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Is Web 2.0 'Designed for Education?'

In an e-mail thread last week, someone asked which spaces in Second Life were "designed for education."

This seemingly simple question led to an intense debate over several days. Why? This tech-savvy group knows there's something roiling the education waters. Designing anything in Web 2.0 requires new thinking.

Higher education for centuries has worked within a closed world where educators could design physical spaces and learning sequences (the curriculum) based on predictable circumstances. An educational designer could work within a much more restricted set of variables than what we see now.

We look at those myriad variables of spaces and sites in Web 2.0 and we find ourselves talking about "learning spaces" instead of "classrooms." With that noun shift, we've let the genie out of the lamp. If primary academic learning can occur in places other than the classroom or lab, then educational designers are faced with too many confounding variables to apply the same traditional formulas and metrics.

In Web 2.0, the proliferation of Web services that create spaces and sites for learning continues to grow and add value.

 - Check Into AJAX World. AJAX, Asynchronous Javascript and XML, the technology behind much of Web 2.0, has spawned a community of power-developers and thinkers who will be gathering this month:

AJAXWorld will be held in New York City, March 18-20, with the theme "Beyond AJAX to the RIA Era," referring to the spread of Rich Internet Applications in the world of Service-Oriented Architecture. The event is a good time to learn more about AIR/Flash/Flex, Silverlight, JavaFX, and others.

 - Education powered by Web 2.0 is international. Cisco invests in Web 2.0 youth education projects in the Middle East to support use of Web 2.0 tools among young people in the Middle East as a path toward peace. Young people from Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, the Palestinian authority, Portugal, Turkey, and Yemen will participate.

 - Data is the "Stuff" of Web 2.0. Students and other users must therefore own their own data. Digg and the DataPortability project is helping. The DataPortability site is creating "a reference design for end-to-end data portability." Web 2.0: Data is the New "Intel Inside"

 - Digg has joined the DataPortability Project in recognition of how important it is that users own their own data.

 - Preventing Ballot Box Stuffing Online. Flickr, a photo sharing site, is adding "nofollow tags" as an indication of its popularity. In doing so, Flickr joins the trend toward nofollow tags.

Spamming to increase the ranking of a hyperlink at social sites led to the "nofollow" HTML tag, meaning that search engines can still follow the link but should not rank it or score it. Flickr now adds nofollow tags to links that people add to Flickr.

 - Learning Value of Mashups. Like Microsoft, Yahoo, and many other companies, Intel offers a mashup tool. Why is this notable? A basic thinking skill developed during college is synthesis, finding similarities in diverse ideas and describing the over-arching concept linking those ideas (an "idea-mashup"?). Therefore, assigning a mashup exercise for students may be more engaging than assigning readings in a textbook.


 - Online Mashup Symposium. In recognition of the important learning potential of mashups, the New Media Consortium will hold a 3-day online symposium about Mashups, April 1-3. Go to the URL itself to learn about mashups and why they are so potentially important for higher education.      

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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