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Teaching the Web/Internet Through Immersion

Many people have discussions with me about the place and functionality the Internet should have in education systems.Over the past few years this discussion has usually been focused on Wikipedia, and, in a very negative light. They expel how students wrongly treat Wikipedia as a primary source, how they plagiarize incessantly, and how they are no longer learning how to do proper research. I sympathize with their frustrations, and it is pretty easy to get wound up in long discussion about the positive/negative, responsible/irresponsible, good/bad effects such Web sites have on our education system. However, I have grown bored of such discussions as they rarely arrive at some positive and constructive conclusion. Now, I try to focus the conversation on how I think the Internet and World Wide Web should be taught to students. Let me began by commending teachers that have had their students do things like edit a Wikipedia article or produce a piece of free software for a class. But, such an assignment reminds me of how a French teacher may have students break off into groups and to act out a Parisian cafe scene. This is a sensible activity when you are not in a French speaking country. However, the Web and the Internet are not like physical locations, it can be accessed at home or in school. Students have the opportunity to just become "native," so to speak.

Some may argue that doing this formally in a school is a waste of time, because students are already immersing themselves in online communities and are, or will become, Internet savvy outside of school. They would be right, in so much as a large percentage of children in developed countries have access to the Internet and a large percentage of them take part in various activities, communities, and cultures online. However, to claim that presenting it formally in school is 'a waste of time' is a rather misguided statement. That would be similar to saying that just because students read and communicate a lot on their own, that we shouldn't include reading and communicating as part of our educational activities. There are many effective and useful ways the Web and the Internet can be incorporated into our education systems. I would like to have an educational philosophy that is based partially upon the premise that:

*software, content, and media on the Web is treated as something that can be used, discussed, edited, 
 adapted, and improved upon; 
*attempts to "educate the whole child," will benefit from engaging first hand various communities, 
 practices, mores, and cultures of the Internet;
*integrating your educational institution with the internet in effective and responsible ways is 
 beneficial to students and all of society. 

Curricula built upon this premise could hold many benefits for an educational institution, including:

* Educators that understand the benefits of collaborative development may be more likely to share, 
  develop, and improve lesson plans with the entire world in a sustainable way. This could possibly 
  reduce the cost of materials and save development time for educators, thus improving qualitative 
  and quantitative output of the educators. 
* Materials, lessons, and information will be more easily stored and backed-up when engaging 
  Internet-based systems; furthermore, the development and evolution of the institution as a whole can 
  be captured and understood. As such, objective analysis of the schools effectiveness can be better 
  gauged and thus used to improve the future development of the institution. 

A listing of the positive and negative effects of an educational philosophy partially derived from my above premises is an activity left to the reader.

Lastly, it would seem that Montessori, Waldorf, and Constructionist Educational philosophies would lend themselves naturally to an environment that makes such assumptions. However, perhaps another way that if a less progressive institution were to abide by such philosophies, those institutions may be able to implement more challenging and progressive educational strategies in a more cost effective and sustainable manner.

This is just a post to say that I'm terrible at writing blog entries and to see how categorization works within something like this.