire to use Facebook more actively with my high school students.

Verbs of Web 2.0 in School
Brad Ovenell-Carter (see his blog here and @braddo on Twitter) talked about the 5 verbs we need to use around technology in schools.

1. research
2. produce
3. publish
4. discuss
5. manage

He explained how he did not push individual tools like wikis or Jing. Instead he simply taught kids to use the web browser and let them decide what to use. He asked them to "produce something" but did not tell them which tool to use. Mr. Ovenell-Carter gave examples such as:

"Let's have a discussion."
"Today we are going to produce something."

He was specific about the verb terminology, but not about the tool they might use to accomplish these tasks. He was pushing the idea that, "The essence of technology is by no means anything technological." When he posed these tasks to the students, sometimes they chose blogs for discussions or Wikipedia for research. In the end, if they accomplished the task, the tool did not matter. But, they used many many tools throughout the year! In fact, if the students had the opporunity to choose the tool, the work they produced was higher quality. In the end, it's about the students accomplishing a task, not tinkering with the latest and greatest tool.

Mr. Ovenell-Carter sums up his philosophy in this video:

What Did I Learn About Choosing EdTech Tools at BLC10 on Day 3?
1. When students control the content of a class blog, it will get more hits and the blog posts will be more interesting.
2. If you want to get teenagers and 20-somethings to listen, go to them online. TV is good, Facebook is better.
3. Instead of designing a lesson around the latest and greatest technology, let the goal of the lesson be the determining factor in choosing the Web 2.0 tool. And let the kids be the ones to make the choice.


  1. Great points, Kerry. It is all about holding the kids' interest and making them interested in their own is that done?? By doing the same thing over and over and ignoring the technology that is out there? Of course not. You have really unlocked something here and I think that by not forcing the kids to use a certain tool (i.e. Wiki, or google, etc) but teaching them what is poor support as far as research (didn't we learn that in R&w1), but learning how to effectively decipher the good from the bad as far as internet sites in support of research for your class and for their future. What an outstanding class this must have been!!

  2. Very nice post Kerry! This is the very point that we have been trying to make for years at the Instructional Technology Strategies Conference in Portland, Oregon. The structure of the conference is set up so everyone has a laptop and is focusing on the strategies of teaching with students versus listening to someone lecture.

    You should really try and attend in February if you can. or twitter @itscpdx


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