Social computing is essential to the lives of today's teachers and students yet K-12 curriculum rarely reflects this deep, interdisciplinary integration.
Engaging formally with pervasive computing enables a learning community to use a variety of frameworks to observe and explore the technological apparatus of their day-to-day activities. Teachers in many schools miss the opportunity to draw on the rich experience and curiosity of their students as discussions of computing are relegated to elective periods and after-school programs. These schools will benefit tremendously from a holistic view of computing that considers its role across the curriculum.
Institutions that implement interdisciplinary computing profit socially as well as academically. These institutions take a positive, proactive approach to the questions raised by the online lives of their students. This foundation establishes a shared vocabulary and set of expectations to guide the school through curricular design, policy-making, and disciplinary action. By its nature, social computing leaves traces. When integrated with academic activities, these artifacts make learning visible and provide new points of entry to engage families and friends of the school community.
It is natural for teachers to share strategies and learning materials with one another. As the school explores social computing together, teachers can draw threads from the community-wide discourse into their discipline-specific pursuits. They may also design more technologically rich projects knowing that the students share a set of foundational information-management skills. Computer Science teachers will not left out of a job; quite the contrary. Free of the pressure to address the myriad aspects of personal computing in a single course, they will finally be free to focus on the core competencies of their discipline: computation, algorithms, data structures, etc.
Although there are many ways to frame them, social computing technologies impact the way that students today engage with and construct their culture and identity.[2
] Taking their online lives seriously shows respect for this exploration and engages multiple learning styles and literacies. Exposing the tensions in online culture opens space in the school community for other difficult conversations on topics of identity, difference, bullying, sexuality, language, and justice. Students for whom the classroom environment is not a safe space for participation may find their voice in text. And as there exists no canon in this space, students and teachers must learn and explore together.
The curriculum materials I present below are designed to be as flexible as possible. A teacher of any discipline can implement some or all of the activities. I explicitly link writing to social computing spaces (email, blogs, and wikis) as much to remind reluctant teachers of their expertise as to highlight the potential of these new modes to strengthen students' "traditional" literacies. Although I title the lessons "Week 0" and "Week 1", they may be adapted to different course structures. One particularly powerful implementation would be to introduce all of the material as part of a week-long orientation at the start of the school year.
There are several weak areas in this curriculum sequence that deserve further attention. More time should be dedicated to discussing the implications of writing in publicly archived, indexable spaces. How will students respond to this level of exposure? I suspect vast potential audience of the Web is as anxiety-producing for some as it is inspiring to others. There are small assignments suggested for each session to give teachers a sense of the students' progress but I leave more formal assessment to discipline-specific projects. To this support this arrangement, it would be useful to gather educators from a variety of disciplines and grade-levels to devise a comprehensive rubric to accompany this curriculum.
In the future, I would like to explore the possibility of adding "code" to the writing skills covered by this curriculum. An introduction to programming languages could follow the existing exploration of hypertext markup languages. Approaching code as a specialized form of writing could have surprising and delightful results as it foregrounds the philosophical question of audience; a rare arrangement for introductory programming courses. Who is the audience for code-writing? Is it the compiler or interpreter? Is it the machine? Or is it the end-user?
In the quarter-century since the first labs of Apple IIs and IBM PCjrs were built, students and teachers have found numerous assistive applications for computer-based tools. While their impact on standardized test scores and classroom pedagogy may have been "oversold", their affect on the lives of their users has not. Outside of their classroom experience, teachers and students are engaged users of creative computing technology. By drawing these experiences into the curriculum across disciplines instead of confining them to a single elective, we simultaneously render personal computing banal and free its revolutionary potential.
Cuban, Larry. "Oversold, Underused: Computers in the Classroom". Harvard University Press. 2001.
Gasser, Urs and Palfrey, John. "Born Digital: Connecting with a Global Generation of Digital Natives". Basc Civitas Books. 2008.
"Assistive" in the cybernetic sense of the word as Norbert Wiener might have used it.