Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Let's Meet Them on the Hills

I'd like to share with you a metaphor for Web 2.0 and other e-Learning tools:

The story begins in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario, where late in the summer of 2007, city workers saw the need to remove the lone hill in Memorial Park. Those unfamiliar with the geography of southern Ontario, might be interested to know that the extreme southern leg of the province is FLAT. Thanks to the same glaciation that fed the great lakes thousands of years ago, the land is flat, but fertile.

So flat is the area, that the city council had more calls in sadness and frustration at the loss of the hill, than had been experienced by elected officials in recent memory... Which is why, in the fall of 2007, the hill was rebuilt!

To me, the interesting thing about this hill, is that it drew people to the area. It is no coincidence that this photo taken shortly after the hill was rebuilt, has been christened with a picnic table (no doubt by energetic teens in the neighbourhood).

FACT #1: E-learning tools, Social Networking sites and Web 2.0 products draw people to use the World Wide Web. Whether out of curiousity, or as a meeting place, these 'virtual hills' serve important purposes, and as soon as they are built, people find them, and begin using them! It's a fact that the first reaction of 'supervisors' to new technologies is to block access; but eventually, (too often after a number of years!) the value of the tool seems to win out.

Hills seem to draw attention and people no matter how large or small. in August of 2007, the pile of dirt pictured below was added to the park across the street from my home. Within hours, young people from the neighbourhood had built a motocross challenge area. Taking the picnic table and spare planks from garages nearby, the park had a new, 'most popular spot'. Even though this park boasts a soccer field, a baseball diamond, a soccer pitch, a child's playground and tennis courts, the final weeks of summer saw young people gravitate to the small pile of dirt in far greater numbers than any of the other attractions.

FACT #2: No matter how insignificant technological learning tools appear to adult educators, young people will enthusiastically join in using these tools... Often to the point of ignoring all types of traditional learning resources.

Now that winter has come to Canada in the form of great amounts of snow, the community toboggan hill has become the recreation centre for the community. Now that the patches of dirt can no longer accommodate bicycles, the 'X-games' fans decided that hills could benefit from the addition of some creative accents.

Fact #3: The use of the Read/Write Web can be hazardous! One should not dive into using evolving e-learning tools until he/she has taken the time to use the tools... and perhaps the more basic tools that might lead one to consider newer tools. Beyond the risks teachers need to take in trying new 'tricks', these new Web tools pose perils of which we need to be aware. These hazards are often the ones that grab the most headlines, even though the rich learning opportunities afforded by these tools are worthy of their own attention.

Hills and e-Hills were both meant to be climbed. When new hills or e-hills pop up on the horizon, they will draw the attention of young people in particular. Educators need to be prepared to meet the students who attempt to scale these hills. Now that I think of it, maybe it was a teacher who chose to put that picnic table on top of the hill in Memorial Park...

The Podcast version of this story is now available in iTunes! You can also click here to access the Teacher 2.0... the audio version!