5 July 2011

Web 2.0 tools and how they affect learners, educators and institutions. Some thoughts.

How do Web2.0 tools affect educational institutions and the educators and learners within them?  Do institutions better prepare for a complete overhaul in order to stay relevant?  Or, can they integrate Web2.0 as an extra layer into their current practices?  These are a few of the key questions addressed in Weeks 21 and 22 of H800.

There’s a lot of recent research on the topic with, among others, two large studies (Redecker, 2009 and JISC, 2009) offering a plethora of case studies.  The background reading on the topic is a text from Conole (2011).  Below, I describe  some personal conclusions.

First, educators often seem to be the driving force behind integrating Web2.0 in teaching.  Few institutions seem to have an official policy on the topic, although issues such as privacy, reliability and assessment surely affect the institution as a whole.  So, how could institutions deal with Web2.0 cases?  From the readings, I would conclude the following:

  • Encourage early adopters, the technology enthusiasts that are willing to invest the time and climb the learning curves to design activities.  Although plenty of cases are available, translating them to the particular lesson context is often time consuming.
  • Document. Stimulate these early adopters to keep track of their experiences, reflections and decisions, if possible publicly.  Support them to monitor and evaluate the experiences of learners, in order to assess improvements or scaling-up options.  The documentation can prove useful for later in-service training activities.
  • Allow for time for trying out, ‘tinkering’ and experimenting with Web2.0 applications.
  • Think about a policy, or at least some guidelines.  How to deal with the privacy of students when using blogs?  How to assess individual contributions when working with a wiki?  How to avoid time consuming plowing through forum posts in blogs? How to deal with external software that is suddenly unavailable or behind a paywall?

The cases also discuss the implications for learners.  Here, I had following thoughts

-          Web2.0 tools are often touted as supporting the way of teaching we currently see as most desirable, being collaborative, social, authentic, differentiated, lifelong and life-wide.  With Web2.0 tools teachers have an extra battery to turn their lessons into student-centered feasts.  However, students may also need to make a mental switch and turn from passive ‘receivers’ into active ‘creators, or turning from competitive individuals into sharing collaborators. It’s important to make sure that students are aware of these changing expectations.
-          Learners cannot hide anymore from digital technologies that have turned / are turning into a necessary life skill.  However, some technologies may pose a steep learning curve for students and get in the way of the topics that they are supposed to be learning (as well).

So, should educational institutions consider sweeping changes in the way they are running in order to incorporate the Web 2.0 army?  I’m not so sure.  I think that Web 2.0 is offering a wide range of interesting applications to improve teaching and learning.  It suffices to skim through the case studies to get convinced of that.  But these case studies also show that students still need guidance, assessment and engaging activities in order to learn.  Web2.0 tools offer a medium, but the input from teachers and students give them their added value.
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  1. Hmm the idea that people do need to move to be actual creators is, I think, a key thing.
    What strategies do you think there are to help with the learning curve / topic learning issue?

  2. Web 2.0 allows contribution & collaboration. Imagine that, allowing students to create and share their ideas with others. Then after sharing and receiving feedback, re-creating and re-sharing...
    This is a novel approach, empowering students, letting them be responsible for their learning and teachers guiding them along the path.


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