Will Richardson’s Web of Connections: Why the Read/Write Web Changes Everything

Again, here’s a grainy photo from my Treo. At least it gives a visual to this post. You can see the back of Steve Glyer’s head well, too. In general, it was good to see some familiar faces here. :)

I’ve got a lot out of Will’s blog (and his book), so I wasn’t sure I’d hear anything new in his presentation… but he exceeded my expectations. The presentation slides were simply white text on a black background, but he included lots of audio, video, and live trips to the web – and he’s a dynamic (and funny) presenter.

The first surprise of the afternoon, though, was when he asked how many people were blogging the session. There was nearly 30 people raising their hands, myself included of course. Later in the session nearly everyone (close to 300 people I’d estimate from the room capacity) raised their hands! Not surprisingly, only about 10 people said they had MySpace accounts, although Will later shared that there were some conflicting – higher – estimates of this number.

He began the presentation with a humorous overview of the one red paperclip blog. Following this, he showed an anime version of the old Apple “switch” add with college student Ellen Fleiss.

Then he shared a variety of staggering web statistics, you know the kind about how many blog posts per second occur around the world and how many new MySpace accounts per day and so forth. He cited a figure claiming that there are now 69,000 educational blogs – up from about 7 when he started blogging. He also shared that there are 25+ million kids creating online. (Incidentally, I’d call that an educational success of our society whether or not the schools had anything to do with it! And they did, of course, they got us here. We just need schools now for the next step.) There was a great Tim O’Reilly quote about the Web 2.0 being a real turning point in human history. He peppered his presentation with impactful quotes from others, including Lawrence Lessig, Thomas Friedman (who called us uploaders), and Stephen Downes.

His point in sharing these statistics and quotes with us was the suggestion that for educators this should change our thinking about what happens in education.

Next he showed off some student created work. Several years ago thirteen year old podcaster Matthew bischoff was empowered to “broadcast” from his bedroom, and he is still teaching us. Will shared a school homepage created entirely by students (Hallelujia!), and he shared more of Darren Kuropatwa’s work with his math students.

Will point was that it’s not about the technology anymore, it’s about imagination – and this means big changes for schools. He listed several…

1. The web changes schools: He contrasted an old picture of desks in rows with the MIT OpenCourseware site. He said that his classroom is anywhere he has access to the internet. I feel the same way. The ethics of schooling are shifting (or should) from “do your own work” to “work with others.”

2. The web changes texts: He showed off the South african curriculum wiki and wikibooks. He even showed the recent changes. This is good for people trying to grasp wikis. He tied this to the “rip, mix, and learn” philosophy.

3. The web changes teaching: He sees teachers as connectors. He showed off his students’ Secret Life of Bees Blog on Google. He talked about connecting a student with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Scott Higham example, too… these were both familiar from the weblogs in ed video on his site. Will suggested that “teachers need to get out of the way sometimes.”

4. The web changes learning: He’s learned more from blogging than from any other educational experience… It’s been transformative. He proud of being a blogger now – rather than slightly ashamed. He mentioned the ideas of ubiquitous learning, or u-learning, or what Friedman calls being pervasively proximate. Most importantly, the learner decides what, when, where and how she learns… we’ve moved from just in case learning to just in time learning. He also called it nomadic learning. He shared a downes quote that suggested we now have “learning networks based on meaning not proximity.” Will then shared 43 Things and discussed learning as social process. He noted all the social networks in Wikipedia and that there are now 89 million accounts on My Space. He pointed out Digg, where the readers decide what’s important, and then ended by sharing the concept of Folksonomies.

5. The Web changes curriculum: At the very least, Kids can teach. Will shared a Videocast from alaska, the educational podcasts in iTunes, and a reenactment of Othello done in World of Warcraft. (Machinama!)

6. The Web Changes Literacy: He explained that text used to be valued as contqiners – and is now valued for links.

7. The web changes computing: He noted the rise in web-based applications.

Will ended his presentation with a series of questions… and challenges.

Some Questions:

To what extent do these changes demand we change curriculum?

What needs to change?

How does a teacher’s roll change?

How do we define literacy?

Some Challenges:

MySpace: He shared more statistics, and then said that we as educators need to have accounts. He demoed some content on My Space (I agree with others, btw, that these are particularly ugly web pages), and he lamented that “Old Spice” can be your friend on My Space. He worries about his daughter’s future in this society and emphasises that we need to teach My Space – and that it can be a vehicle for teaching things we find it difficult to teach in schools.

Change: During this discussion he included more statistics on the perceived importance of school (it’s dropping), and drop outs (they’re increasing). He directed us to go downstairs and check out the School 2.0 concept from the US Department of Education. I regret that I didn’t get to do this.

Control Issues: Right now we take away their learning tools at the door… and we risk irrellevance.

Will also mentioned his talking to 49 sups post and the comments it received. The one comment he read to us was beautiful… poetry. I wish I could find it again.

Finally, he concluded with a call for us to “Be imaginative” and a question to us: “What’s your paperclip?”

Despite the length of the post I’m sure I’ve missed a lot. You’ll just have to go see Will speak when you get the chance. Also, I know I could’ve included many more links, but I need to limit the time I spend on each post. Too bad I can’t make individual posts editable like a wiki. Man, I’d love that feature!

3 Responses to “Will Richardson’s Web of Connections: Why the Read/Write Web Changes Everything”

  1. Dave Thomer Says:

    How exactly did he suggest a teacher use MySpace? I confess I am having some trouble getting past the hideousness of the pages and interface to see exactly what’s so remarkable about it. It may be that I’m holding back from the social networking aspect of it, which is presumably central, but then again, I’m not sure how I would work that aspect into an educational persona on MySpace. (And to double around again, I sometimes have those concerns about Not News, but it doesn’t stop me from mixing academic posts with more “trivial” ones.)

  2. Mark Wagner Says:


    Will was suggesting we use MySpace as an opportunity to teach about things such as Internet safety awareness – and to teach about the importance of the way the media portrays people – and the way the students present themselves. He showed a crude beer commercial filled with big breasted scantily clad women and then compared it to a typical high school girls’ MySpace account. He expressed some concern for his own young daughter growing up in this media rich world. Of course, now that students can create their own media… will they fall in line with commercial America and mainstream media? (And if so, whose media?) Or will they make more informed decisions about how to portray themselves and what to share? Most importantly, will schools and parents play any role in helping them make these decisions.

    As you can see, Will was really talking about teaching much more than safe use of the technology. I tend to agree that we should address these things head on, rather than ignoring them. Students are going to use these technologies after school anyway. I always favor education over interdiction – and preparing over policing. :)


  3. Dave Thomer Says:

    I can see the value in using myspace as something to talk about. What I was more curious about is the idea that “we as educators need to have accounts.” I signed up for one a month or two ago, after several musicians I like set up their own pages. (Glen Phillips has one, BTW.) But if I ever go to log in there’s an online dating ad with a scantily dressed woman on it. You factor that in with the constant news stories and the sort of thing you describe, and it’s not as apparent to me how I can integrate into that sphere the way I feel like I can integrate into the worlds of conventional web sites or even the blogosphere.

    Man, that thirtieth birthday really kicked in the old-fogey reflexes, didn’t it?