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Web pulls world into classroom

Blogs, video-sharing websites, and social-networking sites give students the opportunity to tune their thinking and writing to a larger audience.

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As students of all ages return to the classroom this fall, the wireless world is changing the nature and possibilities of their education.

My own evolution from Luddite to digital Lazarus has transformed the way I teach in my English class. I used to think that a blog was a large clog in my kitchen sink. Then last year, I took the plunge and required my students to create and maintain their own blogs, where they showcase their essays, stories, images, podcasts, and videos.

Teachers who are using blogs, social-networking sites, and video-sharing sites in school settings are giving young people the opportunity to tune their thinking and writing to a larger audience. When students know that anyone in the school with an Internet connection – or around the world, for that matter – can read what they have written or created, it is remarkable how quickly their thinking improves, not to mention the final product.

One of my students recently commented that her blog is like a MySpace site dressed up and ready for its first job interview. Another student praised YouTube as the best invention since the mobile text-message, which, incidentally, just turned 15 this year.

If you don't understand the techno-jargon here, don't worry. The first dinosaurs into the tar pits of tomorrow will be teachers who refuse to adapt to new technology.

Today, most pedagogical tasks and tests in high school and college can be successfully navigated by an Internet-savvy student. Super-empowered students will make out quite well in the digital future. So will great teachers.

The tools that are available on the Web right now make it possible to extend the classroom instruction far beyond the class period or school day. Blogs, for example – in addition to being presentation "studios" for student work – also bring people from novice to expert into the conversation in a way that would've been unheard of even five years ago.

Want to have a conversation with an author, a professor, a critic, or a journalist? Want to utilize the "oral histories" or expertise of your classmates' families, relatives, and friends? Want to talk to someone in Boston or Baghdad about something that is going on under their boots or in their brains? If they have an Internet connection, send them a link and invite them to join your online classroom discussion.

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