Web 2.0 and Education

I’m giving a presentation on Web 2.0 tools in under a month and, since I’ve received notice from the conference organizers, I’ve been working diligently to compile tools and identify their uses and potentials for abuse. Over the coming week or two I expect I’ll be posting a reasonably amount about thoughts and ideas that I have surrounding my presentation – comments are of course welcome here, and you are also welcome to look at and contribute to the wiki article that I’ve set up for the conference.

Before getting into content in any depth I wanted to take a step back and reflect on what I am referring to when talking about ‘Web 2.0’ and how it (potentially) applies to post-secondary education. I’m not going to get into the politics of technology in post-secondary environments, or at least I’m not planning on directly posting about this (largely because I work in an educational institution, and it’s really best to keep some thoughts to yourself).

Web 2.0 is about transitioning authority from individuals or groups that are are recognized as the holy holders of content to letting the individuals learning actually participate in their learning. This means that students are given the opportunity to talk to the author, challenge the author’s and each other’s positions, and introduce new lines of discourse. It involves multiple minds creating knowledge – Web 2.0 focuses on the immanent forces involved in content creation and banishes the transcendent and privileged attitude that knowledge identifies an ideal form of Truth. It embraces inclusivity as its central tenet, insofar as all that can access the digital environment are to be permitted to participate in it.

That’s the philosophical change that I see broadly available to education as it draws on 2.0 tools to expand educators’ traditional toolset. As Tracey Rosen recently pointed out to me, it’s important to stay balanced when using digital tools. Entirely replacing time-tested analogue methods is fool hardy at best, disastrous at worst. As such, I’m not recommending that we get rid of textbooks, nor that projects such as OLPC should be seen as the herald for dismissing analogue systems. There are good books on introducing technology into classrooms, like Digital Citizenship in Schools, and others that consider the philosophical nature of generating ‘knowledge’.

To use new technology well, it needs to be directed to meet particular needs – you shouldn’t just introduce a blog to your class because people are blogging, you need to think about how you want to use the tool. Simply because the art class teacher hands out an awesome tool (like, say, scissors) to expand the range of learning for students doesn’t mean that the math teacher should be handing out the same tool – protractors and slide rulers are probably more effective in math environments. Tools such as wikis, blogs, podcasting, online calendaring, forums, and data archiving offer teachers ways of expanding the horizons of both their students and themselves. Just think – when was the last time that you hunted down a really good contextual link for something you’ve been teaching for a few years? You’ve probably got a routine, and while you might spice it up a bit each year, you’re pretty well teaching the same thing year in and year out. As soon as you give up sole authority of the classroom, as soon as you empower your students and treat them with dignity as learners, as soon as you are willing to learn with them, then the classroom environment changes into a collaborative space where educational magic can happen.

How many of us were touched by that teacher that got us involved in something, a teacher that we can point to as leading us to where we are today? Great teachers are (oftentimes) great learners – so go out and learn with your students, your collegues, and members of the community to be the greatest teacher you know how!