Wiki? Podcast? Social networking? Here are a few definitions that can help you decipher the jargon.
One hallmark of the Digital Age is new-word creation. Many terms you hear in discussions of 21st Century learning and Classroom 2.0 may be strange to the ear. Here are brief definitions of several expressions used in our stories and sidebars. If you find others that puzzle you, search the “Wikipedia” (en.wikipedia.org).
asynchronous – Literally means “not at the same time.” Blogs, threaded discussion boards and emails are examples of asynchronous tools. An asynchronous event on the Web allows participants to access, process and respond to information and discussion at times they choose by downloading or viewing multimedia and text files or reading and posting to message boards and email listserves.
blog – A weblog or Internet journal. Weblogs enable users to publish comments, images and ideas instantly for other people to read. Bloggers frequently include weblinks to other materials to enrich the content of their postings. Teachers and students may use blogs to extend class discussions, pursue collaborative projects, publish the products of their work, or communicate with parents, experts, students in other schools, etc. Free, easy-to-use weblog services like EduBlogs (edublogs.org/) make it simple and safe for the non-expert to create a blog. One popular use of classroom blogs is the scribe post.
filtering – Filtering is the process of controlling access to a network by analyzing the incoming and outgoing packets of information from the Internet. School systems often use filters to guard against certain content reaching students.
podcasting – Podcasting is a method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio or video programs, over the Internet for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. Podcasts are often distributed using RSS (defined below) feeds. Teachers and students use tools like digital recorders and editing software to produce audio/video “podcasts” about things they are learning. See these examples.
Web 2.0 or the Read/Write Web – Labels used to describe the evolution of the World Wide Web from a medium used primarily to find or post information to a medium where those with shared interests can communicate, collaborate, and form temporary or long-term social networks. One key tool in the growth of the read/write web is RSS, web-based software that lets users keep track of new postings on the Web.
RSS – “Rich Site Summary.” Anyone who creates Web content (webpages, blogs, wikis, etc.) can use RSS software to create a data feed that supplies headlines, links and article summaries to others who “subscribe” to your content source. (See this tutorial for teachers.) Most free Web 2.0 services include simple directions for including an RSS feed. Those who want to keep track of your new blog entries will subscribe, often by creating an account at a free “aggregator” service like Bloglines. A daily visit to your Bloglines account will show you summaries of all new material at the blogs, wikis, webpages, etc. you subscribe to.
social networking – Social network theory emerged in the 1950s to describe the ways people are connected together through family, work, community, etc. In the context of the Web, social networking refers to the communications and relationships that develop through the use of social software—Internet applications that help connect friends, business partners, teachers, students and others together using a variety of tools (see below).
social software – Any digital tools that promote social networking, allowing people to “rendezvous, connect and collaborate” and to form online communities. “Old-fashioned” examples include email listserves, message boards and the like. More recent examples range from publishing tools like blogs and wikis, to information sharing sites like Flickr or Delicious, to social network services like Ning or (for students) Think.com and more commercial kid networks like Webkinz and Club Penguin. A more advanced approach to social networking can be found at Second Life and Teen Second Life, websites that create a videogame-like virtual world where participants (over 7 million at last count) create “avatars” to represent themselves and move about to participate in events and activities. Educators are beginning to use Second Life to create innovative learning environments for students and faculty.
wiki – Wiki is the Hawaiian word for quick. A wiki is a website that anyone can edit at any time. Users can easily add, remove, or otherwise edit all content on a wiki page, very quickly and easily. Most wikis include discussion pages where visitors can leave comments. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative writing, brainstorming, and project development. Typically, a wiki website provides an easy way to monitor changes and restore earlier versions of pages. Some free wiki services (many teachers use the free Wikispaces service) offer the option of password protection to prevent non-participants from editing pages. Several Alabama schools use Wetpaint, a wiki-like free service with more flexibility to add graphics and special features.