Web 2.0: Good for Education?

Web 2.0, coined as a descriptor 4 years ago, describes a moment in history when we let go of print. Information technology became so prevalent and convenient that we could throw out books and read our news online instead of in print. We could listen to music and watch movies, share family albums, develop cadres of friends, and develop a life online with comfort.

Web 2.0 is defined technically, to be sure, as AJAX (asynchronous Javascript and XML), moving the desktop to the Web, virtualization, data and functionality in different places, and so on, but from the distance of years, we'll look back at Web 2.0 as the moment our culture made the digital move. We might call it something different at that later time, but for now we use the shorthand "Web 2.0."

Here is what this era means for higher education:

 - More interaction between knowers and learners occurs online rather than in a room
 - More continuity between learning meetings during a course of study and after the course is over
 - More active learning opportunities are available
 - The "Gap Year" and the organizers of gap year experiences, and other developments, call into question the need for certification of all formal learning; evidence of the experience may be sufficient (or better!)
 - A shift in the fundamental perception of learning from, ugh, content delivery, to a guided learning process
 - More recognition of and scaffolding on what students already know
 - Collection of evidence of student learning online that is owned by the student
 - The learning process is associated with the learner

Those are some positive trends. Other trends:

 - A deluge of unfiltered information without mature consensus methodologies to handle the deluge
 - Transience of knowledge as opinion-producers gain currency more quickly each day than ever before
 - Gap between upper-echelon institutions that are able to adapt to Web 2.0 trends and the rest of higher education
 - K-12 schools may be even less able to adapt, not just because of less technology access but because of the massive curricular, standards, and testing structures in place that are based largely on pre-Web 2.0 learning assumptions. K-12 schools, quite reasonably, also can't open the gates for broad-scale interaction on the Web
 - The education enterprise is merely reactive to industry developments; it must instead lead; and educators by and large are resistant; they must instead find opportunities for positive change

"Leading" and "positive change" do not mean merely adopting technology initiatives, but instead mounting institutional reform initiatives. Every part of the institution is affected by the re-structuring of how our culture develops knowledge. Changing how students interface with cultural knowledge puts us educators back on our heels. When you re-envision learning to mean not students sitting and listening to an expert but instead to mean students gathering evidence of their learning under the guidance of an expert, all enterprise humans systems must be re-oriented.

When I went through high school, memorization was still stressed even though printed materials had been widely available for four centuries, making memorization moot. Four hundred years for print to be fully incorporated into our beliefs about learning! We can do better than that.

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (http://www.aaeebl.org), serving on behalf of the global electronic portfolio community. He was a tenured English professor before moving to information technology administration in the mid-1980s. Batson has been among the leaders in the field of educational technology for 25 years, the last 10 as an electronic portfolio expert and leader. He has worked at 7 universities but is now full-time president and CEO of AAEEBL. Batson’s ePortfolio: http://trentbatsoneportfolio.wordpress.com/ E-mail: trentbatson@mac.com

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