A “desire path” is an unplanned path worn into being by people leaving the path provided by a landscape designer. There is a principle in landscape design that some people call ‘paving the desire path’. Instead of planning and laying paths and then expecting people to follow them, you watch people, to see where they actually go, and then pave those paths. Paved desire paths will be more successful – because you are simply making it easier for people to do what they want to do anyway.
I think a similar principle applies to using ICT tools in the classroom. With so many different tools at our disposal, how do we decide which ones to invest our time and PD resources on? We can spend a great deal of time and money on special equipment that can do some cool thing that seem like a good idea to US. Or we can watch and see what students are already doing, and pave those paths – using the technology they have already embraced and using it as an educational vehicle.
I have tried lots of different ICT tools with my students. I have an interactive whiteboard in my room, I have tried getting them to maintain their own blogs, I have used wikis, discussion boards, podcasts etc. etc. There are more new tools available than teachers have time to try! But some of these ‘take’ very easily. Others require me to nag and cajole to keep my students going with them.
That was my experience of blogs. I had all my students keep their own blog – it seemed like a good idea to me! But it was hard work keeping them on my planned path. I had to constantly remind students to write blog posts, and to read each others blogs and leave comments. If i stopped reminding/nagging they would stop posting.
Other technologies however, i don’t have to work hard AT ALL to keep my students on the path. In this list i would put podcasting, discussion boards, SMS and MSN. Once I find an effective way to make these tools a vehicle for genuine learning activities, they become very effective with minimal effort. Why? Because they are my students’ “desire paths”! My students have iPods and love using them. They use MSN chat habitually. They find discussion boards a natural way to communicate. So if I pave those paths – they become sustainable. There’s no need to nag my students to listen to my podcast! Many of them nag me if its been too long between episodes. There’s no need to cajole my students to log on to MSN… here I am – it is almost midnight as i am writing this and still there are three of my students online! earlier this evening there were about ten! There is no need to remind them to go to the discussion board – this long weekend there have been no less than 20 posts on the class discussion board!
I think using mobile phones and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pownce have the potential to be paved desire paths, too. At the moment I am particularly interested to explore the uses of mobile phones in an educational context. Now there’s a desire path! – but in most schools , mine at least, it has not yet even begun to be paved.