Sunday, October 11, 2009

What a world

I am sitting in a Starbucks about 3 blocks from the White House. Yes the White House that Barack Obama lives in. I walked with the Alternative Lifestyles parade a few hours ago, had fantastic Clam Chowder at Old Ebbitts grill and now I'm enjoying an Americano decaf and catching up. I still have 3 hours before I need to be at the airport.

I've been in Washington, D.C. since Thursday attending the National Council on Economic Education conference. It has been a terrific conference - good people, good presentations and an interesting city. And the weather has been hot and hotter. A nice end to summer as I understand that I am heading back into a winter storm in Regina.

Although I saw many good presentations the highlight of the event was the last presentation I attended. A young fellow named Jason Welker did a presentation on how he integrates web 2.0 tools into his Economics courses. He talked about his wiki, his blog and how his students use these tools to create study guides for the AP and I.B. Economics courses he teaches.

Like many of us he has his favourite tools and uses them extensively. For instance, although he knows about twitter he doesn't use it in his teaching. He uses blogs, wikis and social bookmarking in some very compelling ways. Even if you aren't into Economics I'd encourage you to visit his work - there is lots to learn there about how to use and organize these tools.

Yet there is the interesting part of his presentation. He uses a smart board in his classroom and he does try to integrate the social bookmarking aspects of web 2.0 into his class. But he does allow that the bulk of the social networking tools are a very minor part of the students' grade and that the activities are generally homework. His classes are generally fairly traditional lectures with the use of computer technology to make the graphs and calculations.

So this raises the question - can we really integrate instructional technology into the delivery aspects of our teaching? Or does Alec Couros's courses work so well because they are teaching the medium. If the medium is the message then the delivery and the content can easily be instructional technology.

But what if the message consists of economic concepts? And the medium is merely that - the medium?

Maybe Welker is doing the best that can be done. Or is he? How can we integrate this technology into the intimate fabric of our classes. Not just as easily accessible information nor as something that is whiz bang but really peripheral but as something that fundamentally affects the teaching and learning within one particular classroom.

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