A New Social Context for Information

The most significant fact about Web 2.0 for educators is that key functions and intelligence have moved or are moving from the desktop to the Web, and by doing so they have changed. Those functions and intelligence are no longer just about personal productivity, but about the social context for information -- what other people think about the information. And they are not limited to one place but are accessible throughout the Internet world.

Scott Spanbauer, in PC World last month, said "PC World asked me to give up desktop applications for a week and work solely on the Web -- and [three weeks later] I still haven't gone back to the desktop." So, computing is moving "out there," and it's not just "personal computing" but "social computing." If we accept that all learning is social, Web 2.0 may be more in step with learning reality than the book or the PC.

What does social computing mean?

 - Consider the simple IM or chat tool available on many Web 2.0 sites (search "chat" to see the myriad options). Talking online to friends, some of whom may be more expert in the topic at hand at the site, is a great brainstorming experience.
 
 - A wiki, a sort of "step up" from chat, preserves comments made by the group, but doesn't have the conversational immediacy of chat. A wiki is used to collaborate on a project over distance.

 - A blog, or what we could think of as a "vanity tool," allows everyone to publish views, ideas, or research, or simply a log of activities, and then invite responses. A blog is usually in reality closer to "publishing" than conversation.

 - Social networking sites such as Facebook allow you to create your own social space for sharing and communication, and to find out what others are doing. It's a way to "hang out" on the Web.
 
 - Social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us allow you to store your bookmarks at that site and to see which bookmarks (URLs) are most popular among users of del.icio.us.
 
 - Photo-sharing sites, like Flickr.

 - Encyclopedias, such as Wikipedia.

 - And many other sites and functionalities that help move the psychological center of information technology out into "the ether."

In the aggregate, Web 2.0 offers many of the functions and activities you find on a "real-life" campus.

Some colleges and universities have already built virtual campuses, or extensions of their campuses, in Second Life (SL), a 3D virtual environment. See the following quick sampling of quotes mentioning events SL, including a museum event, an economics course taught in SL, NASA's interest in using virtual worlds like SL, and a dance event in SL:

 - "An interesting museum-oriented session was held earlier today (noon, SL time [Pacific time]) at Dr Dobb's Island Amphitheatre entitled 'Conceptualizing and Prototyping Museum Exhibits in Second Life.' I've blogged it briefly at..." -- from a SL list.

 - "It's time to assess what value using Second Life had for my accounting class. What I want to discuss here are the results of a survey I posted for my students (using SurveyGizmo) during the last few days of the semester. I wanted to gauge their assessment of the various technological tools I used over the semester: Second Life, Twitter, Meebo, and Cmap Tools." -- From a blog of a faculty member using SL. One result:  His students found SL too difficult to use.

 - "NASA is showing a lot of interest in Virtual Worlds recently. They are running a weekend workshop at the end of January in San Jose, CA." -- from a SL list.

 - "Jan 6: ZeroG SkyDancers III -- Virtual Flight Choreography Premieres: Dan Coyote Antonelli is accustomed to breaking new ground. Even in virtual worlds he is considered avant garde. The real man controlling that avatar, DC Spensley, has been wowing virtual audiences since 2006 with art installations that would not be possible in real life, but perhaps the most coveted ticket in all of Second Life is one to a performance by his ZeroG SkyDancers. On January 6, 2008, the premiere of the highly anticipated, third, completely redesigned production of ZeroG SkyDancers will debut." -- from a New Media Consortium post.

Faculty members, librarians, researchers, and students feel their familiar world tilting a bit. As Eddie Maloney of Georgetown University said earlier this year, "What we can see in the Web's evolution is a new focus on innovation, creation, and collaboration, and an emphasis on collective knowledge over static information delivery, knowledge management over content management, and social interaction over isolated surfing."

A combination of relatively new open source development environments, architectures, languages, and models, along with the opportunity to change the world with very little financial capital (though a great deal of intellectual capital), has brought about a steady flow of new Web 2.0 sites and links. "Open" is the key. Web 2.0 is highly entrepreneurial.

A faculty member whose recent surgery keeps him homebound teaches his courses in Second Life (like the economics professor quoted above) -- http://secondlife.com/ -- which his colleagues in his home department can hardly imagine. One of his students may employ the following strategy to write an assigned paper:

 - She uses Flickr -- http://www.flickr.com/ -- to get ideas for images to include in her report (or stores her own images there)
 
 - Uses Del-icio-us -- http://del.icio.us/ -- to store her bookmarked research sites

 - Wikipedia -- http://wikipedia.org/ -- to clarify the definitions of key terms

 - Consults relevant blogs by checking in with Technorati -- http://technorati.com/ -- which allows her to search the blogosphere
 
 - Searches YouTube -- http://www.youtube.com/ -- to find videos related to her topic

 - Checks in with her friends at Facebook -- http://www.facebook.com/ -- to see if anyone has ideas about her project

 - And finally writes a paper for her instructor

She also could use her Facebook account to interact with her Flickr, YouTube, and Twitter spaces at Facebook instead of going to those separate sites. Web 2.0 is inter-connected.

In all the cases cited above, all functionality exists on the Web, except for Second Life that requires a client on your personal computer to use the functionality at the Second Life site.

Paul Graham, who has tracked the growth of Web 2.0 over the past 3 years, said, "There hasn't been such a wave of new applications since microcomputers first appeared." -- Paul Graham, http://www.paulgraham.com/web20.html. He also said, "Web 2.0 means using the Web the way it's meant to be used."

Web 2.0 is becoming a tipping point for creative energy in higher education's use of technology, moving its center from the campus desktop or server to the Web. It also is providing new ways to build and structure knowledge. Web 2.0 moves information technology from the stage of managing and reinforcing the status quo in higher education (e.g., course management systems) to the next stage of providing a millennial re-structuring of the philosophical understanding of knowledge.

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