Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are students ready for Web 2.0 in their classes?

This afternoon, Norma introduced me to the presentation, Meet Charlotte. The gist of the presentation is that in our personal lives we have all this open and highly networked communication, which is very easy to learn to use. However, at work we have walled off technologies that appear clunky and difficult to use. So, the presentation asks, why not make the IT environment at work more like it is at home.

I've been teaching this way for the past two months or so. If the students are taking to it like ducks taking to water, they sure have an odd way of showing it. Now it is true that I'm having the students write longer posts, not tweets and maybe that explains it. But many of them have gone out of their way to talk about being self-conscious in writing out in the open. They haven't gone out of their way to say it is an out and out bad thing to do. But they also haven't said this is the intellectual equivalent of a return to nature. If given the option of what they are doing now or the alternative of writing in a walled off environment, I think many of them would choose the latter. It's not the ease of use I'm talking about. It's the safety. They seem to feel at risk on the open Internet.

In my own head I'm not sure whether to accommodate them or cajole them out of their comfort zone. I should note that most of these kids are studying science or engineering, with a few others mixed in, but no humanists in the crowd. What we are doing in my class is outside their experience of their other courses.

Ironically as I'm asking this, some have produced quite interesting writing. So judged by that, the approach seems to be working. But should students be in a more or less ongoing state of discomfort? I would answer yes if the matter was purely intellectual and what was at root was students challenging their own prior held beliefs. That's not what is happening here. Instead, the students seem to be afraid that their own performance is not up to snuff or that they inadvertently say something that will get them into trouble later.

This isn't the end of the story. They have been mostly writing for me. I'm trying to get them to write for each other. Maybe they will come around if that happens. But getting the writing for each other to happen well and getting them to come around is by no means a slam dunk.

I wonder if other instructors are seeing something like this and if they believe Web 2.0 is the right approach in spite of student shyness.

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