PULLMAN – Television invaded the classroom 50 years ago, but many teachers held the magic box at arm’s length. It was labeled a distraction and competition. Gradually, academic risk-takers embraced it and proved it to be a useful educational tool.
 
In the 1980s, computers were the new invader, later ushering in something called the Internet. Today, a tangle of computer technology known as Web 2.0 — wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, podcasts, ePortfolios, RSS feeds and more — is bulling its way in, leaving many overwhelmed.
 
At WSU Pullman, a series of 45-minute Friday morning workshops, titled “How I Did It,” has been organized by the Center for Teaching and Learning Technology (CTLT). Each week adventuresome faculty exchange strategies on how they are using Web 2.0 programs. (For information on the workshops, call the CTLT at 335-1355, or go ONLINE @ www.wsu.edu and search “How I Did It.”)
 

Leading the way
One of the leaders in using this integrated technology in the classroom is Brett Atwood, a clinical assistant journalism professor at the Murrow College, whose research interests include media convergence, new communication technologies and civic journalism.
 
“A number of faculty members are curious and often go out exploring to learn how to use the new technology,” said Atwood. “But there is a multitude of programs, and like everything else there are good and bad implementations.
 
“Some faculty members are not comfortable with the new technology. They use a more traditional lecture approach and have been successful. They feel the technology is not going to enhance what they do, and they may be right. It needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis.”
 
However, in many cases, Atwood said, the new technology can provide additional tools that “allow professors to present materials and ideas that reach beyond their standard course content.”
 
What is Web 2.0?
Web 1.0, in essence, is the first generation of the Internet, where users go out exploring, hunting and downloading information. It’s sometimes referred to as the “broadcast Web” model.
 
Web 2.0 is the next generation, using Web 1.0 technology as a platform or springboard. It allows people to categorize and organize resources from throughout the Web universe; create relationships; publish; build communities; exchange ideas and opinions; have news and information delivered to their computers; and share everything from text to photos, audio to video.
 
“Defining Web 2.0 is like the story of the blind men encountering an elephant,” said Nils Peterson, the CTLT’s assistant director. “One man touches the ear, another the trunk and another the tail, and they all have different interpretations of what it is and how to describe it.
 
“What is important, from our standpoint, is that it is a conduit to collaboration and to the discovery of both people and resources. And those things can work together.”
 
A simple example of Web 2.0 collaboration is Wikipedia, Peterson said, where “multiple people go in and create and edit a page. Ultimately a multitude of people create an encyclopedia, and all without a high degree of coordination between them.”
 
Web 2.0 technology likewise can be used to create communities among WSU students, faculty, staff and others worldwide, and to work on joint projects.
 


Coca-Cola connection

Atwood, in his technology convergence class, uses a free online tool called Blogger (provided through Google.com) on which he posts lecture notes, outlines, links to related websites and articles, case studies, assignments, online discussions and examples of student work. (See examples ONLINE @ www.virtualjournalism.net, www.onlinenewsclass.com and www.j417.blogspot.com.)
 
“Blogger is a central open space where I can put anything and everything related to my course,” Atwood said. “And, it’s a Google search away from people worldwide finding my class. Blackboard (a similar program) offers much the same advantages, but it allows you to close your class to the public, which sometimes is more appropriate.”
 
Atwood’s class introduces students to an avalanche of online tools including Twitter, Flickr, Blogger, Slideshare, Blackboard, Google Analytics, YouTube, Linked-In, tag clouds, Second Life, SoundSlides, MySpace, Facebook, Technorati, Digg, Del.icio.us and a host more.
 
In a recent class, Atwood’s students evaluated the effectiveness of social networking and Web 2.0 technology in persuading and disseminating information to the public. To that end, he posted a case study on a Coca-Cola Company campaign.
 
“The next day, I received contact from Michael Donnelly, the director of worldwide interactive marketing at Coca-Cola,” said Atwood. “He liked what we were doing and made himself available to work with the class.
 
“We set up a video teleconference with him using Skype — which is free — and he talked about his campaign and received feedback from our students. It enhanced the class and reinforced the credibility of the information we were studying.”
 
That’s not a one-time occurrence. Atwood has tapped into other corporate connections several times.
 
“When you’re located in Pullman and budgets are tight,” he said, “this can be a valuable and versatile tool.”
 

Serendipitous
On a different tack, Peterson pointed to graduate student Justin Griffis Smith, who has built his ePortfolio online and used a blog to post questions related to his research. Smith said he has had more than 1,500 hits and built a network of professional contacts worldwide.
 
Peterson refers to this effect as “serendipitous communities.” It’s not accidental, he said, because people find you via searchable tags, bookmarks and associations that you intentionally have put on your website or blog. Hence, people and information find you, rather than you searching them out.
 
“It’s like meeting a random stranger, who shares a mutual interest,” Peterson said. “He sees a question or comment you’ve posted, and says, ‘Have you checked this out?’ And that points you to a library that has everything you were hoping to find on a topic.”
 

Investment pays off

Moving into the Web 2.0 environment requires work.
 
“In the short term there is a learning curve for these technologies,” said Atwood. “Just like the first semester in teaching a class, you have prep work. You have to become familiar and comfortable with the technology.
 
“However, once you’ve been through it and have your technology in place, you can repurpose, redefine, archive and update material. It becomes very efficient and you have a record of what you have done. Plus, you can post examples of past students’ work to give current students inspiration, ideas and a frame of reference for assignments.”
Peterson agreed.
 
“We’ve found that seeing previous students’ work and comments is very powerful,” he said.
 

Where to begin

Overwhelmed by all the choices and programs? Not to worry. Atwood suggests simply beginning with blogging.
 
“You don’t have to be a tech geek to do this,” he said. “The Blogger and Blackboard programs are very easy to use. If you can use a word processor and add in a URL link, you can use them. The content and interface are all provided.
 
“As teachers, a lot of what we want is to lead the discussion, to inspire, engage and encourage critical thinking,” Atwood said. “If students react well to this, it extends the classroom, and it can be very, very effective.
 
“It’s not a replacement for good teaching; it is complementary to it.”