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Web 2.0 In Action

Using Mashups to Teach IT Concepts at Bentley College

Mark Frydenberg, Senior Lecturer of Computer Information Systems at Bentley College in Waltham, MA, is using an exciting new Microsoft application with first-year students so they can better understand business in a Web 2.0 world.

Popfly is a Microsoft application to help users create their own mashups. A mashup is a Web 2.0 construct that combines data from multiple sources. Users can then include that mashup on their own blog or website, or embed it in Facebook. Here's what the Popfly team says about Popfly:

"Create a mashup without writing a line of code. The Mashup Creator lets you combine different web sites together to form cool, new creations. Click on the Mashups menu for pre-built examples."

And, then:

"Create a web page with Popfly's graphical editor and embed your favorite mashups. The Web Creator lets you easily build web pages without writing any code (from"

Since Popfly was originally intended for hobbyists, the Popfly development team was surprised when Mark Frydenberg, a faculty member in Bentley College's CIS department, told them he wanted to use Popfly for teaching IT concepts. He did in fact use it in the fall of 2007 in his first-year required course, aimed at students who already feel comfortable with IT tools.

John Montgomery and Suzanne Hansen, members of the Popfly development team, were so intrigued by Frydenberg's use of Popfly in the classroom that they flew out from Redmond, WA to observe the class. As Professor Frydenberg says, "The students were very surprised to hear at the end of that class that the two visitors sitting at the back of the room were actually creators of Popfly."

Frydenberg says that a key learning value in using Popfly is that he can show his students advanced programming concepts at the first-year student level:

"With Popfly, I teach the same basic principles of algorithmic thinking, sequence, selection (via a Filter), and repetition (via a Timer), that I have taught previously using a programming language. Popfly's graphical user interface makes the concepts of input, output, and processing obvious...

"...By looking "inside the box" at the steps required, and understanding that there is source code behind it all, students zoom in one level of abstraction deeper from inputs and outputs to focusing on the steps necessary to solve a smaller problem. This may motivate them to participate in further study...

"...In a Web 2.0 world, [Tim] O'Reilly says that software applications are in a state of perpetual beta. By creating, modifying, and sharing their own applications with others and in other Web applications, students experience first-hand on a small scale these software lifecycle concepts in a distributed environment. No longer does all the data for an application live in one place. The very act of sharing a mash-up requires an understanding of the roles that clients, Web servers, and the Internet play in the process."

The students are first-year students at a business college on their way in most cases to a business degree. So, using Popfly to demonstrate not only the technical concepts around application development, but also the nature of development communities, helps Frydenberg's students understand software development and deployment concepts in a sophisticated manner earlier in their college careers than was possible before.

Frydenberg uses Popfly to help beginning students at Bentley interact with Web 2.0 tools. When students use Popfly to create mashups -- such as geotagged photos of mountains from Flickr mashed up with Virtual Earth data to place the photos of mountains on a map in the countries where they lie -- they see an illustrative example of Tim O'Reilly's Web 2.0 principle that "Data is the next Intel Inside." Being able to enhance core data sets used by Internet companies and thus create a unique new data set is a competitive advantage. In Mark Frydenberg's class, students just starting their college careers get to see this particular "impact of technology on business practice" that is a key part of the Bentley mission.

[Editor's note: Bentley College professor Mark Frydenberg teaches IT concepts through the lens of Web 2.0. See Frydenberg's Web site -- -- to see more of his thoughts about the educational value of Popfly.]

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (, 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: E-mail: [email protected]

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