Report: Despite risks, school must embrace online communities

Horizon Report emphasizes educational benefits of user-generated content, social networks and multiplayer games.

Public schools in the U.S., traditionally under-funded and slow to embrace innovative ideas, will be facing particular challenges as emerging technologies play a larger role in students' lives, reports eSchool News.

The "Horizon Report" recently issued by the New Media Consortium and the nonprofit group Educause, predicts that user-created content, social networking, mobile phones, virtual worlds, and massively multiplayer educational gaming are the emerging trends that will shape the future of schools.

Many of these trends are already impacting schools, for better or for worse. Schools are struggling with how to incorporate them into the curriculum.

The report states that "User-created content is all around us, from blogs and photostreams to wikibooks." Technology is giving students access to inexpensive tools that have "opened the doors for almost anyone to become an author, a creator, or a filmmaker."

Although social networking has the dark side of cyberbullying and sexual predation, it is becoming a legitimate source for sharing information on course activities.

"We are seeing more and more professionals use social networks to find colleagues and experts in different fields," says Diana Oblinger, Educause vice president. "There is so much information out there that we don't know for ourselves. We need to be a part of a network that can help point us to the top information."

Cellphones, according to Oblinger, are turning into a "personal life remote control." Despite the current trend to ban cellphones in schools, some schools are using them to deliver schedules, emergency updates and other information.

"There are examples outside the U.S. where people are using mobile phones as way of letting students take quick quizzes to self-access whether they're ready for certain things," says Oblinger. "The attractiveness is that mobile phones are pretty ubiquitous. It's a way of making learning accessible whenever and wherever you have two minutes."

Multiplayer gaming and virtual worlds are two emerging trends that schools have just begun to experiment with. Both are more difficult to develop, but have great potential for education.

"A year ago, you wouldn't see the conversation about [virtual worlds] the way that you've seen in the last six months," said Oblinger. "I think we're still figuring out & what is the most productive use of virtual worlds like Second Life."


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