My mobile went off mid-afternoon in the classroom on Tuesday and instead of ignoring it as I usually do when teaching, I decided to see who would be calling me at this time of day. It happened to be Jane, an Assistant Principal from another local school. I had planned a launch with her of a Western Suburbs Promethean IWB Users Hubgroup using her school as the initial venue. We had "persuaded" a number of staff to present to others on topics like creating a basic flipchart, using the ActivStudio library effectively, using the IWB for inquiry learning and I had even planned to ride my old hobby horse on the use of social bookmarking sites in the classroom.
However, Jane had some bad news.
"Graham, we've got a bit of a problem."
"Well, a workman here has accidentally cut through the ASDL cable leading into the school .... so there's no internet available for this afternoon's event."
There went my session straightaway. There's not a lot of value in presenting and showing a site like delicious.com if you can't actually access it. I did a quick check around with my fellow presenters to alert them of the problem and two who were targetting beginning users said that they would be fine without it, although it would make demonstrating how to do embed a web link somewhat difficult. Anyway, we went ahead - my session was cancelled which was fine because I at least had a handout pointing to places on the web where teachers who were still to grapple with the extensive use of the internet on their interactive whiteboards could still learn at their own pace, but the others who had teachers interested in their sessions had to modify their approach. Fortunately, the internet connection was restored at about 4.30 pm and Maria, my co-planning buddy could point some of the attendees in her session to her class blog and to some of the key websites used in our inquiry unit.
But it really brought the point home that I (and many of my colleagues at my school) really depend on access to the internet as a crucial part of our teaching and learning program. No web access means I can't just flick to a website as required when classroom discussion takes things that way. No web access means that the interactive websites I have tagged in delicious that help to demonstrate a key concept in mathematics are out of reach. Heck, I even plan my weekly program in pbwiki just so I can access it anywhere, anytime. As long as that time isn't web-free time.
My class use the web constantly whenever they have computer access. They have blogs, they search for information (not aimlessly as I have formally taught them to be savvy searchers, although that is still no guarantee that they won't revert to old habits!) they access images to re-use and they communicate digitally with others.
I've partially listened to Stephen Downes' presentation "Integrating the Internet Into the Classroom" but I haven't got to the bit yet where he encounters some dissent from teachers in the audience. I'm interested in their point of view because I'm pretty sure that I don't want to wind the clock back to my pre-internet practice, and I'd like to hear of they have specific roles that preclude the use of the web, whether they find it too difficult or they just haven't gone to that point of no return where I think I am now. I have read some where (but can't recall exactly) that technology is embedded in the classroom when the teacher and the students cannot function as planned without it. I know that on the very rare occasion that our school internet is down, there are howls of disappointment from staff who "need" the connection to the world beyond their classroom.
I truly believe that the use of the internet in my classroom prevents me from being the total topic or content expert (I usually have some base line general knowledge) - my expertise then must be in the form of empowering my students in being able to navigate the deluge of available information (where my original knowledge can be challenged and altered in the role of modeller/learner), being able to make sense of it and then being able to create their own knowledge from that. In our recent Australian Identity work in our student blogs, the ability that commenters have to point my students to valuable information via links widens that personal knowledge. That is simply not possible to the same extent in the internet free classroom.
Attribution: Image: 'internet down 🙁' www.flickr.com/photos/54427463@N00/1638526962