I’m lucky to be an English teacher working in such a dynamic and vibrant time for the English language. Having obtained my English degree more than ten years ago, I’ve seen the way we read, respond and write change so much in so short a time. However, I suspect that like many of early (and now obsolete) IT degrees, my degree no longer says a whole lot about my ability to interpret the texts of the twenty-first century. Sure – it says that I’m a relatively astute reader and reasonably well-read. But is that enough to cut the mustard nowadays?
Web 2.0 – also dubbed the ‘read/write web’ – is powerful, not really because anyone can publish anything on a whim, but because the ways that we read, critique and write have all transformed, relatively speaking, overnight. Looking at texts like Wikipedia is a process that demands a completely new approach. The fact that so many teachers simply criticise websites like this as ‘unscholarly’ or ‘inaccurate’ misses the point, and says much more about their unwillingness to understand the way in which these texts are constructed, the values they represent and the potential they hold for the future. Perhaps this is why the illusive Web 3.0 is dubbed ‘the semantic web’? In the coming years, the focus will move beyond basic access to the information on the internet and much more towards how meaning is made, inferred and understood.
In my very small way, I’ve been gently pushing my school towards understanding the collaborative power of Web 2.0 through Google Docs as part of Google Apps Education Edition. We seem to have come a long way, too.
On Monday I ran a staff inservice on the potential of teacher-student shared documents to streamline study processes through the example of collaborative class topic notes. The following day, my English Coordinator launched full-force into using Google Docs with her Standard English class and became an instant convert. Less than two days later, she was teaching the rest of the English Department all about it and in my free periods before lunch, I had a steady stream of teachers coming to ask me how to edit tables, publish links, check revision histories and change text formatting.
Such lessons are probably still beyond me for the time being. Other teachers who take an idea, run with it and transform it into something their own will add immeasurable value to any basic explanation or demonstration I offer. They are my real teachers, and from whom I still have a lot to learn.