Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms
reviewed by Beverly B. Ray & Martha M. Hocutt - June 26, 2006
Title: Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms
Author(s): Will Richardson
Publisher: Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks
ISBN: 1412927676, Pages: 149, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com
Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.
Many of todays teens are digital innovators. They approach technologies, such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts, with what Dewey (1929) called an audacity of imagination (p. 310). Not only do teens like these digital tools, but they are innovative users of them. Richardsons audacity is that he understands these tools in the same way, and is able to translate that understanding to his readers.
Because he understands, both as a classroom teacher and as a blogger, Richardson is able to offer the reader a path that will lead students out of the wasteland of inappropriate online usage to, potentially, a place of meaningful learning. While others wring their hands when they read about teens behavior online (read: Myspace), Richardson looks beyond the inappropriate behavior and sees the possibilities of the software for classroom instructional use. Moreover, he writes about teens that are using the software in appropriate and innovative ways to illustrate what can and should be occurring in classrooms.
Richardsons book is part travelogue and part roadmap for those willing to take the journey. His is an accessible book that shows readers a way to the promised land of the read/write web. Richardson tells us of a world of knowledge construction and collaboration. It is an authentic learning environment where a slew of new literacies and competencies (p. 5) can be acquired; a world where blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other emerging web technologies have the capacity to combat students rapidly declining reading and writing skills.
[L]ittle is done in isolation and all things are collaborative and social in nature.
--Will Richardson (p. 89)
Richardson makes a strong case for the constructivist, collaborative pedagogy (p. 5) of blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other web technologies. To do so, he draws heavily on Vygotskys socio-cultural theory to make his case. Examples peppered throughout the text provide concrete evidence of how these technologies support constructivist and collaborative learning.
Nonetheless, one could accuse Richardson of approaching his subject with presumptions about the inherent benefits these technologies provide for learning. He is not wrong per se, but he is premature in some of his assertions. After all, there is a paucity of research to support any of his claims. No one can yet predict the impact blogs and other new technologies will have on students reading, thinking, or writing skills. Too many questions remain: Are these technologies simply the latest in a never ending stream of novelty application? Or are they transformative technologies that will shape the way students learn in the 21st century? Its hard to say because the research has yet to be done (As researchers, we are left with many interesting possibilities to pursue.). But if these technologies are to have a chance to effect change in the way we teach and in the way students learn, it will be because of books such as this.
The primary value in Richardsons book may rest on its accessibility to the very people who can effect change. Not only is the text accessible, it is written by an author who understands his audience and its habitual resistance to technology and change. While many demonstrate a failure of imagination when it comes to these web tools, Richardson and those whose ideas he cites display enough imagination to convince the reader that these tools have real possibilities for learning. Take the chapter on RSS (Really Simple Syndication) as an example. RSS allows users to subscribe to content produced on a variety of web sites. It provides users a way to manage both time and information overload by sending them only the information they have requested. The content comes to the reader rather than requiring the reader to continually visit the source they seek. Richardson writes that RSS is the one technology that you should start using today, right now, this minute. And tomorrow, you should teach your students to use it (p. 75). After making that bold statement, he goes on to tell readers exactly how to make it happen. His skills as a teacher are apparent as he explains the software and its instructional uses. Authentic examples of how teachers are using new technologies spark the readers own thinking.
Education falters when imagination stumbles (Dewey, 1929). The teaching methods we embrace today were once yesterdays bold, audacious ideas. Technologies such as these really do have the power to effect positive change. Web tools such as those discussed in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms really could beneficially change the way teachers teach and the way students learn. That is if enough teachers catch Richardsons fervor and use his book as the guide it is intended to be.
Dewey, J. (1929). The quest for certainty: A study of the relation of knowledge and action. New York: New Republic.