A confusing title, I know, but I hope it will make sense. One of the biggest challenges that teachers face, at least here, when trying to implement the use of many Web 2.0 technologies is instilling a serious perspective in their students. For many, if it isn’t printed or hand-written, it is not important, and it is the equivalent of a chat session. It is essential, therefor, to teach our students about the global reach of what they are creating and the lasting effects that are possible, both good and bad. In other words, they need to understand the concept of importance. To many kids, important equals grades. Very few have had the experience of creating something that is important because it can educate, influence, and impact a worldwide audience. Children (and adults, frankly) have a hard time dealing with this concept, because it is natural to have a small, self-centered world view.
To this end, I feel it is important to expose children to several things. First of all, students need to see examples of the work of other young people, who have created something that has been truly important. They need to be allowed to respond and react to this, which will give them tangible evidence of the power of a product and possibly inspire them to reach for the same heights.
It is also important for the teacher to lead. This may involve modelling good practices, such as sharing his/her blog posts, creating useful podcasts, producing compelling videos, etc. It will also likely involve, at least in the beginning, prompting students. A teacher may need to pose a question, describe a problem, expose students to a new perspective, brainstorm, etc. in order to nudge students towards creating meaningful, impactful content. A few students are naturally gifted and motivated enough to fly on their own, but the vast majority will simply drop to the lowest available point without the right coaching. I saw an example of this in a student wiki recently. The discussion area had become a slow chat room. The teacher would offer a gentle reminder of the purpose of the discussion forum, and she would create her own topics. Students, for the most part, regained their focus, and some even began to act as the discussion area police, encouraging their classmates to view their posts more seriously. (Sidenote–notice that the teacher did not ban the students or restrict access.)
Students need to understand the concept of the historical significance of the work they create and publish on the web. Once a Submit button has been clicked, that content can be saved, printed, quoted, referenced, etc. by anyone with an Internet connection. There are no do-overs. Sites such as the Wayback Machine ensure this, saving archived copies of much of the web. Businesses and colleges are looking at student content with a critical eye, as well, and careless posting can affect a person’s future in a negative way.
The magnificent part of all of this is that, once they get it, students have the capacity to amaze us with the depth and quality of what they can create. We, as adults, often limit the potential of kids out of fear that they will do something that will embarass us/them or be downright dangerous. When we focus more effort on instilling the ethics and responsibility needed, it will actually liberate us from so much worry and stress and them from the shackles of the mundane and meaningless.