Web 2.0: Education’s Accidental Friend

Wes Fryer glows over Animoto, the debits of which I addressed some time ago, and a lot of my hesitance to embrace [your pet Web 2.0 tool] crystallized in my response there:

Animoto is wrong for education in every way that it’s right for consumers – and the befuddlement of its creators at its educational market share affirms this directly. Consumers want something that takes the difficulty out of an engaging slideshow but difficulty is essential to learning.

These are businesses, after all, and some businesses (though not all) attract customers by making difficult processes easier. Sometimes (but not every time) those difficult processes are the same ones which impel learning. So while Blogger, for example, makes the right processes easier for students (the mechanics of online publishing) so that they can focus on the difficult one (writing), Animoto simplifies the wrong processes (editing a slideshow with rhythm, music, visual panache) leaving behind only the most menial (select an order for your images, select a track, press go)Again, because I have enormous respect for the skill of Animoto’s editors and of Animoto, itself, as a consumer tool, this screed is only to urge its judicious use among educators..

Many have come to this conclusion before me, I realize, but I am only now fully struck by the fact that the goals of profit-driven Web 2.0 applications and the goals of educators only align accidentally.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. One of the more pitiful things to me about these conferences is the cheap exchange of time/self-respect between teachers and vendors. The I’ll-do-anything-for-a-free-shirt way teachers scurry from vendor to vendor. The idea that my time is worth some candy is pretty insulting. Seeing the bags overflowing with cheap crap as another teacher wastes their time going to another booth to get their ticket punched- verifying their time and interest is for sale to any one.

    I brought home the NECC vendor list so I could chart the number of booths shilling for “smartboards,” content management systems and filtering software. Sad to see a whole system built around the idea that you can push competency from the top down with no real work behind it.

  2. I agree. Animoto is a toy, not a tool.

    Now I have nothing against toys and some can be used to learn. But, as you note, Animoto removes most of the creative process from producing a video presentation. The user only needs to upload a group of pictures and the software does everything else.

    It’s good for these companies to keep developing new applications. However, we as educators need to be very picky about which ones we adopt. And that’s just as true of the vendor hall at NECC as it is online.

  3. Animoto id like so many of the other Web 2.0 tools…at first glance I say “wow”, introduce it to the kids, they say “wow”. A few try it, they realize that all the videos look the same…they are done.

  4. I generally eschew Animoto, because it’s does a wee bit too much, and is missing a critical element I’m looking for in slideshow/video tools to use with my kiddos, narration. I prefer VoiceThread which is less on the visuals/transitions/editing, but has the narration (critical for English language development). I’ve also used BubbleShare. I don’t know if I would use Animoto for this even if it had narration.

    Your complaints seem on track about the editing and transitions. Remember, not all the tools are for teaching movie making. Many are being used for practice speaking and listening to English. Animoto is NOT suitable for that particular application.

    I don’t look for these tools to make movies (I do that with other tools), but in Windows the desktop options for a narrated slide show, suck compared to using iMovie. There is PowerPoint, which has a horrid built-in narration tool (that same tool sucks in Movie Maker). At that point I have to break out Audacity. VoiceThread is very nice for this application, and it meets a CORE standard for English Language Learners. Maybe it’s because you teach Math, but I think you sometimes underestimate the need for this experience in the classroom, but perhaps I’m being a mite picky. I’ll be blogging myself on the intersection of commercialism and education needs.

    Tom: I didn’t see you at NECC, maybe because I only spent a total of about 15 minutes on the vendor floor and it sounds like you may have been stuck there longer. Look, those teachers who spend a whole day on the vendor floor seem to love that gig, and if they feel like they get full value, so be it. My favorite story was about a special ed teacher who works with ASD kids and scarfed up a bunch of blinking toys/bubbles, etc. for her treasure chest that she has kids pick rewards out of. For me, I’d rather go to $ Tree.

    Look, if we don’t use “free” Web 2.0 tools like Animoto and VoiceThread (free for teachers that is), and get educational based tools, you end up paying an arm and a leg, and often they aren’t much better. SmartBoards vs. wii Remote Boards to deliver the same tired lecture with more graphics; a clicker system or Poll Everywhere on cell phones to do quickie multiple choice tests. Let’s not pretend that the tools developed specifically for education are any great shakes.

  5. So what technologies DO you use? Whiteboard, projector, videos…do students use any of these or you use and they observe? I have been totally pro technology until reading these posts. In a few days, your words have almost reversed my entire educational philosophy.

    I love technology and find it so useful in my every day life but when it comes to teaching, it just isn’t mathamatically relevant. I’ve been wondering how to integrate technology and still teach the type of method teaching that you subscribe to but now, I don’t know…obviously you have great student buy-in without all the technology so at least I know it is possible.

  6. I use a projector so we can draw visual connections from the world to mathematics. That’s all. If all my students had laptops (or if, for that matter, we had more than thirteen laptops to service the entire campus) I’d be a little more sanguine about the glorious technological revolution. I haven’t found much else that blows me away.