Early on in the history of what is known as ‘Web 2.0’, one of the identifying features many speakers touted was that Web 2.0 tools were ‘perpetually in beta’. Essentially, this meant websites and tools were a constant work in progress – with updates and improvements made on an ongoing basis.
We see these updates in websites and tools large and small. Sometimes the improvements are substantial, and welcomed. Other times they are invisible to the user (what on earth does Java change every time I switch on my machine and get told it needs updating yet again??).
Changes to tools that people use on a regular basis are usually heralded with a negative response – anyone who uses Facebook will know the huge reaction to any of it’s ‘improvements’ to its services:
Today, it was my turn to be totally taken unawares by a massive website redesign. Today I presented in front of a group of about 60 Teacher Librarians at their quarterly network meeting. One part of my presentation centred around an incredibly useful GreaseMonkey script, created by the very clever Alan Levine which, when installed, makes Creative Commons attribution information available on every Flickr Creative Commons licenced image. You can read about this fantastic tool on my work blog here.
Unfortunately, last night Flickr chose to unveil quite an extensive redesign – which of course rendered the greasemonkey script null. So, there I was, standing in front of 60 people, with no script to show them and an unfamiliar website to navigate…great!!
Fortunately I had other tools at my disposal to show the TLs, so a crisis was averted, and a quick tweet to the creator of the script gave me up to date information about when it might be resurrected, but it goes to show that online, nothing is set in stone.
What does this mean for educators?
We must be flexible and always have a backup plan; I find that when glitches occur (and they inevitably will), staying upbeat and moving quickly to a second option usually allows the lesson/PD session to continue relatively smoothly.
We must develop in ourselves (and teach our students) a level of fluency with tools and websites that allows us to confidently cope with constant change, find alternate tools or contact those online who can help us. This level of digital literacy comes from not only familiarity with the way things online generally ‘work’ but also the development of skills that can be transferred from tool to tool. The best way to do this is through ‘playing’ with as many different tools as possible, trying things out, investigating why things don’t work as they should and accepting that in the online world, nothing is static (or particularly reliable!).
The only thing constant online is that things are constantly changing. The challenge to stay up to date is demanding; the best way to deal with it is to accept it, and appreciate the fact that when one tool or website does not do what we need it to do any longer, there are always many, many more that will do more, or even better.