Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years
Teachers using the Internet as a resource are as aware as anyone else that the amount of content available on the web is staggering. Selecting valuable material to use in preparing lessons or to suggest as resources for students is a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating task. The proliferation of content — both useful and not — has been fueled in part by the ease of web publishing; it is easy to blog, tweet, post photos and videos, comment on other blogs, create course websites, and post updates to social networks online. Another issue goes hand-in-hand with the question of how to find useful material: the problem of how to keep track of the various bits of content posted by colleagues, peers, friends, or even oneself. To deal with these issues, readers and publishers of online content are assembling collections of tools, widgets, and services that handle developing and organizing dynamic online content. Tools for tagging, aggregating, updating, and keeping track of content assist today’s learners in creating and navigating a web that is increasingly tailored to their own needs and interests: the personal web.
The personal web refers to both a collection of technologies and a way of thinking about online content. Described in the 2009 Horizon Report as part of a trend that began with simple innovations like personalized start pages, RSS aggregation, and customizable widgets, the personal web is a term coined to represent a collection of technologies that confer the ability to reorganize, configure and manage online content rather than just viewing it; but part of the personal web is the underlying idea that web content can be sorted, displayed, and even built upon according to an individual’s personal needs and interests.
Simple tools to create customized, personal web-based environments to support social and academic activities are easily available today, but their use in schools is severely hampered by access and filtering policies. Tools that foster personal and social forms of learning and expression, though technically unrelated, work together seamlessly without any need for complicated setup, thanks to open applications programming interfaces (APIs) and easily integrated web feeds. Teachers are beginning to see how they can easily create online spaces for their classes that contain just the information they want their students to see. Students can create — and work in — online spaces that reflect their own interests and studies. The vast collection of content that makes up the web can be tamed, filtered, and organized, and anyone can publish as much or as little as they wish. Increasingly outside of school, the web experience is a personal one, tailored to the needs of the user; as schools become more open to the techniques and toolsets, it will move into learning environments as well.
The challenges that relate to this set of technologies are primarily in the policy arena, and that is why it has been placed on the far horizon. This is not a reflection of the state of the technology; as noted above, the tools to facilitate the types of activities that take place around the personal web are here, readily available, today. In fact, the underlying technology that supports the web has all but vanished for most users; all that is necessary is to know which tools to use, and any task — from creating and distributing class materials, to organizing group work and team tasks, to developing a library of resources that constantly refresh and update themselves — becomes point-and-click trivial.
Policy decisions designed to protect students from encountering potentially harmful content also limit access to valuable educational content. Inadequate infrastructure and equipment also restrict access; in classrooms where there is a single computer, or in schools where students can only use computers in libraries or labs, there is little opportunity for students to curate or maintain evolving collections of online material.
There is good news. As more teachers demonstrate the value of online collaborative environments and communication tools, and as more students create blogs, develop photo and video journals, and participate in social networks, policy may gradually change. As the value of providing Internet access to students becomes more clear, infrastructure issues will be addressed, and the personal web will be an accessible tool for students.
Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Expression
The tools of the personal web are ideal for research and learning. Teachers and students can tag, categorize, publish, and review work online quickly and easily, without the need to understand or even touch the underlying technologies. Rich, personal resource collections can be set up using tags and web feeds; they can be searched, annotated, and tailored to support any interest or subject. Delicious (http://delicious.com) and Diigo (http://www.diigo.com) organize web links according to subject. Viewers saving the links apply descriptive tags that can later be searched or browsed. While this is not a new concept, tagging online resources has become a common strategy among researchers. (Indeed, it is a key strategy used in producing this report!)
Browser widgets — small tools that can be installed easily, often by simply dragging to the browser toolbar — extend the functions of web browsers in dramatic ways. One example, Zotero (http://www.zotero.org), is a reference tool that keeps bibliographic notes, summaries, and reader notes for web materials in much the same way an index card would, and Zotero also stores a link to the resource. Using resources like Zotero, Diigo, and Delicious, students can create a kind of personal online card catalog to support their studies.
On the publishing side, students can use blogging tools to set up multimedia journals. Many photo and video sharing sites like Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, and Google Video let authors embed media into their blogs with a single click. Microblogging, the practice of posting brief updates to services like Twitter, Facebook, and others, is another way for students to reach out to peers and experts, or share their ideas about what they are learning or doing. Widgets for cross-posting updates so that a statement entered on one service appears on many others automatically extend the audience, and a variety of tools are available for following the updates of others. The ease of online publishing, especially blogging, gives students a place to voice their opinions, ideas, and research.
With all the options that are available for publishing content, it can be difficult for teachers to keep track of student work, or for students to keep up with what their peers are publishing. Tagging is one method, as mentioned above; but tagging is time-consuming and relies on content being tagged with the same terms one uses to search. Aggregators are an easier way to collect and display content. Using web feeds, tools like Tumblr (http://www.tumblr.com) and Posterous (http://www.posterous.com) pull bits of content together in a single place where updates appear automatically. Students can use these tools to gather their work into an online portfolio; whenever they add a tweet, blog post, photo, or video to any online service they subscribe to, it will appear in their timeline. A teacher might create a profile for his or her class to share; anyone in the class could then add content to a single feed that would update whenever new material is posted.
A sampling of applications of the personal web across the curriculum includes the following:
- Student Research. Using a custom social networking application like Elgg (http://elgg.org), teachers can create a class- or school-wide student network where research links, discussions, notes, media files, and other information can be shared in a protected environment.
- Global Collaboration. Middle school students in Manitoba, Canada and their peers in South Africa support their learning with an “idea hive,” a loosely-coupled collection of personal tools to share photos, videos, blog posts, and other selected content (see http://remoteaccess.typepad.com).
- Reading. A North Carolina teacher allowed her students to select from a list of online texts, then asked them to take notes on the texts using Diigo to demonstrate their mastery of reading strategies practiced in class (see http://isenet.ning.com/profiles/blogs/diigo-with-a-twist-reading).
The Personal Web in Practice
The following examples provide snapshots of how the personal web is being applied in a variety of contexts.
This website provides an easy way for European schools to collaborate, define projects, have an online workspace, and collect their resources in one spot. The schools form partnerships with schools in other countries around shared projects.
Media Master: TransMedia Mapping
In the Global Kids Media Master Program, students select a human rights issue and research it in blog posts, newspaper articles, photos, videos and books. Using the Google MyMaps customizable mapping tools, the students create a multimedia map using the sources they have found, adding comments as to why each piece of content is relevant to the issue.
Omeka is a free, open source, collections-based web publishing platform for teachers, scholars, librarians, archivists, museum professionals, and cultural enthusiasts. Built and maintained by the Center for New Media and History at George Mason University, Omeka is a robust publishing tool for creating online resources.
SmARThistory is an edited online art history resource to augment or replace traditional art history texts. For a given artwork, smARThistory brings together podcasts, video clips, images, links to other resources, and commentary, providing a rich context for the work.
For Further Reading
The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about the personal web.
The Art & Technique of Personal Learning Networks
This workshop by David Warlick is designed to help K-12 educators learn how to build and sustain their own personal learning networks.
The Evolution of Personal Publishing
(Alex Iskold, ReadWriteWeb, December 2007.) This post traces different categories of personal publishing – blogs, social networks, and microblogs – and posits that each appeals to a different type of writer and fills a particular purpose in social publishing.
Personal Learning Environment Diagrams
(Scott Leslie, EdTechPost, 2008.) The author has collected visual representations of various descriptions of personal learning environments, displaying them on a wiki page.
A Widget Onto the Future
(Andy Guess, Inside Higher Ed, 8 December 2008.) This article describes widgets — tools for personalizing the information on a website — and provides examples of some developed expressly for education.
Delicious: The Personal Web
(Tagged by K-12 Horizon Advisory Board and friends, 2009). Follow this link to find additional resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hzk09” and “personalweb” when you save them to Delicious.
Posted by NMC on March 17, 2009