THE FUTURE OF WEB 2.0
Learning technology strategist
Gary Brown charts the course
from CLEs and ePortfolios, to PLEs
Brown: 'We've got to
anticipate that Web 2.0
continue to evolve,
change, and explode.'
As director of Washington State University's
Center for Teaching, Learning,
and Technology, Gary Brown
has stewarded the acceptance and
growth of online learning, forged
faculty development programs for
early adopters and laggards alike,
and struggled with the issues of
assessment and accountability.
But Brown sees more comprehensive changes
ahead, especially as Web 2.0 technologies
We're already well down the path to what some call
a 'Web 2.0 world.' Is Web 2.0 having a transformative
impact on higher education? We actually need to
begin thinking about moving to the next generation of
online learning in a Web 2.0 or Learning 2.0 world, in
which a variety of tributaries are starting to come together:
demographics, technology, accountability, and the
general direction of education. But so far, instead of
transforming the traditional classroom with online learning,
we've merely transposed it to what is now the traditional
course management system [CMS] or collaboration
and learning environment [CLE].
Right now, we've only swapped the little red schoolhouses
for the little online boxes we call course management
systems. Students enroll, read posted information,
and maybe listen to podcasts. A few of the more sophisticated
students have some kind of electronic discussion
with other students in the class, but the instructor
is still at the center of the classroom. That model, pedagogically
as well as for all kinds of practical purposes, is
starting to lose its effectiveness.
Are changing student demographics contributing to a
need to alter the model? When that model arose, we
had a smaller percentage of the population in higher education,
and people were committed to that kind of an
approach. Now, a postsecondary education is increasingly
perceived as a necessity for success in the world,
and we've recognized generally that we need to have a
college-educated population. Our workforce demands it.
Yet, full-time undergraduates are no longer the dominant
population. Fifty percent of our college population
goes to community colleges and must work, and continue
to work. That population will be increasing. And about
50 percent of the college population is "swirling" now;
students are taking courses from multiple colleges and
universities-from at least two institutions, and sometimes
more. What does that mean for the curricular coherence
of programs built upon those little online boxes?
Then let's talk about how technology may or may
not help: Can ePortfolios, for instance, handle the 'swirling' phenomenon? Higher ed professionals are
beginning to recognize that ePortfolios may be more effective
than standardized tests when it comes to documenting
student learning. The Association of American Colleges
and Universities has released a survey
that brings that point home. Employers, too, are telling us,
"We don't care about test scores. What we want is evidence
that students have been involved in internships and
service learning programs, and that they've done project
work and have developed team, collaboration, communication,
and leadership skills."
While ePortfolios are coming to the forefront as better than
traditional tests for student documentation of learning, we
know they are limited at this point because they still are
institution-specific. Plus, as Trent Batson has noted [see
"The ePortfolio Hijacked"], they tend to be implemented as institutional
or program assessment management systems. In that vein,
students typically are submitting their assignments over the
course of the curriculum, just as they would submit their
assignments in a physical drop box. A real student-centered
model would put the authority, or ownership, of that ePortfolio
in the hands of the students: They could share evidence
of their learning for review with peers, and offer that
evidence to instructors for grading and credentialing. But
even then, if they try to do this with multiple institutions,
they probably won't be able to meet all the different
requirements of those various institutions, because they'll
still be working with a single institutionally owned and supported
ePortfolio, designed just for that institution.
So, can Web 2.0 help get us around the present limitations
of ePortfolios? Web 2.0 provides an opportunity for
students to mash up a variety of applications, the results of
which they own themselves and can make available to anyone.
To that end, we should start thinking not so much in
terms of an ePortfolio but, instead, in terms of a personal
learning environment (PLE).
And what we're trying to do here at WSU is bring outside
employers into the process. Then we can have those
employers validate that what we're doing aligns with what
they find to be valuable. At the same time, we have the
opportunity to demonstrate to employers who work with us
the complexity of the work we do.
And what are some of the technologies that you're
using now or might be using in the future with PLEs? Google Groups, Picasa, various types of social software; there are
many examples. In general, it's all stuff that's out there in
the world-worldware-and though nobody has said that
these tools are designed specifically for the academy,
there's no reason that, using these technologies, students
can't share their work with their instructors.
Right now at WSU, one of the things we're developing
in collaboration with Microsoft is a
"harvesting" gradebook. So as an instructor in an environment
like this, my gradebook for you as a student has links
to all the different things that are required of you in order
for me to credit you for completing the work in my class.
But you may have worked up one of the assignments in
Flickr, another in Google Groups, another
in Picasa, and another in a wiki. Maybe you've also
made some significant contributions to Wikipedia. So, I need a gradebook where I have the
link you've provided me, rather than a copy of the work,
and the gradebook should be capable of pulling in all of
these various sources.
"Web 2.0 provides an opportunity for students to mash
up a variety of applications, the results of which
they own themselves and can make available
to anyone. To that end, we should start thinking in terms
of a personal learning environment."
Then too, there are repositories with hundreds of applications,
some more stable than others, which can work in
this type of environment. The app that we're investing in
here at WSU-at least in terms of our time and energy,
plus some licensing costs-is Microsoft SharePoint. It's an
example of the type of worldware that students are likely to
encounter in the "real world." Will they encounter Blackboard, or specific drill-and-practice
software? Probably not, but they will encounter a spreadsheet-
that's worldware, too, whether it's shareware or
available from a vendor, as Excel is.
Some instructors are offering students a wide range of
options in terms of which software tools they can choose
to do their work. They may ask students to explain how they made their technology choices, or how their chosen technologies
solved their problems and helped expand their
notions of what technology could do. So, worldware is in
itself a learning opportunity as we learn to use common
applications and explore and repurpose other existing
You say there are hundreds of worldware applications.
How can you sustain stable programs with all of that?
Is worldware just going to work itself out, somewhat
like common office applications and e-mail have? It's
going to be chaos. The only thing that is going to be consistent
is change in and explosion of all these different
technologies. But you ask if they will work themselves out,
and the answer is yes. Still, each generation comes along
with new expectations. Who could have guessed that text
messaging would become so important? We've got to
anticipate that these technologies will continue to evolve
and change and explode. We're going to have to get used
to the idea that we just have to accommodate that. And
that's why I believe the killer application is going to be a
How could the added dimension of working with
employers scale across many different types of programs
or disciplines? Career services organizations do a
lot of this, and our business faculty also tend to have related
projects through their professional and personal connections
such as alumni. I believe we'll see alumni getting
more involved, and career services units getting bigger. I
also hope and expect to see increasing growth in community
service learning-one of the hottest things happening
in education right now. So, building outside relationships
doesn't have to mean just working with employers, per se.
For example, you could include real projects in the community,
which is something the community and employers
These types of programs will be incorporating all kinds
of permutations, to some extent based on the disciplines.
An issue will be finding faculty with the imagination to integrate
these options into their teaching and learning, and an
even more difficult issue will be credentialing that kind of
work. What's more, if students can demonstrate work
they've done at different institutions-even if they haven't
received degrees-at what point will we find that employers
don't really care about the degrees?
Employers then will be looking simply at whether the
individual can do the work. A large part of what has gone
on in the past is that a college degree has meant that a
person can persist and persevere. Yet, about 70 percent of
students do not secure jobs directly aligned with their
majors. So there's an interesting set of issues that will
affect the value of a degree. And as the secret gets out of
the bag that job seekers don't need a degree as much as
they need to demonstrate the work they are capable of
doing, we'll see different kinds of models popping up.
"If students can demonstrate work they've done at different
institutions-even if they haven't received degrees-at
what point will we find that employers don't really
care about the degrees?"
But certainly this is not simply about commerce; about
companies harvesting a new crop of employees. Or are
you saying that this is what the notion of PLEs will lead
us to? No, it's not just about commerce. But there is some
irony in this, too, because employers are telling us that
what they want is active, hands-on, authentic learning pedagogies
that actually are more aligned with what we know
about learning and good practice than much of what happens
in our educational institutions currently upholding
ivory tower values. There's often better pedagogy implicit
in career training than there is in the pure academic world.
So, you may ask, are we talking about subordinating ourselves
to career training to a certain extent? The answer is,
if we are, what's the problem with that?
ePortfolios Meet Social Software-thanks to the
recent advent and grass-fire proliferation of so-called
Web 2.0 technologies. Wikis, blogs, and especially
social networks are influencing the thinking of ePortfolio
designers and potential users.
Try It First in Web 2.0: Educators, administrators,
and students are experimenting in Web 2.0 space
where experimentation is (for the most part) less
risky than in real life.