WE are the web

I want to thank everyone for the amazing comments I've gotten on my first post, including one from Kath from The Learning Community. She outlined some challenges she faces in her org using Web 2.0 tools.

I am just diving into this world as I’m taking on the communications work of a successful public school with one of the highest poverty rates in our state — after having worked on a college campus for a decade that was replete with resources. I’m investigating ways I can learn and tools that can be adapted to our needs without a big financial or intellectual cost. Have been told I should just camp out wherever Beth Kis, and her blog led me here.

Her org works with immigrants, who often have to be very careful with information, and with teachers and children.

On the other hand, our students are curious consumers of technology who we need to equip with tools to develop their voice and share their opinions. We want them to see themselves as thinkers with important stories to tell and want to help them learn to be heard. We have begun a few small experiments with digital recorders, blogs, etc. As with kids everywhere, they can’t get enough. That is great, but it is no substitute for them learning how to talk with one another, how to develop an opinion and express it, and how to disagree — my experience is that these things are best learned in person.

I could not agree more with what Kath says. I think some of the most powerful online community building is done when tied to real live communities that see each other in person. For her students, Web 2.0 tools are best used as another way to share and experience what goes on in their "offline" world, rather than a way to create a brand new "virtual community." She shared this fabulous project her org is doing, documenting the building of a new playground on Flickr for supporters of her org.

Then, there is everyone else — oddly, perhaps the best audience I have. I’ve just launched a little area on Flickr to document the transformation of our former parking lot into a super neato playground. Our external community of supporters has really enjoyed seeing this and several of our teachers are being introduced to Flickr through this experiment.

What a great experiment, and what a great use of photos and Flickr! I especially love the photos of the notes about the kids' thoughts about the playground. I wanted to use this project as an example to suggest some ways that one could push a "Web 2.0" framework a little further, to involve the kids, without necessitating that they abandon real interaction for virtual interaction.  (Disclaimer: Kath, I am SO familiar with overworked staff with no funds, and in no way am I trying to dictate some "necessary" next step for your org. Rather, I am just using it as an example.) So, with this project, you've started familiarizing teachers with Flickr. That's a fabulous step. Assuming the kids are also watching the building of this playground, with a couple cheap digital cameras, the kids could take pictures or video--a couple times a month--of the playground's progress. If the kids are too young to upload the pictures themselves, a teacher uploads them to Flickr and attributes the photos to the children who took them. Perhaps through class discussion, descriptions and/or comments are added to the photos. Kids get to see their photos on the web, with their names and thoughts beneath them. This is a key principle of online engagement--using technology to show the members of a community to themselves. I find this to be particularly powerful. The magic of "social media" is that it shows us that we make the web, not some wizard behind a curtain. Technology does not have to be in the hands of some other power. It's a tool that should belong to everyone. And the better we are able to use the tools to exchange ideas and information, the more valuable the web is. I am wondering if anyone's tried a similar project. How'd it go? In what other ways would you suggest that Kath's org use Web 2.0 tools? (Her full comment is here.) P.S. A post on internal tools coming next!