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Education and Technology:
Serendip's Experiences 1994-2004

Synthesized by Paul Grobstein and Jody Cohen

Serendip was founded ten years ago in part as "a continually developing set of resources to explore and support intellectual and social change in education ...". Over the past decade, Serendip has been involved in an extended (and continuing) process of "trying out things" to see how the web can be used in education.

The Issue

Think about the materials one uses in classrooms: textbooks, magazines, newspapers, journal articles, videos, and the like. Why is one using those particular materials? Who created them and made them available? And what materials are, as a result of those processes, not things one has available to use in classrooms? Is it really the case that the best materials are those that have been winnowed through a commercial/academic selection process? Might there be useful materials created by individual teachers in the course of their teaching/learning? And perhaps by students too? How could such materials be more readily made available? What new issues would doing so raise?

Theory

The interactivity of the Web is perhaps its most important characteristic. For the first time in human history, it is becoming possible for all humans to play an active role in world-wide cultural and intellectual interchange. This means not only that everybody's ideas/perspective can be made available, but also that people can develop their ideas and perspectives in extensive interaction with other people.

(More Theory)

Examples, Exercises, and Additional Resources on Serendip

Search Google using, for example, link:http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/blindspot1.html
  • Students in both courses produce publicly available web papers on topics of their own interest. Such papers carry explicit statements of their non-authoritative status and are often quite significant resources for others:
For an example, search Google using adrenoleukodystrophy
  • Student/teacher collaborations grow from these sorts of activities and create further material of significant general use:
See Comparative Neuroanatomy and search Google using
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/kinser/Home1.html

  • Use Google yourself to explore the extent of Serendip materials use, using for example, search terms related to Web as interactive educational experiences" as well as from this and other previous sections of this discussion.

Further Questions

Can one imagine a teaching environment in which most materials used are those of teachers and students created in the activity of teaching/learning?

What would would be the advantages and disadvantages of such a teaching environment?

How could one most effectively intersect traditional "authorized" materials with student/teacher authored material on the web?

Is the instability of student/teacher web authoring a problem or an aspect of knowledge production that needs to be more widely acknowledged?

How might student web authoring intersect with "writing instruction"?

How We Use the Web:
IV. Interactive Conversation (Teacher and Student Web Authoring)

Experiences from Serendip

  • Large amounts of material created by teachers are available online and can effectively be used not only to supplement standard materials but also, in at least some cases, to replace them.

  • Student authored materials made available online have very substantial appeal to a wide audience.

  • Traditional materials can be made more accessible to wider audiences by being made available on the web.

  • The online environment encourages distinctive and still evolving forms of presentation of materials and perspectives that may in some circumstances be more effective than those used in more traditional publication arenas.

  • The online environment allows for availability of more innovative and experimental ideas and perspectives.

  • The online environment makes available a much wider sample of the diversity of human thought and forms of presentation.

  • Student and teacher authoring on the web engages both in meaningful participation in worldwide conversations.


Commentary on Serendip's Experiences

The web as an authoring environment for teachers and students has some similarities to online forums, but relates as well to significant issues well beyond those of forums. As with forums, students and teachers can think of their activities not only as meaningful to themselves but as significant contributions to a larger process of developing understandings, and so as meaningful in a the broader world community. Beyond this, however, teacher and student web authoring challenges many of the traditional presumptions that meaningful knowledge needs to pass through an authorization step. And since such authorization steps are most commonly discipline-based, it further challenges conventional categories of knowledge and encourages new knowledge alignments.

An alternative to traditional authorization steps is to allow material to be evaluated by a distributed and public process, i.e. to make materials available freely with a presumption that the quality of materials will become clear as a natural outcome of their patterns of use. Here, as in thinking about the web as an information resource, it needs to be acknowledged that a requirement for achieving the benefits of a greater diversity of information is that information users need to become more thoughtful and critical in their use of materials. This will be facilitated by making students and teachers both consumers and producers, so they have a stake in the process in both capacities. There also needs to be a better understanding that materials, whether they have passed through authorizing steps or not, are never "authoritative".

Serendip's Pedagogical Musings

One distinctive feature of student/teacher web authoring is the need for some degree of technical familiarity with the web and competence in skills needed to create materials for the web. To most effectively exploit the potentials, teachers and students both need to be comfortable with a necessary set of technical skills. Class time can and should be committed to developing such skills. This can and, ideally, should be done not as a distinct process of skill-learning but rather by creating assignments in which skills are developed as a necessary part of other activities. Such skills can be facilitated by and contribute to becoming a critical evaluator of web materials.

Attention needs to be given in both use and production of materials to differences in motivations and abilities at different ages and in populations of students from different backgrounds. This can, though, to some extent be handled by letting students take the lead in web-authoring since they are likely to produce materials accessible to others of similar age and background. Here too, the development of skills as a producer can and will facilitate development of consumer skills.

Student/teacher web authoring is a growing but still underdeveloped aspect of web use and knowledge production, and is likely to go through a number of future transformations before a clear picture emerges. At the moment, there remain important unsettled issues about not only the degree of authority such materials have but also how they can be easily and appropriately categorized and used, how stable they are, and what "authorial" entitlements and prerogatives should be associated with them. Among other things, there is a need to establish a presumption that materials are always "works in progress" rather than definitive and unchangeable statements of an author's position/understanding, and that "works in progress" are beneficial to the ongoing evolution of understanding both by authors and by readers.

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