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03/21/2008

Using Web 2.0 Tools to Breathe New Life into Old Projects

Don't throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When ev'ry thing old is new again.


~ Hugh Jackman, from the song, Everything Old is New Again

You know youre getting older when the new fashion trends remind you of the styles you wore back in high school. I often wish I had kept a few of my 1970s clothes; those peasant shirts and bell-bottomed pants would fit right into todays fashion scene -- that is if I could still fit into them!

The same is true of education. Some of the pre-technology projects weve discarded could fit into todays classroom if we spent some time pondering how one of the Web 2.0 tools could be integrated to give it a facelift and bring it more in line with the preferences of 21st century learners. Following are a few suggestions you can use to update some of those dusty projects from the past.

TELECOLLABORATIVE PROJECTS

When Everything Old
Some of my favorite teaching memories involve technology-supported projects that linked my students not only to the Internet, but to project work with learners across the city, country, and world. For many students, that was their first chance to collaborate internationally and to correspond with students from places like Inverness, Mississippi; Tel Aviv, Israel, and Boston, Massachusetts. Using e-mail, students corresponded with their international peers on important topics like homelessness, restorative justice, and childrens rights. Publishing student work online opened up numerous possibilities to move students from being consumers of information to creators of new content.

Is New Again
Web 2.0 tools have given teachers a new vision for telecollaborative projects. Easy to use wikis and blogs have put the creation of technology-supported projects within the reach of every classroom teacher -- particularly those dont have the technology skills needed to create a Web page to house their projects. The award-winning Flat Classroom Project demonstrates how telecollaborative projects can expand learning by incorporating free and easy-to-use Web 2.0 tools like Skype, podcasts, private social networking pages with audio and text and video uploading capacities, and teleconferencing.

PEN PALS

When Everything Old
When I was in Grade 5, an exchange teacher came from England to teach at our school. During his one year stint at my school, he made a point of introducing us to English culture whenever he could. We were thrilled when he arranged for each student in our class to have an English pen pal for the year. We corresponded with our pen pals throughout the year via snail-mail (the only way to do it in 1964) and, for many of us, it was our first-ever experience with global collaboration. I vividly remember the day my best friend decided that writing was not enough and decided to phone her pen pal in England. Having a chance to actually talk to her English pen pal was heavenly and many of us wished we could do the same thing.

Is New Again
Fast forward to today. Youre studying about the Maritimes in Social Studies and youve registered on ePals for a pen pal from Newfoundland for each of your Grade 5 students. The students have sent a few e-mails back and forth, but like my 1960s friend, theyve discovered that written correspondence has its limitations. Desiring to take this learning experience to another level, you take advantage of the opportunities that Skype presents and set up a time when your class can Skype the class in the St Johns, Newfoundland. Youve just provided a voice-to-voice learning experience that will expand the walls of your classroom and open up possibilities for your students to become global partners with students across the country or across the world.

NOVEL STUDIES

When Everything Old
If youre a language arts teacher, you likely have a few novel studies gathering dust in your file cabinet. Lets face it, novel studies can be pretty boring if all students do is read and answer questions. How can you make those novel studies more engaging and in tune with 21st century learners?

Is New Again
Jerome Bergs Google Lit Trips project transports the study of books like Make Way for Ducklings, By the Great Horned Spoon, and The Grapes of Wrath, to new heights by combining it with such digital mapping tools as Google Earth. Jeromes unique take on the novel study involves stories that include a trip of some sort. Google Earths alluring 3-D terrain, along with pop-up windows containing images, video clips, and primary sources, challenges students to think deeply about the themes, characters, and settings found within the book. Digital mapping tools like CommunityWalk provide a somewhat simpler format to work with, so even the novice language arts teacher can try his or her hand at digitalizing a favorite novel study.

The list of ways you can update an older project is endless. Below are a few more Web 2.O tools worth exploring. They might be the very thing that will transport a favorite old project into the 21st century!