Thursday, April 24, 2008

Web 2.0 and Education

Wayne recently sent me a link to K-12 Technology Specialist Steve Hargadon's blog. A post at the beginning of March (sorry for being slow) suggests that Web 2.0 is the future of education. Hargadon is nothing if not effusive about his subject. Several commenters question the reality of his vision, in particular whether it will be possible to educate educators to make use of Web 2.0 tools when they are already busy and/or comfortable with their current levels of technology. I think they are right to make these observations, but let me just draw on two or three points of Hargadon's that I find interesting.
  1. Web 2.0 is primarily about publishing. Whereas the early web was oriented toward information delivery, the current iteration emphasizes the production of information by its participants. Create and remix are the orders of the day. We can take advantage of this by asking our students to participate in the assembly and creation of knowledge that is easily accessible to others. Students have in a sense always been creating, but publishing raises the stakes. (One of Hargadon's commentators correctly notes that the read/write opposition between Web 1.0 and 2.0 doesn't really hold because people were participating in email, chat rooms, etc. in the former. The difference, as I see it, is in the publishing of content so that third parties can read it.)
  2. The ease of publishing in a Web 2.0 environment means that we are faced with increasing amounts of information. Hargadon's proposed remedy?
    ...Produce more content. Because it is in the act of our becoming a creator that our relationship with content changes, and we become more engaged and more capable at the same time. In a world of overwhelming content, we must swim with the current.
    This is a noble idea, but I'm not sure that it holds water. My writing this blog doesn't necessarily mean that I have a better idea of what information is out there. I extract things that I come across that are useful and share my observations on what I've been working on. But that doesn't help me manage everything I don't have time for. Perhaps what it does, however, is give me a place to articulate what I find to be valuable. Pointing it out to others. But does this all boil down to just another Digg-like application? Where things get filtered out by mass aggregation? That doesn't seem all that different from the systems we already have in place.
  3. "The expert is giving way to the collaborator." I'm of the opinion that there will always be a need for experts. After all, having an expert teach you something is quite frequently the fastest means of information transfer. And at ECIT, we are all about best practices. But at the same time, I believe that collaboration will increase in importance within the classroom. And it won't just be the students collaborating with one another, but them doing so with the teacher/professor. It might look something like a class taught by Sander Gilman in Emory's ILA during the 2006-2007 school year, where the undergrads and grad students actually wrote a book:
    The end product of the course will be a collaborative volume on the history of dieting which has been commissioned by a major publisher. This course will demand real research, real writing, and will have a real product.
    The English Department has been making grants available to faculty members and grad students who want to co-author an article. Although these endeavors don't necessarily employ Web 2.0 technologies, they do capture the Web 2.0 mentality. What's more, they provide a possibile answer to the comments to Hargadon's original post who wonder how they can get teachers to learn new technologies: offer a concrete reward that has nothing to do with improving one's teaching.
So. I'm interested in hearing what others think about these points. Do social networking applications change the dynamic in a classroom, regardless of whether the class is using them? Do students coming into college today expect something different than they did when I arrived as a freshmen in 1995? How can we collaborate with our students?


Steve Hargadon said...


All good comments.

I'm not sure my suggest to become a creator is "noble," but more practical. The old paradigms of being able to stay "caught up" with the material around are are fading fast, and the new world of overwhelming content is not going to go away. When we engage in dialog and when we participate in creation, I think we come to better understand a place for ourselves in a new world that is hard to understand without being in it.

Take care,


Derek said...

Your post showed up in my feed reader a few spots after another post that I think is relevant. In a recent Teaching Professor blog post, Maryellen Weimer included the quote "What professors do in the classroom matters far less than what they ask students to do" from a Change magazine article by Halpern and Hakel. The paradigm shift that Weimer writes about--from a focus on presenting information to students to a focus on helping students make sense of information actively--seems to mirror the shift from Web 1.0 to 2.0. Since I support the paradigm shift Weimer writes about, I think it makes sense to think of Web 2.0 as the future of education.

Brian said...

Steve: Thanks for your comments. I think you're right that "noble" was not really the right word. And perhaps a better way to phrase your suggestion that we need to create more information when faced with the current overwhelming amounts of information is that what we create is a form of metadata. An act of participation and creation, but one that is oriented toward organizing, as you put it, "a place for ourselves."

Derek: Thanks for bringing this post to my attention. What's more useful is your reinterpreting the statement from Change in terms of the Web 2.0 experience. Obviously, we don't have to be using Internet gadgets to have student activity take a central role in the classroom. But their emphasis makes them a natural combination to such a reorientation in our approach as teachers.