Come on in!For any educators out there who like the idea of Web 2.0 and recognize its importance, but are too intimidated or otherwise reluctant to dive right in, I offer the following list of 5 things to try first. I think these tools will give you an idea of how simple it is to create online content and to build an online community.

Blog

Just write. Write about your family, a hobby, your job (carefully, of course), politics, religion, entertainment, or anything that interests you. Start out by committing to blog once per week. Send emails to your friends and family, inviting them to read and join in the conversation. You may be surprised how easy it is to build a loyal following, as they respond to your ideas, expand on them, and argue with them. A very easy site to begin blogging with is Blogger. It’s account setup and user interface are very user-friendly. Others to look at are WordPress, Windows Live Spaces, Blog.com, or Blogster. There are also numerous blogging sites intended for particular audiences, such as Edublogs, of course. Try more than one–they are all free for basic memberships–and see which suits your preferences and needs best. The important thing is to just do it–write, invite, communicate. (You’ll also get more blog traffic if you frequent other blogs, leaving thoughtful or eye-catching comments and including your blog’s address.)

Create a Podcast

This is a very easy way to get content on the web and to get an audience, and it is especially appealing to those who aren’t as big on writing. To create an audio podcast, you need either a computer with a microphone and audio editing software or a cell phone. You can create a free online podcast account at numerous sites, including Podbean, Podomatic, MyPodcast, etc. You can go through the steps of getting your podcast listed in iTunes, if you wish, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. Next, create your first podcast. Use an audio editing program, such as GarageBand (Mac) or Audacity (PC). Record yourself talking about a topic which you are particularly knowledgeable or opinionated about. You might also record homework information or study tips for your students. Edit, if needed/desired, to eliminate unwanted noises, pauses, coughs, etc.. You can go so far as to add musical introductions/endings, but this isn’t a requirement. I found a nice selection at Incompetech.com that is all licensed under Creative Commons as requiring attribution only. If needed, convert your file to mp3 (This is an Export function in Audacity.). Upload your file to your podcast page, give it a description, and invite some friends to listen. They can leave comments and subscribe to your future podcasts. Again, you’re starting a conversation, only this time with your voice. If you want it to be an even easier process, sign up for a Gcast account, and start podcasting via cell phone. Either way, you will find it is a very easy, enjoyable, and efficient way to create content.

Broadcast a PowerPoint

One of the easiest ways there is to share information on the web is to simply upload content that already has been created. PowerPoints are a favorite in many classrooms. One thing that I believe leaves them lacking in terms of usefulness, however, is that they are designed as a one-way communication tool, and generally for a small audience (the teacher). A site that takes PowerPoint to the next level is Slideshare.net. With an account in Slideshare, PowerPoint presentations can be uploaded and converted to a Flash video format. Most formatting is preserved, including slides, illustrations, text, and links. Viewers can check out the show, leave comments on the entire thing or individual slides, embed the show into their blogs, or download it to their own computers. Imagine having a class upload all of their PowerPoint shows, then view classmates’ shows and leave questions/comments–takes PowerPoint from 1-way communication to multi-directional instantly.

Share a Document

The next time you have to create a word processing document, spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation with a group of people, try doing it online. Google Documents is a great place to begin (You can also use sites such as ThinkFree or Zoho, if you prefer.). You’ll need an account (free). Create your document, then click on the Share tab on the right of the screen. You will be able to send an invitation to other users to contribute their own ideas and content to the product you started. It is really amazingly exciting and powerful to watch as the screen automatically refreshes, and changes made by other users automatically appear as you work. You’ll gain a better understanding of the usefulness of this tool for student collaboration.

Stumble

This is the easiest way to discover and bookmark new pages on the web that I have found. You can also recommend sites to others. To sign up, go to StumbleUpon and register, including your interests. You’ll get a browser add-on with the company logo and the word Stumble! on it. When you have a spare second, click this button and a random site appears that is related to the profile you created when you registered. If you like it, click the I like it! button, and it is added to your online bookmarks. You can also recommend new sites using the same button, and they will be shared with other members. It is surprisingly addictive, especially during commercials in the evening, and you will discover parts of the Web you likely never knew existed.

These are just a few tools, but they are all easy to get started with, and they’ll give a good feel for the general idea, that the Internet is now about creating content and creating communities.